Subject: SMH/Balibo Case: Spying game keeps its peace [3 Reports]
The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, March 3, 2007
Spying game keeps its peace
The Federal Government's abiding secrecy in the Balibo Five case seems more about avoiding embarrassment than protecting national security. Hamish McDonald writes.
It was the week the Balibo inquest cut to the chase. After 15 days of hearing from those outside the intelligence tent, some of its former inhabitants were brought into the open.But only with the greatest nervousness by the present-day masters of the intelligence community, despite the passing of more than 31 years since the Balibo Five journalists died.
On Monday morning, the familiar faces of the regular court transcribers and attendants were gone, replaced by Defence Department staff from Canberra, rigging up their own recording system.
At the bar table, Alan Robertson, counsel for the Commonwealth, led a bevy of lawyers, backed by intelligence officials at the back of the court holding briefcases full of secret documents.
A deputy state coroner, Dorelle Pinch, suddenly a lone figure of NSW jurisdiction in her own court, agreed to new rules proposed by Robertson and backed by Mark Tedeschi, QC, heading the state lawyers and police assisting the inquest.
Robertson passed Pinch two sworn letters from Clive Lines, acting director of Australia's most important foreign intelligence collection agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, whose business is to eavesdrop on electronic communications and decipher them.
In confidential annexures, which Pinch was asked to hand back to the Federal Government's lawyers, Lines gave his reasons why the DSD's "sources and methods" used to track the events of Balibo in October 1975 were still relevant to the agency's present capabilities.
This argument met a lot of scepticism among observers, not least Desmond Ball, the Australian National University professor who had turned the world of "sigint" (signals intelligence) into his academic vocation.
The crisis in the Portuguese colony of East Timor erupted in 1974 just as the public learned about the Enigma secret of World WarII, that the Allies were cracking the German ciphers generated on portable electro-mechanical devices. When the Indonesian army launched a covert invasion of East Timor on October 16, 1975, to squash the independence bid of the left-leaning Fretilin party, its signal technology was not much advanced from the Enigma: similar Hagelin cipher machines for messages sent in morse code on high-frequency radio transmissions.
The scene at DSD's listening station at Shoal Bay, Darwin, would also have been familiar to anyone at Britain's famous wartime sigint headquarters at Bletchley Park: metal towers with aerials strung between them, radio operators with headphones transcribing morse code on pads, decrypters at work, and linguists translating the product. The main difference would have been the banks of electronic computers.
Both DSD and its targets, like the Indonesian military, have moved on a generation, points out Ball, to satellite data transmissions and ever more powerful computerised encryption or decryption - and everyone knew it.
The agency's worries therefore could not be the technical details, or the fact it attacks Indonesian ciphers - but the embarrassing content of 1975 intercepts. "It's very silly of DSD," Ball said. "All they are doing is keeping it open. The more they try to break out [from open court], the more questions persist."
Still, Pinch accepted the secrecy. "I accept that the prejudice to Australia's national security and defence interest [from disclosure of DSD sources and methods] is real and is current," she said.
Through the week, former DSD staff and Canberra intelligence analysts were cross-examined in limited public hearings, with Robertson and Tedeschi calling a pause when questions and answers veered towards touchy subjects. These were handled in closed court, with Pinch giving a tight summary of general points later to the public. Written statements by the witnesses, when they were put on the public record, were heavily blacked out.
The context of the blacked-out words and Robertson's objections suggested that DSD was protecting the "secret" that it engaged in decryption of foreign military signals, its ability to identify who was talking to whom in 1975, and from where.
It also appears to be blocking anything on whether it could pick up the short-range field radios of the units attacking Balibo. If it could, that would have required an aerial in direct line of sight, either aboard a submarine off shore, an aircraft overhead, or even an American spy satellite.
Even so, the court heard electrifying evidence in the open from the navy linguist Robin Dix, a bearded 67-year-old who served 15 years with DSD after his 20 years in the navy.
On September 22, 1975, Dix was working as an Indonesian instructor at HMAS Harman, the defence communications base at Canberra, when his commander ordered him to Shoal Bay. The same day he was on an RAAF Hercules transport, wedged in with supplies for the cyclone-damaged city.
Over coming weeks Dix and his colleagues worked up to 18 hours day tracking the Indonesian build-up to invasion. "We just worked until we were too tired to work any longer, then we would sleep on makeshift beds," he said.
