Whistleblower sentenced over Afghan Files

MEAA says governments at all levels must commit to protecting whistleblowers and journalists.

Former military lawyer David McBride has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail for sharing classified military documents with journalists.

The material released by McBride was used in the ABC’s The Afghan Files story, which revealed allegations that Australian soldiers were involved in illegal killings. Investigative journalist Dan Oakes, was later awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for “service to journalism.”

In 2019 ABC offices were raided by the Australian Federal Police, reportedly over the Afghan Files, followed by the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

The Afghan Files also led to a Gold Walkley Award for the Four Corners report, Killing Field, by Mark Willacy on alleged unlawful acts by Australia’s elite soldiers in Afghanistan.

McBride pleaded guilty to three charges, including theft and sharing documents classified as secret, with members of the press.

ABC reports ACT Supreme Court Justice David Mossop rejected McBride’s case that he did not believe he was breaking the law, and found the offences were aggravated by his high security rating, which gave him access to the material.

He said McBride seemed to have become obsessed with the correctness of his own opinions.

But Justice Mossop did accept that McBride’s mental health, which included PTSD, might have had a minor contribution to the offending.

MEAA Media Director Michelle Rae said, “We respect the judge’s decision but it should never have come to this.

“This reporting was clearly in the public interest but the punishment given today is far in excess of any perceived wrongdoing.

“The prosecution has never proven that the disclosures have had any detrimental impact on Australa’s national security or its security relationships with other countries.

“Without whistleblowers working with journalists, corruption and wrongdoing is allowed to flourish.

“With Australia having slipped to 39th on global press freedom rankings, governments at all levels must commit to protecting whistleblowers and journalists.

“A mature democracy does not shy away from scrutiny and the public has a right to know what its government does.

“It is time our political leaders truly embraced transparency and accountability.”

McBride will serve a non-parole period of two years and three months.

Speaking outside court today after the sentencing, McBride’s lawyer Mark Davis said they would appeal.