Direct call for whistle-blowers to reveal what state shamefully denies

My following article appears in today’s Guardian:

Revelations of British government intrusion of legitimate media reporting of American-led, global surveillance is a call to arms for journalists everywhere.

Australian attorney general Mark Dreyfus recently claimed that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden weren’t whistle-blowers because they were “politically motivated”, and neither man exposed government wrong-doing (in fact, both did in major ways). The highest lawyer in the country fundamentally misunderstands the vital, democratic necessity of whistle-blowing as a safety valve against state violence, corruption and dishonesty.

Dreyfus should remember that the most comprehensive global study ever conducted into public attitudes towards whistleblowing, Melbourne University’s Suelette Dreyfus was a key researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, which found 81% of Australians believed such individuals should be backed.

If any western state claiming to be a democracy wants to destroy hard drives containing sensitive information, there’s only one response: resistance. Glenn Greenwald is right when he told CNN this week that “journalism is not a crime and it’s not terrorism”. The fact that such obvious statements need to be made in this climate shows how dangerous the attempts to criminalise legitimate investigations have become in the post 9/11 world.

In the spirit of telling governments and authorities that the public won’t tolerate illegal intrusion and intimidation against its own citizens, the following list is a far from comprehensive collection of information and documents the public has the right and need to know. Whistle-blowers and gadflys should feel unburdened and find the best way to get this information out (yes, I can receive snail mail to avoid all electronic communication).

  • A decade after Australian forces were sent to Iraq to join the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there’s still no inquiry into the decision-making process leading to that decision (though the Iraq War Inquiry Group has been calling for one). It’s essential that documents are released related to the motivation and timing of the decision, whether legal advice found the decision legal, the exact role of private contractors working for Australians in the conflict zone and whether public statements by then prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer matched private knowledge and assessments.
  • Trade agreements negotiated with other nations must be made public long before they’re passed, usually with bipartisanship, by a government of the day. Far too often, including in the trade deal between Australia and America, secrecy is used to obfuscate clauses that disadvantage citizens, not least over sovereignty and excessive use of foreign law enforcement actions in our territory. We need to see documents that detail these negotiations and what benefits Australian officials were willing to forgo for political expediency.
  • What’s the legal basis for the use of American assets on Australian territory, such as Pine Gap, in Washington’s drone war? What, if any, intelligence was gathered on Australian soil in the “war on terror” that caused the death of civilians in officially declared or undeclared battle zones? What is the legal basis for maintaining a key US intelligence asset without proper and regular parliamentary scrutiny? Recent revelations in New Zealand that US intelligence may be supporting its intelligence services should ring alarm bells in Australia, as our subservience to Washington’s needs are equally transparent.
  • What legal advice did former prime minister Julia Gillard rely on when she claimed Julian Assange was behaving “illegally” when his organisation Wikileaks released documents in 2010? When Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in June this year that his government was washing his hands of Assange because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”, we deserve to see the legal advice that supports this absurd suggestion. The fact that Australian officials attended the trial of Bradley Manning proved the spuriousness of Carr’s comments.
  • Australia and America signed in 2008 a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation”. The program is GEOINT, a high-level intelligence sharing program from spy satellites. President Barack Obama has accelerated America’s drone war since 2008, killing countless civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, and Australians have the right to see the legal basis for any information given by Canberra to attacks that kill or maim non-combatants. Does this legal advice, if it even exists, show that Australian officials could be held accountable for misuse of American intelligence in its “war on terror”?
  • Australia provides more than half a billion dollars of aid annually to Papua New Guinea. How much financial assistance is AusAid providing to Australian consultants to assist the government of Bougainville (and its corporate backers) in drafting mining legislation to allow the return of mining giant Rio Tinto more than two decades after the multinational was kicked out of the province? Billions of dollars are up for grabs in the project.
  • Australia’s ascension to the UN Security Council in 2012 was surrounded by allegations of bribing African nations for the honour. What diplomatic promises were made by Australian officials to secure these votes and what internal discussions by Australia were undertaken to assess the benefits or disadvantages of the two-year position? Furthermore, what pressure did Israel, during its unsuccessful bid to convince Australia to reject Palestinian statehood at the UN in 2012, place on the Gillard government and what did Gillard herself promise to the Israelis after failing to secure support of her cabinet during the discussions over the issue?
  • Just two months before East Timor became independent in March 2002, Australia unilaterally withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claimed that Australia was stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue from its poorest neighbour. Documents that reveal the Australian government’s decisions would be insightful. Equally important are the exact reasons for the Howard government’s intervention in 1999 (not as noble as claimed) and successive Australian governments, from Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s onwards, ignoring Indonesian genocide against the Timorese (all ably documented in a recent book by Clinton Fernandes).

Governments routinely over-classify information and beyond the reach of the public – the US now classifies literally trillions of pages of text annually – so it’s our duty to uncover what the state and business want to keep secret. Embarrassing power is our job. Let’s make authorities sweat by releasing an avalanche of riches.

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