Hundreds of top-secret and highly classified government documents were found in locked filing cabinets bought for “small change” at a second-hand store in Australia.
This extraordinary and highly embarrassing breach of national security is “one of the biggest breaches of cabinet security in Australian history,” reported the Australian ABC.
The trove of documents, now known as The Cabinet Files, were obtained by the Australian broadcaster ABC after journalists bought two locked filing cabinets at a second-hand furniture shop for a small amount of money because no one could find the keys to unlock them.
For some months, the cabinets remained untouched until the locks were “attacked with a drill,” according to the broadcaster.
The documents contain thousands of pages of information revealing the inner workings of five separate governments for nearly a decade. By law, these documents are supposed to remain a secret for at least 20 years.
According to the ABC, most of the documents are classified and some were “top secret” or “AUSTEO”—meaning they are meant to be seen by “Australian eyes” only.
What Was in The Filing Cabinet?
The ABC has published some of the documents found in the cabinet and withheld others for national security reasons or to protect the privacy of public servants.
According to the broadcaster, some of the revelations from the files include:
– Allegations that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) lost nearly 400 national security files over the course of five years, between 2008 and 2013. The classified documents lost were from the National Security Committee (NSC) of the cabinet, which controls the country’s security, intelligence, and defense agenda.
– Nearly 200 codeword-protected and sensitive documents were left in the office of senior minister Penny Wong after Labor lost in the 2013 elections. These documents were eventually found by security staff who had them destroyed.
– The government’s secret strategy for negotiating with investors in the National Broadband Network (NBN), which it is the sole owner of.
– A report in The Cabinet Files said former prime ministers Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and two other senior Labor ministers were warned about the “critical risks” of a home insulation scheme prior to the deaths of the four installers.
– Former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison agreed to delay Australian Security Intelligence Organization security checks on asylum seekers so they would miss the deadline to apply for permanent asylum status before new legislation went into effect that would restrict their asylum protection to three years.
– Former Attorney General Philip Ruddock had proposed to John Howard’s National Security Committee (NSC) to remove an individual’s right to remain silent when questioned by police after Dr. Mohammed Haneef was wrongfully arrested on terrorism charges. His name was later cleared and he was given compensation by the government.
– Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s expenditure review committee had considered denying income support payments for people under 30 years ahead of the 2014 budget.
Australian Government’s Response to Breach
In response to the security breach, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) announced an “urgent investigation” on Jan. 31 to look into “the circumstances around the disposal of two Commonwealth Government filing cabinets that allegedly contained classified material.”
Terry Moran, a former head of the PMC from 2008 to 2011, told ABC that the discovery of the documents was a “great surprise.”
“Whoever is responsible for selling a couple of filing cabinets, which I think were locked, that must have been heavy with all the papers in them—without checking what was in the filing cabinets … ought to be found and sacked,” Moran said in the interview.