Cabinet of Secret Documents from Australia

This story of leaked Australian government secrets is unlike any other I've heard:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

Yes, that really happened. The person who bought and opened the file cabinets contacted the Australian Broadcasting Corp, who is now publishing a bunch of it.

There's lots of interesting (and embarassing) stuff in the documents, although most of it is local politics. I am more interested in the government's reaction to the incident: they're pushing for a law making it illegal for the press to publish government secrets it received through unofficial channels.

"The one thing I would point out about the legislation that does concern me particularly is that classified information is an element of the offence," he said.

"That is to say, if you've got a filing cabinet that is full of classified information ... that means all the Crown has to prove if they're prosecuting you is that it is classified ­ nothing else.

"They don't have to prove that you knew it was classified, so knowledge is beside the point."

[...]

Many groups have raised concerns, including media organisations who say they unfairly target journalists trying to do their job.

But really anyone could be prosecuted just for possessing classified information, regardless of whether they know about it.

That might include, for instance, if you stumbled across a folder of secret files in a regular skip bin while walking home and handed it over to a journalist.

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

The proposed law is older than this leak, but the leak is giving it new life. The Australian opposition party is being cagey on whether they will support the law. They don't want to appear weak on national security, so I'm not optimistic.

EDITED TO ADD (2/8): The Australian government backed down on that new security law.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Excellent political cartoon.

Posted on February 7, 2018 at 6:19 AM • 50 Comments

Comments

echoFebruary 7, 2018 6:57 AM

I read about this a few days ago. One issue which bothers me is what Bruce alluded to and that is the reachet effect. I understand the UK Tory party was fairly liberal-ish at one point before the Corn Laws and the party was hijacked by a small gang of extremists which tugged the party further right. This scene can be found played out again today. People seem to have a psychological weakeness for "leaders" who "talk tough" and the two are perceived as going hand in hand. The opposite end of the spectrum isn't without its issues too.

The old UK Official Secrets Act and "D" notices which is what Australia is effectively proposing have gone the way of the Dodo.

What real harm was caused?

Wicked LadFebruary 7, 2018 7:28 AM

But really anyone could be prosecuted just for possessing classified information, regardless of whether they know about it.

This reminds me of speaking with an NSA cryptographer (in the US) many years ago, asking her to point me to public sources that discuss the NSA's contributions to the design of DES's s-boxes. "Something I could get from a university library," I said. She said she could not give me any such pointers - I think because it's entirely possible that books in a library could contain classified information (canonical example: the Pentagon Papers).

I don't know how likely it is that classified information gets into public sources in Australia, but I don't know why it would be especially different from the US this way. Imagine getting prosecuted for checking a book out of a library.

Alain Di StefanoFebruary 7, 2018 8:03 AM

A naïve question: what kind of person finds TS documents in a cabinet and thinks the best thing to do with them is to give them to the press? Buying those used cabinets and drilling them open was probably done in good faith, i.e. without malicious intent, so was the Australian government just unlucky and sold them to a not excessively loyal citizen, or in general, is loyalty to one's country gone in favor of some quick money? Obviously, whoever sold those cabinets without making sure they were empty should be fired and internal processes should be reviewed. This is pretty basic security stuff. Unless it was an intentional leak?

DaveFebruary 7, 2018 8:07 AM

They should have called them 'The Boomerang Files'.

They threw them away.

And then they came back!

BilateralropeFebruary 7, 2018 8:20 AM

>sold them to a not excessively loyal citizen, or in general, is loyalty to one's country gone in favor of some quick money?

When a government is lying to its people, why does it deserve loyalty and help keeping those lies secret ?

For example, have a read of the section titled "Rudd was warned of home insulation 'critical risks'"

What about policies that a political party is seriously considering ?
Surely the people deserve to know so that they can vote in the way that best matches their interests. For example, the sections "Razor gang considered welfare cut for under-30s", "Morrison asked ASIO to slow down asylum seekers' visas", and "Right to remain silent nearly removed under Howard".

What about incompetence ?
"AFP lost hundreds of national security files" and "Classified files left behind in Wong's office"

The way I see it, these are the kinds of things a government shouldn't be keeping secret from its people. By keeping these secrets they show that they are more loyal to holding onto their power than to the people of the country they are ruling.

22519February 7, 2018 8:27 AM

"...they're pushing for a law making it illegal for the press to publish government secrets it received through unofficial channels."

People just don't care. "It is not my job to empty the filing cabinets." "I won't be blamed." "Why should I care?"

