March 31st 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over East Timor

EDITORIAL: Melbourne Cup field in Timor's Presidential election

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Time running out for John Howard?

FINANCE: Concerns over US company behind Qantas takeover

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia's foreign debt - myth and reality

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Brian Burke's shadow government

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Why must the show go on? / Another wake for absent friends / Reluctance to condemn Mugabe / Musical chairs / More heat than light


DRUG POLICY: Sweden's success in combating drug use

UNITED NATIONS: Dilemma for pro-abortion feminists

OPINION: The narcotic of narcissism

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Mothers in the military

CINEMA: Where Hollywood fears to tread - Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto'

THE ARGUS: Life & Death of a Newspaper

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by John Miller

News Weekly, March 31, 2007
A bad feeling ...

Something strange is happening in Australian public discourse, especially as it relates to several interconnected topics: the war against terror; Australia's participation in the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq; and multiculturalism as a policy which might be considered in decline.

It is not overstating the case to say that, following 9/11, there was a groundswell of sympathy and support for the United States across the Western world.

As President George W. Bush declared a war on terror shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, it became apparent that that outrage was the harbinger of a fundamentalist Islamist onslaught against other Western countries.

In the period 2002-07, there were further major terrorist bombings in London, Madrid, Mumbai, Moscow and Bali. To those security and intelligence services engaged in the study and countering of terrorism, especially the activities of al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah and other related groups, the problems appeared insurmountable.

Terrorists, assassins, murderers and suicide-bombers have one thing in common: the advantage usually lies with them.

One phrase has been repeated ad infinitum: "They (terrorists) only have to be lucky once; we have to be lucky every time."

This saying - nowadays something of a mantra for security authorities - was originally coined by an unidentified IRA spokesman who, after the failed attempt to kill British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet in the Brighton bombing of 1984, said: "Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky always."

Evaluations of intelligence efforts across the globe have suggested that the authorities were ill-informed, unprepared and under-resourced, especially as Western governments had wound back budgets for security and intelligence after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.

This so-called "peace dividend" unfortunately came back to literally bite the state security apparatus and police forces in the behind. Without going into too much detail, it appears that the US authorities had picked up clues on the activities of Mohammed Atta, the operational leader of the Al Qaeda attack of 9/11, prior to that tragic event.

Following the London bombings on July 7, 2005, it was discovered that information relating to the proposed attacks was available but had not been correlated and acted upon in sufficient time.

Notwithstanding the magnificent efforts of the Australian Federal Police, the same may be said of the Bali bombings of October 12, 2002, and October 1, 2005, which have been regarded as attacks against Australia in its own backyard. In short, across the Western world, the authorities have been caught with their pants down.

Without doubt, tremendous efforts have been put into counter-terrorist measures in the US, the United Kingdom, Europe, Japan, India, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and so the list goes on.

There have been regular warnings of imminent attacks in several of these countries, and some plots have been foiled by remarkably effective combined operations between police and security and intelligence services.

In addition to the prosecution of those arrested following actual attacks in the Western world, there are at present terrorism trials in the UK, the US and here in Australia. The latter resulted from the combined efforts of ASIO and the AFP in late 2005 under the code name, Operation Pendennis. We have also seen two Australian citizens jailed for apparently planning terrorist attacks.

In recent times, the US Administration has issued warnings indicating a belief that further terrorist attacks on home soil are overdue.

In the UK, Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 (as the United Kingdom's security service is popularly known) has consistently issued high-level terrorist warnings. Her fears have been made manifest in the form of a series of arrests of British citizens of Pakistani origin who were believed to be plotting suicide-bombing attacks.

In Australia, the Director-General of ASIO, Mr. Paul O'Sullivan, has carried out an unprecedented number of public and private briefings warning of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism and related terrorist acts.

All of the preceding paragraphs merit more serious attention than can be given in a comparatively short article. However, as those familiar with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies will recall, the characters played by Harrison Ford quite frequently utter the phrase: "I've got a bad feeling about this", and he's usually right.

I'm not in the movie business, but after the best part of 25 years in intelligence work and the study of international relations, I have a bad feeling about the current situation, for a variety of reasons, which are set out briefly below.

The return of anti-Americanism

Hostility towards the United States in general, and President George W. Bush in particular, appears to be de rigueur these days.

My generation hailed the US as saviours of our country in World War II and, for some of us, a bulwark against communism during the Cold War.

The same generation also had its share of people prejudiced against America, which was sometimes seen as embodying the rise of a new imperialism and aggressive capitalism, as well as being an unreliable ally.

The Australian political left has usually opposed the ANZUS treaty, despite fairly broad bipartisan political support for it as a guarantee of our defence.