Some hours after the Balibo attack, at dawn on October 16, Dix was called over by a radio operator, Martin Hicks, to his console, where he was writing down an Indonesian military signal. Dix read over his shoulder and translated: "Five Australian journalists have been killed and all their corpses have been incinerated/burnt to a crisp."
"I will never forget," Dix said. "I remember it word for word."
Within seven minutes Dix took the translated signal over to the processing section, for Petty Officer Helen Louer to telex by secure line to DSD's then headquarters in Melbourne's Albert Park. From there it would have gone instantly to an inner circle of "customers" in Canberra, including the prime minister, the defence and foreign ministers, their department heads, and intelligence agency chiefs.
No more than one hour later, Dix's colleague Ray Norton at Shoal Bay got a phone call, and handed over the receiver to Dix, mouthing the word's "PM's Department".
"Is this report true?" a voice said.
"You are on an unsecure line. Goodbye," Dix replied, and hung up.
The Dix evidence contradicted the narrative that DSD has presented to the previously known inquiries into the Balibo deaths, conducted by the former Federal Government lawyer Tom Sherman in 1996 and 1999, and by the former inspector-general of intelligence and security Bill Blick in 2000-02.
The intercepts DSD produced to these inquiries showed the commanders at Balibo reporting late on October 16 or early on October 17 the finding of dead "white men" after the attack, and that the bodies had been burnt. Over the following days, other intercepts identified the dead as journalists and Australian.
Dix's recalled intercept conforms more with inquest testimony from Timorese who'd been conscripted into the Indonesian force, that the attackers knew who the victims were, immediately after occupying the town if not before (from monitored Fretilin broadcasts).
The mystery deepened when a retired senior army intelligence officer and Defence Department official, Alan Thompson, told of an internal inquiry ordered by then defence minister Kim Beazley in 1986.
At DSD in Melbourne, Thompson was shown a file of 20 to 30 documents said to include all intercepts relating to the Balibo Five. He recalled one intercepted exchange of signals.
An Indonesian officer reported in words to the effect of: "We have dead Europeans. What do we do?"
"Burn them" or similar words went the reply, said Thompson, who recalled his personal shock at seeing them, and his impression that the officer making the report was "panicky".
Dix and Thompson could not find these intercepts in material shown to them in court, suggesting DSD is showing the inquest processed intelligence in much more muted language than was in the "raw" intercepts.
Even this toned-down material shows that very early on Canberra knew the journalists had been killed, that Indonesian forces were responsible, and that the bodies had been deliberately burned.
This exposes the pretence of ignorance by the then prime minister Gough Whitlam and his successors. They have argued the pretence was necessary to protect DSD's capabilities, in the way Churchill sacrificed convoy PQ17 to protect Enigma. James Dunn, a former DSD linguist and East Timor activist, adds it was also to avoid having to put Jakarta "on the spot".
But so far the intercepts revealed to the inquest do not include anything specific that should have alerted DSD and its Canberra clients that the journalists were at risk.
Two or three weeks earlier was a notice to troops "not to worry" about any white men found with Fretilin as they would be Portuguese communists. Just before the attack, commanders discussed what should be shown to Indonesian journalists gathered in Atambua, the nearest big town in West Timor.
But not included was a reported exchange that referred directly to the Australian journalists at Balibo, and contained an order from the overall commander in Jakarta, Major-General Benny Murdani, that "we don't want witnesses".
Nor an intercept that George Brownbill and Ian Cunliffe, staffers of the Hope Royal Commission on the intelligence services, said they were shown at Shoal Bay in March 1977, saying: "As directed/in accordance with your orders, we have located and shot the Australian journalists. What do we do with the bodies and personal effects?"
When it resumes on May 1, the inquest may step closer to one outcome that even now Canberra will be dreading: a recommendation for war crimes prosecution of the Indonesian commander at Balibo, captain Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, now a recently retired general and information minister and still an MP.
Whether the bereaved families get the "closure" of knowing that everything relevant has been scrutinised, in the archives and memories of the intelligence community, is a question still out there.
Balibo five a closed book: Indonesia
JAKARTA March 2 (AAP) -- The Indonesian government today declared the case of five Australian journalists' deaths in East Timor more than 30 years a closed matter.
It also said it had not received any request from Australian authorities about a warrant issued yesterday for Indonesian politician Yunis Yosfiah during an inquest into the 1975 death of one of the five men, who all died in the town of Balibo.
The New South Wales Deputy Coroner yesterday issued the warrant after Yosfiah failed to respond to several requests that he testify at the Sydney inquest.
