Our PM And The Business Of Lying
“The bottom line is, neither the US nor Australia nor NZ nor anyone else had information that would lead them to tell their nationals not to go to Bali,” says Prime Minister Helen Clark on Radio New Zealand this afternoon.
And apparently Radio New Zealand is willing to accept this – at least at this stage anyway.
Scoop is not.
Scoop has been covering this story since Tuesday and, to be blunt, it is quite apparent that the PM, her advisors, the Australian PM, his advisors the yanks and probably many more people have been telling lies about this matter for days.
The bottom line is actually this: The US State Department did warn its travellers about meeting in large groups in Indonesia, and updated that warning just two days before the attack, but New Zealand and Australia chose not to warn their travellers.
Meanwhile the New Zealand Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have claimed explicitly, more than once, that there was no intelligence advice mentioning Bali. Yet in fact there was specific advice mentioning Bali.
Would it have made any difference if New Zealand and Australian tourists had known about this advice?
Noone can know. But it does not take rocket science to point out that the number of US casualties in the bombing is not nearly as high as that of Britons and Australians.
Therefore there are real questions to be asked about who knew what, when, and what they did about it. And for the Prime Minister to claim today that the Opposition Leader’s claims today are “ridiculous” is indubitably a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
To fully understand the extent of the public deception a timeline of what actually happened is helpful.
Firstly, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing we had Australian PM John Howard telling media there was “there was no specific warning of the attacks”. Ditto New Zealand official spokespeople say the same thing.
The story does not hold for long. On Tuesday, thanks to an alert Scoop reader, we learn that the Taiwanese Premiere claims to have received a warning on Friday from the CIA, and that he was told to keep quiet about it.
We ask the PM’s office about this. They claim to know nothing about it, and appear to go to little effort to find anything out. Given what has transpired since, one might have expected the PM’s office to have come across the CIA warning that appeared the following day in the Washington Post at this stage.
And to date we still have learned nothing more about this Taiwan report.
Then yesterday news of the CIA advice mentioning Bali emerged in the Washington Post and the Australian papers.
Shortly after 2pm Helen Clark is asked about this. She exclaims loudly that, like the Australian PM, she knows nothing of this, “The Prime Minister of Australia said that he had no warning of a specific attack, nor did we,” she says.
Later in the afternoon however John Howard changes his story. The advice mentioned by the Washington Post was received, he now says, and promptly orders an inquiry.
Overnight the New Zealand media pursue the story on this side of the Tasman. Phil Goff tells the Dominion that “no advice mentioning Bali” has been received.
This morning NZPA ask the Prime Minister the same question: “New Zealand had no specific warning from the United States that Bali was a terrorist target, Prime Minister Helen Clark said today,” they reported this morning.
Scoop too asked the PM the question again this morning.
To us a spokesman replies more circumspectly. “I do not believe there was any specific information to warrant advising people not to visit Bali," is the message relayed back to us.
And now following Bill English’s press conference this morning Phil Goff too is fudging his words.
“I am confident that the same material is received (by) New Zealand in this area as is received by Australia, Canada, Britain or the other countries that share it”, he told Parliament's foreign affairs, trade and defence committee this morning.
Phil Goff speaking during question time today on the matter quoted from a State Department briefing to defend his apparently contradictory statements.
The following is the relevant section of the briefing in question.
"QUESTION: Mary Wilkinson, the Sydney Morning Herald. On the 26th of September, the US Embassy put out a notice in Jakarta specifically urging Westerners to avoid bars and tourist areas. Can you tell me, was Bali explicitly included or excluded in that notice?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a copy of that notice with me. Was that in the pack of things we pulled off earlier? You think it was? Okay, we'll look for it. I told them blithely that I didn't need to have it; nobody would ask about the specifics.
