Aside from the Government’s
overall AWB defence of gross incompetence, it’s nice to see the Prime
Minister’s handlers taking their strategy leads from Crikey. Just as we
first suggested that the very act of calling the Cole inquiry would be
a major part of Howard’s early innocence plea, our suggestion that
“national security” would be next has come to fruition. As AAP reported
on Friday:

Prime Minister John Howard has defended Australia’s
cooperation with the Volcker inquiry, saying the government could not
just hand over classified intelligence to other countries.

The
Cole inquiry into AWB’s $300 million kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s
regime has heard Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tried to block UN
investigators from interviewing key government witnesses about the
scandal last year.

But Mr Howard defended Mr Downer’s actions.

“The
basis on which he did that was quite valid,” Mr Howard told Southern
Cross Broadcasting. “The cooperation didn’t extend to just arbitrarily
handing over classified documents which were the intelligence of
foreign countries.”

Yep, saw that coming. It remains
entirely reasonable to suspect a relationship existed/exists between
AWB personnel and our spooks. No other Australians were as close to the
Iraqi regime or had better knowledge of one of the most important
primary intelligence sources: food supply and distribution. It neatly
explains how the spooks could know all about the trucking company and
exactly how the kickback racket worked, but, astoundingly, nothing
about AWB.

Of course once you start speculating in the
half-light of intelligence veracity, all statements are open to
interpretation. For example, the Prime Minister’s care to suggest our
spooks’ knowledge of the kickbacks was “the intelligence of foreign
countries” might be taken at face value – or as deliberate
misinformation from the spooks to cover the more likely source.

I
somehow suspect that line of inquiry won’t be pursued any further by
Terence Cole. It’s not central to his task and the quiet appeal to
consider “national security ” can cover a number of sensitivities, as
it has for centuries.

Peter Fray

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