Yosfiah, a former special forces commander and Indonesian government minister, has been named at the inquest as the person who ordered the attack on the journalists.
"For the Indonesian government it's a closed case," Indonesian Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Kriastiarto Soeryo Legowo told reporters.
"It's a closed case.
"We don't see any new facts.
"We believe they were victims, they were killed in the process of a gun fight at that time.
"But at the moment, we don't see new evidence to justify the reopening of the case."
He said the arrest warrant had no jurisdiction "at all" in Indonesia, and did not involve the Indonesian government.
"The warrant was issued for Mr Yunus personally so the Indonesian government is not linked," Legowo said.
"So it is nothing to do with the Indonesian government.
"We have not received a request from the Australian authorities, be it the state of NSW or the federal government."
He would not speculate on the possible response to any request should one be made.
"But again I would like to explain here, that actually for the Indonesian government it's a closed case and we are sticking to our position," he said.
"We don't see any new evidence that could become the basis to reopen this case."
Yosfiah, currently a member of the Islamic United Development Party (PPP) in Indonesia's Parliament, yesterday laughed off the warrant.
"Let it be. How can they do that?," he said.
"Ask the Indonesian government. Remember I'm an Indonesian citizen."
Asked if he was concerned about the arrest warrant, he said: "No, why must I worry? I don't feel guilty."
In 2001, Yosfiah denied the allegations and said he had never met the journalists, when questioned by an Indonesian parliamentary commission.
At the time he reportedly said he had been stationed in Balibo in 1975 as a captain, and wanted to visit Australia to "explain the whole thing".
The Courier-Mail Saturday, March 3, 2007
Closer to the truth
A CORONER'S inquest in Sydney is blowing open the case of the five Australian journalists killed in East Timor in 1975, after years of cover-ups and denials.
The torment of the families of the dead has been exacerbated because of the incomplete official versions of the deaths, which occurred during an Indonesian attack on the town of Balibo, then held by Fretilin, the Timorese independence movement.
Now, 32 years later, in a Sydney coroner's court, the truth is emerging, bringing comfort of a kind to the relatives of the five journalists. But it is not a pleasant truth.
The evidence, which so far has been powerfully persuasive, points to the following:
* That the killing was ordered by the Indonesian army because they were reporting the invasion at a time when the Indonesians were denying anything of the kind was happening.
* That Australian intelligence officials, working with intercepted and translated Indonesian radio transmissions, knew the true circumstances of the executions, including the identity of the Indonesian officer who commanded the troops at Balibo, within hours on October 16, 1975.
* That this information was passed up the line, as far as the office of then prime minister Gough Whitlam.
* That critical information was withheld by the earlier inquiries headed by Tom Sherman and Bill Blick.
* That copies of the critical intercepted signals have been either destroyed or hidden in defence intelligence organisations.
The inquiry is like something out of a John le Carre novel. The documents that are produced are contained in a manila envelope, held by a defence official who sits at the back of the court. Counsel for the Commonwealth, Alan Robertson, has made repeated attempts to prevent evidence being tendered. Commonwealth lawyers have argued for all the evidence to be heard in camera, with the state reporting staff and other court aides replaced by federal people.
When a document is tendered it can be read only by counsel assisting the coroner, the prominent Sydney criminal lawyer Mark Tedeschi QC and the coroner herself, Dorelle Pinch. Lawyers for the other parties, the bereaved families, have only limited access.
According to former diplomat and consul-general to East Timor, James Dunn, the inquest has been illuminating. "In contrast to several confusing earlier inquiries, what the coronial inquiry has done is to expose the role of Australian governments in this sorry affair, as well as the course of events in Balibo on that fatal day," he wrote on Thursday.
"The Whitlam government, and presumably the Fraser government, not only concealed that fact that they were advised of the newsmen's summary execution within 24 hours of the event; they went on to conceal Indonesia's responsibility for what was an atrocity -- in the case of prime minister Whitlam, even blaming the newsmen for having gone to the border suggesting a relationship that was more about honour among thieves than good neighbourliness.
"The inquiry also highlights the misuse of intelligence, in this case in order to conceal the fact that we were reading the low-level code messages of our neighbour. The intelligence obtained by Defence Signals Directorate, where many years ago I myself was an analyst, is often referred to as sensitive source material and is very valuable."
On Thursday, the coroner issued an arrest warrant for retired Indonesian lieutenant-general Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, a former Indonesian information minister, to be compelled to give evidence about his role in the killing of five Australian-based newsmen.
------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service
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