Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Marise Payne mishandled information provided by a whistleblower: Payne's dealings with the French embassy require investigation

by Ganesh Sahathevan

The Defence Minister Marise Payne has no right whatsoever to hand over ,especially to a foreign government,  information brought to her attention by anyone claiming whistle-blower protection: 

Payne told The Australian yesterday she did not access the data drive and had no way to verify its contents. “I conveyed the drive to the secretary of my department. The drive was provided to a senior official at the French embassy, given its purported contents were the property of French company DCNS.”

In her own words, she handed over to the French a USB that could have contained anything, including classified Australian Government information.Even if it was not classified, there was no telling what there was on that USB that might be useful to the French in their dealings with Australia.Then, she assumed the French were the rightful owners, based on what she felt were "its purported contents".

Information coming into the possession of the Government Of Australia must be properly  analyzed,and its relevance to the interests of Australia properly determined. The Australian Government is not an arm of the French or any other government.Its only interest is that of the Australian people.
This familiarity with DCNS and the French Government is disturbing, to say the least, in any Asian country Payne would have long since been sacked. 

Navigating the submarine leaks scandal: the story behind a scoop

Rex Patrick, a former navy submariner, left his former role as a training officer for foreign navies to join Nick Xenophon as an adviser early this year.
On August 29, independent senator Nick Xenophon walked into the office of Defence Minister Marise Payne and handed her a data stick containing the stolen secrets of India’s new submarine fleet.
Xenophon also told her that the person behind the explosive story in The Australian five days earlier — which revealed the leak of 22,400 pages of secret data on the French-designed Indian fleet — was his own senior adviser Rex Patrick.
The senator told Payne that the actions of Patrick, a former submariner, were those of a whistleblower who had acted in Australia’s national interest by helping to protect the integrity of the $50 billion future submarine project.
Then came an unexpected twist. Xenophon told the Defence Minister that in 2013, Patrick had shown a part of the confidential leaked data to Defence’s most senior submariner, Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, but nothing had come of it.
Sammut says he passed the information on to Defence Intelligence, who never followed it up with him.
It was an astonishing claim in a story that already had become a global scandal and front-page news in France and India.
This was just one in a series of remarkable backroom developments in the submarine leaks controversy that The Australian can now reveal. They have embroiled navy top brass, the Turnbull cabinet, diplomats and spies as investigators in three countries try to contain the damage and ­apportion blame for the massive international security leak.
Now Patrick, who has agreed to speak about his role for the first time, has told of his meeting with Sammut and his decision to become a whistleblower.
Patrick received the data stick containing the 22,400 leaked files by accident in April 2013 after the data had been stolen from DCNS by a former subcontractor in 2011 and had made its way from France to Southeast Asia and on to Sydney.
The 49-year-old Patrick left his former role as a training officer for foreign navies to join Xenophon as an adviser early this year. He says that after he sat on the leaked submarine documents for more than three years, it was time to make public the fact that the French company that will design Australia’s new submarine fleet had suffered a catastrophic criminal leak of confidential data on its Indian submarine project in 2011.
“It was time to get the issue out into the open. It alerted Australian taxpayers to the problem … they have a right to know that the problem exists, that they (the government) need to work with France to solve,” he says.
At first the government was furious when it learned of Xenophon’s role in sanctioning Patrick’s decision to disclose the leak to this newspaper. The public revelation was hugely embarrassing for Australia, France and India.
It was a black eye for the global reputation of French shipbuilder DCNS, in which the Turnbull government had invested heavily by announcing it as the winner of the competition to design Australia’s new submarine fleet.
In the eyes of the government, the South Australian senator had sanctioned a leak that had harmed the reputation of DCNS and, by extension, Australia’s ­future submarine project.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne did not accept Xenophon and Patrick’s argument that the disclosure was in the public interest because it would prompt France and Australia to redouble efforts to prevent a similar leak on the Australian submarine project.
Pyne was furious at his South Australian political rival and said publicly that whoever leaked the story could not be classified as a whistleblower.
Yet Pyne and Payne knew within hours of The Australian breaking the story on August 24 that Xenophon was linked to the leak.
That morning, Xenophon had called Payne’s office to confess his and Patrick’s role in the story, but the minister was travelling overseas so he told a staffer he would tell Payne the full story when she returned. Once Xenophon confessed Patrick’s identify to Payne, it became an open secret in government and Defence circles.
Soon after The Australian revealed news of the leak, Sammut, as head of the Future Submarine Project, told Defence secretary Dennis Richardson and Payne of his brief discussion with Patrick three years earlier.
