As the Cole inquiry enters its final and most crucial stages, Crikey turned to veteran Australian journalist and author Phillip Knightley to seek his views on the matter.

Knightley brings a unique perspective to a matter like this, after a career investigating the dark side of espionage, diplomacy and warfare. He is the author of the classic text on propaganda in warfare, The First Casualty, which describes the lengths to which governments lie to fool their own citizens – and how this trend has grown.

“Governments all over the world have turned a blind eye to what in Europe they call facility payments”, he told Crikey. “Governments know about it, but turn a blind eye. Just occasionally there is a scandal.” He continues:

It seems to be that Howard has been following the British precedent of pleading ignorance.

Of course, the intelligence agencies of other countries know all the details for straight commercial reasons. To plead ignorance is just not considered enough. Howard and his ministers should have known and I am certain that their intelligence services would have known.

Knightley then draws a very straight comparison. “Directors of companies have duties”, he says. “They cannot plead ignorance, as demonstrated in the Bond case.” And he leaves us with a very pertinent question: “Do governments have greater or lesser standards than a company?”