Caught Out

This may not surprise you about Governments per se but the Australian Government has been caught out doing something it should not have been doing. Believe me the something they did is not a very good look.

Australian intelligence services inserted listening devices into the wall cavity of an East Timorese Government office under the guise of an aid project.

For those of you who may not know, East Timor is situated to the north of Australia. It is an independent country now but has a very bloody history. Invaded at one point by Indonesia.

Not far from East Timor and close to Australia in the Timor Sea there lies a very lucrative oil and gas field that Australia would very much like to exploit. The reserves are worth $40 billion. Clearly there is a lot at stake here. By now you probably know where this is going.

The Australian Government has no real defense to offer for spying on the East Timorese. It deserves to be condemned and rightly so. But what do you think happened as a result of this disclosure? Departmental heads sacked? An official inquiry into what happened?

Did it mean for example that an organization like the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which operates the same way as the CIA, was hauled over the coals for breaching another countries sovereignty? You must be joking.

This revelation, of course, came courtesy of a whistleblower and now the Australian Government is only interested in shooting the messenger.

Here is the history. The information first came to light as a result of a television report by an Australian media organization, which received it from a lawyer acting on behalf of an Australian spy. The lawyer was also acting for the East Timorese Government, which wants to nullify the Treaty it has with Australia over the oil and gas reserve on the grounds that it manifestly favors Australia. The Australian spy knew what was done and was to be the star witness at an International Court of Justice hearing on the issue in The Hague.

East Timor says the spying shows that the Treaty was not negotiated in good faith as proscribed by the Vienna Convention and it wants it torn up.

But let’s get back to the main point of the story, which is what the Australian Government is doing in response.

The Australian Federal Police have been asked to investigate if the lawyer and the spy can be charged under the Australian Intelligence Services Act, which carries a two year prison term as penalty. The Federal Police have also asked the media organization that reported the story to hand over all of their material in relation to the report. They want to get their hands on unedited footage of the lawyer’s television interview.

The Federal Police confirmed they began their investigation after receiving a referral but that is all they are prepared to say. Never mind the illegality of what Australia was doing let’s focus on the people who let the world know it was happening.

The lawyer and the media organization both say they intend to fight the matter in court if need be.

Meantime, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization which might have placed the listening devices in the first place raided the lawyer’s home, seized documents as well as electronic data and cancelled his passport.

The Australian Attorney General says the lawyer and the spy appear to have breached Australian security laws. And if you read between the lines of that comment it means the Australian Government is going after both of them.

I have said this before and I will say it again. Being a whistleblower anywhere in the 21st Century is a dangerous game because you risk becoming an endangered species. All Governments everywhere want to wipe them out. And if that happens who are the losers? The answer is all of us.



Be Careful What You Google

This would be disturbing if it wasn’t so farcical.

Be careful what you Google. That was the clear message after a New York couple received an unwelcome visit from counterterrorism authorities.

Blogger and journalist Michele Catalano was Googling pressure cookers. Yep. Pressure cookers. She wanted a pressure cooker to (wait for it) cook quinoa. For those who might not know what that it is, Quinoa is a South American grain you can purchase in a health food shop. It was a harmless Google search.

Next, her husband was using the same computer to search for backpacks. He needed a backpack. Don’t we all from time to time. Again it was a harmless Google search.

The couple’s 20 year old son was also on the computer. After reading about the Boston bombings he was clicking on links about home-made bombs. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was harmless curiosity.

But unfortunately there is no such thing as harmless anything any more. Not in the days of terrorism and counter terrorism. And especially not if it leads to authorities concluding that someone might be trying to manufacture a home made bomb.

Now apparently unbeknown to the Catalanos someone, somewhere in authority was putting all of this Google searching together and came to the conclusion that this family represented enough of a threat to warrant a visit.

Around 9 am one morning the family answered a knock on the front door. We are talking black ops. Six men in three black SUVs pulled up and surrounded the house.

Like I said they knocked. This time. As opposed to kicking the door down. Michele’s husband let them in. They searched and after not a long time they left.. Clearly convinced that the couple’s home was one of 99 percent of cases where there was no threat.

And that was that. Except it wasn’t. Because a lot of people are now asking how does the Government know what people are Googling?

It has already been pointed out elsewhere, that this question suddenly has great relevance given the case of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. One of the disclosures revealed by Snowden was details of an American intelligence programme that monitors internet activity.

Michele Catalano has since learned that authorities also monitored topics her husband  looked at on his work computer.

She has no idea which counterterrorism group visited her home. They apparently did not identify themselves.

The U.S. website Atlantic Wire tried to get to the bottom of who these spooks might have been without any success. They were not the FBI or the local police.

One thing’s for sure they  were not foodies. They had no idea what Quinoa was.

Penn Book Review

A PRB Starred Review

An articulate, principled work on five mysterious world crimes in an era of press handouts and news curation.  The authorities wish for whistle-blowers to become an extinct species, while the world has a responsibility to expose the heinous crimes committed by those in positions of power—let the whistle-blowing begin with Cover Up.

Overall winner at the Qantas Media Awards, investigative journalist Damien Comerford has released Cover Up, which sheds light on five select dark, mysterious, and most-compelling world crimes. All remain mysterious and unsolved, however, the author’s writing points to some interesting conclusions; and not in an average conspiracy theorist way. Secrets of the Alma Tunnel questions the death of Princess Diana and the rigidity of the investigations by French and British Police. A Poison Chalice magnifies evidence that was overlooked after the murder of Pope John Paul I, which possibly prevented the disclosure of Vatican involvement in the Mafia.   Crime on Capitol Hill suggests that political whistle-blowers have, in a sense, an unrealized death wish. Like many others, Ron Brown was about to blow the whistle on a shady political act before he was permanently silenced. Fallen Arrow asks a question so controversial that it takes the investigation of the 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles, in an entirely new direction. And finally, Preparing for the Apocalypse makes it clear that the terrible crime of President Habyarimana’s murder, which also led to one of the worst genocides in history, may have been the result of a European superpower.

Comerford’s work is highly provocative, intellectually rigorous, and filled with mysterious insights. Each story is given an in depth analysis and unbiased evidence with a compelling argument. His admirable quest to bring investigative journalism to life in an “era of press handouts and spin doctoring” is realized within the pages of Cover Up.

A political work you likely won’t find on the shelf of your local bookstore; an absolutely brilliant, must-read!