Guy Webber filed this piece a couple of days after the Bali bombings and it raises some good points about our intelligence failings.

But the media continues to ask the wrong questions about this appalling act. We also need to be asking about activity beyond the immediate. Questions which must be addressed to John Howard, Chris Ellison and directors of all components of the Australian Intelligence Community, including ASIO and the AFP.

John Howard has been right about one thing since September 11. Maintaining a strong response. All that is needed to morally, and practically, justify this stance is contained in two adages.

“All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Memories are short. A brief recollection of the 1930’s and 40’s ought to gently remind some people of the veracity of these two sayings.

However, on the critical issue of intelligence, the Prime Minister has got it wrong. Continually. Certainly he is not directly charged with the operation of the intelligence services, however the ultimate responsibility does rest with Prime Minister and Cabinet. And responses have been inadequate.

For example, legislation of the sort that has been drawn up regarding expansion of ASIO powers and similar must remain a significant concern on two fronts. On the first it is unlikely that this legislation, in isolation, will be effective, an assessment that has been made in various senior quarters on both sides of the political fence and, in some cases, within the intelligence community itself. On the second front these represent a substantial increase in government power – a situation that should be of concern to all Australians but which, sadly, seldom is.

As a nation it appears we are extremely trusting of government, and government institutions, at all levels. Eternal vigilance should also have an element of introspection about it.

However, the single biggest failing of the intelligence agencies to date, and of this government, has been the inadequate response to the development and emplacement of effective intelligence information coordination systems.

Why has this still not been done?

Eyebrows must certainly be raised when these statements are made by the PM and senior ministers:

“Prime Minister John Howard announced a review of Australia’s domestic security and sent Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Justice Minister Chris Ellison to Indonesia to encourage its security authorities to fully investigate the attack”. (Quoted from the AFR Oct 15).

Another review? Why? Surely this must have been done after September 11.

And this, “Australia failed to predict the Bali bombings despite substantially boosting its intelligence and anti-terrorist capabilities, Defence Minister Robert Hill has said.” (The Australian, Oct 15).

So what have we got wrong?

On both fronts, given the current environment, we must challenge those responsible as to why effective intel coordination is still not in place.

Intelligence gathering, analysis, dissemination and action is not easy. It is not fool proof. But we appear incapable of making it as effective as we can by virtue of bureaucratic inefficiency and the operation of disparate agencies each with their own turf to protect.

As an example, the ACC, the Australian Crime Commission, has yet to come on line at years end and, at this stage, appears well behind schedule and poorly emplaced. That organization will have, or should have, a strong intelligence component that must feed into the AIC.

It would also appear that despite warnings on the US intelligence radar no action was undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to issue warning to travelers to Bali – despite suggestions put by Minister Downer.

Certainly it is not an easy task, and the issuing of constant, generalized warnings undermines their effectiveness. We have seen this in the US.

But given that the AFP and other agencies have been active in Indonesia in response to illegal immigrants, given the operation of known domestic Indonesian radical Islamic groups, given that al-Qaeda is known to be active in Indonesia, given that the Australian High Commission was targeted in Singapore last year and given that the US had, and has, current concerns regarding its facilities in Indonesia the whole situation smacks of, if not poor intelligence gathering, certainly poor risk analysis and assessment.

Following the World Trade Center attacks last year I wrote an article for the Australian Financial Review which appears in its unedited from below. To date it appears little has changed.

As usual there are many responses to this most recent shock lacking considered thought. Democrat Senator Bartlett argues we should focus on regional threat but clearly fails to appreciate that global terrorism is just that. The World Trade Centers attack was recruited in the mid-East, planned in Hamburg and trained in the US. Deputy PM Anderson continues to be unhelpful with his statements of the obvious. And there are plenty of others.

For all we know it was a fertilizer and diesel pack. Or not. Or two devices, the first to attract people outside and the second timed to cause maximum damage – a ploy used extensively in bombings in the mid-East, notably in Israel (although it appears the timing on these two devices was set too close together to achieve the maximum effect). For all we know the crime may have been commissioned in Indonesia by radical Islamic groups set upon further destabilizing the ineffective Sukarnoputri government. It may have been set by local Islamics on Bali, which is predominantly Hindu, as a double attack against decadent infidels and an extension of the attacks on non-Muslims in other areas of the Indonesian archipelago. It may be perceived as a response to Australia’s role in East Timor. It may have been funded or suggested by al-Qaeda, or an associate group or even a cell in Australia – or anywhere else. Know one really knows at this time. Perhaps it will emerge from the investigation. But all of this is speculation.

Rather than speculation, once the race to seek uninformed comment from the likes of Senator Bartlett, Deputy Prime Minister Anderson and others subsides, perhaps we should focus on the practical mechanisms which may reduce, although not eliminate, the likelihood of such an incident or incidents directly on Australian soil. John Howard needs to ensure that his correct moral stance is backed by systems which will enable us to prevail over this evil. In the meantime, we must still ask what are our intelligence agencies doing?

Peter Fray

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