Since people are not on the same sheet of music in Department 101XX, let's just make it illegal to publish government documents that one might on the ground in the street, in an airplane, on the playground, at the opera--because that is easier than actually doing anything that requires LEADERSHIP.

Ross SniderFebruary 7, 2018 9:29 AM

The authoritarian instincts of self-described "free" countries have been reaching a fever pitch. An Obama Administration advisor wrote a book called "The Problem of Free Speech" - arguing that to protect society from itself, it's better for certain types of thought to be extinguished via concerned effort. The Trump Administration similarly has declared war on the press. Both of the Administrations have accelerated domestic surveillance and propaganda.

I just don't get it. Was there a golden era for civil rights right after Hoover up until the mid 90s, or was that all propaganda too?

Me myselfFebruary 7, 2018 9:33 AM

@Alain DiStefano:

Just to compound on what Bilateralrope said, I remember the following quote by Mark Twain: "the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it."

I do not know many specifics about if the australian government deserves any loyalty, but given how rare it has been to find ANY government in any country deserving of anything other than jail time, death penalties and other punishments during the last few decades (I haven't looked further back), I'm inclined to believe that was far more loyalty than they deserved.

GrauhutFebruary 7, 2018 11:28 AM

@22519: 'People just don't care. It is not my job to empty the filing cabinets." "I won't be blamed." "Why should I care?"'

If i had to defend myself for possesion of classified docs in such a case in an aussie court, then i would argue that .gov implicitely unclassified the stuff by selling it. :)

ChelloveckFebruary 7, 2018 11:35 AM

Seems to me the best way to stop secrets from being published is severe penalties for any official failing to protect the classified information in their possession. Found in a filing cabinet in a property disposition sale? Stumbled over in a skip bin while walking home? Give the publisher a medal for discovering gross incompetence in the bureaucracy! Yeah, I know, politicians don't think that way...

Clive RobinsonFebruary 7, 2018 2:41 PM

@ Wicked Lad,

I don't know how likely it is that classified information gets into public sources in Australia, but I don't know why it would be especially different from the US this way.

With the common goal amongst IC agencies to make everything classified to stop embarrassing them selves... You can be sure that the number of toilet rolls used at their respective HQ's is classified, thus the delivery guy and all those fulfilling the "bumf order" are guilty of handeling classified information.

As we know Australian Politicians whilst not quite the dimmest light bulbs in the corridor, the corridor is so long it's difficult to find dimmer. Hence the comment about the laws of Australia superseding the laws of mathmatics.

But what concerns me more is the USA trying to make the laws of nature classified. That is those laws of physics that impinge on TEMPEST and EmSec. Being universal laws every one has in effect got them at their finger tips. Trying as the US did to make them "secret" was a pointless endeavor and the net result was what is now called EMC issues plagued many in the US. It was suprise suprise Europe pushing for the "Common Market" that actually pushed EMC into the US agender back in the 1980. Thus lifting to some extent the veil.

As it happens curently there are some journalists in jail awaiting trial based on old "Commonwealth Law" secrecy. Put simply it alows the government to claim something is clasified / secret without offering proof... Thus the usage of the law appears to be being used as a crackdown on journalists. Thus realistically without political preasure the journalists might not see home for a very long time...

In essence that is the purpose of such laws, for those in power to find an inconvenient person guilty and thus be locked away or worse... It's just another form of tyranical rights stripping.

VinnyGFebruary 7, 2018 2:53 PM

@Chelloveck: nice try, but the most probable result of that would be that the poor schmuck clerk at the bottom of the totem pole who was the last civil servant to "touch" the cabinets before they were loaded on the truck would do hard time, and the incompetent supervisor or manager who was charged with making sure procedure was followed would go scot free...

RhysFebruary 7, 2018 3:51 PM

Who is generally educated on classified information as an uninterested citizen?

Why would a British Commonwealth nation see "sensitive" information as a Revolutionary US citizen does?

Those civilians who have participated in & with sensitive information know the rules. General citizenry does not reliably know.

In the USA there is a (revolutionary) culture where trust of "rule by men" is suspect, at best.

That US culture always looks for checks & balances. Rule of law.

The Twain {Samuel Clemens} quote (by @Me Myself, supra) sums ups a large portion of the civilian culture IMHO.

A political government always believes in its own mythology of superiority for its authority to govern. Anything that would undermine that "authority" they extrapolate as a threat to their governance. A risk they should bear w/greater than they demonstrate with the muckraking they engage in to maintain a myth of superiority, or eviscerate another's.

