Speculation thrives in the absence of hard
fact so, in the vacuum created by the severely edited release of what our spooks
claim they didn’t know about Iraqi kickbacks, there is a mischievous but not
unreasonable thought: was AWB supplying the spooks’ intelligence?

There has to be a pretty good chance of
that. As a theory, it would also neatly explain how our spooks knew all about
Alia and how its transport racket worked, but nothing about AWB. (Memo Spooks: AWB is the Australian export
wheat monopoly company that’s been up to its ears in Iraq for
decades and was the biggest single source of Saddam’s sanctions-busting income.
They’re in the White Pages under “AWB”.)

As AAP reported:

The nine-point
summary of 15 secret documents handed to the Cole inquiry earlier this week
says Australian agencies knew in 1998 about Alia, and that it was part-owned by
the Iraqi government.

“In 1998 the AIC (Australian intelligence community)
held intelligence indicating that Alia Corporation (Alia), based in Jordan, was
part-owned by the Iraqi government and that it was involved in circumventing
United Nations’ sanctions on behalf of the Iraqi government,” the summary
said.

It also reveals Australian agencies knew back in 2000
that Alia received substantial fees for transporting humanitarian goods across Iraq, and
Saddam’s regime also charged 10 per cent commissions to companies sending
humanitarian goods to Iraq.

If I was running a so-called intelligence
agency with an interest in Iraq and there was a patriotic Australian government
authority that enjoyed very close relationships with members of the Iraqi
government in the course of conducting billions of dollars worth of trade, I reckon they’d be the very first good
old boys I’d want to have a very regular chat with and perhaps enlist their
on-going assistance.

I can’t imagine my relationship with them
would change when they were corporatised and floated. In fact, it would become
ever more important if my political masters unrolled a plan to invade Iraq on
some spurious excuse and the company still managed to keep doing extraordinarily
good business.

Contacts like that, a spook couldn’t buy.
Or maybe he could.

If counsel assisting the Cole inquiry, John
Aguis, is right in suggesting DFAT suddenly started taking a hands-off approach
to AWB in mid-1996, could it have been for “intelligence” reasons rather than
simple incompetence or political interference from the new coalition government?

That’s the beauty of dealing with spooks
and national security issues and files that are first carefully selected and
then summarised – the spies by their very nature can not be expected to tell
the truth and everything becomes possible. Amidst all the outrageous conduct
and behaviour so far unearthed by the Cole inquiry, the possibility that
various AWB personnel were spying for Oz while bankrolling Saddam seems much
more probable than possible.

Moving on from “probable” then, the next
question to arise is whether AWB was
officially spying on Iraq with embedded spooks, or whether it was just a matter of a few Middle East desk types doing
their patriotic duty on an unofficial basis and/or picking up a covert quid on
the side.

In any event, the “Australian intelligence
community” wouldn’t want the DFAT cocktail party set or anyone else meddling
with their joes. And besides, what’s good for AWB is good for Australia – just ask any one of a half dozen senior
ministers.

Peter Fray

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