AETFA SA – 44 YEARS OF SOLIDARITY WITH TIMOR-LESTE FOR INDEPENDENCE & JUSTICE (AETFA SA was originally the Campaign for an Independent East Timor SA until Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002
Were our spies compromised by Balibo? New book reveals more sordid history BERNARD KEANE
For decades, Australia’s intelligence services have denied having any foreknowledge that the Balibo Five were at risk from Indonesian forces.
Intelligence services ostensibly only learnt shortly afterwards that the five — journalists working in then-Portuguese Timor in October 1975, reporting on secret Indonesian military activity — had been murdered by Indonesian special forces.
But Oil Under Troubled Water, a new book by Bernard Collaery, presents a strong case that Australian spies knew that Indonesia regarded the journalists as a “hurdle to be got over” before Indonesian military preparations could ramp up ahead of its December 1975 invasion, beginning a quarter-century occupation of the province.
In Oil Under Troubled Water, Collaery — currently being prosecuted by the Morrison government along with a former ASIS officer Witness K for revealing ASIS’ illegal bugging operation against Timor-Leste — explores the history of Australia’s relationship with what is now Timor-Leste.
A key revelation of the books is that Timor-Leste has been deprived of billions of dollars in resource revenue as a result of the deliberate hiding of the discovery of significant helium deposits in petrochemical reserves beneath the Timor Sea from both Timor-Leste and the United Nations.
Remarkably, Australia itself has also lost access to this strategic asset by allowing American multinational ConocoPhillips to take control of the helium.
Collaery has also unearthed documents that contradict the longstanding official line on what the Australian government knew about the Balibo Five — Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie and Gary Cunningham — in the lead up to the Suharto regime’s invasion of Portugese Timor in December 1975.
A sixth journalist, Australian Roger East, was murdered by Indonesian forces while investigating the disappearance of the five.
Collaery shows British ambassador to Indonesia Sir John Ford reported to London in September 1975 about clandestine Indonesian military activity in Portugese Timor ahead of its planned invasion:
|The only limitation on clandestine activity now appears to be its exposure. The Indonesians are clearly worried about this. According to the Australians, president Suharto told general Yoga, the head of Bakin [the then-named Indonesian intelligence agency] that he would not agree, for the present, to step up clandestine activities beyond their present level. A particular hurdle to be got over is a plane load of journalists and politicians who are due to visit Timor, apparently at Fretilin request, to investigate allegations of Indonesian intervention.
The Suharto regime had a history of heavy suppression of journalists inside its own borders and in West Papua; “getting over the hurdle” could have had only one meaning.
But this “sensitive” information obtained by an Australian agency — Collaery believes it must be ASIS — via a “top level liaison” with Bakin apparently wasn’t sufficient for the agency to alert the then-Whitlam government or to raise concerns about the ramifications of Ford’s phrase “getting over the hurdle”.
The Whitlam government at that stage was about to become embroiled in a life-or-death constitutional struggle, and Gough Whitlam was about to dismiss ASIS head Bill Robertson.
The Ford letter also sits poorly with the finding of inspector-general of intelligence and security Bill Blick’s 2002 review of allegations.
Blick found that another agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, did not have “intelligence material that could have alerted the government to the possibility of harm to the newsmen” and that “intelligence material was passed rapidly to government and there was no holding back or suppression of data by the agencies tasked with providing such material”.
The deniability of any foreknowledge or role of either Australian intelligence agencies or the Whitlam government itself in Indonesia’s destabilisation and invasion of Portugese Timor has been a staple of the official narrative around the murders of the Balibo Five — one that has united intelligence establishment figures and Whitlam apologists alike.
The British government has also come under pressure from the families of the two British journalists of the Balibo Five to explain what it knew ahead of and after the killings.
Collaery raises a wider question if the John Ford letter is correct. We’ve known since 1999, when the intelligence archive of Soviet defector Vasili Mitrokhin became available, that Yuri Andropov’s KGB had succeeded in tapping the communications of Henry Kissinger, who in 1975 was president Gerald Ford’s secretary of state and who accompanied the US president to Jakarta to meet with Suharto on the eve of the invasion.
It was at that meeting that Ford effectively greenlighted the invasion by telling Suharto “we will understand and not press you on the issue”.
Kissinger’s only concerns were that the invasion not commence until Ford had left the country, and that US weapons not be linked to the invasion.