The big problem with this arrangement is uncritical support for American foreign policy, and one does not have to be a Marxist, communist or extreme leftist to be concerned on occasions at the activities of our great and powerful friend.

Both major parties have concluded at one time or another that Australian policy will not always be in lockstep with America's. Generally speaking, the biggest disagreements turn on trade, especially with our farm sector competing with the US on world markets.

The Vietnam War polarised Australian society far more than any other conflict since 1945.

Documentary evidence makes it clear that the extreme left - that is, those whose ideology was essentially pro-communist, rather than merely anti-American - stridently opposed Australia's pro-Western stance in every major conflict between East and West, such as the post-war communist (or more correctly, Soviet) takeover of Eastern Europe, the 1950-53 Korean War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Christmas 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But the Vietnam War caused the greatest internal upheaval, once the Australian Labor Party reversed its support for American action in Vietnam and the presence of our troops in support.

No reasonably-minded person needs to be reminded of the division in our community caused by that most unpopular of wars. It is only comparatively recently that our Vietnam veterans have been recognised for doing their duty, at the behest of the duly-elected government.

I have written before on the anti-Vietnam War protesters, guilty of treating the democracies of the Free World and communist dictatorships as being morally equivalent and appearing to be quite ignorant of "World War III", i.e., the Cold War.


The consequences of faulty intelligence

While the events of 9/11 evoked a great outpouring of sympathy for the US - muting most criticism directed against the world's sole superpower, except of course from the usual suspects - the war against terror quickly reversed the situation.

It must be conceded that President Bush, in linking Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil", was once again suffering from a traditional US failure - that of faulty intelligence. It is now four years since the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's murderous regime, but America finds itself embroiled in a messy conflict with no easy way out.

Furthermore, while the US armed forces are well-equipped to conquer, they are ill-equipped to govern. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that the victorious allies' dissolution of Saddam's Republican Guard was a bad mistake.

Four years later, the number of civilian dead alone is somewhere between 59,082 and 64,916 according to the grimly-named website, which also provides a satisfactory account of its methodology.

Military deaths include over 3,100 US personnel, while those of the allies remain difficult to calculate. Undoubtedly, Australia has been lucky insofar as the only casualty, as at the time of writing, is Private Jake Kovco, the victim of an appalling accident.


New fellow-travellers?

Once again, however, the demonstrators are back on the streets across Europe, the UK, the US and Australia.

Watching the television news, one is reminded of the anti-Vietnam protests with the banners of the International Socialists held high, along with any other group opposed to America.

And it must be noted that opposition to the war is once again the province of "opinion leaders", such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, London Mayor Ken Livingstone and, of course, our own Philip Adams.

It is surely no coincidence that these worthies are in the frontline of those praising Hugo Chávez, the socialist-populist Venezuelan demagogue who now rules by personal decree. It is only a question of time before the wonderful achievements of Venezuelan education and health services will be lauded as comparable with those of Fidel Castro's Cuba ...

With respect to Iraq, in a very real sense, defeat hangs heavy in the air. With the Democrats now controlling the US Congress, and dedicated moves afoot to pull out US troops from Iraq within 18 months, America's allies are now weighing up whether or not to cut and run.

The major ally, the UK, has reduced its commitment. Troops from other nations are going home. With every day that passes, the "coalition of the willing" has become the coalition of the withering.

Prime Minister Howard insists that Australia will "stay the course"; but the Labor Opposition, while willing to commit forces to fight terror in Afghanistan, will probably opt for a phased withdrawal from Iraq. Our participation in that theatre of war is certain to be an election factor, even if it masquerades as debate on national security.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this state of affairs? Quite simply, the West has demonstrated once again that it lacks the courage and determination to press for victory against a determined foe.

I claim no omniscience in stating that I considered the strike against Iraq to be based on faulty and perhaps maliciously compiled information posing as intelligence.

My copy of the report by the parliamentary joint committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, entitled Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, is heavily annotated, and I await with interest the promised review of the information and process that led to Australia's participation in the war.

For all his evil deeds, paid for at the end of a rope, Saddam Hussein was not behind 9/11. Osama bin Laden is still at large, al Qaeda remains active, and the number of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organisations appears to be expanding exponentially.

My biggest fear is that those who scoff about the global threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses to our way of life will panic when terrorists launch their first attack on Australian soil.

Panic is one of the most corrosive and rapidly spreading psychological conditions in a civilian population. For the sake of ourselves, our families, friends and this country, let us hope fervently that those whose duty it is to defend and protect our country are not only competent and confident, but also lucky.

- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.

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