David McBride: Australian army whistleblower jailed for leaking documents

Even before he became one of Australia’s most high-profile whistleblowers, McBride led a colorful life.

After graduating from Oxford University with a law degree, he began his career with a stint in the British Army. Leaving after reaching the rank of captain, he then tried his hand at everything from private security to reality TV to politics, before coming full circle and joining the Australian Defense Force (ADF).

As a lawyer, he served two tours in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013, the latter with special forces. It was then that he began to feel that “a line had been crossed” by the commanders.

Over the next few years, as he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and abused drugs and alcohol, McBride said he became increasingly convinced that he had to express himself.

Working late nights at a military base near Canberra, he began clandestinely copying hundreds of sensitive documents, smuggling them home in a backpack for 18 months.

He first attempted an internal complaint. When that failed, he went to the police and the defense minister, before speaking to the press.

He believed the dossier he compiled would show that the ADF chain of command was so preoccupied with the perception of unlawful killings that it was scapegoating soldiers and undermining the confidence of special forces in carrying out their duties. work.

Instead, ABC journalist Dan Oakes discovered they contained evidence that Australian forces had committed war crimes and lied to cover them up.

“The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t conceive that anyone would think that these guys were too closely monitored. It was exactly the opposite,” he recently told the Four Corners program.

“What happened on the field stayed on the field.”

Afghan files, external included revelations that military leaders themselves were concerned about a “warrior culture” within the force, and details of how soldiers allegedly covered up the unlawful killings of unarmed men and children – including a six-year-old boy allegedly shot dead in his sleep in 2013.

Until then, very few allegations of war crimes had been reported.

McBride was quickly named as the man behind the leak and he fled to Spain shortly before the Australian Federal Police (AFP) descended on his apartment. There, agents found four plastic bins filled with classified documents hidden in a closet.

After a year in hiding, McBride returned to Australia and was charged with theft of Commonwealth property, breaching the Defense Act and disclosing confidential information.

Police also began building a case against Mr Oakes and his producer Sam Clarke. In 2019, they dramatically raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters and seized documents.

This is an unprecedented moment in Australia that has made headlines around the world. Under public pressure, prosecutors ultimately decided not to charge the journalists, arguing that doing so would not be in the public interest.

Within a month, the findings of a landmark inquiry known as the Brereton Report revealed credible evidence of unlawful killings of civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013.

The government also created the Office of the Special Investigator to open criminal investigations into these allegations. Only one person has been charged so far.

But despite mounting pressure, the government refused to order prosecutors to drop charges against McBride.