WikiLeaks says the prosecution of a junior Canberra bureaucrat alleged to have posted secret information online should serve as a cautionary tale to potential whistleblowers.
The organisation – which specialises in protecting those who wish to leak government secrets – urged would-be whistleblowers to seek expert help to disclose sensitive information.
Department of Defence graduate Michael Scerba, now 24, has been accused of leaking information that risked serious harm to Australia’s national security interests, and potentially undermined trust and reciprocal intelligence arrangements with other countries.
Scerba is accused of downloading a Defence Intelligence Organisation assessment, burning it to a disc, taking it home and posting it to anonymous image-sharing forum 4chan in October 2012.
His IP address was tracked, and he has now been brought before the ACT Supreme Court.
WikiLeaks tweeted the story on Thursday morning with the message: “Pearls before swine”, a biblical reference to Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
In Matthew 7:6 Jesus is quoted as saying: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
A WikiLeaks spokesperson told Fairfax Media that those leaking in the age of the National Security Agency needed expert help.
“If you’re going to leak sensitive documents on the internet, do it right and come to us,” the spokesperson said.
“What’s really sad about this case, is that the Australian public is still denied what sounds like it is a significant document.”
The report had a marking of “Secret, 5 eyes” on each page, a reference to the intelligence alliance of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand.
Scerba is alleged to have downloaded the intelligence assessment from the Secret Defence Security Network and posted the first two pages of the 15-page document in October 2012.
The first image allegedly included the comment “Julian Assange is my hero”.
A post allegedly made by Scerba on 4chan read: “I release what I feel should be in the media: bombings, civilian deaths, actions of the ‘terrorists’ that just aren’t reported in the media.”
The DIO believes the document would have been exploited by foreign intelligence services or “others” if obtained, court documents say.
But it conceded it had no idea who might have seen the document, nor what damage may have been done.
While not commenting specifically on the case, Deakin University information security Professor Matthew Warren said often a process of online radicalisation can lead to information being posted in a bid to gain status within an online community.
“When we talk about radicalisation, it isn’t necessarily an Islamic form of radicalisation, it’s being radicalised with a set of beliefs,” Professor Warren said.
“[The radicalised believe] because they’re in a position where they can release sensitive information, that they feel that they can and it’s somehow justified.”
The academic said once posted, the material could no longer be controlled.
“The danger of social media is that any organisation can’t control every document within that organisation.
“As soon as it gets out of an organisation and spreads via social media, there’s not much organisations can do about it, whether defence or commercial.”