(Image: National Archives of Australia)

Because there was an actual American coup taking place last week your correspondent had no chance to pitch in on the little brouhaha over the American coup here in 1975 (joking! Kinda).

Now that Venezuela’s voting machine hack to steal the vote in Atlanta has been exposed, it’s time to turn the guns round.

Last week’s stoush on the 45th anniversary of the Whitlam dismissal was all about the Palace Letters between then governor-general Sir John Kerr and the Queen’s functionaries, with duelling books by Professor Jenny Hocking (The Palace Letters) and Paul Kelly and Troy (“the Boy”) Bramston’s The Truth of the Palace Letters.

Hocking’s book is the superior volume, though I would say that. The Palace Letters are one of the most extraordinary political troves of modern times, in which the broken, pompous, needy, wheedling governor-general flatters, flaunts, fawns and ultimately succumbs to the blandishments of the royal outfit.

No one with experience of, well, humans, can fail to see the degree to which Kerr had become entwined with the palace.

But not for Kelly and Bramston. The palace letters offer only the assurance that Kerr acted alone, even as the palace explicitly reaffirms their support for the “reserve powers”‘ attaching to the office — and the importance of using them from time to time. It’s an interpretation that imposes an impossibly atomised view of human action, reverse engineered from the need to make Kerr a man wholly responsible for the event.

Hocking skewers that attitude implicitly and explicitly. Your correspondent’s concern is with the new heights of ludicrousness Kelly and Mavis reach in trying to deny any US, especially CIA, entanglement. The issue has festered so greatly for them that the duo made an FOI request for a later CIA briefing to president Gerald Ford on the matter that says, guess what?

Before getting on to that, let’s touch on the public evidence of CIA involvement.

The Whitlam government raided the headquarters of ASIO in 1973; CIA head of counterintelligence James Jesus Angleton noted (in an interview with Phillip Frazer) that the raid ended any notion that Australia might be a reliable intelligence partner; James Curran in Unholy Fury documents extensively how Labor’s denunciation of the US 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi had earlier ended any limited tolerance of the Nixon administration for an upstart socialist outfit.

Whitlam had made explicit to the outgoing US ambassador that lease renewal on US spy bases in Australia would come under question if the United States tried to muscle in on Australian overseas agricultural markets. When contracts to find $2 billion in petrodollar loans were tendered out in 1975, half a dozen shady CIA front outfits came out of the woodwork to compete for them. Tirath Khemlani, the favoured one, would be convicted in 1981 of a fraud operation with the Nugan Hand Bank, a CIA front set up in Sydney in 1970.

As the supply crisis deepened in early November 1975, Whitlam raised the question of the bases afresh (they were due for renewal in December) and announced that he would name in parliament CIA agents operating unauthorised in Australia.

On the weekend before the Dismissal, the CIA’s east Asia chief sent a telex to his ASIO counterpart threatening suspension of intelligence-sharing if agents were named — a telex on which Kerr was briefed. Kerr had been a leading member of two CIA fronts, the AACF and the Asia Foundation.

The dismissal of Whitlam made naming CIA agents in parliament impossible.

What do Kelly and Bramston say about all of this?

The CIA said Whitlam’s dismissal was ‘a surprise move’ and ‘an unexpected shock’

That’s it. Six words.

The notion that the CIA was taken by surprise by the events is transparently ridiculous. The possibility of dismissal was canvassed in multiple op-ed pieces, several of which Kerr dutifully clipped and sent to the palace.

The CIA is known for its incompetence, but it employed — and employs –hundreds of events analysts to monitor world affairs (one of whom was Christopher Boyce, who made clear that documents on the risks of the Whitlam government and the reliability of Kerr were passing to senior officers). Wikileaks PlusD US database shows that the state department was receiving daily reports on the entanglement of CIA agent naming and the Australian domestic political crisis.

So there would seem to be two possibilities. Either the CIA was lying to Ford or Kelly and Bramston have completely misrepresented the FOI document. Or both.

What does the rest of the document say? How much has been redacted prior to release?

The “document”– six words — is no proof of anything. It is a measure of the desperate paradox of this version that the only way in which the question of active CIA and US government involvement or influence on Kerr’s decision can be denied is by excluding from the public visible and undeniable evidence.

So is it incompetence, negligence, delusion or misinformation on the part of the authors? Who knows. But there is one simple way to sort it all out. MUP, Kelly and Bramston’s publisher, can feature the full document on its website and we can judge for ourselves.

What a coup that would be!