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Top secret Australian government files accidentally sold in furniture shop

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) obtained them and published some of their contents online, but withholding others for national security reasons

Global Voices  |  Sydney 

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As the cliché goes, you couldn't make this stuff up. Classified documents from five Australian administrations covering nearly 10 years were accidentally sold in two locked filing cabinets at a second-hand furniture shop. Most were either “top secret” or “AUSTEO” (Australian Eyes Only).

The (ABC) obtained them and published some of their contents online, but withholding for national security reasons. The Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) have since taken custody of the original files following an agreement between the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the The agreement protects the identity of the source who bought the filing cabinets.

Many on social media have been bemused by this bizarre breach of security:

The files didn't only spark jokes. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is suing the over its reporting of one of the documents which warned of “critical risks” concerning a contentious home insulation scheme during the global financial crisis in 2009. Four young installers working as part of that scheme died in separate incidents from electrocution and hyperthermia. Rudd claims that the document was referring to financial issues, not safety.

Rudd’s legal action has brought its fair share of criticism:

A second sensitive document concerns an audit of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealing that the agency had apparently lost 400 files from the Cabinet’s National Security Committee (NSC) between 2008 and 2013. The AFP responded publicly, saying that the document was outdated and that the final number of files that remained unaccounted for was 33.

None of their missing files was in the haul. “These documents have been destroyed, but there is no official record to indicate that this destruction occurred,” the agency said in a press release.

‘The gravity of this scenario cannot be overstated.’

Chris Duckett, the editor of ZDNet and TechRepublic Australia, took a sober tone:

"The gravity of this scenario cannot be overstated. These are secret documents that the Australian government creates usually locked uo for 20 years before being released to the public due to their sensitively and to put a bit of time between the actors and their actions, yet here they were up for sale in suburban Canberra."

Noely joined a chorus on Twitter of those worried about the security of data that the government collects from its citizens:

Concerns have also emerged about whether Australia's allies can trust the country's ability to keep a secret. Defence Connect, a defence industry information site, pointed out:

"The ABC has said one file contained highly classified documents that revealed insights into the National Security Committee, which is charged with decisions related to intelligence and security.

When pressed by media in Adelaide, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne refused to comment on what the revelations will mean for Australia's relationships with key allies."

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First Published: Sat, February 03 2018. 17:16 IST