Scandal, or just exposure of tawdry events, gets a veil of authority whether deserved or not. All in the name of national stability.

British Commonwealth countries emerged from a belief in the "rule of men". With sovereign immunity. And social castes.

So- is it treason then in Australia? Or criminal mischief? & the last "cleared" personnel are responsible for a spill of sensitive information?

And I don't quite get how Julian Assange, an Australian by birth, is unknown to anyone in Australia. Perhaps the agar that birthed the American Revolution has spawned more siblings?

(required)February 7, 2018 4:26 PM

" then i would argue that .gov implicitely unclassified the stuff by selling it. :) "

Exactly, the Trump defense : "I don't make illegal mistakes, I make mistakes legal."

Sancho_PFebruary 7, 2018 4:36 PM

”But really anyone could be prosecuted just for possessing classified information, regardless of whether they know about it.” (abc.net.au)

If we now think of classified information only on paper (tangible = HW) we are mislead.
The same goes for drugs or CP, where possession even without knowledge is a crime, and it doesn’t matter if it is on paper or your HD, hidden as .dll in a system folder. Who checks and knows what should be in there?

It’s the ancient kapu system [1], where some items were forbidden for the plebs, reserved for the chiefs, to demonstrate and preserve the hierarchical structure, their authority.
Nowadays the plebs can not have secrets / privacy / encryption because of - security, you name it.

But tangible or intangible, the “without knowledge” is barbaric law, not justice.
This is a concern because planting false evidence by LE is a fact,
and very easy with our cheesecake-IT. It will be abused, no doubt.
Intangible "evidence".
Next step is they will send us to jail because of an EEG and some AI decision.

Btw., the “shoot the messenger” principle is also in place since centuries.

[1]
Haram is similar but too contemporaneous to be named / discussed here.

(required)February 7, 2018 5:15 PM

Prosecution != conviction.

Getting prosecuted just means there is enough evidence to evaluate your case.

GodelFebruary 7, 2018 6:42 PM

@(required) "Getting prosecuted just means there is enough evidence to evaluate your case."

With maybe a 50:50 chance of going to jail for years and a 100:0 chance of being up for thousands of dollars in legal fees and having your life disrupted for months, or years.

(required)February 7, 2018 7:14 PM

@ Godel

Can you point to someone who had classified material "without their knowledge" and was prosecuted?
I'll bet you can't.

It's not 50/50, it's actually over 92% that you'll be convicted by a federal prosecution these days, and that's because they don't prosecute people ad hoc like some tend to believe. They have to already have sufficient evidence to get to that point, and they tend to make cases as airtight as possible before they commit to a prosecution. Affadavits from multiple sources, everything they'd need to make it stick. It's expensive for them too and potentially career ending for them if they botch it.

In criminal prosecutions you are also afforded an attorney regardless of ability to pay.
They are there to avoid gross miscarriages of legal process. If they provably fail to do so?
The defendant often is granted a new trial on that basis alone.

But you're right, mistakes are made and people do get caught up. It's an imperfect complex system.

What would you suggest in its place? This is where it gets tricky.

22519February 7, 2018 8:51 PM

When you are in Australia, be particularly aware of your surroundings. Remain vigilant for classified information in these areas:

-under bowls of macaroni salad
-in the store next to the Vegemite
-on the street being blown around like tumbleweeds
-in the seat back in front of you (like in America)
-everywhere
-in the zoo
-in discarded office equipment
-on the playground under the slide


And, whatever you do, don't publish it because that is illegal and you'll be punished.

Aussie CitizenFebruary 7, 2018 9:17 PM

What irks me as an Australian Citizen is that the Govt screwed up right royally, and now wants to punish its peasants for its mistakes. No Govt heads have rolled over this, none ever do.

Alyer BabtuFebruary 7, 2018 10:09 PM

@Bilateralrope

"Classified files left behind in Wong's office”

The Australian government will surely be relieved, as it appears that the files have now been found and returned.

BilateralropeFebruary 7, 2018 10:42 PM

@Alyer Babtu

The documents in the filing cabinet were files about the other files being lost. Not the lost files.

The Australian government seems to have a problem with losing files and their response is to try and cover it all up rather than fixing the problem.

Alyer BabtuFebruary 7, 2018 11:00 PM

@Bilateralrope

I thought they must be other files too, at first. But then I realized I had failed to take into account the infinite depth of recursive state machines.

