May 12th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: ANZAC DAY: A new dawn for Australian national pride

EDITORIAL: Labor's uranium policy: when 'yes' means 'no'

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Has Kevin Rudd made his biggest mistake?

WATER: Water crisis: farmers' warnings ignored

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Why Kevin Rudd leads in the polls

LABOR PARTY: Australian union movement's last hurrah

STRAWS IN THE WIND: ABC's John Curtin - a missed opportunity / Labor conference a gold-plated flop / Melbourne's continuing transport fiasco / Ice man cometh

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Terror Australis - will the public ever wake up?

FAMILY ASSISTANCE: Howard's cash benefits for families

SCHOOLS: Report slams school curriculum muddle

DRUGS POLICY: $150 million campaign against 'Ice' - too little, too late

MEDICAL: Oral contraceptive link to breast cancer

HISTORY: Wilberforce's epic battle to end slavery

Plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka (letter)

Sinhalese speaking up for Tamils (letter)

Religious vilification laws (letter)

General Monash (letter)

BOOKS: BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

BOOKS: THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

Books promotion page

Terror Australis - will the public ever wake up?

by John Miller

News Weekly, May 12, 2007
Australians are dangerously complacent about the threat of terrorist attacks, warns John Miller.

In my two previous articles, I have endeavoured to demonstrate that the moral high ground, afforded the US in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York's World Trade Center, has been dissipated by the war against terror and, in particular, the incursion into Iraq in 2003 (News Weekly, March 31 and April 14, 2007).

I pointed out that opinion polls and other research in Western Europe, the UK, Australia and the US have shown complete public disenchantment with affairs in Iraq, and also the disturbing sentiment in the UK in favour of disengaging from the US war effort and either going it alone or in conjunction with European powers - i.e., NATO without the Americans.

There are fewer doubts about the need to tackle Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, as this article was being prepared, the Australian Government announced a further deployment of SAS troops to that unhappy country.

The federal Labor Opposition, as the alternative government, appears to support that move but remains wedded to withdrawal from Iraq.


Conventional wisdom around the globe holds that the US-led invasion of Iraq has served to bolster the number of recruits for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. This article is more concerned with general perceptions about the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

The Internet abounds with a massive storehouse of information on every conceivable subject. Since 9/11, Western security and intelligence services have created websites, which are a veritable mine of information.

Here it is extremely important to distinguish between information and intelligence, the latter being assessed against existing holdings and reports from all input streams of the intelligence world. Partisans of all points of view abound and the savagery of the rhetoric is quite remarkable. Even so-called mediated discussions descend to personal abuse.

While the Internet literally abounds with electronic newspapers and magazines, e-journals and blog sites, far too much is regrettably “dumbed down” or reduced for spatial reasons. Like most freelance writers, I attempt to trace Australian reports back to their origin.

In relation to the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is possible to discern different shades of emphases. For example, the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, currently employed with the International Crisis Group, ventured the opinion that the war in Iraq was illegal (ABC-TV's The World Today, July 2, 2004) presumably because it was not a United Nations-mandated operation.

Interestingly, this puts him at odds with his former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael Costello, who recently suggested that Iraq is by far the most significant battleground (The Australian, April 13, 2007). In examining their respective views, it is possible to discern much of the anti-American spirit discussed in an earlier article.

What can be said of the mainstream printed media? On the basis of examination and observation since 9/11, it is fair to say that the Fairfax press has slowly and increasingly moved to a position of opposition to the war in Iraq. This is evident in editorials, opinion pieces and especially in letters to the editor.

By contrast, the Murdoch press, and The Australian in particular, have taken a more pro-American, pro-government line in editorials, while opinion pieces and letters to the editor are probably more divided.

It is my contention that the majority of Australians, being so far from the theatre of war in Iraq and so far not having suffered a successful terrorist attack on home soil, have become inured to the threat.

We have not seen a steady stream of bodies coming home in coffins. Indeed, the fiasco surrounding the return of the body of Private Jake Kovco has at least served to remind the government that the dead should be accorded the respect they deserve and not subcontracted out to be brought home like excess baggage. We could learn much from the British and US forces in this regard.

However, as UK commentator James Delingpole pointed out in his criticism of a Channel 4 TV program on Iraq: “We're at war again in a battle against an enemy every bit as determined to destroy our civilisation as was Nazi Germany. The difference is, hardly anyone today in our broadcast media seems much bothered whether we win or lose.” (The Spectator, 7 April 2007).

