Wednesday 1st of February 2023

the military and political secrecy that sends aussies to war on a whim.......

The secrecy surrounding Australian foreign and defence policy protects planners from the public that elected them. The war in Afghanistan offers ample evidence.

The United States and Australia carried out an assassination campaign against the tactical leadership of the insurgency. Known as the Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL), it is an intelligence-driven assassination program enabled by drones and special forces. 


By  Clinton Fernandes
Declassified Australia


The dynamic involves assassinating insurgents without dealing with the root causes of the insurgency. Some Australian forces participated in this assassination campaign, which was known by various euphemisms. 

The JPEL-based assassination program was no secret to the Taliban, nor to the population of Afghanistan, some of whom were killed or maimed while merely attending weddings or tending their farms. Nor was it a secret to the intelligence services of neighbouring states such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan.

But it was a secret to the Australian public, who had no way to hold the government to account. 

Instead, the Australian Defence Force gave media prominence to Sarbi, a black Labrador explosives detection dog who became separated from her handler, presumed dead, to be found again a year later. 

One can hardly blame Australians for lacking expertise when they are deliberately kept in the dark.

Policy-makers usually claim they have a unique ability to judge what constitutes harm to national security. 

In relation to AUKUS, then Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: “Nobody who is not part of those discussions and is not part of the decision-making process can ever know—and frankly nor should they know—the detail and the depth of the considerations that governments go into. These have to be done in a confidential way.”

But secrecy in these circumstances does not protect the Australian public. Rather, it protects the security establishment from knowledge of its actions by the Australian public. It allows planners to uphold the U.S.-led imperial order under the guise of Australia’s national interest. It insulates the real aims of policy from robust, evidence-based debate.

This is not national security in any meaningful sense. For all the mystique and secrecy, practitioners have not demonstrated that they possess some special body of technical knowledge that renders them uniquely qualified to determine what constitutes a legitimate reason for secrecy.

Concepts in national security, foreign affairs and the social sciences more generally are accessible to the average human being. Of course, the intelligence agencies have scientific and technical desks whose analysts assess the existence of (say) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These analysts do require a relevant technical background. 

But anyone can understand the social and political implications of these studies if institutions do not work actively to exclude them.

Judgements about national security or foreign affairs rely not so much on expertise, as on ideology. 

It was not that long ago that India — now a great friend and member of the Quad [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Japan, Australia and the U.S.] — was regarded as a potential threat to Australia. When India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the Howard government recalled its high commissioner to New Delhi and imposed sanctions. The Labor opposition condemned what it called “an outrageous act of nuclear bastardry.”

Australia had an important card to play: it has about 40 percent of the world’s known resources of low-cost uranium. It could deny India uranium exports because India did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). A few years later, the United States changed its export control laws to permit assistance to India’s nuclear programs. Labor was in office.

The United States asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to support the “cooperative arrangement with New Delhi.” Six months later, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith gave a private assurance to his Indian counterpart that Australia would support an exception for the U.S.–India nuclear deal. He confirmed this publicly soon afterwards.

In 2016, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and U.S.-based Westinghouse Corporation agreed to build six nuclear reactors in India. The next year, Australia’s first shipment of uranium left for India. This made India the only country in the world to possess nuclear weapons, not be a party to the NPT and still be permitted to engage in nuclear commerce. 

Today, of course, India is considered a partner with Australia in upholding a “rules-based international order” in a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” 

Australia has acted as an imperial power. The Department of Foreign Affairs’ internal legal advice, as early as February 1975, was that an Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste, then known as Portuguese Timor, “would fall into the category of outright aggression.” 

Aggression, as the Nuremberg Tribunal declared, is “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 

The Whitlam government gave Indonesia the green light to invade Timor-Leste. The Fraser government legitimised the occupation by recognising Indonesian sovereignty over the territory, and helping it diplomatically when its military operations caused the deaths of about 31 percent of its population — the largest loss of life relative to total population since World War II.

[Related: Blood in the Archives]

Australian intelligence agencies targeted the survivors and their descendants in espionage and other operations for the purpose of depriving them of control over their sole major natural resource: their oil and gas fields. Bernard Collaery, the lawyer who disclosed one operation, fought in the courts to have his trial conducted in public. In July 2022, the new attorney-general finally dropped the prosecution against him.

A public trial might show Australians that the espionage operation occurred under cover of an aid project, jeopardising the safety of Australian aid workers everywhere. It also diverted precious resources of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) away from the war on terrorism. When the ASIS team was in Timor-Leste in September 2004, Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists succeeded in bombing the Australian embassy in Indonesia. 

The foreign affairs minister at the time of operations against Timor-Leste, Alexander Downer, worked as a lobbyist for Woodside Petroleum after leaving parliament in 2008. The secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr. Ashton Calvert, retired and joined the board of directors of Woodside. 

Professor Andrew Serdy, a former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officer, said: “Senior officials at all times simply assumed—whether because of direction to that effect by ministers or their offices I do not know—that the national interest was identical to Woodside’s.”

The Australian public should not be accused of callous indifference when the ideological institutions deceive them about what happened in Timor-Leste for 24 years and what the Australian government did. 