OtterFebruary 8, 2018 3:28 AM

@ Aussie Citizen

"What irks me as an Australian Citizen [...] none ever do".

Doubtless, the language is a little different downunder. In my part of the anglosphere, "irk" means "I am mildly and repeatedly annoyed by it; but I will never do anything about it ... except maybe someday, when I'm tired or drunk, I might fly into a homocidal rage and break something or somebody with no reasonable connection to it". Well, actually, I think that is what you mean.

It would be a cheapshot to point out that you voted for them, or maybe their clones with the other coloured ties.

It is not a cheapshot to point out that you are still "an Australian Citizen", mayhap with a superior perspective, but certainly, on balance, comfortable remaining so. I expect you and many of your compatriots have considered moving to somewhere more congenial. But almost none ever do.

Sancho_PFebruary 8, 2018 3:50 AM

@(required)

”Prosecution != conviction.
Getting prosecuted just means there is enough evidence to evaluate your case.”

Right, you can always agree to a plea deal, say 2.5 instead of 177?
That’s called the free market of justice, a win - win.
(Not sure if Aussies are blessed with this ugly child of capitalism)

But my point was “without knowledge”, not the classified (paper) material.
Gods have secret laws, the plebs is guilty without need of showing law + evidence.

Not tricky suggestion: Innocent until proof of knowledge.

Knowledge versus “was found on your HD”, see:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/how-national-security-powers-are-underpinning-some-ordinary-criminal-cases/2016/04/05/1a7685f4-fa36-11e5-80e4-c381214de1a3_story.html

WinterFebruary 8, 2018 4:33 AM

"Just to compound on what Bilateralrope said, I remember the following quote by Mark Twain: "the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.""

I disagree. True Patriotism is to be loyal ONLY to the people of the Nation. The Government does not enter this equation. As a true patriot, you can be loyal to any part of the Nation only as far as it does not clash with the NAtion.

Now, the next question is, whether, and to what extend, True Patriotism is a Good Trait at all. I seriously doubt it.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 8, 2018 6:19 AM

@ (required)

Can you point to someone who had classified material "without their knowledge" and was prosecuted? I'll bet you can't.

Actually we can show the first part is not that difficult to fall into. Anyone who purchased a newspaper that carried the first Ed Snowden revelations fell into that position. More recently we have stories of the Israeli government trying to clear up an accidental exposure on the Internet supposadly by an Israeli University.

However there have been others who have collected unclasified information and even had their own research stolen and classified. In the UK in the 1980's UK PM Margaret Thatcher threw a series of "Brain farts" inspired by the UK IC and SigInt agencies. The resulting trials failed for a number of reasons, but look up the Journalist Duncan Campbell's trial, it might adjust your perspective. Then there were the problems faced by Gordon Wellchman and Peter Wright.

I've been guilty of doing research around a third of a century ago that showed various attack vectors on hardware. On trying to behave responsibly I got the "bug squash" routine by certain parts of the UK Government pulling the DORA/OSA routine untill they found out I'd already "published" the information beyond the confines of the UK. The joke of it, it is only now that the academic community is taking interest in that area of research (funnily enough currently at the supposed Israeli University that "accidently" leaked secrets).

But that still leaves the question of "prosecution" under your terms well it has happened in the US on a number of occasions. One of note was of an ethnic chinese researcher in the US, who had a large collection of "unclassified" documents related to his research (hydrocodes) and who's wife was also an FBI/CIA asset...

At some point they were both arrested and mysteriously those unclassified documents became classified...

An easy web search will turn up who it is but to save you a little time,

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wen_Ho_Lee

It was a political s41t storm raised as part of the "Get Clinton's" political behaviour and was at best unsound from the outset. Which is maybe why the USG has had to pay him a large settlement and a judge give an apology whilst blaiming at best lamentable behaviour from the FBI (read that as perjury).

Frank WilhoitFebruary 8, 2018 10:45 AM

@ Me myself: the difficulty with the Clemens quote is that it is not possible to differentiate between the government and the nation. The government is the proxy for the nation. If you deny this, then you deny the validity not just of some particular government, but of metagovernment. (And if you deny that, then you may be striking an interesting philosophical pose, but you have abandoned all connection with pragmatic reality.)

Many governments have earned deep and lasting and indisputably justified contempt over the millenia. But in every case, that contempt must be immediately transitive to the people -- and any remedies must be framed in terms of operations upon the people, not upon the government.

