Subject: Bulletin: Justice Under Fire
Also: Deadly secrets
April 21, 2004
JUSTICE UNDER FIRE
In the wake of The Bulletin's damning exposé of Australia's intelligence services and the attempted character assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins, come further explosive charges against the military and its political masters. John Lyons reports.
Something very odd is happening at the top of Australia's defence forces. The men and women who have no fear of going into Iraq or East Timor on sensitive missions appear to be fearful of a different enemy federal parliament.
Hearings on Australia's military justice system will begin this week. The Defence Department has set up a special strike force an army "Tiger Team" to deal with the Senate hearing. It wants to take up to 20 people around the country as a rapid response unit. But there's a problem. It has indicated to the committee that it wants them to provide security, which prompted one committee member to respond: "You're meant to be protecting us, not the other way around."
Australia's defence and intelligence services are in crisis. While Prime Minister John Howard has resisted a royal commission, it is becoming increasingly clear that for the sake of a long-term cleansing of the system, the best thing he can do for the country is call one to allow a thorough, careful examination of why the system keeps going bad.
There are deep, systemic problems involving culture and accountability, but the most immediate problem is the determined 49-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins. The biggest problem for the chief of the defence forces, General Peter Cosgrove, is that Collins is not known as a stirrer. His colleagues say he's one of the best they've worked with: loyal, smart, someone to trust in tight spots. And sprinkled throughout the defence and intelligence system, Collins has important allies.
At the top management level, however, he is distinctly unpopular. As The Bulletin revealed last week, Collins upset some in Canberra in July 1998 when he wrote an intelligence assessment (later proved accurate) warning that the Indonesian military (the TNI) were preparing to wreak havoc in East Timor during any proposed vote for independence from Indonesia. Collins, who knew East Timor well, stated the TNI and militia were effectively the same brutal unit. While the Howard government, under pressure from Jakarta, was trying to argue that only "rogue elements" were the problem, Collins warned of the Indonesian military.
But the real damage came from his criticism of a "pro-Jakarta lobby" in the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), which he argued prevented accurate assessments being sent to government. Despite Collins' unpopularity, when Howard sent 4500 Australian troops to East Timor to rebuild after the destruction by the TNI and militia, Cosgrove hand-picked Collins. Success in Timor was Cosgrove's big chance. His nightly television appearances made him a household name, but it was Collins' daily assessments of where the troops should and should not go that ensured Interfet lost not a single soldier. Cosgrove became the TV star, Collins the anonymous intelligence chief.
On his return to Australia, Collins was told the "knives" were out and very soon he felt the biggest knife of all in his back. Someone in Canberra put his name on a Federal Police warrant, and it was quickly leaked to the media. For 25 years, Collins had been trusted with the most sensitive of Australia's (and the United States) defence secrets. He wanted an apology from his boss and former friend, Peter Cosgrove.
The report into the incident by naval barrister Captain Martin Toohey, published in full in The Bulletin last week, shows that soon after the leak, the people who signed Collins' name to the warrant knew he had been cleared by the Federal Police investigation. But four years later, no one in an official position has bothered to tell him the investigation is over and he has been cleared. In fact, three weeks ago, they downgraded his security clearance to stop him seeing the Toohey report.
Toohey, who has top-secret clearance and is trusted with extremely sensitive Defence investigations, concluded: "I find as a fact the Defence Security Branch (activated, on the balance of probabilities) by malice, at the material time failed to inform Lt Col Collins as soon as practicable after the execution of the AFP search warrant of the fact that he was not, and never had been, under investigation ... I find as a fact that the incident could have been prevented by the Assistant-Secretary Defence Secretary Mr Jason Browne advising Lt Col Collins, in a timely manner, of the complainant's complete lack of involvement in the security investigation."
The Toohey report made another devastating finding which neither the PM nor the chief of the DIO, Frank Lewincamp, have addressed: that because of his battle with Collins, Lewincamp "caused the flow of intelligence to East Timor to be suspended for approximately 24 hours". Until Howard reveals why Australian soldiers were endangered in this way, the issue will not go away.
After The Bulletin's revelations of the Toohey report, the PM, senior ministers and defence bureaucrats spent 24 hours planning how to react. But a backlash over John Howard's attack on Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty convinced the government not to attack Collins personally.
Instead, they decided to "shoot the messenger", Captain Toohey. After receiving Toohey's report on September 7 last year, those around Cosgrove went looking for a legal opinion with which to counter it, claiming Toohey had gone outside his terms of reference. They had two problems: the devastating nature of the report, and the fact it had already been signed off by Lt Col Tina Mathewson from army headquarters.
