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Issue #1517      7 September 2011

Wikileaks

Insights into the “special relationship”

Wikileaks is never far from the headlines. The latest uproar concerns the decision by the online publisher of leaked information to put its whole, unedited collection of US diplomatic cables online. Blame for the unexpected decision to publish has moved back and forth between Wikileaks and the UK Guardian newspaper. A writer for that journal, David Leigh, had included a password to Wikileaks’ encrypted files in his book Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. Columnists in the corporate press have gone berserk about the supposed threat to the safety of people who have cooperated with the US, especially in the Middle East. Wikileaks insists the Guardian was the reckless party and had scuttled efforts underway to redact the documents to protect at-risk individuals.

Meanwhile, the public has been given another set of insights into the way international affairs are really conducted. Australia has again come to the world’s attention with more embarrassing revelations. Cables identify at least one senior ASIO officer – names of such persons are usually a well-kept and legally protected secret in Australia. But worse, the slavishness of the “special relationship” Australian governments have had with successive US administrations is evident again in this latest dump of confidential cables.

Through previous cables between the US Embassy in Canberra and controllers back in Washington, we learned that Australian political figures drop by to give their assessment of their colleagues and the likely course of political events. Right-wing Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib calls by the embassy for a chat. “He understands the importance of supporting a vibrant relationship with the US while not being too deferential. We have found him personable, confident and articulate,” an embassy profile said. “He has met with us repeatedly throughout his political rise.” Former ALP frontbencher Bob McMullen pops in for the occasional debrief, as does Member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby.


Michael Danby.

Mr Danby appears in the latest cables, too. He offered to write an op-ed piece for The Australian Financial Review in 2008 to promote the US government’s “Day of Solidarity with the Cuban people” or, rather, a day for hysterical anti-Castro outpourings and threats of US-backed regime change. Former US President George W Bush set out the intentions of the day of “solidarity” in a press release:

“The United States is rallying the free world to the cause of Cuban liberty. We continue to shine a bright light on the Castro regime’s abuses – and America calls on the government of Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.

“We keep these prisoners, their families, and all Cubans in our prayers. Especially on this Day of Solidarity, we ask the Almighty to comfort and strengthen those who suffer under the Castro dictatorship – and to hasten the day when Cuba’s suffering comes to an end.”

Danby (who is chair of the Australia-American Parliamentary Friendship Association) reportedly offered to circulate a statement in support of the day.

But the US Embassy is not simply the object of the affections of ardent admirers. It is hands-on in Australian political affairs. Its Public Affairs Counsellor lobbied metropolitan newspapers to get other anti-Cuba op-ed pieces published. A member of the Victorian parliament with links to the Hispanic community was approached to do some smearing of the Cuban government on behalf of the US.

Most disturbing of the latest batch of cables are those dealing with the perfectly legal and peaceful political activities of the Australian people. The US Embassy secretly assessed groups taking part in protests of interest to the US and which had some supposed link to or potential for “violence”. Ethnic groups such as the Greeks, Malaysians, Lebanese, Serbians, Indonesians, Pakistanis. Ethiopians, Somalis and Sudanese were listed as having potential for embarrassing, large demonstrations such as occurred in 2006 over Israel’s attack on Lebanon.

Various protests, their locations, the sponsoring organisation and numbers attending were shown for the period from February 2008 to February 2009. Groups such as Stop the War Coalition, Socialist Alliance and the Australia Cuba Friendship Society are listed. Inaccuracies and speculation abound in the document, which appears to reply to a number of questions regarding the “security environment” in Australia. ASIO, law enforcement agencies and “anti-terror” legislation all get big ticks from the embassy in Canberra but care is taken not to eliminate completely the existence of bizarre, shadowy threats:

“… there have been incidents of extremists with an anti-western agenda coalescing into cells that intended to strike Australian interests. Such cells could just as easily decide to attack US interests, but there are no indications that any such cells currently exist.”

And further down:

“It is also worth mentioning that although only anecdotal evidence exists, there are indications that incarcerated indigenous persons are adopting a brand of radical Islam while imprisoned. To date there is no evidence that once released from incarceration these groups continue following these beliefs, indicating it may be a method of obtaining favours while incarcerated.”

Also instructive about the role of the US Embassy is a cable dated December 11, 2009 revealing that BHP, Chevron and Shell had complained to the US government about a decision of federal resources minister Martin Ferguson. They believed they were being forced to use the Liquefied Natural Gas processing plant planned for James Price Point in the Kimberley in WA. Company reps reportedly said the decision favoured competing resource developer Woodside, which is still locked in battle with local Indigenous people and environmentalists over the controversial proposed development.

The fact that the companies would choose to whinge to the US government betrays another awful truth about the “special” relationship between Australia and the US. When it comes to legislation by the Australian government, the US administration is regarded by the transnationals as a “higher court”.  

Next article – Book Review – The Korean War – (Part 3) The tide turns, again

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