Exclusive research by Crikey shows a strong correlation between secret cable activity at the US embassy in Canberra and the intense negotiations at the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference over the global emissions reduction treaty in 2009, and also a possible correlation with a back flip by the Rudd Labor government on missile defence in 2008.

Building on our story yesterday, where we showed a strong spike in secret US traffic from its embassy during Australia’s diplomatic crisis with Israel over the fake Australian passports Dubai assassination scandal, a more refined technique has thrown up nearly a dozen similar “clusters” of cables.

Until WikiLeaks or the Australian government publish the secret documents, this is the only method the general public can use to gain a potential glimpse into the contents of the reports.

Although WikiLeaks has so far only published 291 of the 250,000 documents in its possession, and none of the reported 1400 Australian-related ones, the organisation has published annotated information on all 250,000 cables, including date and source. Using a sliding window of eight days and polling the data set every four days, there looks to be perhaps a dozen “clusters of interest”, where traffic from the Canberra embassy to the US State Department was higher than average:

cableCluster2

To research all them would take several days, but sampling just three throws up some tantalising possibilities.

A cluster in the middle of January 2009 corresponds closely to the depths of the global financial crisis when Australia was pushing for finance reform, banking guarantees as well as unveiling various stimulus packages in concert with other developed countries and there was “intriguing speculation coming out of Washington that a presidential visit to Australia reasonably early in Obama’s term may be a possibility”.

In February 2008, as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was visiting the country, there was a spike in traffic as the relatively new Labor government began to “rethink about whether Australia will join the US  and Japan in creating an anti-missile system” they had previously rejected.

The earliest cluster is in February 2005. The top stories from around that week include Australia and the US pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol global warming agreement, Philip Ruddock denying “on the advice given to me” that Australian officials had watched Australian terror suspect Mamdouh Habib being beaten by US interrogators in a Pakistan military prison and the expulsion and replacement of Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Amir Lati.

Attorney General Robert McLelland has said that media organisations could be asked to refrain from publishing some of the WikiLeaks material.

“There has been an information protocol, I think it’s fair to say, among Australian media that if they receive representations from national security or law enforcement authorities that material could be prejudicial, that they will often refrain from publishing the material.

“And certainly it may well be that that sort of discussion might need to take place.”

But considering it is highly likely the Australian government already has copies of the cables in question, and given WikiLeaks’ threat to “drip feed” the releases over the next few months to maximise exposure, one course of action open to the government’s taskforce is the old “tear off the Band-Aid” approach and release the documents themselves.

Until then the steady drip of WikiLeaks will continue.

UPDATE 2.20pm:

A spokesman for the Attorney-General told Crikey, “…the Government has made it clear it will not speculate about the content of any US Classified documents purportedly held by Wikileaks.”

Peter Fray

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