East Timor's government believes it has identified the members of a team of four Australian spies who allegedly bugged its government offices, describing it as ''very disturbing'' that they apparently used the cover of an aid program.
The revelations came as intelligence and development experts expressed their deep misgivings that aid was apparently used as the pretext for installing and then removing the eavesdropping equipment, saying it jeopardised important aid projects and potentially put Australian aid workers at risk around the world.
''We think we have identified the team of people who came in to do the bugging. We have their names,'' East Timor's Natural Resources Minister Alfredo Pires told Fairfax Media. ''They are males, along with a possible lady spy.''
East Timor would keep the names secure, he said. But he noted that at least one of them was still working overseas under the same name and may be at risk ''if the names get out over the internet''.
''Australian authorities may have to check on them.''
Mr Pires said the names were uncovered by going through flight and other records. The investigation had also uncovered that the listening devices were allegedly smuggled in by ''diplomatic couriers''.
The alleged bugging was done in 2004 under the auspices of an aid program to renovate East Timor's dilapidated government buildings.
The listening devices were allegedly installed in the prime minister's office and rooms used for cabinet discussions.
At the time, Australia and East Timor were negotiating the terms of a treaty governing the massive oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The claims of the spying come from a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent who turned whistleblower.
East Timor wants the treaty declared invalid, and the ex-ASIS agent has sworn an affidavit detailing the alleged spying operation, which he led.
The retired agent, and the lawyer representing the East Timorese government in arbitration over the agreement, Bernard Collaery, were raided by ASIO last week.
Mr Pires said East Timor wanted the return of seized documents.