AFP demanded ABC journalists’ fingerprints before raids

AUSTRALIAN Federal Police sent letters demanding the finger and palm prints of two ABC journalists later subjected to raids over a leak.

It has also been revealed today that federal police were preparing to raid News Corp's Sydney headquarters just one day after targeting the national broadcaster.

The ABC confirmed two of its journalists - Dan Oakes and Sam Clark - received a letter from the AFP about two months before the raids on their Ultimo headquarters asking for finger and palm prints.

The AFP planned to raid News Corp's Surry Hills offices on June 6 in what would have been a third day of raids against Australian media, the ABC has reported.

Two days earlier officers had searched the Canberra home of News Corp senior reporter Annika Smethurst.

AFP officers during a raid at ABC headquarters. Picture: John Lyons
AFP officers during a raid at ABC headquarters. Picture: John Lyons

Ms Smethurst had previously written a story revealing Australia's intelligence agencies were debating whether to increase the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

The AFP gave News Corp 24 hours' notice the raid was coming, according to ABC head of investigations John Lyons.

"News Corp, having been told of the imminent raid, set aside a room and blacked it out so that anybody walking by would not see AFP officers going through computers and files," Mr Lyons said.

"After a quick public and media backlash against the ABC raid, the AFP decided to put on hold its operation at News Corp's headquarters."

Mr Lyons said the letter to Mr Oakes and Mr Clark stated the AFP was, "requesting your consent to a forensic procedure being the copying of your finger and palm prints".

"Australian journalism had come to this: two journalists were being treated the same way as someone suspected of breaking into a house," Mr Lyons said.

Acting AFP Commissioner Neil Gaughan said the raids were not intended to intimidate. Picture: Getty Images
Acting AFP Commissioner Neil Gaughan said the raids were not intended to intimidate. Picture: Getty Images

"This was a chilling development - it's believed to be the first time in Australia that journalists were being asked to provide fingerprints."

The two journalists had published stories in 2017 about the activities of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013.

Mr Lyons said the "fingerprint letter" specifically stated both Oakes and Clark were suspects in relation to three alleged offences - one under s79 (6) of the Crimes Act 1914 concerning "the receipt of prescribed information", one under s73A (2) of the Defence Act 1903 concerning "unlawfully obtaining information," and another under s132 1 (1) of the Criminal Code.

The Federal Government has denied journalists were specifically being targeted.

Home Affairs Minister Dutton said at the time his office was only informed after the raids had taken place.

ABC Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie updates the media during the raids. Picture: John Feder
ABC Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie updates the media during the raids. Picture: John Feder

"I have had no involvement in the AFP's investigation into these matters," he said in June.

The AFP's acting commissioner Neil Gaughan has made clear the AFP is keeping open its option of charging Oakes, Clark and Smethurst.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently revealed the AFP requested from Qantas the travel details of Mr Oakes.

International press freedom organisations condemned the raids on Ms Smethurst and the ABC, warning "press freedom is under assault in Australia" and predicting a further drop from Australia's already low position at No. 21 on the World Press Freedom Index. 

News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst inside her Canberra home after it was raided by AFP officers. Picture Gary Ramage
News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst inside her Canberra home after it was raided by AFP officers. Picture Gary Ramage
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was only informed after the raids took place. Picture: Sam Mooy
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was only informed after the raids took place. Picture: Sam Mooy


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