ABC Four Corners investigates the extraordinary steps the Australian government has taken to prosecute and silence a former spy and his lawyer who are accused of exposing a secret bugging operation carried out by Australian agents in the former East Timor.

The former intelligence operative, known only as Witness K, and his lawyer, the former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery, have been charged with conspiring to reveal secret information relating to an Australian intelligence operation aimed at a friendly foreign government.

The case is highly sensitive, with key evidence central to the allegations unlikely to ever be heard by the public.

Witness K and Collaery are accused of disclosing a bugging operation carried out in the government offices of Timor Leste in 2004. It was only years after the revelations became public that the two men were charged.

The intelligence community argues that prosecuting those that leak is an essential part of our national security.

But former judges and senior lawyers who have worked closely with the intelligence agencies say they are deeply worried about the prosecution and the use of the national security laws created in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The program examines the tension between those who say national security is paramount and those who fear the steady encroachment of state security on the public’s right to know.

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