Buried in the pile of juicy revelations documented in Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial is the suggestion that the very cosy ally relationship between the US and Australia perhaps isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Two days ago The Sunday Times in London reported that Blair was angered by America’s refusal to share intelligence on Iraq with Britain. Now it emerges that Australia was also denied access.

Crikey got a sneak peek at State of Denial this morning — including the only two references to Howard that feature in the book, according to publishers Simon & Schuster. The main reference concerns the spat between Blair, Howard and President Bush over the Iraq intelligence issue. Woodward claims that Howard complained directly to the President about the issue several times.

According to Woodward, Australia and Britain complained about the fact that intelligence was routinely marked NOFORN (no foreigners) meaning the US’s closest allies were denied access to the classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET), which was “used to record and communicate information about intelligence, operations orders and other technical data”.

Woodward writes:

The classified information on the SIPRNET has a caveat – “NOFORN” – meaning no foreigners were allowed access, a restriction that included even the British and Australian troops fighting alongside the Americans in Iraq. At times it went beyond the absurd.

…Prime Minister Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard complained directly to the president about the issue several times. In July 2004, Bush signed a directive, supported by Rumsfeld and John McLaughlin as acting director of Central Intelligence, that said NOFORN would no longer apply to the British and Australians when they were planning for combat operations, training with the Americans or engaged in counterterrorism activities. Bush told Blair and Howard about the directive, saying, “I’ve just signed something out.” Problem solved.

But according to Woodward, the problem wasn’t solved, and instead of “giving the Brits and Aussies access, the Pentagon began creating a new, separate SIPRNET for them.”

The SIPRNET had years of information stored on it and the US military didn’t want to give it to the British and the Australians. It could take years to sort and comb through it all. The president’s orders were to put the British and Australians on the real SIPRNET, not create some new version for them. The problem dragged on. Months later, it still wasn’t fixed.

But according Hugh White, Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australia National University, it’s par for the course: “Sounds like the standard traffic of alliance management…If these guys aren’t complaining about not getting enough intelligence they’re not doing their job.” Despite the rhetoric, he says, “we never get everything that’s available and you always want more”.

But what about the US’s bratty refusal to share by plastering their intelligence with the NOFORN stamp? “NOFORN is pretty standard,” says White. “A lot of stuff is marked NOFORN, but Australia often gets to read a lot of NOFORN stuff.”

Crikey contacted the Prime Minister’s press office to ask if the PM and the President eventually patched up the problem and made sure Australia was granted full access to the intelligence, but they didn’t get back to us before deadline.

Peter Fray

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