Australia has accused Edward Snowden of “unprecedented treachery” and defended Canberra’s intelligence co-operation with Washington in the face of rising tensions with Indonesia over the US whistleblower’s spying allegations.
Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, said Mr Snowden “continued to shamefully betray his nation while skulking in Russia”, in a speech delivered at a Washington think-tank.
“This represents unprecedented treachery – he’s no hero,” she said.
“[Mr] Snowden claims his actions were driven by a desire for transparency, but in fact they strike at the heart of the collaboration between those nations in world affairs that stand at the forefront of protecting human freedom.”
Ms Bishop’s outspoken attack on Mr Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, follows a damaging rift between Australia and Indonesia, one of Canberra’s most important foreign relationships.
In December Jakarta downgraded diplomatic relations with Canberra following revelations that Australian intelligence tried to listen in to the mobile phone conversations of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior figures. The disclosure came from evidence supplied by Mr Snowden about the US and its key “Five Eyes” intelligence allies: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks after several unsanctioned incursions by the Australian navy into Indonesian waters during operations to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers. Canberra has apologised for the incidents but Jakarta responded by stepping up military patrols in its territorial waters.
James Brown, defence analyst at the Lowy Institute think-tank, said: “Australia has really borne the brunt of the Snowden revelations and it has caused significant difficulties for Tony Abbott’s new government in its first few months.
“This may explain Ms Bishop’s colourful comments about Mr Snowden.”
Ms Bishop later met US national security adviser Susan Rice and reiterated Australia’s commitment to intelligence sharing with the US, while welcoming President Barack Obama’s proposed review of intelligence gathering operations.
“I am confident that intelligence co-operation will remain one of the core elements of our alliance in the 21st century,” she said.
“But we must be prepared to make the public case for the importance of this work because the safety of our citizens depends on it.”
Bates Gill, chief executive of the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University, said Canberra was concerned Mr Snowden could provide new revelations on Australian intelligence.
“No one knows how much more information Mr Snowden will release – this is a worry for every government in the world,” he said.
Ms Bishop’s comments also underline the new Australian government’s commitment to maintaining a close relationship with the US, according to analysts.
Get alerts on US intelligence when a new story is published