Subject: Newsmen 'killed in cover-up'

Also Faulty memories of the Balibo Five

The Advertiser (Australia)

May 10, 2007 Thursday

Newsmen 'killed in cover-up'


THE former head of Australia's spy network has revealed he never had any doubt Indonesian forces deliberately killed five young Australian newsmen in a ''cover-up''.

Gordon Jockel, who led the Joint Intelligence Organisation, said he had always assumed the newsmen were shot dead in Balibo so they could not expose the clandestine border raids by Indonesia into East Timor.

He told the inquest into the newsmen's deaths the tragedy could have been avoided - if Australia's intelligence agencies had spoken to each other.

He told Glebe Coroners Court that while all the facts that could have saved their lives on October 16, 1975, were known, no single agency pulled them together.

Former prime minister Gough Whitlam had warned one of the newsmen, Channel 7 reporter Greg Shackleton, not to go to East Timor. Australia's then ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woolcott, had sent cables to the then federal government before the killings saying Indonesian raids on the area were imminent.

And among the 30 years of secrets uncovered during the inquest is the fact that intelligence radio intercepts of Indonesian military radio traffic confirmed the Indonesians knew the newsmen were in the Balibo area before they attacked the town.

Mr Jockel blamed divisiveness and isolation between government departments for the information not being shared.

Mr Shackleton, 27, Channel 7 cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21, Channel 9 cameraman Mr Peters, 29, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28, were killed.

''It seems to me that when you have a crisis of this nature, our authorities need to be more flexible,'' said Mr Jockel, now retired.


Canberra Times

May 10, 2007

Faulty memories of the Balibo Five

The Canberra Times

FORMER prime minister Gough Whitlam has always prided himself on his grasp of history. But on one subject, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and specifically the deaths of five Australian journalists at Balibo on October 16, 1975, his recall of detail has been elusive. Whitlam has always said he does not recall seeing an intelligence cable dated October 13, 1975 that warned of an Indonesian military operation in East Timor on October 15, and that Balibo township had been targeted in the attack, and says he was only advised about the deaths five days later an account he has maintained for 32 years.

The version of the events in Balibo supported publicly by the Whitlam government is that the five died after being caught in the crossfire of the Indonesian invasion.

However, witnesses assert they were executed by Indonesian soldiers on the orders of an officer, Yunus Yosfia, who later became information minister.

Despite official government inquiries and investigations supporting the first hypothesis, the deaths of the Balibo Five continue to be the subject of speculation, with many people accusing the Whitlam government of covered up knowledge of the invasion to protect diplomatic ties with Indonesia. It was in the hope of resolving the long-running dispute about what happened to the five men that the family of news cameraman Brian Peters sought an inquest to which Whitlam was called to give testimony this week.

It is the first time Whitlam has been publicly questioned about his knowledge of the invasion and the circumstances of the men's deaths, and though he demonstrated sound recall of other events from around that time, he professed only sketchy memories of possible cables from the Australian embassy in Jakarta detailing plans for the Balibo attack. He told counsel for the Peters family John Stratton, SC, that he could not recall any details of intelligence warning of the attack, but could recall vividly the briefing he'd received on October 21 of an intercepted Indonesian radio message that mentioned "four white bodies" at Balibo not because the news was shocking news but because such radio intercepts were rare.

Whitlam's defence minister at the time, Bill Morrison, did see the October 13 cablegram warning of the attack on Balibo, and told the inquest he'd assumed Whitlam had also received the advice. However, he said he had never verified that assumption, as Whitlam "had enough problems on his hands, and it was on pain of death to go anywhere near his office at that stage". Those problems a crisis involving then minister for minerals and energy Rex Connor, and threats by opposition leader Malcolm Fraser to block supply were indeed a distraction for the government. But it beggars belief that knowledge of an impending act of aggression by Australia's largest neighbour should have gone unnoticed or unheeded by the prime minister, or that news of the deaths of five Australians in East Timor was not brought to his notice immediately.

The month before, Whitlam apparently was prescient enough to warn one of those killed, TV reporter Greg Shackleton, not to go to East Timor a warning Shackleton's widow disputes was ever given.

There is a possible explanation for the apparent vacuum around Whitlam regarding information and intelligence on the invasion and the deaths at Balibo one that Morrison himself articulated at the inquest. The Government waited five days before revealing what had happened to lessen the chance of exposing its intelligence capabilities to the Indonesians. But there is a more credible explanation for the Whitlam government's unwillingness to confess the extent of its knowledge about the invasion that it tacitly approved of the decision, that it chose to ignore the Balibo deaths in the interests of maintaining close relations with Indonesia, and that it became locked into rigid self-denial out of a refusal to acknowledged that the invasion had been a mistake. That government mindset survived Whitlam's departure, and indeed lasted up until John Howard successfully pressed Indonesian president B.J.Habibie to allow the East Timorese a vote of self-determination.

Whitlam was chief barracker for the view that the relationship with Indonesia was too important to be put at risk by lesser issues. He believed mini-states were an invitation to Balkanisation, and saw to it that Australia's policy of support for self-determination for East Timor was changed to advocacy for its integration with Indonesia.

Although Whitlam never condoned military intervention, having cuddled up to president Suharto and having made such a strong case for integration, he could not retreat without considerable loss of face.

National security considerations will continue to stall attempts to uncover the truth about Australia's complicity in the events of October 1975. And the continued willingness of Whitlam and others to turn a blind eye to what happened at Balibo and elsewhere in East Timor testifies reinforces the fact that this was a shameful episode in Australia's diplomatic history.

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