(required)February 8, 2018 1:49 PM

"Anyone who purchased a newspaper that carried the first Ed Snowden revelations fell into that position."

Who was prosecuted for that?

echoFebruary 8, 2018 1:51 PM

@Frank Wilhoit

As far as the UK is concerned in theory the Monarch is the representative of the people within common law. Parliament is a court with self-granted law making powers. Because of the common law underpinnings government only has authority when exercising a mandate. Beyond this point jurisprudence and legal theory and ad-hoc formal discussions with citizens create other strands within common law.

Because of this there are openings to challenge Brexit at the constitional level (which I believe is the focus of one ongoing case using Scottish litigants as part of a broader legal campaign, of which Gina Millers case was a strand, which recently acquired funding from George Soros among others who have contributed even more funding).

My sense is a lot of squabbles are caused in part by the state acting upon the people where individuals do not have the powers to do so and for all the usual reasons.

There also a lot of tricks states pull including investigations which wriggle past the point of the investigation and this in turn is presented in a way which subverts the European Courts who miss unconstitional action because the state is very adept at appearing to conduct its affairs in a fit and proper way when it the state is actually decificient. I surmise this may be why law may be slow in some areas because uncovering the truth requires multiple attempts from many angles before a tipping point is reached.

I believe one big problem with the UK is parliament claims to be sovereign, which in strict legal terms is an unreseolved matter, and perceives itself as above standards such as the European Convention. Parliament avoids scrutiny with "sovereign decision making" and claims that the courts may not "interfere with the proceedings of parliament". This is all rather neat and because of the constititional stitch up by Edmund Burke which cemented the idea the state was a authority which placed its own fedual self above even the lives of the people, which the Gina Miller case revealed in the Supreme Court during judges deliberations, parliament is essentially claiming it is above the will of the people and common law when it comes to a difference of opinion over whose survival matters the most.

(required)February 8, 2018 2:08 PM

Wen Ho Lee transferred sensitive documents to a named adversary, some of which were classified. Yep.

How it invididually comes about that the documents become classified is not the narrow point here.

What is important is that he was NOT "unknowingly" simply in possession of sensitive documents, and he was NOT charged simply for being discovered to be in possession anyway, there were additional factors and considerations you have omitted here to make the comparison.

If you buy a cabinet at auction and open it in your garage and it's full of the nuke codes, you can report that find to authorities and be very reasonably assured that you will not be actually prosecuted under the Espionage Act or anything else you aren't actually guilty of. It hasn't happened AFAIK. Being detained may be the price you pay for honesty, but that's our system. Prosecution and conviction is what actually counts.

Possession does in fact require knowledge of to be successfully prosecuted. *(except WMD's)

In some drug cases where the people involved testify that they had no knowledge, the jury/judge is making a judgment that they are lying about their knowledge of the cargo. They are not "convicting them anyway" without that knowledge and provable intent. Sometimes courts get it wrong, but it's an important legal precept that guilt in many of these crimes specifically DOES require intent.

Wen Ho Lee intended to exfiltrate sensitive documents to an adversary. This was proven.


Sancho_PFebruary 8, 2018 6:12 PM

@(required)

”Wen Ho Lee transferred sensitive documents to a named adversary, some of which were classified. Yep.”
No, he was not convicted for what you claim, so he was and is innocent in this respect.

”If you buy … be very reasonably assured that you will not be actually prosecuted under the Espionage Act or anything else you aren't actually guilty of. It hasn't happened AFAIK.”
Granted, but in case you do not know about the codes you are doomed?
It simply doesn’t make sense to include “without knowledge” at possession.
Knowledge is a state of mind, we can prove presence, but not absence.

Judgement and legal precept are nice, fact / evidence is better in case of color.

”Wen Ho Lee intended to exfiltrate sensitive documents to an adversary. This was proven.”
No, he did not intend, and it wasn’t proven, all charges were dropped.
From what I read he was a proud new American, only not white.
Again, not convicted == innocent.

He was mishandling sensitive documents, yep, but the rest is a shame for the LE, unveiling a systematic failure.

echoFebruary 8, 2018 10:33 PM

Reading about the Australian governments u-turn was interesting. I don't see how they could have justified making public interest journalism unlawful in a democracy.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 9, 2018 1:51 AM

@(required),

Who was prosecuted for that?

Did you actually read what I wrote?

You said,

Can you point to someone who had classified material "without their knowledge" and was prosecuted? I'll bet you can't.

