Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, May 03, 2004
WHILE I'M BEATING UP ON HENNY'S BEAT-UPS, has there been anything since the SIEV-X defamation to match the current campaign against the Defence Intelligence Organisation?

According to Henny, DIO put at risk the lives of Australians serving in East Timor by cutting off their access to military intelligence.

Spy chief's order kept troops in the dark shrieked Henny's Tom Allard.

Much of this charge is carried by inference and omission rather than direct statement. We re left to assume that DIO was unable or unwilling to communicate to the East Timor forces intelligence developments that might have been important to them during the period when a database was off-line.

We are told directly that it's all the work of the "Jakarta lobby" within Defence, since that's the way the retired Lt-Colonel Collins, former head of army intelligence in East Timor, sees it.

Here is the interpretation of General Cosgrove, who was in charge in East Timor at the time:

First, there was no "policy decision" to cut the flow of intelligence to the field. On one occasion, when access to one database on one of the communications systems became unavailable for technical reasons, the director of the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) directed that its restoration be delayed pending clarification of some security and need-to-know issues. The director was informed some three to four hours later that these issues had been clarified, and he immediately ordered that access be restored.

Second, our forces in East Timor were not reliant for intelligence solely on that database. Intelligence, including DIO product, was sent via a number of channels. It was never the case that troops were denied access to overall intelligence, that crucial or vital intelligence was withheld or that lives were placed in jeopardy. Allard is wrong to imply that they were or to suggest that our troops were "kept in the dark"

Of course, it is possible that Cosgrove is telling less than the whole truth. Indeed we should be glad that he doesn't. But if Henny's Tom Allard is putting the right spin on things, General Cosgrove is a liar.

You may prefer to take the word of Tom Allard. Allard also believes that Australia should hand over areas of continental shelf to which it's entitled under international law just because that territory is closer to someone else's shoreline.

When the Inspector General of Intelligence, Bill Blick, reviews the Collins accusations and finds them unsubstantiated, Allard simply ignores their substance and goes to the opinion of a retired naval lawyer, treating that as Gospel.

The classified review by the inspector-general of intelligence, Bill Blick, released yesterday, is generally unfavourable to Colonel Collins's claims, [finding that there was 'no policy decision' to cut the intelligence flow'] but provides an intriguing insight into arguably his most disturbing allegation.

So the cause of Tom Allard's disturbance now moves, like any good general's when his offensive has collapsed, into new territory. He now focusses on the decision to delay re-opening access to the intelligence database as "extraordinary" and "potentially life-threatening". He gives no evidence for the second claim. As to "extraordinary", that could cut both ways.

This is what was bugging Frank Lewincamp:

The Herald understands that those issues related to concerns Colonel Collins was accessing intelligence beyond that immediately relating to military activity in East Timor and sending missives back to Canberra about its quality.

It is understood Mr Lewincamp considered removing his right to see the material. There were also concerns in Defence about leaks of highly classified documents, although Colonel Collins has never been under investigation for this.

This implies that Collins, while on operational duty, was running a political campaign within Defence on extraneous issues. I find that "extraordinary".

The head of DIO, Frank Lewincamp, is on a hiding to nothing on this issue. To defend himself he must go into operational detail and review policy spats within Defence. Meanwhile the retired half-Colonel can rely on a mixture of gullibility, professional pride and spite on the part of Tom Allard to push his case, while remaining protected from direct scrutiny himself.

At least until there is a Royal Commission, as Labor proposes, to provide the highest form of 'whistleblower's' licence.

And, for the long term of that Commission's expensive life, to distract our intelligence officials from the work we pay them for.

Such is modern 'journalism'.

Personally, I hope that our top defence intelligence officials are bastards, and clever ones at that. That's what we hire them for.

If they've given Collins a hard time he has had recourse within the system. He is not satisfied but that, in itself, proves nothing.

But this Henny beat-up, like SIEV-X, goes beyond taking sides in internal defence disputes. It constitutes a serious attempt at vilification, on the basis of nothing you could call evidence, of officials who are sworn to secrecy. And the officials can only respond by abandoning the national interest.