The editor of a national Australian newspaper has told the country's highest court that he shredded and burned thousands of pages of secret intelligence and foreign affairs documents.
Brian Toohey, editor of The National Times told the High Court that "my wife was complaining about having the house littered with boxes and w0110 ----- r a BC-05/12/83-AUSSIE 05-12 0001 Australian Testifies He Shredded Papers By Peter Costigan Special to The Washington Post
CANBERRA, Australia, May 11--The editor of a national Australian newspaper has told the country's highest court that he shredded and burned thousands of pages of secret intelligence and foreign affairs documents.
Brian Toohey, editor of The National Times told the High Court that "my wife was complaining about having the house littered with boxes and papers."
Except for 30 to 40 pages he had kept for a series of articles in his paper and had shredded last week before court action was initiated against him, Toohey said, he had destroyed all the documents last April.
Toohey's action appears to have stymied efforts by the Australian government to take action against him and the publishers of The National Times, a Sydney weekly, for possessing the secret documents.
After Toohey's testimony, the High Court ordered a week's adjournment for the case--one of the most important involving freedom of the press and national security in Australia.
The court approved a temporary agreement between the government and the paper's publishers that they would not publish the remainder of Toohey's series while officials studied the text of the stories to assess whether any portions of them would give the government concern on national security grounds.
When the court resumes it will hear arguments on whether it should order suppression of the stories.
The case arose from the publication last week in The National Times of the first part of Toohey's series. In the middle of the night, the federal government got interim orders from Chief Justice Harry Gibbs to prevent further publication of what the paper said was tens of thousands of pages of classified documents.
The government has not asked Toohey to disclose where he got the documents, thus avoiding a key legal issue. Under Australian law, a refusal by a journalist to disclose his sources could result in his being jailed for contempt of court.
In the first part of the series, published before the court order could stop publication, Toohey referred to documents alleging that the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had voluntarily and secretly given the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency information damaging to Australian politicians and other Australian citizens.
Toohey's article also said that despite a longstanding agreement, the CIA and the U.S. National Security Agency had failed to pass on to Australian intelligence advance indications of the Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979.
The article also contained what were said to be details of Australian intelligence operations in its two closest neighbors--Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.