He said Canberra developed a preoccupation with civilian deaths and in 2013 began investigating them more thoroughly, but this had the effect of making the elite combat soldiers more reluctant to use force and therefore put them at greater risk.
“It looked like somebody had said, ‘Shake them down. Put the investigators onto them,” he said.
Mr McBride has pleaded not guilty to a charge of theft of Commonwealth property, three counts of breaching the Defence Act, and one count of unauthorised disclosure of information. He faces a possible lengthy jail term.
He served two tours of Afghanistan. On the second, in 2013, he acted as a lawyer for the special forces.
The 55-year-old father of two, who is defending himself, will argue he was doing his duty by leaking the documents.
Mr McBride has also complained that male soldiers involved in the so-called Jedi Council sex scandal were unfairly treated and has protested against the gender diversity push in the Australian Defence Force.
He admits taking and leaking the documents, and says he has had multiple opportunities to plead guilty but maintains he will not do so because he was doing the right thing.
He said he believed there was a terminal lack of political and military leadership that was endangering Australia’s national security.
“It was only when I started going through the top secret files that I pieced together the bad faith. We were running the defence force based on appearances,” he said.
He insisted he had to continue his fight to protect the great legacy of the ADF.
“I feel that I’ve been visited by the ghosts of Anzac past and they want me to go on,” he said. “What’s happened to the ADF is it’s been changed out of sight from what was built on their blood, sweat and tears, and it’s probably something they would be ashamed of. Imagine if you told them, we now value the popularity of the minister above the lives of soldiers.”
David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.