Australia’s ‘secret prisoner’ denounces lack of mental health assistance from his government employer

By Harley Dennett

Wednesday November 20, 2019

An Australian intelligence official sentenced to 15 months in jail and now unable to use his real name appears to have turned to Twitter to correct misinformation about his case.

Given the alias “Alan Johns” by the court, the man was dubbed “Witness J” by his friend and author Robert Macklin, who broke the story last week in Canberra’s City News.

Details of the criminal case against the official appear to be suppressed either by court order, the Attorney General, or the Intelligence Services Act.

The first public record came to light in a court hearing on November 8. It concerned an Australian Federal Police raid of the home of the officials’ brother, looking for the manuscript of an alternative history novel Witness J had authored while he was serving his sentence at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Following his release on August 16, the official undertook civil court action against Corinne Justason, the AMC’s general manager over the raid and loss of privileges.

He lost that case, but a new Twitter profile claiming to be the official Witness J’s states it was through that court action he finally learned about the secret suppression orders made about his case.

“After 15 years serving my country — ten in uniform, and five more recently in a suit — I was cast into a secret trial and incarcerated,” writes ‘WitnessJ8‘, a new Twitter profile created on Tuesday claiming to be the former intelligence official and soldier.

I knew the charges but not the court orders. I had to take the Alexander Maconochie Centre for court for that (and still lost).”

The account also has a message for former colleagues in the Australian intelligence community, that he had no intention of breaching the Intelligence Services Act or the court orders surrounding his case:

“Tonight there are members of my former community, either on duty or casually here, who will feel compelled to report this all tomorrow. I respect your role, and your adherence to your mandate.

“I am not here to share secrets, or do the wrong thing. For those here tonight working in that space, thank you for what you do. You have my respects.”

The criminal offence and trial

The official has admitted to the crime he was tried for. It was a serious offence, especially for an intelligence officer.

The social media account shared scant statements about the official’s original trial. That it was conducted in secret, that his legal representation had no precedent on which to build his defence, and that he did not assist a foreign power.

Robert Macklin also commented on the undisclosed criminal charge:

“…his actions were triggered by what he perceived as a personal affront to someone he loved.

“However, had it not been for the 10 stressful years he had spent fighting for his country and seeing his fellow soldiers killed in the bloodied dust of Uruzgan Province, nor the next five after joining DFAT and postings to Iraq and other places, then I could easily guess that he would not have offended as apparently he did.”

The official told Macklin he intends to have a memoir published about his time in jail. It will not cover the circumstances of the crime that got him there.

‘Don’t wait until it’s too late … save your own life’

The primary message this ‘Witness J’ Twitter profile had to share was that his story began with 15 years of service to the nation, in which he was forward deployed to Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Indonesia. “Some in uniform, some in a suit. All with a love of Australia foremost.”

But when he needed mental health support following those multiple deployments, the senior executives in the government prevented him from receiving assistance, either inside or outside the Australian intelligence community.

“I asked for mental health support three times to senior officers in a very small organisation. Because of my security clearance, I was prohibited from seeking independent health assistance. It didn’t come. The rest is suppressed by order of the attorney-general.”

He says he nearly lost his life to suicide. Now his former agency is paying for his treatment, according to tweets from the account.

“For those in the intelligence community watching tonight, don’t, please, wait to put your hand up and ask for mental health support. Do it now. Don’t wait for your employer to clear you in six months, or until it’s too late. Save your own life.”

‘Witness J’ doesn’t seem to hold his experience against his colleagues in the organisation he once belonged to, noting it does “brilliant things to keep our nation prosperous… Unfortunately there is a rotten core, evident in a stagnant leadership which won’t learn its lessons.”

The Mandarin has been in communication with the owner of the Twitter account and independently confirmed parts of the public statements.

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