The Australian government, through the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), spied on the government of Timor-Leste in 2004 in relation to negotiations concerning the Timor Sea Treaty. ‘Witness K’ – one of the spies – later complained, and as a result suffered challenge to his employment arrangements. He was advised by ASIS to seek legal advice and was allowed to approach Bernard Collaery, who at the time was an adviser to the Timorese government.
Upon realising that they had been spied on, the Timorese withdrew from the Treaty. In December 2013 the domestic intelligence service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) entered Collaery’s home-office under warrant and removed documents. Witness K’s premises also were entered and his passport was taken (and is yet to be returned). In 2014 the International Court of Justice ordered Australia to stop spying on Timor-Leste and required Australia to take part in a Compulsory Conciliation. In March 2018 a replacement Treaty – the Maritime Boundary Treaty – was agreed to and later ratified by the governments of both Timor-Leste and Australia.
In May 2018 the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions recommended to the Attorney-General that both Collaery and K be prosecuted for exposing the espionage. Witness K pleaded guilty in 2021, while the prosecution of Bernard Collaery was dropped under the new Labor government in July 2022.
The Australian government continues to “neither confirm nor deny” that the espionage took place. Both men are under orders not to disclose a variety of associated matters.