Spies and passports:

Wes Pryor, in New Delhi, India, writes: Re. “Greg Sheridan was right! About Julie Bishop that is…” (yesterday, item 9).  I’m one of those guys that when I’m in France, people speak to me in French. In Lebanon, Arabic. A Goan beach, Hebrew. And so-on. Just one of those mongrel heads that could look like anything post primate except, say, Swedish or Sudanese.

So when I lost my passport after a night on the sherbets in Lebanon, I was advised by kind Australian authorities that I would be in for a ride. An Aussie passport with that mugshot and current, valid, multiple entry visas to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, dozens of Schengen, Thai, Malay, Iraqi, UK stamps, would on the balance of probabilities pop up on some list, on some border, somewhere. Obviously, I’d be implicated in whatever shenanigans ensued.

It’s all very Jason Bourne but I’ve been wearing my knackers in my throat since then. Though I have had one Karate lesson and I can hotwire a car.

That was the day before New Year’s Eve. About 15 days later, got out of Beirut, including a fun afternoon of interrogation — cigarettes and glass windows and all. A month after that, the hullabaloo about Mossad, the Aussie passports and Dubai popped up. Obviously I wondered if there’d be a knock at the door. I kept my handycam ready because I always fancied starring in “Don’t taze me dude II“. But that all passed. I’m obviously pleased and probably it was all melodrama and paranoia in retrospect.

Enter Julie Bishop. The monumental stupidity of her remarks about intelligence operations and Australian Passports is wildly irresponsible. It’d be irresponsible for, say, a middle-ranking rural post office staffer to say within earshot of anyone at all. But for the alternative Minister for Foreign Affairs it is plain negligent and make no mistake, it will affect Australian travelers.

Kevin said it was some kind of “convention” that these things (breath) not be (breath, lick lips) discussed. Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to tighten that up with some kind of legislation to muzzle other potential beanheads from putting us at risk. I say it again: alternative Minister for Foreign Affairs. Hell, just one election and a Winchelsea truck smash from PM.

Justin Templer writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 13). Richard Farmer is right — Julie Bishop would do better to pay heed to the views of Australian voters than the Israel lobby.

It is ridiculous for her (and Alexander Downer) to suggest that Australia is guilty of an over-reaction in expelling an Israeli diplomat.  It has long been heralded that there would be an expulsion, England did one and now we have too.

This may provoke the usual righteous indignation from Colin Rubinstein and the Australia/Israel Affairs Council but I think most Australians would see it for what it is — a tap on the wrist with a wet lettuce.

Rod Metcalfe writes: Okay I will accept that Australian security services MAY forge passports. But Julie, have they been used in assassinations?

North Korea:

Harry Goldsmith writes: Re. “Crikey wrap: Korea on the brink after ship sinking” (yesterday, item 15).  I have little doubt that the South Korean ship was sunk by a North Korean vessel of some sort.

I cannot think of any reason for the North Koreans to do this, except that a mistake might have been made, or the North Koreans thought the South’s vessel was transgressing its border, or maybe some silly captain thought he’d “have a go”.

There is a lot about North Korea’s thinking that we can’t follow. The Seoul student who said:

“I and many others suspect the South Korean government of deliberately accusing North Korea, even of making up the proof. We are well aware of the anti-North Korean sentiment of the government and do not trust the official report at all.”

Might have a point, although I find it difficult to accept it when I cannot think of a reason for South Korea going to such elaborate lengths. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile recalling a couple of other similar episodes.

The famed Gulf of Tonkin incident (August, 1964) was a naval battle between the US and nobody else. The US claimed it was fighting North Vietnamese gunboats, but as Wikipedia reports:

In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there may not have been any North Vietnamese Naval vessels present during the engagement of August 4. The report stated

It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night. […] In truth, Hanoi’s navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged on August 2.

This non-incident gave Johnston the opportunity to officially get involved in the war in Vietnam.

The other incident is the USS Maine, in which the  USS Maine exploded and sank on February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbour, Cuba. This incident contributed to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. There have been several inquiries into the sinking. The most recent official enquiry was by the US Navy in 1976, and it “concluded that the damage was inconsistent with that caused by a mine … tated that the most likely cause was a coal dust fire.”

This conclusion has not been universally accepted, but it must be given considerable credence.

Bearing in mind the Weapons of Mass Destruction debacle, it is worth remaining a little bit skeptical about the Korean incident.

Our leaders:

Martyn Smith writes: Re. “Possum: leaders’ attributes and the vote” (yesterday, item 5). “Saint Kevin”  is not what I thought he was and by contrast, “The Reverent Abbott” is exactly what I thought he was. Put me down as an undecided! I will admit to having a better understanding of the qualities of their deputies.


Chris Lehmann writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). I run an electrical contracting firm in Brisbane. The test procedure for the foil insulation testing is a  very long and thorough procedure that I would estimate would take two tradesmen about 2 hours to complete if they were doing it diligently and they did not find any problems.

If the bloke in question is taking five minutes  to an hour then he is simply not following the procedure, and as a result there is no guarantee of safety.  This type of anecdotal story about the “fix” that has been put in place to address the safety issues with the foil debacle, is exactly the sort of thing I was worried about when I wrote an article for Crikey on this issue on the 12 February 2010.

The people who consent to the safety checks get the illusion of safety with no protection into the future, and if someone is taking only 5 minutes to complete the mandated test, then that is simply a rort.

We will not be involved in the testing program, and some of the local contractors I know who were doing inspections have now backed out of the scheme.  Removal is the only option.

Pedant’s porch:

Kim Lockwood writes: Re. “Crikey wrap: Korea on the brink after ship sinking” (yesterday, item 15). Matt De Neef wrote: “The Korean peninsular is on war footing after an attack on a South Korean navy ship …” No, the Korean peninsula, not peninsular, is on war footing. Peninsular is an adjective (the Peninsular War). Journalism 102.

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