Nonetheless, they sent it to Colonel Roger Brown, a Cambridge-educated PhD in law and Sydney magistrate. There was more bad news: on September 22, Brown's report arrived: "Captain Toohey's inquiry was in accordance with his terms of reference ... It should be noted it is a vital element of both legal and intelligence work that advisers be free to tender their advice, whether popular or not, without fear of repercussions for failing 'to toe the Party line'. Captain Toohey's findings clearly demonstrate that Lt Col Collins was denied this freedom."
Brown even raised the possibility of disciplinary action against a serving officer over his treatment of Collins.
For Cosgrove, it was going from bad to worse. Defence insiders say his inner circle was devastated. They needed another opinion this time the Toohey report was dispatched to Colonel Richard Tracey, a Melbourne QC. He found "there can be no doubt there have been shortcomings in his career management since his return from East Timor", but the Toohey report had "miscarried" as it had led to an investigation of "bodies external to the ADF and insofar as it has led to recommendations for action by you which you could not, lawfully, take".
Last week, Defence Minister Robert Hill released the Tracey report in an effort to discredit the Toohey report, but his media release did not mention the Brown report.
It was Tony Jones on the ABC's Lateline who, in a masterful interview, derailed the attack on the Toohey report. The government wanted to bury it, and Hill was appearing on the program to talk about the Tracey report. He was wrong-footed when Jones asked about the Brown report. Hill was all over the place the best he could do was say the Brown report was only "a process matter" while the Tracey report was "the detailed analysis". This was simply untrue.
Forty-eight hours later, in media dead-time (Friday night after the TV news and newspapers had gone to press), Hill's office released the Brown report.
But a bad week was about to get worse. An email from Colonel Gary Hogan, the army's liaison to the current Senate inquiry into military justice, was leaked. It revealed that the cover-up mentality that marked the treatment of Collins was flourishing.
Hogan whom Cosgrove has appointed to help the Senate inquiry gain information from the army was in effect coaching senior Defence people on how to get around the Senate inquiry. Hogan advised those on his email list to write "Internal Working Document" on documents. The danger for Cosgrove is whether he knew of Hogan's instruction, and whether this advice constitutes a contempt of the Senate.
The email said: "All inquiry-related correspondence should be headed 'Internal Working Document' in order that the correspondence be exempt from tabling before the Committee under the Freedom of Information Act."
For John Howard, the crisis is deepening. He has got it badly wrong by appointing a former ambassador to Jakarta, Philip Flood, to run the inquiry. Flood is a classic insider, and accepted practice is that a royal commission be run by someone who has not been a key player in the very system the inquiry is examining.
For the sake of the nation's physical security, appointing a royal commission is one of the most important decisions the PM can make.
The bottom line at the top of the intelligence pyramid is protect your patch at all costs. It is a mindset that has cost many lives to terror attacks because of a lack of communication. And, amazingly, no heads have rolled, as Phillip Knightley reports.
The furore about Australia's intelligence community its failures, tainted reports, politicisation, poor management and damaging disputes with its officers is not unique. It is typical of what has been occurring in all western intelligence services since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States blasted them out of their complacent mind set.
Trained to cope with the major Cold War monster, the Soviet Union, the intelligence services failed not only to identify the new threat but even to imagine what it might be. The collapse of communism something which, incidentally, came as a complete surprise to every western intelligence service left them desperate to find ways of justifying their existence. How to avoid inquiries into their efficiency? How to avoid the budget cuts that governments were demanding as a "peace dividend"? And, above all, how to avoid anyone asking: "Do we now need these organisations at all, and if so, how best to organise them?"
The CIA's reaction was to suggest in the early 1990s that it should take over the war on the international drugs trade. It was quickly seen off by the Drug Enforcement Administration which, from years of experience, knew how to handle trespassers on its turf. The British Secret Intelligence Service persuaded the government to expand its mission statement to include the protection of the nation's economic well-being. It then turned to commercial and industrial espionage and took to spying on Britain's trade rivals even if, like France and Germany, they were technically friends. And all the while Osama bin Laden was out there plotting away, putting the finishing touches to his plan, doing it in languages and dialects no one in the CIA, the FBI, the DIA, the NSA, GCHQ, JIC, CIS and all those other alphabet-soup services could understand even if "the listeners", the NSA and Britain's GCHQ, had been able to intercept them in the first place.