Sammut, who then was a commodore in charge of submarine capability, is one of the most respected officers in Defence. At that time, there was no competition for the future submarine and DCNS was not a contender.
Patrick and Sammut give different versions of their meeting on that day. Patrick says he approached Sammut in the waiting room of a Defence estimates hearing in May 2013 with the leaked Scorpene data.
“I put a USB stick into my computer and presented the front screen of the Scorpene datafile to Greg,” says Patrick.
“I then told him how the data came into my possession and took him through a couple of pages of the disk.”
Patrick says he made the significance of the data clear to Sammut. “I offered to surrender the disk to him but required an undertaking that my name, as the source of the disk, not be provided to anyone,” he says. “He told me he was not sure he could do that and would have to seek advice.”
Sammut disputes Patrick’s version of events and says he was not made aware of the significance of the data during their short discussion. “I did not view the information regarding a Scorpene submarine Mr Patrick claimed to hold in any detail,” Sammut said in a statement last night. “I did see one page of indeterminate material on his computer screen. He did not indicate that this information concerned India’s Scorpenes.”
Sammut said he reported this encounter to the then deputy ­director of intelligence and sec­urity and it was agreed that the Defence Intelligence Organisation would take up the matter.
Patrick says the DIO did not make contact with him and as far as he is aware, nothing further happened.
Yet the decision by Xenophon and Patrick in August to surrender the stolen DCNS data file to Payne created a dilemma for the government, which had to decide what to do with 22,400 pages of highly sensitive data on the submarine fleet of a major regional power.
Payne told The Australian yesterday she did not access the data drive and had no way to verify its contents. “I conveyed the drive to the secretary of my department. The drive was provided to a senior official at the French embassy, given its purported contents were the property of French company DCNS.”
France is believed to have provided a copy to the Indian government, although the Indian high commission in Canberra could not confirm this yesterday.
Investigators in both countries are trying to gauge the extent of the damage that may have been caused if the leaked data were ­accessed by a foreign power.
French public prosecutors and French intelligence agencies are also tracking down a French ­former DCNS subcontractor who was also a former French naval officer and who is believed to have stolen the data from DCNS and taken it to Malaysia for use in a naval training course.
The former officer lost control of that data when he was sacked and locked out of his workplace with the data still on his work computer inside the building. That company placed the data — apparently thinking that it was routine naval training data — on an internet server before posting it by regular mail to ­Patrick at a Sydney post office box address.
The Australian understands French prosecutors have identified the former employee who stole the data and are building a prosecution case against him.
DCNS is also aware of Patrick and Xenophon’s role in disclosing the leak to The Australian.
Yet despite knowing this, DCNS reportedly believes its rival German submarine bidder, TKMS, is behind the story.
The company’s global head, Herve Guillou, called the leak “economic warfare” and The Australianunderstands the French government has formally complained to Berlin about Germany’s alleged role.
TKMS is angered by the implication and anxious to refute it, fearing it could damage its own reputation and place at risk lucrative defence contracts.
Late last month, TKMS quietly dispatched two investigators to Australia to examine if any of its Australian employees played a role in the leak story.
The company is expected to soon tell the French government it has found no evidence to support the allegations from Paris.
The Australian has been told TKMS did not know of the leak until it appeared in this paper.
The DCNS accusation against Germany has also puzzled Patrick, who says he did not have a preference among the three bidders. He says if he had wanted to harm the French bid, he would have leaked the story during the bidding process rather than four months after.
For DCNS, the leak has already come at a high price, with reports India will no longer pursue a $2 billion option to purchase more Scorpene submarines.
In Australia, disclosure of the leak has served the purpose Patrick intended. Despite Canberra’s initial attempts to play down the leak’s significance, it has led the government to conduct a comprehensive review into all aspects of the information security regime that will apply to Australia’s new submarine fleet.
It has also triggered a review of secrecy procedures within DCNS in France.
Xenophon is adamant Patrick did the right thing in revealing the leak. “I have no doubt the French will help us build first-class submarines but if there is another sec­urity breach then it will put the nation’s defence and in particular those submariners in the ocean at serious risk,” he says.
“This disclosure has huge benefits for our national security and could potentially save the lives of our submariners by ensuring that security is as tight as it must be.”
The government remains unimpressed and at the weekend said it would review Patrick’s defence security clearance despite knowing his role in the leak since Aug­ust. 
“The government does not consider the unauthorised disclosure of information to be appropriate or in the public interest,” Payne says.
Xenophon says this is a case of the government trying to hide its embarrassment, “a classic case of shoot the messenger who disclosed information in the public interest”.

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