The Australian Greens have denounced attorney-general Mark Dreyfus' claims that neither Bradley Manning nor Edward Snowden are whistleblowers since the information leaked did not reveal government wrongdoing.
Instead, the revelations about the United States mass surveillance PRISM program may be harmful to Australia's ability to identify and respond to threats, Dreyfus said yesterday.
Senator Scott Ludlam, the Greens spokesperson for communications, said Dreyfus' statements "beggar belief".
"If Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning aren’t whistleblowers, who is?
"But this goes far beyond butchering the English language – Mr Dreyfus is making a decisive statement in the defence of spying on law-abiding citizens, in the defence of universal surveillance, and in defence of governments concealing their war crimes," Ludlam said.
Snowden has been granted refuge in Russia. This morning he defended his and Manning's actions, saying they did not hurt the United States.
Manning and I didn't harm or betray America. We exposed its gangster leadership. And the gangsters took revenge. pic.twitter.com/OvkLUfvN3Q— Edward Snowden (@EJosephSnowden) August 13, 2013
Dreyfus made the comments in Canberra at the Security in Government conference, where he defended the use of warrantless interceptions.
Dreyfus said 5928 prosecutions and 2267 convictions were obtained between 2011 and 2012 from evidence arising out of telecommunications interceptions. Most convictions were for serious criminal offences, he said, praising telecommunications interception as one of the most effective means provided to security agencies and law enforcement to do their work.
However, as previously reported by iTnews, law enforcement agencies including the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) made 293,501 requests for warrantless access to data from telcos and internet providers and obtained "barely more than 2000 convictions," Ludlam said.
Ludlam called such current powers to spy on Australians a genuine threat to civil liberties. He said Labor and the Coalition were "both marching in a dangerous direction" by being in lockstep on the issue.
Australia's whistleblower law enacted this year, the Public Interest Disclosure Bill, exempts intelligence community and information leaks, and would not protect the likes of Manning and Snowden.
Germany spies for NSA, but is also spied upon
One of the key surveillance programs that Australia and New Zealand participate in, the Xkeyscore system, defines Germany as a middle priority intelligence target along with France and Japan, according to documents released by Snowden and reported by Der Spiegel.
Germany is classed as such by the US even though the German spy agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, cooperates closely with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and operates an instance of Xkeyscore in the country.
The US reportedly targeted Germany and other countries to find out who sympathised with islamist extremists after the September 2011 attacks on New York City.
The documents note that only the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are seen as true friends of the United States, are largely off-limits when it comes to espionage and with whom information is openly exchanged.
Former NSA director Michael Hayden told Der Spiegel the damage to German-American relation was huge, but did not deny the espionage taking place.
"We steal secrets. We're number one in it. But this is not malicious or industrial espionage.
"We steal stuff to make you safe, not to make you rich," Hayden said.