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5 December 2013

Snowden Allegedly Stole 20,000 Aussie Files

Edward Snowden stole up to 20,000 Aussie files

Cameron Stewart and Paul Maley
The Australian
December 05, 2013 12:00AM

MORE than 15,000 secret Australian intelligence reports may have been stolen by rogue US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in what the Coalition government is now describing as the most damaging blow dealt to Australian intelligence in the nation's history.

The spy scandal has not led to reduced intelligence sharing with the US, but Australian agencies have expressed concern directly to their American counterparts about the severe damage caused to Australia's national security interests by the Snowden leaks.

News of the mammoth scale of the security breach comes at a time when Australian officials are striving to repair the damage to relations with Indonesia in the wake of revelations that Australian intelligence monitored the phones of Indonesian leaders.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flew to Jakarta last night as part of a delegation that includes defence secretary Dennis Richardson and the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Vargese, for "broad-ranging discussions" about a new way forward for the relationship.

Ms Bishop will discuss with her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa the recent statement by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which called for the relationship to be underpinned by new protocols of behaviour, including a new understanding on intelligence co-operation.

The government hopes that the meeting will mark the first step towards the eventual normalisation of relations after Dr Yudhoyono suspended joint co-operation on defence, people-smugglers and the sharing of intelligence in retaliation for revelations that the then Defence Signals Directorate in 2009 monitored his mobile phone and that of his wife and eight other leadership figures.

Australian intelligence agencies are understood to have scoped the potential damage for future leaks from the Snowden affair and have assessed that between 15,000 and 20,000 secret Australian intelligence files could have been accessed by Snowden through his computer at NSA, although it is unknown how many of these he actually stole before seeking refuge in Russia.

The majority of the stolen reports are likely to discuss political, economic and military intelligence gleaned by Australian agencies, especially the Australian Signals Directorate (formerly DSD), in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Australian files are among the millions of Western intelligence reports Mr Snowden is understood to have been able to access.

The Australian understands a massive audit is under way to assess what was in the files, although the volume of material means it is a slow, painstaking process.

In the strongest public comments made by the government, Attorney-General George Brandis told The Australian yesterday that the Snowden leaks were the most damaging in Australia's history.

"The Snowden revelations are the most serious setback for Western intelligence since the Second World War and, given that most of the sophistication and the structure of Western intelligence-gathering was developed since the Second World War, it would not be an exaggeration to say it is the most serious ever," Mr Brandis said. "It is more serious than WikiLeaks, it is more serious than (Cold War British spies Kim) Philby and (Guy) Burgess and (Donald) Maclean, because of its extent. The extent of it is vast -- we are talking about huge numbers of files which Snowden has put into the public domain."

It is understood that Australian intelligence agencies have reviewed their internal security procedures in the wake of the Snowden leaks to avoid the emergence of local rogue leakers. Mr Brandis would not discuss details of this review or confirm the number of Australian intelligence reports that could have been stolen by Snowden, but he said Australian agencies had acted lawfully in the past and that secure procedures were in place to prevent a Snowden-like security breach inside Australian agencies.

"I have seen no evidence and have no reason to believe that the agencies or individuals in carrying out their duties have acted unlawfully," Mr Brandis said. "I am satisfied that the legal structure, practices and safeguards as observed by Australian national security agencies are as strong as they can be. However, there can never be a . . . complete guarantee against the actions of a traitorous individual."

Although Australian agencies have expressed concern about the breach, sources said Australia received enormous benefits from the close intelligence relationship with the US and there was no desire to dilute that relationship.

However, the government believes further damaging leaks from Snowden material are inevitable and could spark similar sharp diplomatic tensions with other countries in the region as has happened with Indonesia.

Tony Abbott has expressed regret for any hurt caused to Dr Yudhoyono and his wife by the Snowden revelations but he did not apologise for the revelations, saying Australia had a right to protect its national interests.

Dr Natalegawa, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, claimed after the bugging revelations that Indonesia did not spy on Australia but he was contradicted by former Indonesian intelligence chief Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who said Indonesia had monitored the phones of Australian politicians and it was a normal part of intelligence-gathering.

Dr Natalegawa yesterday indicated he would be seeking further explanation of Australian espionage activities when he meets Ms Bishop in Jakarta today. "We need to draw a line . . . but before we move forward, we have to be informed of what's happened in the past, so there's no more surprises, no more shocks," he said.

Ms Bishop, Mr Varghese and Mr Richardson are expected to join senior Indonesian bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today before the ministers meet privately.

The meetings suggest Canberra is now moving firmly to draw a line through the row, which has reduced bilateral relations to their lowest ebb in 14 years. Ms Bishop's meeting with Dr Natalegawa is a key early movement in the six-step process for reconciliation and restoration of full security, military and policing co-operation set out by Dr Yudhoyono last week.

Dr Yudhoyono endorsed Mr Abbott's letter of explanation of the 2009 episode. However, he said "it still seems there are some things that need to be clarified by Australia", a theme his Foreign Minister returned to yesterday.

Dr Natalegawa said he would meet separately with Ms Bishop.

Marciano Norman, chief of the National Security Agency, said last week there would be separate discussions between both countries' intelligence chiefs to produce agreements that would be embedded in the code of ethical conduct and security protocol that Dr Yudhoyono insists upon.

Additional reporting: Peter Alford