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Monday, March 01, 2010

Spin and excessive secrecy not a good combination.

Richard Ackland in Secrecy is a denial of our rights in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday and Hamish McDonald in War spinners on the defensive in the same paper on Saturday wrote on different aspects of the same issue: secrecy in the name of intelligence, national security, foreign relations and defence. Both think the balance we have struck is wrong and compare the situation here in a couple of telling respects with the US and UK. This is a diificult area of course, but it's not a good look for a government under the gun on a range of issues, that made much of its intentions to govern differently from the last lot.

Ackland writes of the entrenched secrecy of ASIO, "the way it places the most anodyne information under the tightest security wrap" and "any number of cases where ASIO manipulates state secrecy for entirely unclear reasons" ( He didn't even mention the complete exclusion ASIO and all our intelligence agencies enjoy from the Freedom of Information Act a contrast with the CIA, which doesn't enjoy such a privileged position.) Ackland also highlights the shelter taken here behind "damage to international relations" or national security as seen in the Haneef and similar cases in refusing to release information, with a compare and contrast note about the UK:  
The British Foreign Office has just conducted a long argument in the highest courts of England that to release certain information about the cruel and degrading treatment of a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, at the hands of the US security agencies, would damage relations with that country. On February 10 the Court of Appeal released those details. There has been no evident damage to the security relations between Britain and the US. The constant chanting of this mantra is deeply hollow.
McDonald points to the Defence "culture of spin and political manipulation (that) has taken over the information flow about our overseas military operations. Every bit of news is consciously filtered and projected to put the government in a good light." Contrasting this with the access granted to US author David Finkel who will be in Sydney this week "publicising his book The Good Soldiers, the account of a year he spent with an American army unit during the ''surge'' offensive in Iraq. It's hard to imagine any such book coming out of Australia from our military involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan."

McDonald concludes:
"it's not just the Defence flacks that are spinning. It goes all the way through the government. On Afghanistan at least, Kevin Rudd has taken over where John Howard left off. Canberra is spinning up the line that it is a leading military combatant, making its utmost contribution alongside its allies, while at the same time spinning down the fact that as well as a small number of fatalities, which provide opportunities for politicians to pose at military funerals, there are distressing numbers of incapacitated soldiers.Truth in defence policy and information - now there's a secret weapon.

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