Snowden, Manning not whistleblowers: Australian attorney-general

Snowden, Manning not whistleblowers: Australian attorney-general

Summary: In a speech defending telecommunications interception powers, Australia's attorney-general has said that US government leakers Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are not whistleblowers.


Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has slammed the leaks of government information by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, claiming that the two are not "whistleblowers", because the information they leaked was not related to government "wrongdoing".

In a broad speech to the Security in Government conference in Canberra defending the Australian government's use of telecommunications interception powers for investigating crime, the attorney-general said that disclosures by Manning and the more recent leaks from Snowden about the National Security Agency's interception program known as PRISM could cause "long-lasting harm" to Australia's ability to "identify and respond to the many threats our nation faces".

He said that Snowden and Manning were not engaged in "whistleblowing", because they were not leaking information about government wrongdoing.

"Where an activity has been authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies, and where no wrongdoing has been identified, the disclosure of information is not 'whistleblowing'. This is a critical point that is often overlooked in much of the media coverage of the release of classified information by Mr Snowden in particular," Dreyfus said.

Dreyfus praised the work of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in averting major threats, and said that at least four planned terrorist attacks in Australia have been thwarted since September 11, 2001, thanks in part to telecommunications interception.

"Telecommunications interception is one of the most effective means that parliament has given our national security and law enforcement agencies to do their jobs," he said.

"To illustrate the importance of interception, in the 2011-12 financial year, there were 5,928 prosecutions and 2,267 convictions based on lawfully intercepted material. Most of those were for serious criminal offences."

But he said that there is oversight into the telecommunications interception regime under current law, and if foreign intelligence agencies such as the NSA want access to communications from an Australian citizen, they need ministerial authorisation.

The intelligence agencies are currently seeking more powers for telecommunications interception, including forcing telecommunications carriers to retain metadata for up to two years. A parliamentary committee investigating potential overhauls to the telecommunications interception laws recommended against that proposal until privacy concerns have been addressed and drafts of the legislation have been made public.

Now in the midst of an election campaign, Dreyfus gave no indication of whether the government would forge ahead with data retention plans if it wins the election in September, instead saying that the government will "carefully consider" the parliamentary report.

He did, however, slam the opposition's lack of policy regarding national security.

"At the 2010 election, the Coalition were virtually silent on national security issues. Their current policy pamphlet does have a section on counter-terrorism but it consists of only one sentence, which does not give us or the Australian public much to assess," he said.

"I assume from the virtual silence from the Coalition that they approve of the Federal Labor's current policy settings, and the resourcing of our national security agencies."

Topics: Government, Government AU, Security


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • evil at work

    evil at work
    • Minister of Propaganda

      Mark Dreyfus is also the Minister of Integrity. Ha ha, great title, shame about the lack of actual integrity.
  • he needs

    To look up the definition of whistleblower.
    • No, you need to look up definition of whistleblower

      Under the Australian Public Service Act they are not whistleblowers because the information they've made public has not demonstrated illegal activity under US government law. it would be similar under the US equivalent.

      Whether they breached the laws of other governments will be irrelevant under the US legislation because NSA is supposed to be targeting overseas comms (they have a license). Just because an overseas comm went to a US citizen won't mean they aren't allowed to capture it. They changed the legislation to allow the departments to share - that was the point of 911, if only they shared info they could've stopped the event.

      But I think there have been moral breaches, but unfortunatly morality has nothing to do with the law, which means they are not whistleblowers. And this is the point socieity needs to debate - how to make it OK to disclose something that isn't illegal but perhaps should be illegal, when the events go beyond the intent but within the bounds of the legislation.
      • Strange

        that you are attempting to apply Australian law to the US. Does the US Attorney General know they are governed by Australian law? And does the NSA know they are Australian public servants? Most in the US operate under the misapprehension that the whistleblower laws that apply to them (and there are many of them) prevent institutions from acting in a manner that is illegal, not just internally, but also externally. And the last I looked, it was entirely illegal to bug the offices of an embassy in both the US and Australia, not to mention every country in the world subject to international law. However whether or not one receives protection under US whistleblower laws ultimately depends upon the interpretation of many contradictory laws. So perhaps it is a good thing that the US is now subject to your clear-cut interpretation of Australian laws re the Australian public service. That'll clear up a lot of confusion in the US Supreme Court.

        Personally, I think it is rather common sense to use the popular definition of "whistleblower" when interpreting the law. After all, if we allowed the organisations or institutions responsible for the wrongs committed to define what is or is not a "whistleblower" within the confines of their institution, there is nothing to prevent them from defining a whistleblower as a "one-horned one-eyed flying purple people eater" (with all subsequent legal debate focusing upon whether it is a one-horned beast that eats one-eyed flying purple people, or....). Snowden is a whistleblower under the popular use of the expression as far as I'm concerned.
      • PS

        here's a reason why Snowden meets the US definition for whistleblower:
      • whistleblower

        So you're saying we need a definition of "whistleblower" that covers breaking the laws of all the other countries they wiretap
        • Such a Ridiculous Statement Barely Deserves Response, but...

          By tapping embassies, etc, the US is breaking international laws to which it is beholden. That is not even remotely the same as suggesting that they cannot break another country's laws.
  • The attorney general is a lawyer,

    which also means liar. You just have to say that such and such an action is legal for some reason or other and you can do whatever you like. Lying, stealing, killing, it's all legal.

    The NSW cops grew and sold drugs for over 20 years because what they were doing was legal, or rather that anyone who disagreed always ended up dead. Get the wording right, spread the money around, and you can do whatever you like; legally.
  • Another wolf

    The wolves that guard the hen house are telling us that no chickens have gone missing.
  • To Quote Mark Dreyfuss

    "the two are not "whistleblowers", because the information they leaked was not related to government "wrongdoing"".

