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ADF whistleblower David McBride sentenced over leaks

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The sentence has a non-parole period of two years and three months.
Former defence force employee David McBride has been sentenced to five years and eight months in prison for illegally disclosing sensitive information.

Former defence force employee David McBride has been sentenced to five years and eight months in prison for illegally disclosing sensitive information. The sentence has a non-parole period of two years and three months.

In November 2023, McBride pleaded guilty to unlawfully sharing classified defence force material with the ABC, including allegations that Australian soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

McBride has always maintained his actions were in the public interest.

Background

McBride joined the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 2009 as a Special Operations legal officer. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013.

While there, McBride became concerned that the ADF was improperly investigating soldiers who hadn’t done anything wrong.

He first tried to raise the alarm internally with the ADF. Next, he went to the Australian Federal Police (AFP). After that, he went to the Defence Minister.

When those attempts failed, McBride went to the ABC.

McBride believed the materials he provided to the ABC demonstrated improper investigations of ADF soldiers.

However, the documents also contained evidence suggesting that Australian soldiers had allegedly committed war crimes.

These allegations were used by the ABC in their reporting.

Trial

In 2018, McBride was charged with offences relating to national security. McBride did not dispute that he leaked the material, but he argued it was his duty to report alleged illegal conduct because it was in the public interest.

McBride intended to fight the charges, however, early in the trial, the court ruled that certain evidence could not be used because it could have jeopardised “the security and defence of Australia”.

This resulted in McBride pleading guilty to three charges, including theft and sharing documents classified as secret with members of the press.

Intentions

During the court case, it was revealed McBride’s intention for leaking the documents was his concern that soldiers in the ADF were being unfairly investigated by the defence force’s leadership.

McBride’s lawyer said he was concerned soldiers were being investigated as part of a “PR exercise” in response to public concerns over soldier behaviour.

“Good soldiers were put through serious trauma, that was his complaint,” his lawyer Stephen Odgers said.

David McBride’s sentence

Today, the ACT Supreme Court sentenced McBride to five years in prison.

McBride’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the judgement.

Kieran Pender, Acting Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said: “This is a dark day for Australian democracy. The imprisonment of a whistleblower will have a grave chilling effect on potential truth-tellers….

“There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers.”

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