Sydney Airport Security Whistleblower

July 9, 2007

A former customs official, Allan Kessing, has received a nine month suspended jail term for actions related to leaking documents on Sydney Airport security. He leaked two classified reports to the Australian newspaper which contained allegations of drug trafficking and other crimes by staff at Sydney Airport . The reports also raised concerns about the effectiveness of anti-terrorism security at Australian airports.

Following the publication of information on the reports, the Federal Government announced an inquiry into crime and security at Australian airports. The inquiry, carried out by Sir John Wheeler, led to significant upgrades of security at airports.

Writing in Crikey on the 24 May this year, Margaret Simons called the prosecution of Kessing a national disgrace. She’s right. Here’s a grab:

As reported in Crikey previously Kessing should probably be given a medal rather than the prison sentence he now faces after having been convicted of leaking details of breaches of security at Sydney airport.

You can download a transcript of Allan’s interview with the ABC’s Law Report, it makes for interesting reading. Here’s a taster:

Damien Carrick: I spoke to Allan Kessing yesterday. He tells me this is his first broadcast interview. He says he’s not looking forward to the prospect of going to jail.

Allan Kessing: Well obviously it’s rather shocking; I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, and I’m very surprised it would come to this.

Damien Carrick: Now I understand you’ve always claimed that you’re not guilty of disclosing anything. Let’s talk a little bit about what the jury did find you guilty of. Some years ago you worked for the Customs airport security unit, and you wrote a report about airport security; what did you find?

Allan Kessing: Well I wrote two reports. One focused on a specific group and the other took a random sample of people in all the areas behind what is called the sterile area, that is, areas to which the public do not have access. I can’t actually say what I found, except what was in the papers, because that would constitute another offence; this is how draconian the law is. I can’t talk about anything that I learned during my employment as a Customs officer.

Damien Carrick: Well I understand the report talked about the employment of baggage handlers with criminal records; theft of luggage; drug trafficking; a whole range of breaches of security.

Allan Kessing: Yes, this is correct.

Damien Carrick: And what did the Department do? As I understand it, the Department effectively sat on your report. They didn’t even show it to the Federal government, is that right?

Allan Kessing: That’s correct. In fact it did not get out of Sydney Airport. They didn’t even show it to their superiors in Canberra, as was evidenced by the procession of senior managers who came at my trial. A half a dozen of them all swore on oath that they were unaware of the existence of the reports until the media leaks. You know, 30 months after they were written.

Whsistleblower legislation is supposed to protect people like Allan Kessing, I’d hate to see what might happen if it didn’t exist.


Conservative Christian Congressman, the saviour of the US media?

May 3, 2007

CJR May/June 2007

An interesting analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review about a US politician who is an unlikely champion of press freedom.
Congressman Mike Pence, a ‘charismatic’ Republican (isn’t that an oxymoron?) is supporting media shield laws to protect journalists who protect their sources. Here’s a brief taste from Bree Nordenson’s CJR article:

Conservatives these days are generally not considered champions of the national press, but a little more than two years ago, after reading an editorial in The New York Times about Judith Miller’s jailing and the need for a federal reporter’s privilege, Pence took it upon himself to champion the legislative effort for a federal media shield law, which would protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources. Pence, a forty-seven-year-old lawyer and former talk-show host, may not like what he sees as “bad news bias” in the mainstream media, but he’s far more troubled by the “rising tide of cases where federal prosecutors have used the threat of jail time or outright jail time to coerce reporters to reveal confidential sources.” For the last two years, Pence has been the primary legislative force behind the shield-law effort, making it one of his signature issues. “Our founders did not put the freedom of the press in the First Amendment because they got good press—quite the opposite was true,” he says. For Pence, the shield law represents a good-government provision, one that would ultimately help citizens “make informed decisions” about their leadership.

Personally, I’m a bit ambivalent about shield laws. The Judith Miller case for example is complex and while I don’t support journalists being jailed for refusing to reveal sources, her politics (compared, for example to Josh Wolf) are distasteful. Shield laws would have provided her with deep cover to continue playing the disingenious disinformation role on behalf of the White House.
There are strong arguments for protecting journalists from charges of contempt if they do refuse to cough up the name of a key source, but in my mind, the real danger is that shield laws will be used, not to protect journalists, but to force conditions of disclosure that will in fact weaken any protection reporters have against contempt charges.
That is shield laws will define a small area of privileged communication and leave most stuff open for intrusion from the courts.
The best protection, I think, is in fact to have strong whistleblower legislation that protects the disclosure by the source. This way courts would not be able to pressure reporters into revealing sources by chucking them in jail for contempt. The information would be protected at source making it an offence for the reporter to reveal it and limiting the court’s ability to probe and pressure journalists in the witness box.