Abbott’s as much to blame

Greg Poropat writes: Re. “Errors, lies and secrecy: don’t trust govts on national security” (yesterday). Bernard Keane makes the same mistake made by just about all journalists and others passing comment on the Indonesian espionage contretemps when he writes of “the damage inflicted on a new government that had nothing to do with its actions’.

Sadly missing in the discussion about this fiasco is an analysis of what the leaked documents reveal about the nature and duration of Australia’s espionage activity in this matter. Edward Snowden released but a few of what surely must be many similar documents showing Australian espionage activity. The leaked documents only reflect a short period of surveillance activity in August 2009. They purport to be an “update”, implying that it was part of a project that had been underway for some time. How long? Well, according to the documents, probably since at least early 2007 and at least six months before the ALP was elected; the document “IA Leadership Targets + Handsets” shows DSD commenting that the “uptake of 3G handsets commenced in 2nd Quarter 2007” and lists 10 Indonesians, including SBY, who had acquired 3G handsets.

The last document in the series poses a question about DSD’s way forward, including the choice of “Choose an option and apply it to a target (like Indonesian Leadership)”. So this project seems to have been in an establishment and test phase under the Howard government and through the first part of the first Rudd government.

It defies credulity to believe these actions were not an established part of Australian espionage activity under the Howard government and persisted through several ALP administrations, probably continuing right through under Abbott’s government at least until recently. (Did Tony Abbott and other LNP ministers have access to any such intelligence in their first visits to Indonesia before the ABC told DSD it had the documents?)

Many have suggested that Abbott let himself off the hook by passing the matter off as belonging to the Labor government. Of course the Prime Minister can’t do that, not when the same activities clearly occurred under Howard and most likely continued under his own watch. Tony Abbott has to cop it sweet because he probably is just as “culpable” as his ALP predecessors and the Howard government were.

Former senior intelligence analyst Richard Scott writes: Bernard Keane has some valid points in his article. But starting with a critique of graphic design is a very odd choice for a lead paragraph — I know few organisations that look good when viewed through the corporate PowerPoint template. I’d also argue that foriegn intelligence has always been focused on the leadership of foreign governments — it’s pretty much the raison d’etre for the intelligence.  The apparent American mass collection of domestic data of its own citizens, however, is a much more recent development, and much more troubling for democracy and the place of intelligence agencies in democracy.

And Keane is guilty of a very coloured interpretation of the Flood Report supported by selective quotation. The actual tenor of the report is better indicated by a lengthier quote from the report’s conclusions:

“Australia shared in the allied intelligence failure on the key question of WMD stockpiles, with ONA more exposed and DIO more cautious on the subject. But many of the agencies’ other judgments have proved correct. Overall, assessments produced by ONA and DIO on Iraq WMD up to the commencement of combat operations reflected reasonably the limited available information and used intelligence sources with appropriate caution.”

Translation altercation

Bruce Hogben writes: Re. “Front page of the day” (Monday). Crikey, you fell for that “wipe Israel off the map” nonsense, did you? Tsk Tsk. Respected University of Michigan Middle East specialist Juan Cole on August 8 welcomed for a number of reasons the departure of foolish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president (where he had little actual power — that, says Cole, rests with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is in charge of nuclear policy and forbids nukes as illicit in Islamic law). Cole’s 10 reasons are not as you may expect. Here’s number nine: ” I will never again have to hear some uninformed pundit or politician drone on about how Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the mapwhich he did not. This stupid debate was only possible because the journalists in Washington and New York apparently do not trust me (I’m looking at you, Ethan Bronner) to know the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb or accurately to translate Persian into English. The late Christopher Hitchens even managed to convince himself that he knew Persian better than I. It is a profound mark of contemporary America’s anti-intellectualism that a professor of Middle Eastern history with numerous refereed works to his name on Iran and Shiite Islam at prominent academic presses should be assumed not to know the grammar every Iranian schoolchild does. This whole ‘wiped off the face of the map’ mania among Western journalists was just war propaganda, in which they seem unashamed to join, and which causes them to vilify anyone who stands in their way.”


Crikey writes: Re. “Errors, lies and secrecy: don’t trust govts on national security” (yesterday). Yesterday’s article stated that the office of foreign minister Alexander Downer leaked a secret intelligence report to Andrew Bolt in order to discredit intelligence analyst and whistleblower Andrew Wilkie in 2006. In fact, Downer’s office leaked the top secret report with the intention of discrediting Wilkie to Bolt in 2003. Crikey apologises for the error.