Subject: Bulletin: Envoy Claims U.S. Kept in Dark
April 28, 2004
TIMOR: ENVOY CLAIMS US KEPT IN DARK
Lt Col Lance Collins' claims that Australian officials attempted to suppress crucial intelligence about East Timor may have found an unlikely new ally a diplomat at the US embassy in Canberra. Paul Daley reports.
Allegations that AUSTRALIA withheld critical intelligence information from the United States during the East Timor crisis have resurfaced, amid continuing calls for a royal commission triggered by the Lance Collins affair.
According to the claims, made to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, a senior officer of the US embassy in Canberra said American intelligence agencies were concerned that Australia had withheld important material relating to East Timor.
The claims have been made in a confidential letter to the then inspector general, Bill Blick, by Dr Philip Dorling, an adviser to the opposition's foreign affairs spokesman, Laurie Brereton, at the time of the East Timor crisis.
Dorling wrote to Blick last July in response to an IGIS report that dismissed media allegations that the Defence Signals Directorate intercepted the communications of Brereton as part of an investigation into damaging intelligence leaks about East Timor and the Indonesian military.
"I should take this opportunity to advise that during the latter part of 1999 and early 2000, concerns about possible technical surveillance of Mr Brereton's office led a senior officer of the United States Embassy in Canberra to take considerable security precautions in holding discussions with myself as Mr Brereton's adviser," Dorling wrote.
"The diplomat in question conveyed to me the concern of the United States intelligence agencies that, notwithstanding public statements to the contrary, the Australian government had withheld or otherwise delayed the sharing with the US of important intelligence material relating to Indonesian military and militia activities in East Timor. The diplomat specifically indicated that the Australian prime minister's press release of September 17, 1999, and a US State Department release of the same day concerning bilateral intelligence co-operation were misleading, indeed untruthful.
"The diplomat indicated that on the basis of conversations with other US officials, he knew Mr Brereton's office to be the target of intelligence collection by technical means and accordingly wished to take security precautions in his contact with us."
From early August 1999, some Australian newspapers began reporting serious differences between the US and Australia on how to approach the looming East Timor crisis. In a meeting between senior Australian military personnel and their American counterparts in Hawaii on June 21, 1999, the US representatives professed their preference for a swift military deployment of up to 15,000 US troops with Australian support to provide security in the province before an independence ballot.
At a meeting in Washington in February 1999, US Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Ashton Calvert seriously differed over the type of military force appropriate for East Timor.
The government denied newspaper reports about the discussions between the US and the Australian officials.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was later forced to concede there had been such discussions when the diplomatic cables recording their details were leaked.
On September 17, 1999, The Australian reported that the US was angry because Australia had withheld intelligence material on East Timor. John Howard issued a statement on the same day "categorically" rejecting "the suggestion that Australia has held back from the United States information and intelligence on East Timor".
"On the contrary, exchanges have been amongst the most intense that we have ever had," Howard's statement said.
The US State Department also issued a statement saying Australia had fully co-operated with the US "on the entire range of issues" regarding East Timor "and any report to the contrary would be misleading or false". But according to Dorling's diplomatic source, both statements were untrue.
Australian Federal Police and Defence Security Branch officers raided Dorling's Canberra home in September 2000 in an unsuccessful search for leaked Australian intelligence material on East Timor after he was named on a search warrant together with defence intelligence whistleblower Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins, several public servants and several journalists.
The leaked intelligence assessments showed that the Indonesian military (TNI) was carefully organising and funding the violent, pro-Indonesian East Timor militias at a time when the federal government maintained that only "rogue elements" of the TNI were involved.
Had Dorling gone public then to say that his source in the US embassy claimed that Howard and indeed the US State Department had misled the public, the impact would have been incendiary. Indeed, had Dorling or Brereton gone public at any point, the claims would have had greater political impact than they do today, 10 months after they were made privately in a letter to Blick. It can only be assumed that Dorling didn't go public at the time because he was trying to protect his source.
Blick's written response to Dorling did not address the claims about the US diplomat.
Today, Dorling, a historian and former DFAT officer, won't comment.
Dorling, whose work on revising Labor's East Timor policy in the late 1990s earned him the ire of some in the ALP, stopped working for the opposition in 2003.
But his allegations will resonate with two groups of people: Lance Collins and his supporters, and the family of Merv Jenkins, the Defence Intelligence Organisation attaché at the Australian embassy in Washington who committed suicide in June 1999 while under investigation over his handling of Australian intelligence material relating to East Timor.
Jenkins had been interviewed by DFAT for allegedly passing AUSTEO (Australian Eyes Only) intelligence material, relating to East Timor, to the US. It had been the custom for such material to be passed to the US previously. But, perhaps underscoring the sensitivities of the Australia-Indonesia bilateral agreement over East Timor, the federal government maintains Jenkins was only permitted to pass the AUSTEO material to the US with appropriate clearance of the type he did not have.
Much of the material he handed over related to TNI's collaboration with the East Timor militias.
Collins, who became the chief Australian military intelligence officer attached to Interfet in East Timor in late 1999, was an early advocate of TNI's base-level involvement with the militias. When some of his assessments to that effect and others suggesting the TNI's chief General Wiranto was directly responsible were leaked, the federal government continued to insist only "rogue elements" of the TNI were involved.
The inclusion of his name on the AFP-DSB warrant implicitly and without justification pointed to his complicity in leaking the intelligence material. Collins' career has suffered and he continues to seek redress.
Wiranto, who was criminally indicted over the East Timor violence, has emerged as the fiercely nationalistic Golkar Party's candidate for Indonesian president. "We have to work with whoever wins," Downer said last month when asked about Wiranto. l
Paul Daley was also named on the AFP warrant, having published highly classified Australian intelligence material from 1998 to 2000 while foreign affairs and defence correspondent at The Age.
Care to comment? Letters to The Bulletin should be no longer than 200 words and sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Letters Editor, The Bulletin, GPO Box 3957, Sydney, NSW 1028. Fax: (02) 9267 4359. Only letters and emails with a daytime phone number, suburb and state will be considered for publication. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.
Support ETAN, make a secure financial contribution at etan.org/etan/donate.htm