A Leaky Ship


To the dismay of most Americans, and to many other people abroad, we heard recently that US President George W Bush had authorised the disclosure of secret intelligence to the media for political gain (link here). In short, the Administration leaked strategic intelligence information to the media to bolster its position on the invasion of Iraq.

The disclosure has led to ridicule of the President, who not so long ago publicly expressed his abhorrence of such acts. Now he finds himself referred to as the ‘Leaker-in-Chief.’

Such hypocrisy on the part of a government makes a farce of the three basic principles that underpin democracy: truth, responsibility and accountability. Lose any one of those and democracy is in trouble.

Truth, of course, is the essence of intelligence. The raison d’être for the craft is to seek out unknown truths and report them back for what they are not what someone else wants them to be.

Muck with that and you’re on aslippery slide that leads ultimately to a Police State. And history teaches us that such States are all about regime survival rather than serving the constantly invoked ‘national interest.’

In Australia, there is also evidence to suggest that the Government released intelligence for strategic gain, yet strangely, no one has managed to get to the bottom of it. Maybe truth isn’t so important in the Lucky Country.

Thanks to Hinze

The case has to do with an article published by Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun on 23 June, 2003, following the invasion of Iraq in March of that year. Bolt quoted directly from a classified, leaked intelligence report that Andrew Wilkie had compiled on Iraq for the Office of National Assessments (ONA), and which Bolt admitted to having seen. He did this in an attempt to damage Wilkie’s reputation (link here).

Andrew Wilkie had resigned, in March 2003, as an analyst with the ONA over Australia’s participation in the invasion.

Wilkie’s report had been written in December 2002 and sent out to a restricted readership. All copies were duly returned. But in June 2003, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s office requested a copy the only such request made in the six-month period after its original distribution. Three days later, Bolt’s article appeared.

Anybody in the intelligence world who knows Wilkie knows that he has, and always will, work for the national interest. And yet his reputation was challenged on the basis of a leaked report with an extremely limited and carefully monitored distribution.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched an inquiry into the leak and 11 months later reported to the Government that there was ‘no direct admissible evidence to identify any of the recipients of the report as the source of the disclosure to the journalist Andrew Bolt.’

And that’s that. The Minister responsible for the AFP, Senator Chris Ellison, says that for operational reasons we cannot be told whether all likely leakers co-operated with the inquiry; whether all relevant phone records were checked; or whether Bolt agreed to be interviewed.

This is appalling.

It is the antithesis of accountability, and the AFP which has rightfully won the admiration of Australians for its role in the fight against Terror should be jumping up and down.

So should the broader community. Especially in light of the expensive and draconian witch-hunt the Government engaged in when public servants leaked information that proved the Australian Government knew what was about to happen in East Timor in 1999 (link here). In that case, the Government was willing to destroy the careers of innocent people to prevent more of the truth coming out.

Similarly, neither the Government nor the Inspector-General for Intelligence and Security are able to tell us today six years down the track who ordered the severance of vital intelligence flows to our forces in East Timor in 1999.

There are two key points here. One is that if we don’t care about the truth and don’t demand it, we can hardly rely on the Government to uncover it. Second, if it really is so hard for the relevant machinery of government to expose the culprits in such cases, what chance have we got of detecting terrorists in our midst?

This is especially so with home-grown suicide bombers, like those who struck the London Underground in 2005. Worse, what chance do we have of discovering, say, a Russian nuclear suitcase bomb already on our soil and perhaps in place in the Sydney CBD ready for detonation?

Such a bomb might kill 30,000 “60,000 people first off, but would also necessitate the evacuation of Sydney and environs for years. Where would five million people go? Who would transport and billet them? Who would handle the logistics, as well as food and medicine? In brief, such a catastrophe could cripple the Australian economy, before we even calculate the full human cost.

It is blind faith to believe that if a government is allowed to get away with lying on one front it will be able to perform brilliantly on another. You can’t have rust in one part of your engine and expect the rest to function normally.

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