That is a two part statment (that's what the "and" is about),

1, had classified material "withour their knowledge"
2, was prosecuted.

I went on to say,

    Actually we can show the first part is not that difficult to fall into. Anyone who purchased a newspaper that carried the first Ed Snowden revelations fell into that position.

So having demonstrated just how very easy it is to fall into the having 'classified material "without their knowledge"', I then went on to re-address both points again more specifically.

Your faux argument style reminds me of somebody who tried the same thing here in the past but under a different pseudonym.

Me myselfFebruary 9, 2018 5:48 AM

@Frank Withoit

I disagree with your assessment, and no I'm not losing any connection with reality. Quite the opposite. (Nice use of both an Either/or and an appeal to authority fallacies BTW when you sustained that the only way I can be in touch with reality is if I see things your way.)

The nation, as a matter of fact, is NOT its government but the people it shelters. The end goal of any government should be its country's population's well-being and advancement. More often than not however, you see men that are in the position only to care about their own goals, or those of their associates. The population as a whole is neglected by these self-serving men or given bread and circus to distract them from the possibility that they could and should remove the parasites from the positions of power.

So I consider that the overlap of country and government only happens when this government is working for the benefit of the country. Being useful to the voters that put them there in the hopes that that they'd pass laws and administrate the position's budget responsibly. Not surprisingly, it is extremely rare to find this kind of politician.

Which is why Mr. Clemens's quote makes perfect sense to me. I am committed to being less of a hinder and more of an asset to my countryfolk. I'd be rejoyced if for example we got to the point of eradicating hunger or illiteracy from within our borders. When you see men in the most adequate positions to help combat these and other issues working to pad their pockets and push some group's agenda in detriment of his country's people, there's an absolute clarity of why you should only be loyal to your government when it deserves.

Now let me ask you: do your politicians (and, therefore, your government) deserve your loyalty? Or should that loyalty be restricted to the rest of your peers who are not in a position of power?

Z.LozinskiFebruary 9, 2018 8:51 AM

The 2012 book “Classified:Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain” by Christopher Moran presents a good case that much of the use of document classification in Britain since 1945 is to reduce embarrassment to the government.

The rule are not consistently applied: former Prime Ministers and Cabinet members get to write their memoirs and Whitehall casts a blind eye over disclosures of classified material. Civil servants seem to be treated differently. There are cases where memoirs have been blocked to avoid embarrassment. There is a description of the saga of why it took 20+ years to clear for publication the offical history of SOE in France and pats of the Official Hiistory of WW2 relating to intelligence.

One of the examples is the campaign by various governments against Chapman Pincher (a British journalist in 50s to 70s, known for having excellent contacts with military and government officials. He wrote a number of stories exposing scandals in defence procurement. Let us be honest, much information was leaked to Pincher as part of interdepartmental conflict in Whitehall.

Then there was the scandal of PII Certificates - when Minsiters issued Public Interest Immunity certificates blocking courts from considering evidence deemed to be a matter of National Security. That one was blown wide open when it turned out to be covering up Government collusion in supplying arms to Saddam Hussein, which would have been very embarrassing. It led to a Public Inquiry - the Scott Inquiry.

Real espionage is treated very differently, at least in the UK, and tries to avoid show trials, since the agencies reasonably want to a avoid any discussion of sensitive matter in open court.

That’s one of the ways to spot politically motivated cases.

(required)February 9, 2018 11:31 AM

@Sancho

"No, he was not convicted for what you claim"

That doesn't actually change the factual nature of what he admittedly did in any case.
Reagan wasn't tried for the Iran-Contra scandal, would you then say it never happened?

The prosecution failed because they did things wrong, not because there was nothing there.
For example they misstated the nature of the information publicly off the bat. Very problematic.

"so he was and is innocent in this respect."

There's ample evidence of what he did actually access/send. There is no alternate explanation.
Whether or not he can be successfully prosecuted is a MUCH higher bar and more complex.

That doesn't make him innocent in fact, though I cede "innocent until proven guilty" is the idiom.
Innocent or guilt in the courtroom sense are not absolute innocence or guilt, nor thus precluded.

You pointed it out and I of course admit he was not convicted. That speaks to my larger point before, that it's actually pretty hard to get convicted of something without tons and tons of solid evidence, including that specifically related to motive and/or wilfull knowledge to commit crime. That's key.

"It simply doesn’t make sense to include “without knowledge” at possession."

It's a common law asserted defense, not a realistic mention by a prosecution, that's correct.

"From what I read he was a proud new American, only not white."

