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FBI agent cleared of Australian home intrusion

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Dylan Welch

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FBI agent cleared of breach of Australian sovereignty

An Australian female military officer is outraged after the exoneration of an FBI agent despite claims he breached Australian sovereignty.

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AN FBI officer who lied his way into the home of an Australian military officer involved in classified work has been cleared of any wrongdoing, despite claims he breached Australian sovereignty.

The exoneration of the FBI officer, Bill Spencer, has outraged the woman he was attempting to lure to the US embassy, a former Middle East adviser to the White House, the Pentagon and the US Navy, Gwenyth Todd.

Ms Todd says his indiscretion may have been covered up to protect our most powerful ally.

It has also led to the AFP being forced to reject claims it approved Mr Spencer's improper intrusion, after a Defence investigator stated the AFP ''received prior notification of the FBI's intended activities in relation to Ms Todd''.

''I can't imagine why America allowed him to get away with it, and even further I can't imagine how Australia would allow an American to run rough-shod over them,'' Ms Todd, who lives in Canberra, told The Age yesterday.

In February last year Mr Spencer, FBI liaison officer at the US embassy in Canberra, went to the house shared by Ms Todd and her husband.

In an elaborate but bungling ruse, he introduced himself as a US consular officer called Bill Phelps and said he was investigating US passport security matters.

Ms Todd smelled a rat and sent him away.

He later called to confess he was an FBI agent and wanted to speak to her about a case involving her ex-partner, State Department official Robert Cabelly. Mr Cabelly is facing trial in the US over allegations he broke oil sanctions in the Sudan and laundered the profits.

The Age revealed the FBI intrusion days after it occurred and earlier this month received a copy of the Defence Security Agency investigation into the matter, via freedom of information laws.

The investigation relied solely on the evidence of the US embassy and the federal police, and found that: ''The visit to [Ms Todd's] home by Mr Spencer was legitimate and within his authority in Australia.''

That is a view disputed by Saskia Hufnagel from Griffith University's Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, who said Mr Spencer's actions might have breached Australian sovereignty. ''If there was an ongoing American investigation and they were questioning this lady as part of the American investigation and they didn't ask the Australian police … then they breached Australian sovereignty,'' she said.

Mr Spencer's actions, while not illegal, were questionable, she said. ''He is, in some way, exerting US powers in a country which is not a US jurisdiction.''

The AFP has also been forced to reject claims by Defence that they cleared Mr Spencer's improper visit.

The allegation is found in the DSA report, which states a senior AFP officer told Defence Mr Spencer ''was not accompanied by … the AFP as he was not attempting to utilise any police powers and was operating within his authority in Australia''.

That suggests they were aware of his intention to go to the house. But the AFP says it ''was not aware, and did not endorse the FBI officer visiting this person without being accompanied by a member of the AFP''.

''The AFP was not aware of the intention of the FBI officer to pass himself off as a consular officer, or to inappropriately or inaccurately identify himself.''

The US embassy has repeatedly refused to comment on the matter.

The case of Ms Todd, whose US career was abruptly ended soon after criticising a plan by US admirals to antagonise Iran, has stirred interest on both sides of the Pacific.

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