“Australia’s spy agencies targeted Indonesian president’s mobile phone”


ABC News and Guardian Australia




All Media: Scoop of the Year

On November 18, 2013, Guardian Australia and the ABC broke the news that Australia had spied on, or attempted to spy on, Indonesia’s President Susilo Yudhoyono, his wife and nine members of his inner circle in 2009. Outraged, Jakarta recalled its ambassador and demanded an apology from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who initially refused to apologise. Bilateral cooperation on people smuggling, defence and other issues was suspended; joint military exercises were cancelled.

The story was based on leaks from Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, and included a top-secret slide presentation by the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). The reporters handled the information cautiously. They gave Australia’s security agencies access to the material they planned to use, and offered the opportunity to ask them to redact anything deemed sensitive on national security grounds. They sought advice from former defence and intelligence experts to help decipher how the DSD’s electronic eavesdropping works, the various international security agencies’ roles, and how they share intelligence.

When the revelations went live, the reporters led the coverage in Canberra and correspondents were standing by in Indonesia to drive the story. The tale of security overreach rapidly became one of the most explosive stories of the year, and led to a groundbreaking code of conduct between the two nations to prevent a repeat of such activities.    

Michael Brissenden began his career in the 1980s covering Federal politics for the ABC’s radio current affairs programs. He has been posted to Moscow, Brussels and Washington for ABC radio and television. From 2003 to 2009 he was he political editor for the The 7.30 Report in Canberra. Since 2013 he has been the ABC’s defence and national security correspondent.

Ewen MacAskill is the Guardian’s defence and intelligence correspondent. He was Washington DC bureau chief from 2007 to 2013, diplomatic editor from 1999 to 2006, chief political correspondent from 1996 to 1999, and political editor of The Scotsman from 1990 to 1996.

Lenore Taylor is the political editor of Guardian Australia. She is a Walkley Award winner and a winner of the Paul Lyneham Award for excellence in press gallery journalism. She co-authored a book, Shitstorm, on the Rudd government’s response to the global economic crisis.

Judges’ comments:

“Few stories have the ability to fundamentally alter Australia’s relations with another nation. This was one of them. The revelation that Australia’s spy agencies had targeted the Indonesian president and his inner circle sent shock waves through Canberra and Jakarta when the story broke. The news caused deep strains in our relationship with Indonesia that have taken almost a year to resolve. A genuine scoop.”