The Australian Federal Police raided Australia’s ABC news offices earlier this month, as well as the home of journalist Annika Smethurst. When searching the offices, they had a search warrant with two specifics names on it, journalists Sam Clark and Daniel Oakes. Clark and Oakes published a piece called “The Afghan Files” in 2017, based largely on military documents that were leaked to them which detailed war crimes investigations being conducted into the activities of the Australian Special Air Service and commandos.
The documents, many marked AUSTEO — Australian Eyes Only — suggest a growing unease at the highest levels of Defense about the culture of Australia’s special forces as they prosecuted a bloody, secretive war against insurgents across a swath of southern Afghanistan.
One document from 2014 refers to ingrained “problems” within special forces, an “organizational culture” including a “warrior culture” and a willingness by officers to turn a blind eye to poor behavior.
Another document refers to a “desensitization” and “drift in values” among elite Special Air Service soldiers serving in Afghanistan, while others allude to deep divisions between the two elite units which primarily comprise the special forces — the SAS, based in Perth, and 2 Commando Regiment, based in Sydney.
Meanwhile, the early-morning raid at the home of Annika Smethurst was related to a story she published regarding how the Home Affairs and Defense ministers were considering greatly expanding the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate to allow it to spy on Australian citizens for the first time. Smethurst reported that the new rules would allow the Home Affairs and Defense ministers to approve warrants for surveillance of Australians without the attorney general even knowing about it.
The police raids appear to be an attempt by the authorities to ferret out the sources who have been providing information to these journalists. The warrants they obtained for the search are currently being challenged in the Australian judicial system.