A Home Affairs contractor alleged to have illegally sent a trove of high-level documents to an unsecured location has been allowed to continue working on classified projects within the public service.
The man, who is believed to have sent hundreds of sensitive documents from Department of Home Affairs projects to his personal email address in a serious breach of security protocols, later won a project within the Foreign Affairs Department, The Canberra Times understands.
It's alleged the documents, which were sent from as early as 2020 until his contract ceased in June 2021, were also stripped of their classification ratings so an internal security alert system wasn't triggered.
A Home Affairs spokesperson said it did not comment on individual matters, but added the department had "a strong integrity framework in place to detect, deter and disrupt this behaviour".
No intelligence breaches were recorded in Home Affairs during 2021.
Senior figures within Home Affairs were, however, made aware of the incident in September, months after his contract had ended, when the cyber security unit detected the documents had been sent externally to an unsecured network.
The contractor was brought in for a meeting with then-intelligence branch head, Sophie Pearce, who queried him over the incident. It's understood the meeting resulted in him agreeing to not take on further projects for the Home Affairs Department.
But shortly after, he was engaged in a project management contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, despite a number of former officers within the Home Affairs intelligence branch declining to provide personal character references.
It's unclear whether secretary Michael Pezzullo or the intelligence branch's then-first assistant secretary Greg Miller had oversight and informed senior bureaucrats in other agencies.
It's also not known if the department's inquiry into the incident ruled out the possibility the information was passed on to third parties.
Intelligence sources say the man held a negative vetting level 1 security clearance, which would have allowed him ongoing access to view secret documents in addition to temporary, supervised access to top secret information.
It's understood the central vetting agency, AGSVA, was notified of the breach, which would have resulted in flags being raised if he sought employment in other departments.
When asked about the incident, a Defence spokesperson declined to comment on specific matters but outlined it would review or suspend a person's security clearance if alerted by their sponsoring agency.
"If an immediate security threat is identified, AGSVA may remove a clearance subject's access to classified material while their suitability to hold a clearance is reviewed," the spokesperson said.
AGSVA works through thousands of security clearance applications each year while also undertaking clearance reviews. It receives around 4000 notifications of changed circumstances per month, but said the majority related to address changes, relationship statuses and finances.
The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation is also required to be notified by possible national security leaks.
Security classified information marked "protected" or "secret" can result in serious damage to the national interest if compromised, according to the government's protective security policy framework.
The projects the contractor worked on are understood to have been related to matters across the Home Affairs portfolio, and including Australian Border Force information.
The man is believed to have served for the Royal Australian Navy before becoming a contractor.
A Home Affairs spokesperson would not comment on individual cases but said the department had "zero tolerance" for potential misconduct.
"Where inappropriate conduct occurs, including acting outside of procedures, the department takes action in close cooperation with partner agencies including AFP and ACLEI," a spokesperson said.
ACLEI told The Canberra Times it had received 32 referrals from the Home Affairs portfolio for possible corruption between 1 July and 22 December last year.
Six of those were investigated by the integrity body with one being sent back to the department for further investigation.
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