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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Intelligence secrecy sacrosanct

The cone of silence that surrounds Australian intelligence organisations, in the name of national security, is in the news with a long term resident to be deported on ASIO's say so, but without being able to know and answer the allegations against him, and an academic taking on National Archives over refusal of access to assessments of the situation in East Timor 35 years ago that summarise intelligence reports during the Indonesian invasion and occupation.

Ben Saul, a barrister involved in the case, writes about the deportation of Mansour Leghaei in Condemned by faceless accusers and secret evidence in the Sydney Morning Herald, complete with uncomfortable comparisons with Kafka's The Trial. Clinton Fernandes of the Australian Defence Force Academy at the University of NSW tells his story-yet to be played out in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in what the Government submits should be a closed hearing - to Peter Mares on ABC Radio National The National Interest. In an apparent cock-up-and according to Mares, with no involvement at all of the intelligence agencies , part of the program dropped out when originally broadcast but this version is complete.

I notice a comment on the site from Jim Dunn, Australian Consul in East Timor way, way back, and long time activist for independence and justice there:
Re the release of classified material concerning event in E Timor 35 years ago. I cannot believe that in the changed political environment in Indonesian that our national interests will be damaged. In the case of Indonesia there is a growing interest in knowing the truth about the past. Re our security, DSD (Defence Signals Directorate) operations in the past are no longer a secret so the release should not pose a danger. There are also quite a few Parliamentary research service reports that could be released. What we still desperately need is a full account of what was known, and what actions were taken. As for Gough Whitlam's role, his positive achievements will always serve to balance his contribution to our political history. Finally if our nation is to learn the lessons of history, there is no alternative to a full exposure of the past, including highly classified material.

Protecting national security is an important high priority but some of the claims in its name, blanket exclusions from transparency laws, and alleged sensitivity about what we knew 35 years ago go way beyond what is necessary and justified.

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