My only disagreement with Mr Delingpole is that the same criticism applies to our broadcast media.

If we look at Iraq, our loquacious former Attorney-General and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, was far from being a lone voice in declaring the US-led intervention as an illegal war. As usual, the anti-American chorus in the media, along with those who will do anything for a headline, combined to depict the Iraq imbroglio in the worst light.

Certain well-respected, highly-placed and influential members of the legal profession appeared to join in with relish.

When terrorist suspects were rounded up by the authorities, many of the aforementioned jurists were quick to condemn the extensions to the ASIO Act and refused to submit to security checks necessary to ensure the safety of people in the court-room.

There is not much point in listing their names at this juncture - it serves only to add a patina of glamour to their actions. And, in its turn, that militates against support for government prosecution of terrorist suspects.

The media and terror suspects

Anti-American and antiwar activists love a martyr. David Hicks, who recently pleaded guilty in an American tribunal for terror suspects, fitted the role to perfection.

Admittedly, by delaying his court appearance for five years, the US authorities were effectively denying him natural justice - but, at the time, no legislation existed to handle such cases.

Our newspapers were full of the shy young lad, squinting slightly into the sun - offset occasionally by a not-so-appealing picture of him with a rocket-launcher on his shoulder.

The Weekend Australian Magazine (March 10-11, 2007) probably hit the nail on the head when it asked on the front cover: “Five years ago, David Hicks was seen as a traitor who deserved to be locked up for good. Now he's portrayed as a freckle-faced kid and a victim of injustice. Just how did this sinner become a saint?”

The second reason for my rather dismal view of the media, politicians, bloggers and the chattering classes (to say nothing of the International Socialists, the Green Left, some members of the Greens Party and the usual suspects of the ALP Left and the trade union movement) turns on the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The image of David Hicks in the newspapers made a mockery of stories that he had been starved and generally knocked around at the US's Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

In the case of Mohammed, media photographs suggested that he had been worked over with a vengeance. It appeared to matter not one iota that he admitted to being involved in an alarming number of terrorist offences. Bloggers, commentators, letters to the editor in newspapers made sneering references to the extent of his confessions.

Fairly typical was Los Angeles correspondent Robert Lusetich's claim that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (or KSM as he has become known) may have exaggerated his role in 31 terrorist plots to which he confessed his involvement (The Australian, March 17, 2007).

These included the 9/11 attack, the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the Bali bombing, which should be of interest to Australians. Yet the blogs in The Australian newspaper ran to over 300, most of which were sceptical, sarcastic, cynical or all three.

To my mind, blogs in various Australian newspapers concerning KSM and his guilt have tended to demonstrate that Australians generally disbelieve US authorities. On the Internet, the overwhelming view was he was a patsy.

That seemed to be the furthest thing from the mind of the Director-General ASIO, Paul O'Sullivan, when he addressed a Security in Government conference on May 10, 2005, when he stated inter alia that “during 2002, we (ASIO) were able to establish that Al Qaeda's chief operational planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been issued with an Australian visa in August 2001”.

He said: “The visa, which was applied for by Khalid using a then unknown alias, had not been utilised and was cancelled, the only reasonable assumption being that Khalid was planning to come to Australia for some operational purpose.”

Janet Albrechtsen appeared to be the first local journalist to look beyond the man and his statement to the tribunal and instead to home in on the contents of the computer that was seized when he was captured.

She noted that: “A computer hard-drive, seized when KSM was captured, contained information about the four planes hijacked on 9/11, including codenames, flight numbers, pilots' names, hijackers' names, photographs of the hijackers, pilot licence fees for Mohammed Atta, images of passports, chat sessions with hijackers, letters to Osama bin Laden, spreadsheets of financial assistance to families of al-Qa'ida members. And on it goes.” (The Australian, March 21, 2007).

A definitive and truly remarkable account of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is readily available on the Internet, and deserves to be read.

The only problem is, and remains, that Australians are dangerously complacent about terrorist attacks. It appears the more evidence that accrues about the worldwide nature of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism and the increasing number of warnings from those in power, either at the political or intelligence level, the less the person in the street wants to know about the subject and the more convinced he becomes that it does not affect him.

- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.

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