As for infiltrating bin Laden's group, forget about it. In the 19th century, the intelligence officer and Arabist Richard Burton might have got into Mecca disguised as a Muslim pilgrim. But can anyone imagine a 21st-century CIA officer, used to his office comforts, passing himself off as a bin Laden follower? So it is accepted that the September 11 attacks came right out of the blue and the intelligence services are blameless. President George Bush says no one had any idea that terrorists might hijack an aircraft and fly it into a building. And even if the United States did have such an idea, the argument goes, how could anyone have known where and when such an attack would take place?
Wait a minute. Can our memories be so short? The hijacking of aircraft by aggrieved Arab groups goes back to the 1970s remember all those hijacked aircraft lined up on an airfield in Jordan before they were blown up? The use of trucks or boats loaded with explosives and driven by suicide bombers goes back to the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 (a truck with a suicide driver), the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in August 1998 (a truck with a suicide bomber) and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (a boat with a suicide bomber). Did no one in the US intelligence community paid to think about these things put it all together and say: "What if, instead of a truck or a boat, a terrorist hijacked a plane and used it as a suicide bomb against an American target?" What target? Well, Arab terrorists had tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. Did it not occur to American intelligence officers that terrorists might try it again?
That leaves "when?" It has been revealed at the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the US that there was a stream of reports between April and July 2001 that said that bin Laden was preparing a big attack. If some bright intelligence officer had put it all together, the world might today be a different place. The sort of heavy security now in force at all American airports might, just might, have stopped the September 11 hijackers before they got on the aircraft. So post-Cold War western intelligence was off to a dismal start but since then it has been catching up. Unfortunately no. Two years on, what do we really know about al Qaeda? Is it an organisation or an idea? If it is an organisation, how is it organised? How big is it? What are its aims? Where is it based? How is it controlled? (The idea that the ailing bin Laden runs the whole show from a mountain cave in Afghanistan is ludicrous.) We are constantly told that certain terrorist organisations have "links" to al Qaeda but we are never told what these links are and how they are maintained. The only answer to any of these questions I have been able to elicit came from Professor Amin Saikal of the Australian National University, Canberra, when he spoke at the Sydney Institute on April 1. I asked him: "What is al Qaeda?" and he replied: "It's a franchise operation."
So the West had this catastrophic intelligence failure over September 11. And we had the intelligence failure of East Timor. Even though Lt Col Lance Collins, probably the best and brightest military intelligence officer this country has produced, got it right, no one would listen to him. Then all the intelligence services got the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq wrong, probably because they were looking the wrong way. The point is that there are WMD in Iraq and they have been found. They are called small arms. Most wars since World War II have been fought with them and every year they kill more people than the casualties caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. One of the last acts of the dying regime of Saddam Hussein was to throw open Iraq's arsenals and the largest transfer of small arms from a state to its citizens in the history of modern warfare took place. Iraqi citizens queued up to help themselves to the Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and pistols they are now using with such deadly effect against the Coalition forces. Philip Alpers, of the Small Arms Survey in Geneva, estimates that there are between 8 million and 14 million small arms in civilian hands in Iraq: "They have the best claim to be a weapon of mass destruction." He says further that efforts by the Coalition forces to tackle this huge problem are being hampered by the US gun lobby, which is pushing the view that any constitution for a new Iraq must have an American Second Amendment-type clause giving citizens the right to bear arms.
So we have had this long string of intelligence failures and a series of pathetic excuses "The FBI and the CIA weren't talking to each other ... FBI agents weren't even talking to fellow agents because they were worried that their conversations were being recorded and might be used by defence lawyers ... A war game in which a plane was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon was vetoed because it didn't fit the game's objectives".
And how many intelligence heads have rolled? None. Not a single one. Not here. Not in Britain. Not in the US. The only casualties and fatal ones at that have been foot soldiers: Merv Jenkins in Australia and David Kelly in Britain. Each took his own life because he had been made a scapegoat. Jenkins, a Defence Intelligence Organisation officer, committed suicide after the Australian government discovered that, in addition to passing to his American counterparts doctored reports about the imminent turmoil in East Timor as ordered by his bosses he was also giving them the truth. And in Britain, Dr David Kelly, a Ministry of Defence intelligence expert, committed suicide after he was reprimanded for being too frank with a BBC journalist about the lack of evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The intelligence community and its political masters have to be called to account. At the moment they are centres of power at the heart of democracies but responsible only to themselves. How each country tackles this problem will vary. But Australia could set the trend by an early royal commission into the issues that Collins has so courageously raised.
Phillip Knightley is an award-winning Australian journalist who has lived most of his life in London. He is the author of several books including The First Casualty, a history of war correspondents, and Philby: KGB Masterspy.
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