Australia worries about a potential nuclear war involving Iran, but most of the Australian media is more concerned with the journalist that beat them to the scoop.

The latest WikiLeaks cables revealed by Philip Dorling for Fairfax show that Australian security agencies feared a nuclear war with Iran.

“Israel may launch military strikes against Iran and Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities could draw the US and Australia into a potential nuclear war in the Middle East.”

As is consistent with all the WikiLeaks cables being drip-fed out by Fairfax, the whole cable hasn’t been released, just quotes from the document.

“The AIC’s [Australian intelligence community’s] leading concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions centre on understanding the time frame of a possible weapons capability, and working with the United States to prevent Israel from independently launching unco-ordinated military strikes against Iran,” the US embassy in Canberra reported to Washington in March last year.

It’s troubling news for The Age journalist Daniel Flitton, who offers the only real analysis of the Iran leaks so far:

“Imagine if this type of information had been made public before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, showing people the assumptions, guesswork and gaps in knowledge when trying to assess the weapons program of another country. Might the war have been averted?

This is not to diminish Australia’s intelligence assessments about Iran, but rather to highlight the challenges analysts face when trying to discern facts in one of the most fiercely debated issues in global affairs. A mistaken assumption either way could result in another devastating war.

The key point is this: Australia fears Iran is on the path to developing a nuclear bomb – despite the vehement denials of the regime.”

Fairfax freelancer journalist Philip Dorling outlined on Saturday exactly how he got his hands on the WikiLeaks cables: including how he met founder Julian Assange, painting an incredible picture of the security-conscious WikiLeaks, with its HQ sitting in a rotting Georgian mansion in the English countryside.

Six months of emails, clandestine meetings and confidential exchanges followed before arrangements for a visit to Britain were locked in….Consequently I flew out from Australia last month without a specific destination, only an instruction on arrival at Heathrow Airport to go to a certain railway station, taking precautions to see whether I was followed.

There, using a public telephone, I phoned a number that had been provided earlier through a secure channel. A voice on the other end gave a single-word reply to my call – the name of a railway station outside London. I bought a ticket and some hours later arrived on a windswept, rain-splattered railway platform in rural England. Only a couple of other passengers got off and the platform was quickly deserted. I wondered what the next step would be.

But after a moment a figure emerged from the early evening shadows, with cap pulled down over his head and coat collar turned up, perhaps to make identification difficult but more likely to protect against the bitter wind and sleet. There was a quick greeting, then a long drive through the countryside to WikiLeaks’s temporary headquarters, made available by a benefactor. I was greeted by the man himself: modest, unassuming, in T-shirt, tracksuit pants and socks with holes in them.

It paints a slightly different picture to the story by The Australian’s James Massola last week, who insinuated that Dorling was a spy:

Maybe it was simply the overimaginative minds of journalists, but his trademark trenchcoat and waxy, wan appearance immediately gave rise to whispers that Dorling may have been a former spook for Australia.

Tim Blair at the Daily Telegraph seemed equally as fascinated with Dorling:

Freelance journalist Philip Dorling met with Assange last month, in circumstances that sound almost comic… Dorling continues, without much need: “WikiLeaks takes security very seriously.” Yay for them, the little spygame munchkins. Yet WikiLeaks seeks to deny elected democratic governments even a fraction of that security, despite the fact they face threats rather more grave than those faced by girly cybergeeks and their mostly anonymous online supporters.

Even fellow Fairfax journo Katharine Murphy got in on the action:

Here, finally, is politics unplugged — although we are all, of course, hostage to the interpretation of the man who has the information, Philip Dorling. We are yet to see the raw material.

With so much grumbling from other media outlets who missed out on the WikiLeaks Australian cables — and Crikey will admit that its burning with jealousy — a lot of focus has turned to Dorling. Therefore this line from Dorling seems particularly poignant:

Consistent with the old journalistic maxim that ”Noah is a better story than flood control”, most media interest was focused on Assange himself, admittedly an elusive and intensely interesting figure, rather than what he might be about to release through the WikiLeaks website.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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