Security alert over ‘shock’ report into Aussie war crimes
The nation's security agencies are on red alert ahead of the release of the report into whether Australian Special Forces soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
With Prime Minister Scott Morrison expected on Thursday to outline the Government's next steps in response to the report, the intelligence and defence communities are readying for a potential response from Australia's enemies.
This includes the terror group Islamic State, which is expected to seize on any findings of wrongdoing and use it for propaganda and recruitment purposes.
While a redacted version of the report conducted by NSW judge Paul Brereton for the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force is unlikely to be released immediately, Mr Morrison has promised to outline a process for dealing with any adverse findings, if it is found that Special Forces soldiers did commit war crimes in Afghanistan between 2005-2016.
Any such findings, which are widely anticipated, would likely be referred to police for further investigation.
Two Special Forces soldiers, VC recipient Ben Roberts-Smith and another man identified only as Soldier C, are already under investigation by the Australian Federal Police. Mr Roberts-Smith strongly denies any wrongdoing.
News Corp has confirmed the nation's security agencies are concerned there could be heightened security risks to Australian assets, embassies and personnel overseas.
Adverse findings could also be used in cyber warfare by our enemies.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the release of the Brereton report would be a "big story internationally'' and was being closely watched.
"It clearly is going to come as a big shock to a number of people to see, what on the face of it, appears to be pretty serious allegations of potential war crimes,'' he said.
"It's possible this will be used in the propaganda efforts of a variety of different countries and organisations.''
Mr Jennings said he could "almost guarantee'' Islamic State would use the report to recruit members, and that with their ability to radicalise people online "there's always a possibility that this type of propaganda might lead to attacks here in Australia. I think we have to be conscious that this is a real problem.''
He also said countries like Russia would "quite happily'' use the report to continue a campaign seeking to paint western democracies as being as compromised by inappropriate behaviour as authoritarian regimes were.
Mr Jennings said Australia's military was highly regarded, and the "real test of us now is how it's going to be managed from here.''
"It's really critically important that we operate as we would want to be judged, which is that we have a Defence Force that operates according to the rule of law and the Laws of Armed Conflict,'' he said.
"And if people do bad things, commit criminal acts, that's something we would take seriously, investigate, and if necessary they will be tried for those crimes.''
Mr Jennings said the commissioning and eventual release of the report was a "significant'' event.
"It's going to come as a blow to the Australian way of thinking about their military. We have a Defence Force that is incredibly highly regarded in Australia by Australians and this is going to come as a shock,'' he said.
"Not least because (how) successive governments and frankly the Defence organisation themselves … portrayed what it was we were ostensibly doing in Afghanistan.
"There was a heavy emphasis on why we were there, we were helping people, we were constructing schools. Even when we were doing military things we were not like Americans, we dismounted our vehicles, we go and talk to locals, that's the Australian style of warfare.
"That was something Australians took a lot of pride in and in some respects even without knowing specifically what on earth was going on there. And there were a small group of people it seems that were actually engaged in some very bad behaviour … the impact of this I think could be quite profound.''
Mr Jennings said the key test was how Defence and the Government responded to the findings, and if they had made changes to fix cultural problems and ensure such issues never happened again.
Originally published as Security alert over 'shock' report into Aussie war crimes