The recent story by Sarah Ferguson on Four Corners highlighting that not only is organised people smuggling continuing to be a problem but that a few key operators had set themselves up within Australia after posing as refugees was insightful and decisive investigative journalism.

In The Australian today, journalist Dennis Shanahan claims the source at the heart of the story is ‘unreliable’ – an outrageous one considering the lengths the source has gone to in assisting the program and other refugees. The mere fact that one of the alleged people smugglers fled the country after being exposed on the program reflects the seriousness that those involved see this issue – as should the government. Executive producer Sue Spencer has released this statement to counter Shanahan’s claims:

Four Corners’ response to The Weekend Australian article : “AFP: Captain Emad source ‘unreliable’”

Four Corners completely rejects the allegations made by un-named sources in today’s The Weekend Australian article by Dennis Shanahan, “AFP: Captain Emad source ‘unreliable’”.

The facts of the recent Four Corners program “Smugglers’ Paradise – Australia” are not disputed; the evidence is on screen. After the broadcast, the AFP Commissioner confirmed the AFP was investigating the key people smugglers exposed in the program and in the case of Captain Emad that the investigation had been running for two years.

Hussain Nasir has worked with Four Corners on two major programs on people smuggling; the evidence of his skill and reliability are evident in both programs.

In 2010, Hussain exposed six Indonesian-based people smugglers on camera as well as corrupt associates in the military. The key smugglers exposed in that program are still being pursued by the AFP.

It is completely false to assert, as the article does, that the ABC was warned off working with Hussain.

Hussain Nasir came to us with a strong recommendation from the US Special Forces behind him. When we first worked together, Four Corners checked Hussain’s bona fides, in particular with the US Special Forces unit he worked with in Iraq following the US invasion. The US Special Forces unit held Hussain Nasir in the highest regard because of his reliability and courage. He worked for three rotations of the same unit, passed from one rotation to the next precisely because he was so reliable.

The US Special Forces told Four Corners the members of the unit trusted Hussain with their lives. They issued Hussain with a permit to carry a weapon and brought him to live on the Special Forces base when his life was threatened. When Hussain was forced to flee Iraq after an attempt was made to blow up his house, the US military gave Hussain a letter of recommendation testifying to his courage and honesty which we featured in our first program. Four Corners’ experience of Hussain mirrors that of the US Special Forces and is sharply at odds with the slurs contained in The Weekend Australian article.

In Indonesia where Hussain was living as a refugee, he was introduced to the AFP by a senior UN official who had recognized his abilities. Hussain was always discrete about his relationship with the AFP but because of the allegations now being made about him we are compelled to put a few details on the record. The relationship continued for more than a year. We understand there were more than six meetings; Hussain provided information that assisted with the apprehension of one smuggler and the disruption of boats. In the course of the year, in text and emails to the AFP, Hussain identified major people smugglers, their phone numbers and locations of passengers about to leave for Australia. This information included a warning from Hussain identifying the smuggler who was later responsible for the Christmas Island boat disaster. Hussain was offered money by the AFP in return for his information; he chose not to take it. At no time was Hussain told to stop supplying information or that his information was “unreliable”.

When we met him, Hussain had become frustrated by the constraints faced by the AFP operating in Indonesia and after a year of supplying information to them, wanted to do more to expose the smugglers who he believed preyed on vulnerable people with impunity. The same skills he had used to get information for the AFP enabled Four Corners to expose powerful people smugglers on camera effectively and quickly. Following their exposure in the program a number of smugglers were apprehended by the Indonesian authorities.

When the Christmas Island boat tragedy occurred some months later, Hussain quickly identified to us the smuggler responsible. The AFP asked us not to publish the name in order to protect their investigation. We agreed and published it once an arrest was made some weeks later.

In the wake of the 2010 broadcast, people smugglers exposed in the program threatened to kill Hussain. He was attacked and stabbed in the back. At this time the ABC took what measures it could to protect his safety and the safety of his wife and four small children. Hussain and his family had refugee status; earlier that year their case had been sent with 500 others to Australia by the UNHCR for re-settlement in Australia. Following advice from UN officials, with his life in immediate danger, the ABC asked for Hussain to be moved to a third country while his case was considered. In the months that followed, Four Corners continued to provide information on the extent of Hussain’s record and background to the Australian authorities who were considering his case. After a thorough vetting process, he and his family were settled in Australia.

The article has used criticisms of the recent program voiced by refugee advocates seeking to defend the actions of another people smuggler Abu Ali al Kuwaiti. In 2010 Abu Ali al Kuwaiti sent 97 passengers to Australia by boat. When they disappeared at sea, Abu Ali lied to the relatives saying they had arrived safely in order to collect money from them. Four Corners was criticised by refugee advocates for exposing the truth about this smuggler.

When this boat disappeared, Hussain Nasir was the only person to take seriously the anguish of family members searching for their missing loved ones and he pursued the story alone for months.

Reporter Sarah Ferguson said: “Before publication of his article, The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan told me that the allegations about Hussain Nasir were part of ‘a government campaign to besmirch his reputation.’ The quality and reliability of Hussain’s work is abundantly evident in our programs. I am proud to work with him.”

The facts of the Four Corners program “Smugglers’ Paradise – Australia” are not in dispute. To attack a brave whistleblower, one of the very few people prepared to stand up to criminal people smugglers and to do so using anonymous, unattributed sources is disgraceful.

Sue Spencer
Executive Producer
Four Corners
9th June 2012