We
mentioned former ASIS station chief turned writer and commentator Warren Reed
last week – and the man himself turned up in Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald
with a thought provoking piece on the possible
security implications of the politicisation of intelligence:

When a government repeatedly lies and flaunts
the fact that its political survival is more important than the truth, even
than the national interest, a fundamental compact with the intelligence
community is broken… Imagine putting your life at risk to gather intelligence,
only to be told your report wasn’t distributed because “it’s not what the
Government wants to hear”.

Reed
warned that if our government doesn’t want to know what our spies have to say, some
might sell information to other powers. Yet there
are already gaps in our information. Last Friday brief stories appeared in a
number of papers quoting an address by ASIO director-general Paul O’Sullivan in which he said his agency
cannot possibly know about every group or individual planning a terrorist
attack in Australia.

“Of continuing concern though, and a major
challenge facing us is the terrorist we don’t know about,” he said. So, we need information – but appear to already
have problems with the information we obtain and how we handle it.

Crikey readers will be familiar with the case
of Merv Jenkins, the Australian Defence Intelligence Organisation officer who committed
suicide in Washington in
1999. And you’ll recall the story of Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins and the
“pulling of the plug” on information on East Timor.

Our relationship with the United
States is seen as being
the ultimate guarantor of Australia’s
security. Both these cases appear to have arisen over
disruptions in the flow of information between our intelligence agencies and
the US. Both these incidents had potential to undermine Australia’s
security by damaging our most important security relationship. Both cases appear to have arisen because of
procedural manoeuvrings – manoeuvrings in very grey areas in Canberra – that
seem to have stemmed from fears that someone was making waves.

In other words, the Australian intelligence and security
apparatus may have damaged our nation’s most important intelligence and
security to protect itself. As far back as 2003, Reed told the SMH, “Anybody who rocks the boat by simply being honest in the nation’s
interest will suffer through bastardisation and intimidation unless they toe
the line.”

Reed should know from his past experience. He was
one of six officers who raised concerns about what was going on inside the
intelligence establishment in the nineties. The response from the Inspector
General for Intelligence and Security led Reed and his fellow agents to make
their case public.

ANU strategic studies expert Des Ball observed on
the ABC’s Background Briefingin 2004 how “We don’t have a National Security
Council in Australia, we don’t have any high level co-ordinating machinery to
ensure that other national interests which we have, and indeed hold dearly,
principles of democracy of individual freedom, of human rights, that they are
correctly composed with the power elements of our national interests.”

The complaints of Reed and his fellows in
the nineties resulted in the appointment of a commission of inquiry into ASIS
under retired NSW Supreme Court judge Gordon Samuels. While the full contents of the secret,
three volume inquiry report published in 1995 have never been released, a
public summary made it clear that the former spies did have grounds for
complaint.

At the same time, it also revealed that
ASIS used a bogus psychological report describing one of the officers as a
“psychopath” to discredit him in confidential briefings with then opposition
MPs who wanted to investigate their allegations. The intelligence climate has heated up significantly
since the nineties, yet concerns still remain.

Last July, in the wake of the appointment of
O’Sullivan to head ASIO, the Financial Review commented on “concerns among
career intelligence officers about the recent trends for diplomats to be
appointed to senior intelligence agency positions”.

Reed and
O’Sullivan have history – history that was covered in an interview on between
Reed and Laurie Oakes on Sunday last year where the
former ASIS man described O’Sullivan’s appointment as “a rank insult”. However,
Crikey understands from other sources that O’Sullivan, as one put it, “is having
trouble finding friends. The senior managers will suck up to him because [former
head] Dennis [Richardson] trained them well, but the rank and file
are well aware of how he burned poor old Warren Reed in Egypt. They do have long memories these
people.”

Peter Fray

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