Subject: SMH/Hamish McDonald: Forget the leak and expose Indon generals

Sydney Morning Herald March 15, 2002

Forget the leak and expose generals

COMMENT by Hamish McDonald

Canberra's predictable reaction to the disclosure of signals intelligence material on the Indonesian Army's covert East Timor campaign has been to try to find and plug the leak.

If target countries are alerted that the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) can read their messages, it invites them to change ciphers, buy more sophisticated encryption devices, and talk more discreetly.

Yet it would hardly surprise any of the Indonesian generals who were active in East Timor - some of whom, like Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, trained with Australia's Special Air Service - to be told that the DSD was listening to their calls.

Signals intelligence is also a moving battle, requiring periodic updates in detection and computing power. Yesterday's secrets are today's common knowledge. The Americans, who have confidence in their ability to stay ahead, are far more open about it than us or the British.

And all intelligence is there to be used. Instead of allowing the Defence Department to define that use entirely in military terms, the Federal Government should be weighing up the wider strategic gains from using material like the Timor intercepts against the costs of disclosure.

The contingencies of military conflict may never arise. Meanwhile, Canberra has two big problems with Jakarta.

One is that the Jakarta political establishment, or at least large sections of it, has been sold the line that East Timor's independence results from Australian conspiracy, and the United Nations ballot in 1999 was rigged.

The other is that the same generals who carried out what veteran activist James Dunn calls a "textbook case of state terrorism" are still riding high in Jakarta, holding back reform of the political system in general and the armed forces in particular, and even playing senior roles in the post-September 11 "war against terror".

Dunn, who worked in the DSD watching Indonesia and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and was later Australian consul in Dili, argues that the agency's purpose cannot be simply to collect an amazing collection of material too secret to be used. "It has to be used to some purpose, to change situations," Dunn says.

Like exposing army generals whose behaviour is a long-term threat to regional security.

If the damning details contained in the DSD's interceptions are not shared with UN war crimes investigators, the cost of this effort to retain DSD secrets will be that this malign element remains lodged in the political life of our big neighbour.

see: Australian Spy Intercepts Confirm Australia's Bloody East Timor Secret

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