Turnbull David Petraeus

What a pack of hypocrites make up this government.

There they were, gathered in Sydney on Friday night for the Liberal Party’s federal council: the Prime Minister, who introduced Australia’s first mass surveillance regime via data retention laws; the Attorney-General, who helped him — and who is off to a meeting with his Five Eyes collaborators in Canada to discuss ways to force “service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies”; the government that is engaged on an aggressive, albeit very confused, campaign against the internet in the name of terrorism.

As Turnbull would say the following day, “there can be no ungoverned spaces. Ungoverned spaces pose great risk … The internet cannot be an ungoverned space.” Terrorists, Turnbull said, “cannot be allowed to operate with impunity within ungoverned digital spaces online. The rule of law must prevail everywhere online.”

Ending soon: save 50% on a year of Crikey.

Just $99 for a year of Crikey before midnight, Thursday.

Subscribe now

George Brandis has also been active countering other threats. He’s big on “insider threats”, and introduced new laws both to jail journalists who reveal intelligence operations, and more draconian punishments for intelligence officials who might blow the whistle. Brandis is the one who says Edward Snowden is a “traitor”, who angrily lashed out at the Greens, saying “you celebrate and make a hero of this man who, through his criminal dishonesty and his treachery to his country, has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk”.

And who were Turnbull and Brandis, along with the rest of their party, lauding at dinner on Friday night? Whom did they listen to with rapt attention, and lavishly praise before and after his speech? David Petraeus.

Petraeus is convicted criminal. He leaked top-secret information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, acquired as a result of his commands in those countries. Not just a small amount, but 300 documents. Unlike Chelsea Manning, who released nonsecret material on Iraq and Afghanistan to reveal war crimes carried out by US forces in those countries, Petraeus did it simply to impress his girlfriend Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having a secret affair.

Petraeus also lied to the FBI about handing the information to Broadwell, in a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. When he eventually pleaded guilty, he was given a wrist-slap suspended sentence and a fine — a sentence that made the Justice Department and the FBI deeply unhappy.

Yet here this threat to national security was, being celebrated by the Liberals. “Thank you so much for coming out to Sydney to talk to us tonight to share your experience and insights on these challenges the world faces,” Turnbull cooed at the criminal, while lavishing praise on him. It was as if Petraeus’ affair, his scandalous resignation from the CIA and his conviction never happened, as if he was just another US security establishment figure, enjoying his retirement role as a corporate glad-hander with one eye on a return to a senior post if the political stars align.

As is the way of these things, of course, Broadwell’s career has been wrecked. Petraeus threw her under a bus to try to protect himself. No corporate gig for her, no interviews for senior government positions. No speaking events in front of adoring audiences.

The amnesia about Petraeus extends to the media. Hardly any journalists who covered Petraeus’ speech noted he had been forced to resign in disgrace; none mentioned he was a criminal and a national security threat. Much of the coverage was in the same doe-eyed vein as Turnbull’s remarks. Petraeus even had the effrontery to criticise Snowden’s revelations as “enormously damaging” without anyone noting the irony of the leaker criticising the leaker. 

Turnbull makes an interesting point about “ungoverned spaces” and the need to ensure the rule of law extends everywhere. Every single perpetrator of a terrorist incident in recent years has already been known to intelligence agencies and security forces, and insists the real problem is that the internet provides some sort of haven for terrorists to plot their atrocities. There must be no safe spaces for terrorists, is the message.

And true, those who would seek to inflict terror and atrocities have always used safe spaces. Safe spaces like the Bush White House, where the plan to invade Iraq was hatched (death toll: several hundred thousand and counting). Like the Pentagon and the CIA, where air strikes and drone strikes that incinerate civilians across the Middle East are planned and carried out. Like the Obama White House, where the drone strike that killed a 16-year-old American boy was authorised. Like number 10 Downing Street, where Tony Blair decided to give carte blanche to Bush on Iraq despite being advised that it would increase the risk of terrorism in the United Kingdom. Like in the ministerial wing of our own Parliament House, where dodgy intelligence and partisan calculation drove a decision to slavishly follow the Americans into Iraq.

Talk about safe spaces. There’s never been any accountability for those acts of terror and mayhem. The rule of law has been signally absent. The perpetrators not merely remain at liberty, they are feted and honoured. The places where they planned those acts remain ungoverned, too.

But, of course, they hate us for our freedom, etc, etc. Maybe it’s our freedom to be egregious hypocrites that is the particular problem.

There's more to Crikey than you think.

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Get more from your membership than ever before. Hurry, offer ends Thursday.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
Get more and save 50%