A former Australian military lawyer charged with leaking classified documents at the centre of police raids at the ABC on Wednesday says he is facing life imprisonment but maintains he was acting in the public interest.
Due to appear in the ACT Supreme Court on June 13, David William McBride, 55, is charged over leaks to ABC journalists Dan Oakes, Sam Clark and Chris Masters and has pleaded not guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court.
Mr McBride is charged with theft and three counts of breaching the Defence Act, for being a person who is a member of the defence force and communicating a plan, document or information.
He is also charged under the Crimes Act, which make it an offence for a Commonwealth official to disclose information without authorisation.
The charges relate to an ABC investigation published in 2017 and based on leaked documents called The Afghan Files, which included allegations of unlawful killings by Australian troops.
The lawyer admitted providing all of the documents in question to the ABC, but has pleaded not guilty.
He said he was compelled to act as a whistleblower over Australia waging an “Instagram war” after his attempts to complain to the Department of Defence and police did not result in changes.
“The Defence Force was being misused to carry out operations that were counter productive and costing lives. We were fighting an Instagram war,” he told The New Daily.
Mr McBride was in Spain when his home was first raided, but was arrested at the airport when he travelled home to visit his daughter in September.
He had previously come to the conclusion, after discussions with his children and ex-wife, that he should return to Australia to face trial.
He was held overnight in a Surry Hills lock up and has remained in Australia, on bail, ever since.
Mr McBride’s journey to becoming a whistleblower started nearly a decade ago.
“In 2011, in my first tour of Afghanistan I started becoming worried we were waging an Instagram war,” he said.
“I went to work for the Special Forces and again it became apparent that the rules of engagement had changed to make it more dangerous.
“I made a complaint about it. I said this is a bad way to run the military. After my complaint they did an inquiry, but my career went downhill over that.”
Mr McBride said he undertook more digging “because I suspected there was something very wrong in the Defence Department”.
“The only way to win the War on Terror was just to pretend. The public don’t know any different. The only thing that mattered was public opinion,” he said.
Mr McBride, who is representing himself, says he is facing many years in jail if convicted.
“It would be about 60 years (in jail). It’s basically espionage. So yeah, it’s for the rest of my life. It’s a worst-case scenario,” he told The New Daily.
“I am representing myself. There are reasons why I am I doing it. The government has said anyone representing me has to have a very high security clearance.
“It’s a complex case, but it’s also a simple case. It comes down to: At what point are you obliged to basically rebel against the government?”
Mr McBride also said the ABC was “reckless” in publishing documents online that he believed led to his arrest, but accepted that was “the risk you take”.
“At the time I was pretty angry because (the ABC) published the document on the internet and it was pretty obvious where it had all come from. People in Defence could work out that the common link with the documents was me,” Mr McBride said.
“(The ABC) didn’t do it on purpose, but it was reckless.
“Anyway, that’s the risk you take. At the time, I felt so strongly about what they were doing and what was going on.”
Mr McBride spent time on the ground in Afghanistan and working in Canberra.
“I did two tours of Afghanistan and I was also back in the headquarters in between,” he said.
“I gave Dan Oakes the information in 2016. I had already seen the police. I saw the police in 2014. He ran a different story. My story was about bad leadership and bad generals. He ran a story about bad soldiers [not generals as he wanted].
“[Oakes] got another source, but he also used the documents that I gave him.”
Mr McBride said there were many reasons why the AFP may have chosen to raid the ABC now.
“I don’t know. There’s a lot of different permutations. The AFP, they didn’t like the Afghan files because it criticised the SAS,” he said.
“The cops who were investigating it when they spoke to me they said, ‘How did you feel about the fact the ABC ran an anti-army story?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah I wasn’t very happy with it’.
“There’s another witness who tells a different story to me in the Afghan files. Maybe, they want him to go on trial?”