Given Australia-US intelligence sharing, Kissinger is also likely to have been aware of Indonesia’s clandestine military activities in the lead-up to the invasion and the “hurdle to be got over”, via Australian sources.
As a result, the KGB may also have been aware that, effectively, ASIS or another Australian intelligence agency had had the opportunity to intervene before the murders of the Balibo Five, but refrained from doing so.
Was such information — which would have proved deeply embarrassing both to agencies and to Indonesia — ever used by the Soviets as leverage against Australian intelligence agents?
It’s another sordid moment in the long history of Australia’s neo-colonialist treatment of the people of Timor, driven by an obsession with exploiting its petrochemical resources.
WITNESS K & BERNARD COLLAERY -TWO HEROIC AUSTRALIANS BEING VICTIMISED BY THE MORRISON GOVERNMENT Andy Alcock Information Officer AEFTA SA Inc (Australia East Timor Friendship Association SA)
The Morrison Government is trying to imprison Witness K and Bernard Collaery – the two Australians who helped Timor-Leste to achieve justice in the Timor Sea.They are accused of breaching Australia’s Intelligence Services Act 2001.
The action smacks of being a vendetta and and payback against these two men whose actions contributed substantially to the important win for Timor-Leste which is the poorest nation in SE Asia and which suffered 24 years of fascist terror at the hands of the Indonesian military (TNI).
In 2004, after Timor-Leste had gained its independence, Australian leaders sat down with the Timorese leaders to negotiate over the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.
Alexander Downer – the then Australian foreign minister – had already withdrawn Australia from the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in a clear move to stop the acceptance of the usual principle of there being a maritime border midway between the coasts of Australia and Timor-Leste and to prevent the new nation from having full access to its resources in the Timor Sea.
To further Australia’s intention to rip off the shattered nation, Downer issued orders for ASIS (Australian Security Intelligence Service) to bug Timor-Leste government meeting rooms to give Australian negotiators an advantage over the East Timorese during talks. Australian leaders then bullied the East Timorese leaders to accept an extremely unfair deal that denied them a maritime border and access to much of their resources – known as CMATS (Certain Maritime Agreements in the Timor Sea).
Witness K was part of the ASIS spy team that carried out this action and he later considered that what Australia had done was both illegal and immoral as the spying had nothing whatsoever to do with Australia’s security, but was about a commercial interest for Australia and the oil corporations. The action involved skullduggery against a nation that had been a loyal ally during WW2 and whom Australia had betrayed during the TNI occupation. Witness K reported his concerns to senior security officials in private.
Later, when the leaders of Timor-Leste became aware of Australia’s actions, they approached the International Permanent Court of Arbitration (IPCA) in The Hague to seek to have the CMATS deal overturned. Bernard Collaery was one of the key legal advisers to the Timorese government and he also agreed to represent Witness K
Despite attempts by former Australian attorney general – George Brandis – to pervert the course of justice in the IPCA by raiding Witness K’s home and Bernard Collaery’s office to seize pertinent documents, the East Timorese had an important win. In March 2018, the IPCA ruled that there should be a border equidistant between the two nations giving them much greater access to their oil and gas resources. Former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop and the former president of the Timor-Leste council ministers Agio Pereira signed the final agreement
Despite this, Australia is holding a sum of about $8 billion raised from resources in Timor-Leste’s half of the Timor Sea. This money is urgently needed for development and humanitarian programs to assist the people who have suffered greatly because of the TNI occupation..
Ir should also be noted that the federal ALP leadership refused to take a stand on the issue of the international court case and did nothing when in office to reverse what the LNP had done. Further, it is currently mostly silent about the rights of Witness K and Bernard Collaery.
Meanwhile, the cases against the two men who courageously did the fair thing continues. They are being tried as separate cases as Collaery has pleaded not guilty and Witness K has pleaded guilty. They are occurring under a cloud of secrecy in order to maintain the fiction that the issue is all about security and to make it difficult for supporters to be at hearings. The two have even been denied full access to their lawyers!
Just recently, the Melbourne University Press published a book written by Bernard Collaery about this sordid history – OIL UNDER TROUBLED WATER Australia’s Timor Sea Intrigue [MUP]. This will be an important expose of the dirty tactics employed by Australian leaders against the East Timorese. This will be an excellent read as Collaery is a world renowned lawyer and he has a great sense of humour.
Oil Under Troubled WaterBernard Collaery