(Preview)When Is A Secret Not A Secret?

There are times when official government secrets don’t meet the standard for classification. This may well be one of those times.

Afghan Files military whistleblower David McBride returns to court


Afghan Files whistleblower David McBride

Assessing whether information is sensitive or security classified

Requirement 2 mandates that the originator assesses the sensitivity or security classification of information by considering the potential impacts to national interest, organisations or individuals that could arise from compromise of the information’s confidentiality.

The more valuable, important or sensitive the official information, the greater the level of business impact that would result from its compromise.

  1. The Australian Government uses three security classifications (PROTECTED, SECRET and TOP SECRET) based on the likely damage resulting from compromise of the information’s confidentiality.
  2. Where information compromise would have some limited damage but does not warrant a security classification, that information is considered OFFICIAL: Sensitive.2
  3. Other information from routine business operations and services is OFFICIAL, and information that does not form part of official duty is UNOFFICIAL.

It is not consistent with this policy to apply a security classification to information where it:

  1. restrains competition
  2. hides violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error to prevent embarrassment to an individual, organisation or entity
  3. prevents or delays the release of information that does not need protection in the national interest.

The Business Impact Levels tool (see Table 2) provides examples of potential damage from compromise of information’s confidentiality. The tool assists in the consistent classification of information and the assessment of impacts on government business. The tool can also be used for secondary assessments of the potential damage from compromise of the availability or integrity of information.

The potential damage from compromise of information’s confidentiality determines the classification of that information. If compromise of availability or integrity of information (described numerically, eg 1 Low business impact) has a higher impact than confidentiality compromise, additional security measures (such as ICT, personnel or physical controls) may be warranted.


An update on the story of Australian whistleblower Maj. David McBride. In a hearing in June he was committed to stand trial, and it was also agreed that certain parts of that trial will be in a closed court due to the secret nature of the evidence.

He will be in court again next week as he continues his efforts to learn the nature of the charges against him. His trial will not begin until sometime next year.

In the meantime, he is going to be focusing on having the documents at the heart of this matter reclassified.

What has become clearer and clearer as this has played out is the fact that whistleblowers are absolutely necessary in a democracy. Otherwise, governments will be able to break the law whenever they want to, and with no fear of punishment.

It is a story important to freedom loving peoples everywhere.

Stay tuned for the rest of this story, coming soon.

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