The Australian tells us today that “more than a third of the analysts who provide John Howard with top-secret intelligence advice have failed to respond to a survey about whether their independence has been compromised under political pressure”.

But there are other kinds of pressure. Like a DFAT omerta. A DFAT omerta that makes the protection of DFAT personnel and personnel from other associated bodies – such as the security services – no matter what they have done a higher priority than all other considerations. Including national security.

We’ve seen this with AWB, of course. Another example of institutional corruption came out over the weekend. The sophisticates who read Crikey may sneer at Piers Akerman – but he had a cracker of a yarn at the weekend:

Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s federal Labor government ignored several adverse reports on the activities of controversial imam Sheik Taj Eldeen Alhilaly, filed by Australia’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, ensuring that he would be granted permanent residency.

Had it heeded the reports from both ASIS and ASIO, instead of pandering to the ethnic vote, Alhilaly would not be in the country now…

According to a former intelligence officer, Alhilaly’s name first surfaced in a report prepared by one of Australia’s most senior intelligence assets in Cairo, towards the end of 1984, when the sheik was living in Sydney, though he had already overstayed his tourist visa.

The former officer told me that the high-level operative who named Alhilaly in his report had an excellent record and had previously provided extremely valuable material. He said the operative’s report on Alhilaly drew upon information held within the files of the Egyptian intelligence service in Cairo and detailed his alleged activities at Lakemba Mosque.

The Egyptian government was interested in Alhilaly because of his membership in the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that still preaches a visceral hatred of the West and calls for the restoration of Islamic rule in all areas once dominated by Muslims…

Forget about Hilali and concentrate on the DFAT and security angles.

Crikey readers will recall the bombshells over intelligence detonated on Four Corners in 1994 – and the Samuels Royal Commission that followed.

Events in Australian embassies and our security service in Hilali’s part of the world received close examination.

Various claims about senior Australian officials from a range of bodies were made. The current head of ASIO, Paul O’Sullivan. Concerns have been expressed that some of these may have been compromised, or that others may have abused their positions or mishandled matters.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the period and place has been well raked over. So why hasn’t the Hilali material emerged before?

DFAT’s dirty line has supposedly been aired. It now appears that some of it never even made it to the laundry basket. There are stains on DFAT – and our security services. Very nasty stains.

The stains suggest that internal politics played by some very powerful – and in some cases very high profile – people have taken precedent over the national interest. These people have sought to protect their own, not the nation they were supposedly serving.

And theoretically in charge of this all at the moment we have Alexander Downer – a former enthusiastic if wet behind the ears junior diplomat.

DFAT’s former heads of missions have been holding their annual get together in Canberra. The tale they could tell!

Pity we don’t get to hear this stuff – or, apparently, about potential threats to our security like Hilali. It’s all apparently much better kept in house. Just like AWB’s antics were.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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