The Australian Defence Force hierarchy knew an exploitative internet sex ring was operating within its ranks almost three years ago but did not involve police until the middle of last year, it emerged on Saturday.

Fairfax Media asked Defence when the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS) began its investigation of the matter. An Army spokeswoman confirmed it first became aware of the unfolding scandal in September 2010.

NSW Police has stated that Kings Cross Local Area Command established Strike Force Civet in July last year – after being alerted in June.

The latest revelation exposes a period of 21 months during which ADFIS conducted an internal investigation before approaching NSW Police for help.

Details of the ADFIS investigation, including its length, when it started, those responsible for conducting it and its findings, have not been made public. The Department of Defence did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Saturday.

Two years after a cadet was publicly exposed broadcasting himself having sex with a female counterpart on Skype, the Australian Defence Force has once again been rocked by sex abuse allegations, this time involving at least 17 male officers – including a lieutenant-colonel, the sixth highest rank in the army.

Calling themselves the Jedi Council, the sex ring ”picked up” women in locations such as airport lounges and bars, then filmed them performing sexually explicit acts.

The ADF went public with the revelations on Thursday when the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, announced three personnel had been stood down and 14 others were being investigated in relation to ”demeaning, explicit and profane” emails. He also confirmed a brief relating to the three sacked personnel had been forwarded to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith has since denied the military was forced to go public because it was about to be exposed by other agencies involved.

An ADF spokeswoman said investigators had simply needed a period of time to ”do what they needed to do” without triggering potential ”adverse effects”.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.