The Guardian

The Guardian June 2, 1999


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Presumption of guilt

It is an established principle of English law, and of Australian law 
derived from it, that an accused person is presumed innocent until 
proven guilty. That is why it is illegal to publish anything which 
might conceivably prejudice potential jurors into thinking someone is 
guilty before their trial.

It is the reason police cover the heads of arrested people with jumpers and 
towels when they are being filmed entering a police station or courthouse. 

In the USA, although the presumption of innocence exists, there is no such 
embargo on pre-trial publicity and prejudicial comment. In fact, trying to 
establish the accused's guilt in the media prior to the trial is a 
standard ploy of US prosecutors.

It is a ploy the capitalist mass media are only too happy to be a part of. 
So much so, that the concept of the "fair trial" has almost given way to 
that of "trial by media".

Australia's mass media  much of it owned by the same tycoon who revels in 
the US media frenzy over juicy cases  is constrained only by the threat 
of contempt of court proceedings from indulging in the same practices here.

The intriguing case of the former employee of the Australian Defence 
Intelligence Organisation, Jean-Philippe Wispelaere, has provided our local 
media with a golden opportunity to show how they would act if they were 
unconstrained by the law.

Wispelaere, his backpack supposedly stuffed with top secret documents 
originating in US satellite surveillance of South East Asia, had left ADIO 
on January 12 and flown to Bangkok. There he allegedly offered to sell 731 
"sensitive" documents to a foreign embassy.

He was arrested in the US after a month's-long sting operation by FBI 
agents waving large amounts of money who enticed him to Washington.

Since his trial is to be in the USA, the media here could have a field day. 
Within 36 hours of his arrest, The Australian was merrily blackening 
his name: he had been expelled from school and was "described by some 
teachers as sometimes behaving erratically".

Note the strategic use of "some" and "sometimes", in case another reporter 
found a teacher who said they'd never seen any evidence of "erratic" 
behaviour.

The Australian also reported that he "had developed a steroids 
problem" and "was known by school friends to play games by creating 
multiple identities for himself".

So as well as "behaving erratically", he takes drugs and creates "multiple 
identities" for himself. The inference is clear: Wispelaere is a kook, a 
nutter.

Wispelaere is 28. How did The Australian find his former school 
friends so promptly? In any case, what does it signify that he had an 
active imagination at school? How is it relevant  other than to smear the 
alleged spy?

The FBI had been plotting to snare Wispelaere since at least the beginning 
of February. It is unlikely, with such a sensitive case, that they would 
leave "managing the media" to chance.

Two days after the article in The Australian, the front page 
headline of The Sun-Herald screamed: "WHY I SPIED". The accompanying 
story was not a confession or even an interview with Wispelaere, however, 
but an interview with a woman who had met him on plane to Bangkok and 
shared a room with him there and in a guest house in the Thai town of 
Chiang Mai.

The headline apparently refers to the suggestion in the interview that he 
may have needed money. Well, gee.

Lack of evidence didn't stop The Sun-Herald from putting a rider 
above the main headline: "It was easy, Aussie traitor tells woman friend".

Now, Wispelaere allegedly tried to sell 731 US-sourced documents relating 
to S-E Asia to a foreign embassy in Bangkok. According to The 
Australian, the embassy was believed to be that of a country "in south-
east Asia".

"Aussie traitor"? Who are we at war with? Initial reports said he tried to 
sell the documents to the Indian or Pakistani embassy. Can one seriously 
talk of betraying Australian defence secrets to Pakistan? (Unless we plan 
to intervene in Asia, in which case the Australian people would probably 
like to know the details.)

One of the big revelations (there were precious few) in the Sun-
Herald article was that Wispelaere was planning to do intelligence work 
for ... the British. Traitor indeed.

The US satellite spying on our region is no doubt highly "sensitive". In 
the light of NATO's war against Yugoslavia, and NATO's announcement that it 
is now free to intervene anywhere in the world at anytime, US satellite 
spying threatens many countries' security.

The US also interferes in the internal affairs of various countries in the 
region. We do not know whether any of the documents revealed potentially 
embarrassing details of this, either.

It would also be interesting to know how Wispelaere, who holds Canadian, 
French and Australian passports, came to get the job with ADIO in 
the first place. But don't look to the inquiry by Bill Blick, the Federal 
Government's very own Inspector-General of Security, to reveal anything we 
shouldn't be allowed to know.

In the meantime, Jean-Philippe Wispelaere is innocent until proven 
guilty.

Back to index page