QUESTION: On the basis of The Washington Post report this morning that there was an intelligence report explicitly mentioning Bali at that time, was that notice on the 26th of September linked to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to check and see if we can link it to any particular piece of intelligence. The warnings that we put out describe as best we can in an open way the kind of information we're getting. And as you know, in the last couple months we've been getting a lot of information about a lot of areas where there might be attacks without being able to identify any specific locations where these attacks are most likely to occur.
And therefore, as we've seen, there have been attacks all over the world from time to time. And I have to say, as much as we've done against al-Qaida, as much as we've been able to succeed in arresting people and grabbing the finances and preventing them from having safe havens, they're still lethal, they're still dangerous, and they're still capable of carrying out attacks.
So we do put out these general warnings. We put out more specific ones. Our embassies pick those up and provide them to the local American community or local American residents in these countries.
In terms of the intelligence that we have, we share a lot of intelligence more and more these days with other governments. As you probably know, we've always shared anything that can be of mutual interest with our Australian allies and we work -- we have a very, very close intelligence relationship. So we do make sure that anything we pick up that might affect them, that they know about, and so we always share whatever specifics there might be. [Emphasis added]
Do you have it? The one on the 26th said that -- we talked about the September 23rd grenade attack in central Jakarta. "Common sense dictates that Westerners, especially US citizens, should exercise extreme caution, be extra vigilant. Americans and Westerners should avoid large gatherings, locations known to cater primarily to Western clientele, such as certain bars, restaurants and tourist areas." It was not specific to Bali, no."
But when you read the above carefully you will see that in fact it does not put either the PM or Phil Goff in the clear on this matter.
This afternoon the Prime Minister was not present to answer questions from members of Parliament herself.
In answer to a question on her behalf, Deputy PM Michael Cullen replied . “Yes. I stand by my statement. As the US Department of State has said, the U.S. had no specific information on a planned attack in Bali.”
What about the CIA advice mentioned by John Howard yesterday? Asked Richard Prebble and other members again and again.
Michael Cullen had a line and he was sticking to it . He replied again and again saying: “I repeat. What PM Howard told his Parliament was that Australian Intelligence had no specific intelligence of an attack on Bali on October 12.”
Though he did add at one stage. “We have also received assurances from our intelligence partners that we have received all relevant intelligence advice.”
Scoop suspects, like Phil Goff told the committee - and as Michael Cullen told the house - that as New Zealand is still in the five powers defence and intelligence sharing club (with Australia, Canada, the UK and the US), that we did receive the CIA advice mentioning Bali just as Australia did.
In the end the government story will likely be developed into some permutation of mislaid, lost, the PM asked the wrong question, or perhaps received the wrong answer. But at this stage – following question time –the new official line must be taken as, “we are not willing to answer straightforward questions on this.”
And what is almost certain is that it is unlikely that we will ever be told at any stage that anyone lied to us. Yet in point of fact that must be the conclusion from the facts before us.
As pointed out above, the PM’s office had at least two days notice of media interest in this matter before they decided to tell us, erroneously, that there was no intelligence advice mentioning Bali.
But we should not be surprised.
The reality is that the intelligence business is a business built on lying and secrets.
When asked a straightforward question the first question an Intelligence Officer is taught to ask themselves is, “does the questioner know what I know?” If the answer to this is, “no”, then their training teaches them they are free to reply in whatever way is most convenient.
But for the families of the victims of Sunday’s bombing this is simply not good enough.
While complete transparency in intelligence matters in advance of events like last Sunday’s bombing is probably neither possible nor desirable, in the aftermath of such a huge tragedy – and in light of an apparent failure in the system that is supposed to protect us - it ought to be demanded by our democratic representatives.
Therefore let the public now see the CIA memo that mentions Bali, and judge for themselves what ought to have been done. And let us also see the advice that the Taiwanese Premiere was told to keep secret on Friday.
Why? Because recent events have led to our faith in our intelligence services being severely undermined. And in circumstances like those currently facing us all, public trust is a precious thing.
Anti(c)opyright Scoop 2002