The Australian Federal Police has confirmed it has launched a fresh investigation into Ben Roberts-Smith for allegedly burying sensitive material in his backyard and is treating an accusation he attempted to intimidate a witness in an investigation into war crimes “as a priority”.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Wednesday the alleged war criminal kept more than a dozen Department of Defence drone videos of Afghanistan military operations buried in his backyard, including videos watermarked as “secret” and only to be shared among certain NATO forces.
Ben Roberts-Smith is being investigated by the AFP for alleged war crimes.Credit:Cole Bennetts
The files buried by the former Special Air Service Regiment soldier in a pink, child’s lunch box included 13 videos of drone vision taken by NATO military forces in Afghanistan as well as copies of classified operational reports from an SAS mission in Southern Afghanistan and contained images of soldiers misbehaving at a makeshift bar.
Appearing at a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday, AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney confirmed federal police opened a new investigation after the matter was referred to his agency on March 25.
He said it was determined to be a “sensitive” investigation on March 29. The declaration means the probe will be overseen by the AFP’s Sensitive Investigations Oversight Board and new Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews may also be briefed on the matter.
Mr McCartney said the AFP had opened an investigation into “aspects of that media reporting” but cautioned he would “prefer not to provide a running commentary” on the probe.
He confirmed the AFP now has access to “some material” that was in the buried USB drives.
“Some of that material was actually … referred to the AFP by the journalist in question and also by his newspaper,” he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith has repeatedly denied committing war crimes or any other wrongdoing and is suing The Age and Herald for defamation.
But further evidence obtained by this masthead suggests Mr Roberts-Smith arranged to send at least one anonymous letter to a special forces soldier threatening him that he would “go down” if he did not recant war crimes allegations.
Mr McCartney said the allegation was “serious and it is being treated as a priority by the Australian Federal Police”.
The files that were in Mr Roberts-Smith’s backyard included one created by an American military specialist embedded with the SAS and altered by Mr Roberts-Smith in 2019. A second file also altered by Mr Roberts-Smith is marked as belonging to the “Department of Defence”.
Metadata on some of the documents suggests Mr Roberts-Smith may have shared sensitive files and images with others, including a former member of his SAS patrol team based in the US. The metadata suggests some of the files relate to a 2009 mission in which Mr Roberts-Smith is accused of unlawfully executing an Afghan man.
That killing, over which Mr Roberts-Smith has denied any wrongdoing, is the subject of a federal police taskforce that was launched in 2018 and which recently submitted a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
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