His race doesn't really factor into the crime. You think he was prosecuted for being non-white?
It's a bit of a stretch in this case. He was looked at harder for being a foreign national.
Those are two distinct concepts. I won't say race played "no" role, but still.

There are thousands, hundreds of thousands of Chinese engineers who have never been suspects at all.
Why not? Because it's not about race, it's about activity.

@ Clive

I can see why you would be confused with why I asked what I asked, from your perspective, but don't mistake my own with your previous conversations with other unnamed people. That's an argument style that nobody can really get behind either, ventriloquism.

(required)February 9, 2018 11:40 AM

@ Sancho

" not convicted == innocent. "

I think this is the heart of where you and I will have to agree to disagree.
I understand this puts me "in the wrong" from your empirical perspective.

But look at it :

To say that not convicted == "proof that the crime was not committed" is not true.
To say that not convicted == "no reason to ever have been looked at" is incorrect also.

There is an entire process to building a legal prosecution and any failure along the way dooms it all.
That does not mean that no part of the prosecution had a reliable factual basis. That is not the case.

Guilt and innocence are not empirically determined by the court. Approximations and determinations only.
If you've seen our legal system up close, you'd note the difference plainly. Every day, every case.

WhatWouldPompeoDoWithThatFebruary 9, 2018 8:11 PM

@(required)
FBI counterintelligence problems at the White House may include Trump's daughter Ivanka and and Trump's son-in-law Jared.

"... Last night, the WaPo answered a question that should have been answered at yesterday’s presser. There are dozens of people working in the White House who, like Porter, have not yet received clearance. Starting with the son-in-law that has been remapping the world while under active counterintelligence investigation for shaping policy in a way that may stave off familial bankruptcy.

Dozens of White House employees are awaiting permanent security clearances and have been working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information while the FBI continues to probe their backgrounds, according to U.S. officials.

People familiar with the security-clearance process said one of those White House officials with an interim approval is Jared Kushner — the president’s son-in-law and one of his most influential advisers.

Then Politico provided the other, even more critical piece of this puzzle: FBI already told the White House that Porter and others would not get security clearance. And there are witnesses that Kelly knew about these multiple White House aides and thought they should be fired.

White House chief of staff John Kelly was told several weeks ago that the FBI would deny full security clearances to multiple White House aides who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances.

Those aides, according to a senior administration official, included former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after reports that he physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.

The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week.

I figure around about noon we’ll learn Jared was one of the others.

Remember: according to Supreme Court precedent, the President has final authority on matters of clearance. So if Trump wants to override the FBI’s determination, he can. Which he might get away with so long as it remained secret, so long as the press didn’t know that a bunch of people were working with the country’s most sensitive information even though the FBI had told the White House it was a very bad idea to let them. And know which ones they were.

But whether through the coincidental timing of a bunch of women refusing to let a serial abuser go on with his life or through orchestration by the Bureau or both, any effort to keep secret that the White House was delaying the obvious counterintelligence choice or even perhaps planning to defy the FBI about it is in the process of being exposed.

Trump is reportedly consulting now with two of the most likely counterintelligence problems, Jared and (on her own right, because of her own dodgy business deals) Ivanka, on a staff shake-up to try to make this problem go away."

albertFebruary 10, 2018 12:19 PM

@Otter,
"homocidal" is not 'homicidal'. I'm looking for definition of 'homocidal':)

@(required),
Yes! Even though I was a champion speller in school, I often judge my spelling by how it looks. It's weird when you look at a word, know it's wrong, but still don't know the correct spelling. Surely this phenomenon must have been studied at some point.

Even though I use Spel-Chek, I still use this procedure:
1. Double-click on the word to select it.
2. Holding down the 'control' key, type 'c' then 't' then 'v'.
3. Hit 'enter'.
4. Your word will appear on the list of links.

You may get the annoyingly smug "Did you mean 'YYYYYY'"? Translating the Googlese: "You %@#&*^%! idiot! You meant 'XXXXXX', didn't you? (moron).

P.S. Re:"...What would you suggest in its place? This is where it gets tricky..."
Eliminating the grand jury system would be a start.

@Clive,
I'll come right out and say it. In this case, the AU gov't drones are complete idiots. The person or persons involve in releasing the cabinets are the guilty parties here, and if the gov't wants to punish anyone, it should them. Instead, they propose a law to punish anyone who even unknowingly, possesses 'classified' materials. There are hundreds of classified materials online already. Now we reach the point where gov't employees are forbidden to visit certain websites. The absurdity scale must be approaching infinity by now.

