Spying for Liars

The Australian government’s habit of playing fast and loose with the truth increases the risk of our spooks becoming traitors, warns a former intelligence officer.

Warren Reed is 10-year veteran of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), and in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald he says that when a government repeatedly lies and flaunts the fact that political survival is more important than truth, a fundamental compact with the intelligence community is broken.

Imagine putting your life at risk to gather intelligence, only to be told your report wasn’t distributed because “it’s not what the Government wants to hear”. If you were overseas with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, would you bother sending back a report off the Indian Prime Minister’s desk briefing him on John Howard’s key personality traits and how his ego could be stroked to win concessions for India? …

Who would care? In today’s heavily politicised Canberra, you’d be classified as some upstart, intent on embarrassing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and hence the Government.

After reminding us of ASIO’s apparently poor track record in catching foreign spies on Australian soil, he reminds us that…

Most countries that catch foreign spies and the traitors selling the secrets have their security services run by people with good records in intelligence. Not bureaucrats who win the prime minister’s favour.

So, what of that compact broken when a government values lies over truth? Most… simply get on with the job, hoping they never fall foul of Canberra’s draconian measures for detecting heretics…

The worst danger is that a small number of people with access, whether through greed or to pay mortgages and school fees, will be tempted to turn traitor… For that number, when a government brazenly portrays lying as a virtue, it’s dead easy to decide.

Why bother to be loyal? Who cares? The Government is interested only in itself, and the public only in low interest rates. But I have access to valuable secrets: a commodity convertible into cash, if not other rewards in kind. Oh, and the money can be paid into a foreign trust account if I wish.

Well put, Warren.

But it goes much further than that. It breaks the compact with us, the citizens of Australia.

When we create national intelligence services we select from the best and brightest, hand them the latest high-tech gadgetry, and grant them the power to listen to our communications, to sneak into our homes without asking and to break laws us ordinary folk cannot — both here and overseas. They might even kill people, for all we know. And all in secret.

In return, we have to take it on trust that all this is done in our interest. Our interest, Mr Howard, Us, the Australian people. Not the interest of the incumbent government of the day and their cronies.

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1 comment

  1. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    On a related note, in an article in political news and gossip website “Crikey”:http://www.crikey.com.au where Warren Reid was asked to comment on the “angst in the security community about the appointment of a bureaucrat” as head of ASIO.

    Reed described the decision as “a “rank insult to the ASIO staff”:http://www.crikey.com.au/articles/2006/03/07-1620-5050.html at a time when we desperately need their energy streaming in a positive direction to help in the fight against terrorism.”

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