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Australia spy agency denies terror maps a security breach

ASIO played down concerns that maps revealing the source of homegrown fighters travelling to the Middle East were classified

Published: Updated:

Australia’s domestic spy agency Thursday played down concerns that maps shown in a media briefing revealing the source of homegrown fighters travelling to the Middle East were classified, after fears their publication was a security breach.

The maps, which revealed the Sydney and Melbourne suburbs where fighters heading to join jihadists came from, were photographed and filmed by journalists during a meeting Wednesday between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and spy chief Duncan Lewis.

The Labor opposition attempted to move a motion in parliament Thursday condemning Abbott and the government.

“The House condemns the prime minister and the government for putting politics before the security of Australians by revealing sensitive information of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization for the sake of a media opportunity,” read the motion, which was defeated.

But ASIO said the maps were not classified.

“The director-general of security (Lewis) confirms the documents used in the briefing were not the subject of a national security classification,” the spy organization said in a statement about the briefing at ASIO headquarters in Canberra.

“The documents were carefully edited and were unclassified. The content of the documents did not compromise national security.”

The statement contrasted with earlier comments by ASIO to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, when it reportedly said the maps were for “official use only” following the open media briefing.

The ABC said it was also told ASIO would “appreciate if you do not publish” the documents. However, the ABC and other media did publish photos and video footage of the briefing, including the maps.

Lewis told Abbott during the briefing that the color-coded maps were being used by the agency for counter-radicalization efforts.

The government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of fighters to Iraq and Syria to join extremist groups such as Islamic State, with some 120 Australians already in the region.

Canberra Wednesday proposed a bill to strip citizenship from dual nationals with links to terrorism. The new laws, if passed, could even apply to Australians who have never stepped foot out of the country.

About half of the Australian fighters overseas are believed by the government to be dual nationals.