Are there two Mick Keeltys? Last night a man calling himself Mick Keelty and claiming to be the Australian Federal Police Commissioner told a Sydney audience that he wants a black-out of all media coverage of terrorism investigations and cases. This Mr Keelty claims that police records of interviews are being leaked to the media to help the person under investigation get public sympathy. And this Mr Keelty thinks there should be a secret society of editors that he and his fellow security agency heads can brief, on an off-the-record basis, so that matters are set straight.

Now, let’s turn to the other person who calls himself Mick Keelty and who also claims to be the nation’s top cop. This is the Mick Keelty who revels in media publicity about terrorism cases, whose organisation leaks to the media and who runs a police force which wrongly accused a Gold Coast Indian doctor of terrorism offences (besmirched his name in the media in the meantime).

Could the real Mick Keelty please stand up? Is it the man calling for media black-outs and secret briefings, or is it the man who uses the media relentlessly to chase his quarry? The evidence suggests it’s the latter.

Take this story from the Daily Telegraph on 1 August 2007. Headed “Keelty’s Haneef SIM claim gaffe”, the story quoted Keelty from a media conference that day claiming that the SIM card Dr Haneef had given his cousin was located in the vicinity of London, where police foiled an attempted terrorist attack. That wasn’t true of course — the SIM card was found in Liverpool.

And then there was the Sunday July 22 splash across a number of Sunday news papers claiming Haneef might have been planning to blow up a Gold Coast apartment block. The story breathlessly told us that “Investigators said they believed some of the photos [of Haneef and his family in front of an apartment block] might not be ordinary tourist snapshots.” Keelty denied the accuracy of the story, but the damage was done, and it’s unlikely that the story was leaked by anyone other than someone on the Haneef investigation team.

Remember also that when Dr Haneef was arrested the picture painted by Mick Keelty and the Howard government was that he had caught the flight in a hurry after hearing that his cousin in the UK was in the spotlight over an alleged attempted terrorism plot. The reality was quite different – Dr Haneef had booked his flight previously and was going home to see his wife and new baby.

And don’t forget that the AFP worded up the media in the early hours of Saturday July 14 last year that Haneef was going to be charged that day, and Keelty called a media conference in Canberra to announce that to the world.

As for the other Mick Keelty – the one on show last night, well one assumes it wasn’t a serious speech. Is Australia’s most senior law enforcement officer suggesting that the AFP should not be scrutinised by journalists like Hedley Thomas, who won a Walkley for exposing the folly of the Haneef case? Does he really think that in a democracy it’s ok for law enforcement agencies to expect the media to accept the veracity of every action taken by them?

The idea that Keelty and his colleagues should be allowed to brief editors of media outlets on a secret basis in terrorism investigations, while at the same time preventing lawyers acting on behalf of those being investigated speaking to the media, is so absurd, that one wonders if this man has really lost the plot.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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