Witness K: redacted documents reveal life of spy and whistleblower

Albert McKnight 11 July 2021 2
Protesters supporting Witness K and Bernard Collaery

Protesters support Witness K and Bernard Collaery outside the ACT Courts in May. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A war hero, a spy, a musician and a loving family man: newly released redacted documents have shed light on the many facets of whistleblower Witness K and outlined his legal secrecy saga.

In June, he was sentenced to three months’ jail, suspended for good behaviour obligations after a two-day hearing where media were removed from the courtroom numerous times over secrecy concerns.

The now elderly man blew the whistle in 2012 about Australian intelligence services bugging the Timor-Leste cabinet room during 2004 discussions over the Timor gas treaty.

The recently released summary of facts in his case show Witness K applied for a promotion in the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in June 2005 but was unsuccessful.

He made a formal complaint, saying he felt he was overlooked due to age discrimination.


READ ALSO: After eight years, still hidden from view, whistleblower Witness K avoids jail


In May 2008, Witness K wrote a letter to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell, about how the selection process was conducted.

“I found myself totally consumed by the injustice of the manner in which the process was handled, and the expectations the organisation had of me following that process,” he wrote.

“This has led to me being unable to work or face any situation that places any stress upon myself.”

He requested his solicitor Bernard Collaery, who is fighting the charges laid against him, be briefed so he could assist him prepare a submission for a requested inquiry into the matter.

In April 2013, Timor-Leste began proceedings against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, claiming Australia had acted in bad faith during treaty negotiations by engaging in espionage.

The facts say information from Witness K was central to Timor-Leste’s case.

On 3 December 2013, Witness K and Mr Collaery’s premises were raided by police. Police found a signed copy of an affidavit by Witness K in a camera tripod bag in his home’s hallway linen cupboard.

Also, a 2013 letter from Mr Collaery and letters written by Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard written in December 2012 were found in a handbag belonging to the spy’s wife.


READ ALSO: Prosecution of whistleblower Witness K costs taxpayers $4 million


It wasn’t until September 2015 that then-Attorney-General George Brandis was asked to consent to Witness K’s prosecution. But Senator Brandis did not make a decision.

On 19 March 2018, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions requested the next Attorney-General, Christian Porter, approve the prosecution. He did so on 11 May 2018. Witness K was charged a few weeks later.

In May 2021, Witness K’s treating psychiatrist provided a report that revealed fragments of the spy’s life and character.

The psychiatrist said Witness K was a “delightful” Vietnam War veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “apparently” resigned from the Royal Australian Navy after years of service, after which he joined the public service.

He is married and has two adult children of whom he is “very proud”, and keeps in regular contact with their families.

He was deployed to the war aged only 18 and experienced significant fear and trauma from being on board a certain vessel.

“When he returned from the first overseas deployment, he apparently was edgy, irritable and [a] changed person,” the psychiatrist said.


READ ALSO: Canberra judge blasts ‘unfair’ federal government delay in Bernard Collaery case


Two other major traumatic events left a significant impact on him, but he did not seek treatment for many years until he began experiencing “significant psychological problems” that required him to be put on stress leave when he was a public servant.

The psychiatrist said Witness K had also begun facing “significant situational stress” over the past few years when dealing with his previous employment.

His coping mechanisms included playing music, fixing guitars, physical fitness and endurance exercises.

“He is reliant on his dear wife to support and prompt him for most activities of daily living,” the psychiatrist said.

The psychiatrist diagnosed him with chronic PTSD and said he had flare-up symptoms from various external triggers.

“Dealing with a long-standing court case has not helped his recovery,” they said.

Another psychiatrist report, from June 2021, states the grandfather had a long history of poor sleep since he was fired on during the war which made him afraid he might die. He had not watched war movies since his service.

“He had recurrent flashbacks with intrusive memories of the episode of the [redacted],” the psychiatrist said.


READ ALSO: Details of Witness J case revealed as review told Australia has no place for secret trials


They said he was careful not to talk about the classified details of his work and had “a long-standing commitment and sense of duty to the wellbeing of his country”.

Witness K had received numerous awards for his career and service.

These include the Vietnam Medal, which was awarded for service in the Vietnam War between May 1964 and January 1973, as well as the Australian Intelligence Community Medal.

A 1996 memorial certificate’s citation states it was dedicated to him “in remberance [sic] of a job well done”.

Another citation from 1996 was: “In recognition of your contributing to the planning, development and implementation of this successful Joint Operation”.

Mr Collaery, who is fighting his charges, will return to court at a later date.


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2 Responses to Witness K: redacted documents reveal life of spy and whistleblower
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54-11 54-11 11:04 am 11 Jul 21

It will forever be a stain on the character of the Liberal Party that this came to trial, and more specifically (another) stain on the character of Christian Porter.

The genesis of this will also forever show that the “mean and tricky” tag put on the Howard government is an understatement. Even Brandis called Howard a “lying rodent” – Howard was actually a lot worse than that.

    chewy14 chewy14 7:48 am 12 Jul 21

    If anything, this article begins to actually show how Witness K was guilty of the crime. Rather than the constant claims of the activists and political opportunists who are happy for people they agree with to break the law when the disagree with it.

    Whether you like the law or not, it’s the law. Witness K was no whistleblower.

    If you dislike a law, you agitate for it to be changed through the proper processes, you don’t just get to ignore it.

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