SYDNEY – The Australian government ordered on Wednesday an urgent probe into how hundreds of secret and classified documents obtained by local broadcaster ABC ended up at a second-hand shop.
Martin Parkinson, the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, ordered the investigation shortly after ABC revealed one of the biggest breaches of Cabinet security in Australian history.
“Given that the investigation is underway it is not appropriate for the Department to comment further at this time,” the Department said in a statement, without clarifying the content of the documents.
Some of the documents, which would normally be sealed and kept confidential until they are released to the public after 20 years, are classified as “top secret” or “AUSTEO,” which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.
The papers were found in two padlocked file cabinets that were purchased in Canberra by an unidentified person in a second-hand government furniture store.
After the transaction, the buyer broke the locks and found thousands of official documents that were eventually handed over to the ABC, said the broadcaster that has named the treasure as the Cabinet Files.
The second-hand shop is open to any individual, so in a hypothetical case the documents could have ended up in the hands of “foreign agents or governments,” said the source.
According to a file among the recovered documents, the Australian Federal Police lost 400 security documents between 2008-2013, of which the whereabouts of a large part remain unknown.