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The Australian foreign ministry, known as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has released 350 pages of documents in connection with the investigation in Canberra of the attempted attack on John Helmer, which took place on December 28. A total of 178 documents with classifications ranging from CONFIDENTIAL to SECRET SENSITIVE have been released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Several files remain to be accounted for and disclosed, as the Australian government continues to respond to questions from the press and opposition politicians in Canberra. The questions came to a head on January 10, when the acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean was asked about his ministry’s earlier security warning to Helmer, about “threats to Australian journalists”, and whether Crean has “any concerns that maybe…that not enough scrutiny was given at the time when Rusal was allowed to invest in our aluminium [plants].. do you have any ongoing concerns now about them being a suitable investor in Australia?”

Crean replied: “We’re not in the position of being able to divulge the source of that information, but we acted appropriately in the interests of the safety of the journalist.” Asked if he thought there may be “any inappropriate relationships between the [Australian] Embassy [in Moscow] and Rusal”, the minister added: “I don’t have concerns about inappropriate relationships between the Embassy [sic]. I think the Embassy clearly was doing its job. The fact that it gave the tip-off, I think it would appear was appropriate in the case of the journalist.”

Crean was referring to a warning sent to Helmer on December 20. That said: “we have received information suggesting that your personal security in Russia could be threatened. In light of this possibility, we recommend that you carefully consider your personal security arrangements.”

Secret Australian government documents, including intelligence reports, cables to and from the Australian Embassy in Moscow, and memoranda involving the highest officials in Crean’s ministry have now been released. These confirm that intelligence sources had uncovered the information of the security threat at least a week before the warning was sent to Helmer.

More than four top-secret cables reveal that the source of the threat to Helmer was known to the Australian government before December 12. Two deputy secretaries of the ministry, Gillian Bird and Ric Wells, were subsequently involved in briefing the minister. James Choi, then Assistant Secretary of the Department for consular operations, and now Australia’s ambassador to Denmark, joined Australia’s top officials for Russia, Richard Maude and Jane Duke, in gathering the information for Crean, and advising him what to do about it.

Release of these details is not only subject to Helmer’s request under the Australian Freedom of Information statute. Two political opposition figures, Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the opposition in parliament, and Senator Bob Brown, the leading Green representative in the Australian Senate, have expressed dissatisfaction with the disclosures to date. Brown has formally requested written answers by the government to questions about Australian government contacts with Rusal and its chief executive, Oleg Deripaska.

This is one of two secret briefing papers for the Australian foreign minister, just released, which point to what had really happened to trigger the security threat to Helmer in December.

The document reveals that Crean was given two recommendations by Choi. Other file disclosures, and a note at the bottom of this memorandum, reveal that Choi had been assigned to brief Crean by Deputy Secretary Bird, First Assistant Secretary in charge of Europe, Maude, and Assistant Secretary in charge of Russia, Duke. Earlier Maude wrote in a classified cable: “Am I able to see the intelligence on which this is based plse?” In yet another secret document, he complained that the Europe division (EUD) at the ministry and the Moscow Embassy had not been shown the intelligence on the plan of attack against Helmer. Maude wrote: “I am surprised EUD and post do not seem to have seen the report on Dr Helmer. Can you arrange pls?”

Headed “Key Issues” Choi spelled out in four lines who and what were behind the attack plan against Helmer. These have been carefully erased, and in their place two citations to sections of the Australian Freedom of Information Act inserted to authorize the redactions. The first of these is Section 37(2)(b). This says that a document is exempt from release under the statute if its disclosure would “disclose lawful methods or procedures for preventing, detecting, investigating, or dealing with matters arising out of, breaches or evasions of the law the disclosure of which would, or would be reasonably likely to, prejudice the effectiveness of those methods or procedures.”

In short, Crean was told how and from what source the intelligence had been uncovered in Russia. It is being censored now to cover up the methods used, the intelligence source, and the reliability of what had been discovered of the Russian threat to Helmer.

The first of Choi’s recommendations for the Foreign Minister, labelled (a), has also been carefully whited out, and in place of the revealing text, there is a citation to section 33(1)(a)(i). This part of the statute allows the withholding of the full document text “if disclosure of the document under this Act would, or could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security of the Commonwealth [of Australia].” This, along with a similar citation on the “Key Issues” line, is confirmation that the information which led to the December 20 security warning for Helmer related to a high-priority issue of Australia’s security in its relationship with Russia. That Crean was urged to keep secret.

The second recommendation to Crean says: “(b) note that we have informed Dr Helmer of the possible threat.” This is uncensored.

The priority is clearly conveyed to the foreign minister — something of higher national interest than Helmer’s security had been passed urgently to Crean. Crean ticked his concurrence and signed the document on December 24.

A month later, following the holiday break on January 21, after news of the police arrests and investigation under way in Moscow had reached Canberra, another classified document reveals that there had been a briefing on the case for members of parliament. According to the uncensored part of the briefing report, Rusal, Oleg Deripaska and Helmer’s name were mentioned. The document records: “Julie Bishop stated she would be ‘questioning the government’ on this matter.”

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