The whistleblower who exposed a trove of secret documents on the Scorpene-class submarines ordered by the Indian Navy had alerted an Australian Navy officer about the leak three years ago but no action was taken, according to a media report.
The Australian newspaper, which broke the story of the leak of the documents detailing the secret combat capabilities of the Scorpene in August, has identified the whistleblower as Rex Patrick, a senior adviser to senator Nick Xenophon.
The daily reported that Patrick showed a part of the confidential leaked data to Australia’s most senior submariner, Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, in 2013 but “nothing had come of it”. Sammut said he passed the information on to Defence Intelligence, which never followed it up with him.
Xenophon also met defence minister Marise Payne on August 29 and handed her a data stick containing the secret information on the submarines designed for India by French shipbuilder DCNS. He also informed Payne that the person behind the story about the leak of 22,400 pages of information was Patrick, a former submariner.
The leak caused a controversy in France and India, where the navy decided against giving DCNS an order for three more submarines in addition to the six it is already building. Separate investigations were also launched in India, France and Australia.
Xenophon has said that Patrick acted as a whistleblower who wanted to help to protect the integrity of Australia’s $50-billion future submarine project that has been awarded to DCNS.
Patrick said he received the data stick with the leaked files “by accident” in April 2013 after the information was stolen from DCNS by a former subcontractor in 2011 and made its way from France to Southeast Asia and then to Sydney.
He said he sat on the leaked documents for more than three years but decided to make them public because DCNS would design Australia’s new submarine fleet after suffering a “catastrophic criminal leak of confidential data on its Indian submarine project”.
After The Australian reported the leak, Sammut, as head of Australia’s Future Submarine Project, told defence secretary Dennis Richardson and Payne of his discussion with Patrick in 2013.
Patrick and Sammut gave different versions of their meeting three years ago. Patrick said he approached Sammut in the waiting room of a defence estimates hearing in May 2013 with the leaked data.
“I put a USB stick into my computer and presented the front screen of the Scorpene datafile to Greg,” said Patrick. “I then told him how the data came into my possession and took him through a couple of pages of the disk.”
Patrick said he made the significance of the data clear to Sammut. “I offered to surrender the disk to him but required an undertaking that my name, as the source of the disk, not be provided to anyone,” he told the daily. “He told me he was not sure he could do that and would have to seek advice.”
Sammut disputed Patrick’s version of events and said he was not made aware of the significance of the data. “I did not view the information regarding a Scorpene submarine Mr Patrick claimed to hold in any detail,” Sammut said in a statement. “I did see one page of indeterminate material on his computer screen. He did not indicate that this information concerned India’s Scorpenes.”
Sammut said he reported the matter to the then deputy ¬director of intelligence and sec¬urity and it was agreed the Defence Intelligence Organisation would take up the matter. Patrick said the DIO did not make contact with him and nothing further happened.
Defence minister Payne said she did not access the data and the drive had been handed over to the French.
“I conveyed the drive to the secretary of my department. The drive was provided to a senior official at the French embassy, given its purported contents were the property of French company DCNS,” she said.
France is believed to have provided a copy to the Indian government, the daily reported.
French security agencies are also hunting for the ¬former DCNS subcontractor who is believed to have stolen the data and taken it to Malaysia for use in a naval training course. The subcontractor was also a former French naval officer.