Documents relating to incidents involving Australian special forces soldiers administered the neurotoxic antimalarial drugs tafenoquine and mefloquine

Stuart McCarthy made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Defence

Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Department of Defence should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

From: Stuart McCarthy

Delivered

Dear Department of Defence,

Background:

Mefloquine is a neurotoxic antimalarial drug which was used as the ADF's second line malaria prophylaxis drug from 1993 to 2006 and has been widely used among Australian special forces soldiers. The drug is known to cause acute and chronic psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety and psychosis.[1,2] Tafenoquine is a similar quinoline antimalarial that was found by U.S. Army scientists in 2009 to be "the only antimalarial more neurotoxic than mefloquine."[3]

From 1999 to 2002, almost 3,000 ADF personnel were subjected to clinical trials of tafenoquine and mefloquine in Bougainville, East Timor and Australia. Significant numbers of those personnel subsequently served in special operations units on deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other operational areas.

A number of the ADF personnel who were administered mefloquine or tafenoquine during their ADF service are under investigation by the current IGADF inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, while others have testified to that inquiry as witnesses. At least one of those witnesses is known to have suicided in the absence of appropriate medical care.[4] Legal representatives for some of those witnesses have raised concerns about the lack of appropriate care for individuals involved in the IGADF inquiry.[5]

One of those legal representatives, who also served as the Special Operations Task Group Legal Officer in Afghanistan circa 2012, stated on ABC Four Corners on 16 March 2010:

"We have a moral obligation not to ignore these sorts of allegations."[6]

FOI Request:

In accordance with the FOI Act, I hereby request to be provided with documents from 1 July 2019 to 15 March 2019 held by the Department of Defence relating to incidents (in operational areas including but not limited to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan), investigations, inquiries, disciplinary matters, possible cover-ups and/or the wellbeing of current or former Australian special forces personnel who may have been administered tafenoquine and/or mefloquine during their service (including but not limited to those who served in the ADF units subjected to the 1999-2002 drug trials), including but not limited to:

1) Letters, emails, memos, briefings, file notes and/or records of conversation.

2) Media queries, responses to media queries, media briefings and/or media "talking points."

3) Documents raising concerns for the administration, discipline, health and/or wellbeing of those personnel.

4) Documents responding to those concerns.

Yours faithfully,

Stuart McCarthy

References:

1. E.C. Ritchie et al, "Psychiatric side effects of mefloquine: applications to forensic psychiatry," Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23...

2. S.M. McCarthy, "Malaria prevention, mefloquine neurotoxicity, neuropsychiatric illness and risk benefit analysis in the Australian Defence Force," Journal of Parasitology Research, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/26...

3. R. Agboruche et al, In-vitro toxicity assessment of antimalarial drugs on cultured embryonic rat neurons,
macrophage (RAW 264.7), and kidney cells (VERO- CCl-81), 2009. https://muckrock.s3.amazonaws.com/foia_f...

4. Andrew Greene, "Australian Commando Kevin Frost, who raised Afghanistan war crime allegations, found dead," ABC News, 16 December 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-16/a...

5. Andrew Greene, "Defence insists it is looking after veterans forced to testify to secret war crimes inquiry, now entering it's fourth year," ABC News, 18 December 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-19/d...

6. Glenn Kolomeitz, quoted in "Killing fields," ABC Four Corners, 16 March 2020. https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/killing-...

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From: Stuart McCarthy

Delivered

Dear Department of Defence,

In my original request I made a typographical error in the first sentence under the heading "FOI Request":

"In accordance with the FOI Act, I hereby request to be provided with documents from 1 July 2019 to 15 March 2019 held by the Department of Defence ..."

Please amend the dates to read:

"... from 1 July 2019 to 15 March 2020 ..."

Yours faithfully,

Stuart McCarthy

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From: FOI
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Good afternoon

Thank you for contacting Freedom of Information at the Department of Defence.

We have received your email and you will be advised of the status of your inquiry by a FOI team member who will be in touch with you.

