The Afghan Files: The story behind police raid on the ABC

The ABC offices in Ultimo, Sydney, were raided by police on Wednesday over a series of stories relating to the conduct of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

A warrant obtained by AFP officers granted them permission to search documents and computers linked to reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark as well as news director Gaven Morris.

The material they were interested in related to the 2017 stories by the national broadcaster dubbed ‘The Afghan Files’.

The stories were based on hundreds of pages of secret Defence Force documents leaked to the ABC which suggested Australian special military troops had allegedly committed war crimes in Afghanistan involving the killing of men and children.

One story involved the possibly unlawful killing of a 6-year-old boy and his father during a raid in central Afghanistan and allegations of a cover up.

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‘A bloody, secretive war’

The 2017 Afghan Files reported a growing unease among top Defence officials about Australia’s “warrior culture” in special force units operating abroad.

The documents give “unprecedented insight into the clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children,” the ABC reported at the time.

“(They) suggest a growing unease at the highest levels of Defence about the culture of Australia’s special forces as they prosecuted a bloody, secretive war against insurgents across a swathe of southern Afghanistan.”

The files shed light on notorious incidents among Australian troops, including the severing of the hands of dead Taliban fighters by an Australian soldier.

The ABC produced a number of shocking stories based on the material including one that embroiled Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who as a former SAS officer and commander of the soldier who cut the hands off, sounded the alarm with superiors.

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ABC director Gaven Morris tweeted a link to the story shortly after the raid calling it “outstanding journalism” and confirming the reporting was the target of the police raid.

The ABC has also promoted the story this afternoon, returning it to the homepage of its website.

It comes a day after a News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst had her Canberra home raided by police over a story she published last year detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.

ABC executive editor John Lyons tweeted today that ABC lawyers asked the federal police if there was any connection with the raid on Ms Smethurst on Tuesday, and the police said "No".

The AFP on Wednesday confirmed officially that: "This (ABC) activity is not linked to a search warrant executed in Canberra yesterday."

The executive editor of the broadcaster has been live tweeting the raid this afternoon. Shortly after 1pm, he said police had asked for drafts and scripts of all stories relating to the issue.

“This really strikes at the heart of what journalists do as sometimes drafts have notes, names and numbers - that’s why they’re drafts,” he wrote.

Lyons also confirmed that ABC lawyers had told the AFP officers: "We waive no rights, and reserve right to take injunction against the warrant."

The ABC office in Sydney, pictured here with a security guard out the front.
A security guard is seen at the ABC Ultimo Offices in Sydney. Source: AAP/file photo

‘Raid raises concerns over freedom of press’: ABC

The national broadcaster says a raid on its Sydney office "raises concerns over freedom of the press".

The ABC vowed to protect its sources even as the federal police raid was continuing at the broadcaster's offices in Ultimo on Wednesday afternoon.

"It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way," the ABC said in a statement.

"This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters."

The ABC said it stood by its journalists, would protect its sources and continue to report "without fear or favour" on national security and intelligence issues in the public interest.

The Australian Federal Police in a statement said the raid was "in relation to allegations of publishing classified material contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act".

It said the search warrant related to a referral received on July 11, 2017, from the Defence Force chief and the then-acting secretary for Defence.

The federal police said the warrant was duly authorised and no arrests were planned.

With AAP

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