Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith) has labelled as “disturbing” an Australian news report claiming the airline has been infiltrated by organised crime groups, but has claimed ignorance of any current investigations into any of its employees.

The carrier in a statement reacted to a report by The Nine Newspapers and 60 Minutes, allegedly based on a classified intelligence operation code-named Project Brunello, that linked up to 150 Qantas staff members to organised crime groups, including a biker gang connected to an international drug cartel, and other activities that posed a risk to national security. Project Brunello in a July 2020 report found that “trusted insiders” at Qantas had links to organised crime, while some staff were creating “vulnerabilities in the security of supply chains and critical infrastructure” that threatened border security.

Qantas Group Chief Security Officer Luke Bramah in a statement said none of Australia’s law enforcement agencies had informed the airline of the existence of such a report, nor had they raised concerns about Qantas’ vetting or background checking processes. “We’ve written to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, Border Force, and Aviation and Maritime Security seeking details of the report. If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action."

He added: “Qantas is the only commercial airline that holds a Trusted Trader accreditation with Australian Border Force which means every single employee connected to international air freight must pass a fit and proper test. We’ve not been advised by Border Force of any of our employees failing this test.”

“There are multiple checks and balances in place already that we know work, but we have been strong supporters of introducing intelligence checks for all Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) holders. We’re pleased that the Federal Government is working to get this through Parliament. In addition to the criminal checks that happen every two years, we’d like to see real-time background checks which would mean that airlines and airports would know immediately if an employee has been convicted of an offence, because it’s another safeguard. We have had positive conversations with the government about this over a number of years,” Bramah said.

He added there had been multiple occasions in the past where Qantas had worked closely with law enforcement to assist with their surveillance and evidence gathering at airports around the country, ultimately leading to the conviction of people engaged in illegal activities.