Kind regards

Matthew Ashauer | Freedom of Information
Enterprise Reform Branch | Governance and Reform Division | Department of Defence
a CP1-6-002 Campbell Park Offices ACT 2600
t (02) 6266 3685| e [email address]

IMPORTANT: This email remains the property of the Department of Defence. Unauthorised communication and dealing with the information in the email may be a serious criminal offence. If you have received this email in error, you are requested to contact the sender and delete the email immediately.

IMPORTANT: This email remains the property of the Department of Defence. Unauthorised communication and dealing with the information in the email may be a serious criminal offence. If you have received this email in error, you are requested to contact the sender and delete the email immediately.

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From: Hanna, Nicole MS
Department of Defence

UNCLASSIFIED

Good afternoon Mr McCarthy

 

Thank you for your FOI inquiry, dated 16 March 2020, in which you sought
access to:

 

“documents from 1 July 2019 to 15 March 2020 held by the Department of
Defence relating to incidents (in operational areas including but not
limited to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan), investigations, inquiries,
disciplinary matters, possible cover-ups and/or the wellbeing of current
or former Australian special forces personnel who may have been
administered tafenoquine and/or mefloquine during their service (including
but not limited to those who served in the ADF units subjected to the
1999-2002 drug trials), including but not limited to:

 

1) Letters, emails, memos, briefings, file notes and/or records of
conversation.

 

2) Media queries, responses to media queries, media briefings and/or media
"talking points."

 

3) Documents raising concerns for the administration, discipline, health
and/or wellbeing of those personnel.

 

4) Documents responding to those concerns.”

 

Your request was registered on 16 March 2020.

 

Please note that your request in its present form will likely attract
refusal under section 24AA of the FOI Act. Searches for documents relating
to incidents (in operational areas but not limited to East Timor, Iraq and
Afghanistan), investigations, inquiries, disciplinary matters, possible
cover-ups and/or the wellbeing of current or former Australian special
forces personnel would need to be undertaken across several areas within
the Department of Defence. Information relating to personnel would need to
be cross referenced with their individual health records to ascertain if
they have been administered tafenoquine and/or mefloquine during their
service.  It is considered that the workload involved in conscientiously
attempting to do so would involve a substantial and unreasonable diversion
of the resources of the agency.

 

Taking the above into consideration, under section 24AA of the FOI Act and
for the purposes of section 24 of the FOI Act, Defence considers that a
'practical refusal reason' exists in relation to your FOI request. 
Specifically, Defence considers that the work involved in processing the
request in its current form would substantially and unreasonably divert
the resources of the Defence from its other operations.  In particular, a
very significant amount of resources would have to be diverted to arrange
for the required searches to be undertaken, to then review any documents
that were identified as being possibly relevant to your request.  And
finally, to undertake the decision making process on any documents that
did meet the parameters of your request.

 

This diversion would constitute a significant drain on the resources of
the agency, and would have an unreasonable, substantial and adverse effect
in the ability of areas to conduct their normal business.

 

In accordance with section 24AB of the FOI Act, Defence is required to
consult with you advising of the intention to refuse access to your
request in its current form.

 

In accordance with paragraph 24AB(2)(c) of the FOI Act, I am the nominated
person with whom you should contact with a view to agreeing to one of the
following options:

 

    a.    withdraw your request

    b.    revise your request; or

    c.    indicate that you do not wish to revise your request.

 

In accordance with section 24AB(9) of the FOI Act, Defence is only
required to undertake this consultation process once, and you must contact
me within 14 days to discuss.

 

I encourage you to contact me so I can assist you in moving forward with
your inquiry.

 

Kind regards,

 

Nicole Hanna

FOI Case Manager

Information Management and Access

Governance and Reform Division

Department of Defence | Building D0066 | Camp Kerr, Wide Bay Training
Area, Tin Can Bay QLD 4580| Phone (07) 5488 1615| Email
[1][email address]

 

[2]http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/privacy.asp

IMPORTANT: This email remains the property of the Department of Defence.
Unauthorised communication and dealing with the information in the email
may be a serious criminal offence. If you have received this email in
error, you are requested to contact the sender and delete the email
immediately.

 

 

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