    I'd say that the government spying on its' citizens and mudering civillians is definitely "wrongdoing".
  • Dreyfus is DEAD WRONG on his interpretation of 'legal'

    Snowden's revelations about the NSA showed that the past few US administrations have willfully contravened the Fourth Amendment... to the point where a US Congress vote to cease telephone metadata collection (immediately) would have passed, but for both party leaderships stepping in to rescue the spooks' budget. It is clearly outside the power of a secret FISA court to overturn the US constitution. And the Patriot Act only allowed NSA to collect data pertaining to someone under investigation with respect to suspected terrorism, and gave no right to do blanket data surveillance of the population.

    And what clearly drove Pte Manning to whistle-blow was the cover-up of war crimes as seen in the video "Collateral Murder" (available on YouTube). Everyone right up to the highest levels of the Pentagon had done a cover-up on that one, refusing Reuters' valid FOI requests to learn how their reporter and camera team had been assassinated. That was done simply to cover-up the war crime. So Manning had no 'internal' option to raise the alarm over war crimes. The 1946 US prosecutors' precedent set at the Nuremberg Trials was that even junior members of the armed forces had an obligation to speak out (and defy orders) when war crimes were evident.

    By claiming that these illegal activities were 'legal', Dreyfus is implicating himself in the cover-up, and showing himself to have no moral standing.

    And Dreyfus' claim (as reported in article): "if foreign intelligence agencies such as the NSA want access to communications from an Australian citizen, they need ministerial authorisation" is a big lie. It is up there with Clapper's lie to the US Congress. The NSA can use Pine Gap, Google servers, Hotmail servers, Skype servers etc to gain access to huge amounts of communications of Australian citizens, without any ministerial approval whatsoever. And the NSA's few safeguards relate solely to spying on US citizens+residents. What Dreyfus said was so misleading and untruthful as to convey the opposite to the actual situation. What he could have said was that if the US agencies wanted to confirm that they had everything about a particular Australian citizen, they could ask their Australian counterparts, but in general had little need for any such further information.

    Dreyfus is seeking to claim that all surveillance will continue as it was. But even those in Washington know that the game has changed completely. There will be more privacy safeguards, probably led by the Europeans. And Dreyfus should try to be ahead of the game, by suggesting that discussions are taking place about the privacy safeguards required, rather than trying to justify the status quo.

    Graeme Harrison
    Former Harvard Adviser to The (US) White House
    Sydney, Australia
    prof at-symbol

    Australian attorney-general, DREYFUS, asserts :
    "He said that Snowden and Manning were not engaged in 'whistleblowing', because they were not leaking information about government wrongdoing."

    Whut ?

    Just another example of blatant Orwellian lies from a corrupt Govt.

    So, a video of a US helicopter gunship gunning down innocent civilians and journalists, is NOT recording the most heinous of Govt authorised and orchestrated crime ?

    I expect every reader (herein) to now contribute their own example of manifest lies and duplicity by ALL Govts around the world.

  • Mark...

    Have you possibly heard of the USA 4th Amendment? Here's a link, perhaps you ought to read it...
  • Erm...

    "Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has slammed the leaks of government information by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, claiming that the two are not "whistleblowers", because the information they leaked was not related to government "wrongdoing"."

    The government killing civilians and reporters and then trying to cover it up isn't "wrongdoing"?

    Also, I thought the US constitution didn't allow the US government to spy on it's own people without a warrant? Isn't that also "wrongdoing"?
  • Thanks Mark...

    ... your appalling drivel, probably hand written in big letters by your rogue AGs departmental droids has achieved something of a first in Australian electoral history. You have succeeded in losing my vote after 50 years of Labor loyalty. I cannot and will not support a party that would take this line. You and your cowardly and stupid subservience to US 'interests' are a disgrace to your party, your country and your principles. Oh, and please don't go back into private practice if you get booted next month, the community deserves better there too.

    Oh, and for the record, your slimy opposition shadow is just as bad, the only rational voice on these matters if Senator Ludlum... and that's where I'm off to.

    Well done dufus...
  • Wrong doing

    I'm not a lawyer, but shooting civilians from a gun ship. Not wrong?!?!?.
    Spying on people's phone calls without a warrant. Not wrong?!?!.
    Helping union carbide walk away from India without paying compensation. Not wrong?!?!.
    Are the Watergate reporters going to be arrested?!?!?!.
    4 corners reporters better run and hide.
  • Stupid culture of secrecy

    In the long run, the U.S. government, its citizens and the rest of the world would all be better off if the U.S. promptly declassified at least 90 percent of their unnecessarily "classified" secrets and published the works on the Internet -- say, everything except how to make atomic bombs and how to make chemical and biological weapons, which is information that is still truly potentially harmful. All the rest is not truly harmful to U.S. interests or the interersts of individual Americans, merely potentially embarrassing to individuals who at one time or another claimed, with little evidence, to be acting in the U.S. "national interest". And if the high crimes and misdemeanours, not to say outright war crimes, of Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, John Foster Dulles, John Negroponte, George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr., Oliver North, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft (by no means an exhaustive list) as well as the illegal dealings abroad of IT&T, the United Fruit Co., Blackwater and Halliburton (to name but a few) become fully detailed in all their corruption and wickedness, wouldn't the cleared air be easier for everyone to breathe? Having the facts in plain view might also take a bit of wind out of the sails of stupid conspiracy theorists who, in the absence of real, full disclosure, concoct their own fanciful explanations.