Subject: AGE: Intelligence link cut over 'row on Indonesia'

Intelligence link cut over 'row on Indonesia'

By Brendan Nicholson

National Security Correspondent

December 11, 2004

Troops in East Timor were allegedly told to stop filing reports on Indonesia's role in the violence there.

Australia'S intelligence watchdog is believed to have uncovered evidence that security agency officials in Canberra cut off vital information to troops in East Timor because of disagreements about the role Indonesia was playing in the violence there.

A Defence source told The Age that when Australian military intelligence officers based in Dili during the 1999 peacekeeping operation asked the Defence Intelligence Organisation to restore the flow of intelligence, they received a message telling them to stop filing reports on Indonesia's involvement. There was an implication in that message that if the officers in Dili did not comply the intelligence link would be cut again, the source said.

After a new investigation into the matter by the Inspector-General of Intelligence, Ian Carnell, Defence Minister Robert Hill is facing growing demands to reveal why the flow of vital intelligence was shut down for 24 hours.

Labor is seeking a briefing on the episode, saying it could have cost the lives of Australian soldiers. The Greens are demanding a judicial inquiry.

Senator Hill revealed on Thursday that Mr Carnell had told him on November 30 that the intelligence link had been cut on purpose, contradicting earlier assurances that the break in communications was a technical problem.

It confirmed the claim made by a high-ranking army whistleblower early this year was true.

In March Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins, who was Australia's most senior military intelligence officer in East Timor, wrote to Prime Minister John Howard saying the intelligence flow relied on by Australian troops was shut down.

Opposition defence spokesman Robert McClelland said the Government tried to bury the information by releasing it after Parliament rose for the year to avoid scrutiny. He has written to the minister seeking a briefing.

Senator Hill said he would "in due course" release an unclassified version of the report.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said an investigation was needed to find out who had ordered that access be turned off and why.

"Why was this database, providing key intelligence support to an operationally deployed element of the Defence Force, turned off arbitrarily, without any apparent consultation with the intelligence staff of the deployed force, the commander of the deployed force or senior ADF commanders in Canberra," Mr James said.

At the time, the force commander, Peter Cosgrove, and his staff were told that was due to a technical malfunction.

Mr James said after army communications specialists confirmed this was probably not the case, most staff in Dili believed the circuit had been shut by an arbitrary decision at the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

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