. .. . .. --- ....

Sancho_PFebruary 10, 2018 4:00 PM

@(required)

I think I understand what you are going to say.
Not convicted is neither a reason to assume there was no crime, nor a shame to have looked at someone, that‘s correct.
It simply says the suspect is innocent, no longer a suspect.
Justice would be to treat them as such, not to ruin them and their family.

We should accept when we reached the end. Revenge is a bad advisor, arrogance makes a bad loser, nazzionalism is an incurable illness (but very common in LE).

And I know that theory and practice are different. Sad it‘s true with justice.

AnonymousssFebruary 11, 2018 1:24 AM

Nobody should be "ruined" based on an unproven allegation, that's true.
The actual allegations against Wen Lee were more true than not.

"It simply says the suspect is innocent, no longer a suspect."

That's true in a legal sense, perhaps not in an overall sense. Acquitted people have been guilty,
later proven in some instances. I'm just saying - There's law, and there's reality.

Acquittal does not innocence make. It simply absolves the charge brought in that specific court.
Under this system, there is no double jeopardy under ordinary circumstances. Not all circumstances.

But NONE OF THIS proves innocence. It's an important distinction - especially with civil settlements or plea deals struck for various prosecutorial/political reasons. That is NOT evidence that nothing ever happened in the first place. It wasn't proven and you can't rely on "the fact that it was" as a crutch for any further legal argument. You have to find another avenue. A different case can still be brought if sought.

It is a difficult task to know what's true, I think we can all agree on that much.

225February 11, 2018 6:19 AM

The ABC practically outed their source by giving such specific details of how the documents were obtained. That or the whole second hand cabinet sale story was made up and really it was some computer internet technology goof that lead to the leak.

Either way if you are passing on something like this it's your responsibility to try and remain anonymous and send only digital copies to at least two news companies. This means there is no personal reward but there is also less chance of being dissappeared.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 11, 2018 8:31 PM

@ Albert,

The absurdity scale must be approaching infinity by now.

+1

Oh and it's not just the people from Auz wondering the same thing.

How do I put it delicately... There is a certain sort of person drawn to "Government Service" in western culture, that genuinely can not see what is absurd in what they do. It would be to simple to just call "Peter Principle" or a side effect of the application of "Parkinson's Law".

I feel sure there must be a "law" or "Principle" somewhere to pin this particular bug to a cork... yet non seem to capture it exactly. If it was just an individual you might call "Dunning-Kruger effect", but it's a "group think" thing as well.

Imagine if you will a group of people sitting around a table, and they have been tasked with solving say a "Government Recommend way to solve the itchy ear cannal problem". They end up gathering by the "cherry picking process" evidence that shows, there to actually be an itchy ear cannal problem, thus demonstrating some form of "cognative bias". Then someone from personal experience will say somethong like "Holding your head under water for a few minutes when having a bath eases the itch" will become the solution to the problem in the minds of the group without evidence because it sounds right thus an element of "group think" enters the picture. Then the real madness kicks in, someone will point out there are dangers involved with this at which point vestigial intelligence leaves by jumping out the window pulling it's hair out in the process. Happy to be free of that encumbrance the group pushes a head... The result will be something like "Five pieces of fruit a day" if you are lucky, but if you are unlucky a series of complex instructions that in an almost incomprehensible way tells you to perform some complex action. That some member of the public will work out is the equivalent of "stick your head in a bucket of warm water and stand up if you get short of breath with the bucket still on your head" and will contact a journalist or editor about it... Stories will appear, thus the "greater good" effect will kick in with the initial "blaim the messenger" "knee jerk" reaction. Then somebody who has managed to keep some measure of sanity points out it's actually true and thus others come out of the dream as sanity now bald and itchy climbs back in through the window. A form of "Damage limiting PR exercise" then happens to protect the guilty. In effect putting up a "Nothing to see move on" notice over the whole thing untill the news cycle moves on... till the next occurance.

As I said there has to be somebodies law or principle to cover this totaly bizzar behaviour, yet nobody appears to have come up with one that fits the whole not just some of the parts...

It needs something with "gravitas" to make it stick in the mind so every one can nod wisely on hearing it. Something like "Henry's Law / Principle / effect" said in a doom laiden voice... But not only are such labels already taken they refere to different things.

Maybe I should just name it "Robbo's Razor" that would atleast hint at a solution to the problem ;-)

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