D77

13 November 1996

ALLEGATIONS BY THE AGE OF SECURITY BREACH



The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not believe the allegations made in The Age newspaper today that classified documents were left in filing cabinets that were auctioned at a surplus furniture sale on 6-7 November in Canberra.

The Department bases its conclusion on a thorough review of the extensive security arrangements that were put in place prior to and during the move (up until the date of the auction) and discussions with the auctioneers who carried out the sale of the surplus furniture.

The auctioneers, Pickles Auctions Pty Ltd, have advised the Department that, contrary to the claim in The Age, no documents were found and, specifically, that "no Pickles Auctions employees handed any information to a third party"at the auction.

Many aspects of the article stretch the limits of credibility. It is claimed that an "off-duty public servant" was handed 16 documents in the midst of the auction that was carried out in situ with more than 100 members of the public present who were constantly examining the goods prior to and during the actual auction. Furthermore, that two cabinets full of documents were also observed. Yet no-one reported anything to any of the officialspresent and the auctioneers have specifically denied finding or handing over documents.

It is also strange that the "off duty public servant" did not come forward at the time. There is no penalty against a public servant returning documents found in such circumstances and no need to remain anonymous.

It may be that The Age has been given documents that are purportedly departmental cable traffic. However, we have seen no evidence that any documents came from the furniture auction and we do not believe that this is true. No-one in the Department has reported missing cabinets of documents in the move to the new building.

As is usual, the Department is investigating this purported leak of documents and is asking the Australian Federal Police to assist. If there is such an "off-duty public servant", he should come forward and assist the Department and the police to investigate the matter.

Extensive security arrangements were put in place by the Department during the move from the Administrative Building to the R.G. Casey Building.

Prior to the move, all staff were advised of special security arrangements to move secure documents from the old building to the new;
After the Administrative Building was evacuated, a sweep of the building was carried out by security staff to ensure no sensitive material was left behind;

Moreover, the auctioneers themselves examined all items to be sold to satisfy themselves that they were fit to be auctioned. They have denied the claim in The Age that documents were handed by "an auction official" to an unidentified "off duty public servant."

Extra guards were employed to assist in protecting both buildings for the entire period of the move up until the auction.

A short time ago, The Age newspaper passed to the Department the one document it had in its possession. It will be included in the departmental and police inquiries.

For further information, please contact Paul Molloy, Media Liaison Section, DFAT, on (06) 261 1594