Australian federal police raided the offices of national broadcaster ABC in Sydney this morning (June 5) with search warrants in relation to its 2017 series, The Afghan Files, which used leaked defense department documents to expose unlawful killings by the country’s military in Afghanistan.
The raid was detailed in a series of tweets by John Lyons, executive editor of ABC News and head of its investigative journalism unit. Lyons tweeted that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) accepted him live-tweeting the incident as long as he did not reveal any sensitive names or material.
According to Lyons’ tweets, the AFP’s warrants—which name three ABC executives—covered a wide range of materials, involving everything from “handwritten/digital notes,” “minutes,” and “graphics.” In the end, the police dowloaded over 9,000 items from ABC’s computers. Lyons said he was “staggered” by the power of the warrants, and that the broadcaster’s lawyers were left “playing with a weak hand.”
The raid was ongoing at the time of writing. Lyons tweeted that there was a “lull in the cull,” as AFP personnel sifted through the emails.
Today’s raid comes just one day after police also raided the home of a News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, in Canberra. Smethurst published a story last year detailing a plan by the government to step up espionage on citizens. In its seven-hour raid, the AFP combed through Smethurst’s personal items, including cookbooks in her kitchen.
ABC said today’s raid “raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters” and that it would protect its sources. News Corp said that the raid on Smethurst’s home “sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia.”
Australia’s defense department had referred the leaks of correspondence between senior civil servants as detailed in Smethurst’s story to the AFP in 2018.
The AFP said the two raids were not related, and dismissed any connection between the actions taken by the force and the government. Australia’s home affairs minister also said that there was no government involvement in the raids. Prime minister Scott Morrison said he supported press freedom in the country, but also that he believed that “laws are being upheld” with regards to the raid at Smethurst’s home.
“I’ve never seen an assault on the media as savage as this one we’re seeing on the ABC,” said Lyons this afternoon in an appearance on The Drum, a daily current-affairs program on the network. “This would not be allowed to happen in the United States under the constitution.”