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Spy Monitor Can Probe Timor Records Loss

By Hamish McDonald, Foreign Editor

The official monitor of Australia's intelligence agencies had the power to investigate the apparent disappearance of intelligence information relating to the 1975 killing of five Australian-based newsmen at Balibo in East Timor, a senior official said yesterday.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Mr Bill Blick, could investigate whether records of intercepted Indonesian military radio messages, claimed to show an intent to eliminate the journalists, had been lost or extracted from Defence Department archives.

Existence of such an intercept by the Defence Signals Directorate was reported to the government-appointed investigator, Mr Tom Sherman, by two lawyers formerly on the staff of the Hope Royal Commission, who said they had been shown in 1977.

But in his Second Report last year, Mr Sherman said DSD had told him no record or reference to the intercept could be found.

Mr Roger Holdich, the inspector-general of intelligence between 1989 and 1995, said it was a matter Mr Blick could take up if he wished. "It's up to him to decide to do that," he said.

Mr Holdich was speaking at the opening yesterday of Foreign Affairs records relating to the Indonesian takeover of East Timor, 1974-76, at the National Archives of Australia.

The former official had sat on the editorial advisory board which supervised the opening of the records and the publication of a volume of selected documents last week.

He said the intelligence agencies had strongly opposed including even limited references to intelligence-based information in the just-released papers.

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Foreign Affairs had fought an "exhaustive and exhausting" battle with intelligence to get material from Indonesia's State Intelligence Co-ordinating Body included in the release.

Mr Holdich said that because former president Soeharto had designated BAKIN as his government's direct channel for dialogue with Australia on East Timor, excluding material from this source would have made the early release of Foreign Affairs records "virtually worthless".

But although Foreign Affairs prevailed in this case, the records opened to researchers yesterday in the National Archives of Australia in Canberra are still considered inadequate in revealing the complete Timor story.

Defence expert Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University said that without the Department of Defence side of the 1974-76 archives being opened, it would be hard to evaluate the Foreign Affairs documents.

He disputed fears that intelligence "sources and means" would necessarily be compromised. "It really is time to release much more than this, because until everything is released people are still going to have questions and conspiracy theories will abound," he said.

On the Balibo affair, Professor Ball said it was important to piece together the "scattered" material held in official archives, pointing out it was still a question whether one of the five newsmen had died with the other four, or had been killed later.

How Foreign Affairs handled the key evidence given by the Timorese turncoat Jose Martins in early 1976 about Balibo, naming Indonesians involved in the attack, can now be studied closely from the opened archives.

An initial search shows how Indonesian intelligence quickly became aware that Martins was touting information to Australia's missions in Geneva and Lisbon, and how Canberra later decided to reveal his testimony to Jakarta despite objections from the Australian Ambassador in Lisbon, Frank Cooper, that this might put Martins in danger.

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