Australia spy agency takes possession of secret files left at second-hand shop

Someone Left A Bunch Of Government Secrets In A Filing Cabinet And Now You Can Read Them

The report was part of a series of the stories the ABC has dubbed the Cabinet Files, related to thousands of top-secret and highly classified cabinet documents found in two locked filing cabinets sold at an ex-government sale in Canberra.

ABC reporters Ashlynne McGhee and Michale McKinnon revealed the documents - and the nature of their discovery - in an expose titled The Cabinet Files.

The filing cabinets were purchased for next to nothing in a second-hand shop in Canberra, where furniture once used by the government can be picked up for cheap. But the network says there was no leak and that no one broke the law - instead, someone finally got around to drilling out the locks on the two heavy cabinets that had been sold without any matching keys.

"So the communicating of them, any of those documents that were labelled top secret, would come under an aggravated offence with a maximum penalty of 20 years for the journalist and potentially other people in the media organisation for communicating those documents".

"This has been achieved without compromising the ABC's priority of protecting the integrity of its source and its reporting, while acknowledging the Commonwealth's national security interests", the joint statement said.

The ABC reported that ASIO officers visited its bureau in Parliament House and its studio in Brisbane at 1am on Thursday to deliver safes so the files could be locked away while negotiations continued between the ABC's lawyers and the prime minister's office over the ownership of the documents.

Abbott suggested a "relatively junior or mid-ranking departmental officer" sold the cabinet without realizing it contained national secrets.

The Australian reported an urgent inquiry had been launched to discover how the files were allowed to make it into private hands.

The files also reveal that almost 200 top-secret code-word protected and sensitive documents were left in the office of minister Penny Wong when Labor lost the 2013 election.

According to a file among the recovered documents, the Australian Police lost 400 security documents between 2008 and 2013, of which the whereabouts of a large part remain unknown.

The prime minister said police were involved in his department's investigation.

The ABC cited departmental report warning of "critical risks" in the scheme in April 2009, before it rolled out, saying "many of these risks can not be adequately managed in the lead-up to the July 1 start date".

"As a former cabinet minister who participated in national security meetings, a senior member of shadow cabinet and a current member of the PJCIS I always take my responsibilities seriously".

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