The Australian national news outlet ABC reported on Tuesday that it had obtained hundreds of classified Australian government documents which it found in, of all places, two old filing cabinets at a pawn shop.
“It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply,” reporters Ashlynne McGhee and Michael McKinnon wrote. “The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.” The cabinets were purchased for “small change” and sat unopened “for months” until the locks were drilled off.
The files come from five separate governments and “span nearly a decade,” ABC noted. They were only meant to be seen by members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet. Some of the files were classified as “top-secret” or “for Australian eyes only,” but anyone from any country could have bought the filing cabinets because they were for sale at a pawn shop.
Files found in the trove included documents showing the government of former Prime Minister John Howard nearly eliminated the right to remain silent when questioned by Australian police, that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government considered eliminating income assistance for people under the age of 30, and that the Australian Federal Police lost “nearly 400 national security files in five years,” which included counter-terrorism operations and troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
ABC published some of the documents, but said it’s withholding others for national security or privacy concerns. Under Australian law, according to ABC, these documents were supposed to remain secret for at least 20 years.