They do not know, for example, that just an hour’s flight from Darwin, East Timorese women were enslaved sexually without fear of reprisal and with the knowledge and complicity of the Indonesian security forces, the civilian administration and members of the judiciary. 

Australia sent weapons to Indonesia and shielded it from international criticism. Tim Fischer, deputy prime minister in the Howard government, praised Indonesian dictator Suharto as “perhaps the world’s greatest figure in the latter half of the twentieth century.”

A bipartisan elite consensus shields foreign policy from public scrutiny, ensuring that it does not enter the terrain of political contestation. 

Australian public opinion on foreign policy issues is rational in this sense; a valuable study by Caroline Yarnell showed that public opinion responds reasonably to triggers such as international events and statements by political leaders.

The public responds rationally to the facts it sees. Inconvenient facts are not censored but are buried all the same; in principle, they are discoverable, but in reality they are out of the public’s awareness because, without regular repetition, no one remembers them. 

And they have to remain unrepeated and unemphasised precisely because of Australia’s democratic freedoms. If they were front and centre, they would never be tolerated by Australians.

The question of whether the powerful really believe in their own benevolence is irrelevant as a guide to political action. It might preoccupy writers and others who are entranced by elite sentiment. For those concerned about reforming foreign policy, however, the task is to change the domestic structure of power.


Clinton Fernandes is professor of international and political studies at the University of New South Wales. A former intelligence officer in the Australian Army, Clinton specializes in strategic studies with a focus on international relations and strategy, especially on issues concerning the national interests of Australia. 


This article  from Declassified Australia is an edited extract from Clinton Fernandes’ book, Subimperial Power: Australia in the International Arena, published on Oct. 5 by Melbourne University Publishing.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.






protect whistleblowers!!!.....


on whistleblower David McBride




The rise of the Albanese government spared hopes of a new deal for people blowing the lid on government malfeasance. It isn’t working out that way for one prominent whistleblower, writes Callum Foote who interviewed David McBride. Says McBride, the government is wrongly using national security to stop the reporting of crime. 

It wasn’t the first time David McBride, a soldier and military lawyer, had experienced another defeat at the hands of the government. But last week he was dealt a bitter blow.

McBride is a whistleblower who is being prosecuted after leaking details of alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan to the ABC. These documents came to be known as “The Afghan Files” and the release of this information led to a police raid of the ABC headquarters in June of 2019 and The “Brereton Report,” which alleged that Australian Defence Force personnel had killed 39 Afghan civilians.

Last Thursday, in a hearing in the ACT Supreme Court, McBride’s lawyers withdrew his application for protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. This came after Commonwealth lawyers made a public interest immunity claim, which has prevented McBride from using evidence from two key witnesses who were essential to his defence, McBride’s lawyers say.

According to Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer in the Democratic Freedoms team at the Human Rights Law Centre: “Last-minute legal interventions forced McBride to abandon his whistleblowing defence”. Pender labelled the decision a “travesty”.

Mr Attorney-General, discontinue this prosecution!

“The use of a public-interest immunity claim to prevent evidence being put before the court, in proceedings where the NSI Act had already been invoked to protect national security, raises real questions,” he said. Pender called on the Attorney-General to discontinue the prosecution.

It is within the power of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to halt the prosecutions if it is decided that they are not in the public interest. Barring that, the Attorney-General can also step in, as was recently used to end the prosecution of Bernard Collaery.

McBride told MWM that there are obvious problems with the impartiality of the office of the Attorney-General.

“It’s frustrating that positions such as the Attorney-General are meant to be impartial, but they never take the whistleblower’s side, they always take the government department’s side without looking into the facts first,” he said.

The Attorney-General’s office never looks at the merits of the case, they just get told that this guy is an enemy of the department, go for it. The Attorney-General only changes tack under public pressure such as in the case of Bernard Collaery.

The outcome is frustrating, to say the least, for McBride, who told MWM: “The government has responded to me saying that the government is carrying out illegal acts by committing further illegal acts and there is nobody there to help me.

Using national security as a label to stop the reporting of crimes is obviously in itself a crime. But nobody will listen to me because I’m a whistleblower.

The government has promised further protections. Rights experts have called on the government to establish a whistleblower protection authority, as has been recommended by two separate parliamentary inquiries, to protect and empower whistleblowers.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has thus far refused to articulate a timeline for establishing such a body which, for McBride, makes it hard to take the government in good faith.

A suspicious omission

“Considering [the government] has ongoing whistleblower cases, despite having promised further protections in the National Anti-Corruption Commission bill they’ve suspiciously left out a whistleblower protection agency,” McBride said.

Why wouldn’t they do that? What downside for the government in not legislating one? It’s hard not to think that they have bad intentions by not doing it given they haven’t even explained why.

McBride’s trial will be held next year, in the meantime, it remains to be seen if public pressure will build enough for the Attorney-General to step in as he did for Bernard Collaery.

Alternatively, the joint select committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation which will advise the government on how best to implement the NACC may well advocate for a whistleblower protection authority.

Independent MP Helen Haines, chairing the committee, and Greens senator David Shoebridge who is on the committee, have previously heavily advocated for such a body to be established at the federal level.










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