These days, government secrets tend to be leaked digitally with the help of the Internet and weak firewalls. Not so in Australia, where a leak can happen with the simple sale of a secondhand cabinet.
Thousands of pages of Australian government documents, many of them top secret, were locked in two file cabinets that somehow ended up at a used furniture shop in the country’s capital city Canberra, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The shop, which isn’t identified, often sells off furniture formerly used by the government. But that furniture isn’t usually packed with nearly a decade’s worth of documents from five government administrations.
“Obviously some absolutely elementary mistake has been made, presumably by a relatively junior or mid-ranking departmental officer,” former prime minister Tony Abbott said, according to the ABC. “Certainly someone needs to pay a price. There needs to be some consequence for what is a monumental lapse.”
The file cabinets were locked, and no one had the key. So, despite what they contained, they were inexpensive.
“The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no one can find the keys,” the ABC said in its extensive report. “They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.”
The ABC now has the files and has published several of them in recent days. Since they came from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the news organization is cheekily referring to them as the “Cabinet Files.” The ABC didn’t reveal how it received the documents. It was, the network said, “one of the biggest breaches of cabinet security in Australian history.”
Many of the documents detail the behind-the-scenes minutia of various administrations. One discovery, for example, was that “former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government had considered denying welfare to people under 30,” the BBC reported. The documents also revealed that between 2008 and 2013, the Australian Federal Police lost nearly 400 national security files.
The ABC said it chose not to publish documents that could be damaging to the country’s national security.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched an “urgent investigation” into the matter but didn’t comment further.
“The secretary of the department . . . has initiated an urgent investigation into the circumstances around the disposal of two Commonwealth government filing cabinets that alleged contained classified material,” a spokesman for Turnbull told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Given that the investigation is underway, it is not appropriate for the department to comment further at this time.”
More from Morning Mix: