Witness Okay and the Australian spying operation that continues to betray Timor-Leste | World information


In the primary week of January 2019, a non-public jet landed at Presidente Nicolau Lobato Worldwide Airport in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. The previous Victorian premier Steve Bracks emerged into the monsoonal warmth and was greeted by workers from the workplace of Xanana Gusmão, Timor-Leste’s chief maritime boundary negotiator. They drove Bracks to the waterfront café on the Novo Turismo Resort and Spa, the place Gusmão was ready.

The topic of the assembly was Bernard Collaery, Gusmão’s former lawyer, who was pleading not responsible to breaches of Australia’s intelligence act. Collaery’s prices associated to an Australian Secret Intelligence Service operation in Dili in 2004, by which Canberra is believed to have recorded Timor-Leste officers’ personal discussions about maritime boundary negotiations with Australia. In 2013, the Australian authorities revealed the allegations of spying.

5 years later, in June 2018, the legal professional basic, Christian Porter, consented to prices being laid towards Collaery and his shopper, a retired Asis agent identified solely as Witness Okay, for “conspiring to disclose labeled info”. Gusmão led the Timorese resistance towards the Indonesian occupation within the mountains of East Timor and, after his seize in 1992, from his jail cell in Jakarta. In 2002, he turned Timor-Leste’s first president, and later served as its prime minister.

July 2020 cover of Australian Foreign Affairs



The July 2020 cowl of Australian Overseas Affairs. : Schwartz Media

Bracks says Gusmão needed to know what he may do to help Collaery, who had been his lawyer following Timor’s independence from Indonesia in 1999. Gusmão noticed it as an ethical subject. He mentioned he would journey to Canberra if vital, to present proof in help of Collaery and Witness Okay, as a result of, he informed me, it will be towards his conscience to not. He noticed them as “honourable males” who ought to have been lauded for his or her actions. From his viewpoint, that they had revealed against the law. Against the law towards one of many poorest nations on the planet, by one of many richest.

Gusmão deliberate to go to Canberra to present proof within the trial, till Covid-19 restrictions prevented him from travelling. Final month, the Australian Capital Territory supreme court docket dominated that important components of the trial could be heard in secret.

‘No avenue to boost issues’

The prosecution of Collaery and Witness Okay throws a highlight on the nexus between politics and intelligence, and the unfettered energy of ministers in Australia’s intelligence regime. Sadly for Collaery and Witness Okay, and the 7,00zero workers at present working in Australia’s intelligence companies, it additionally exhibits that alternatives for an operative to problem a path to carry out an immoral or unlawful act are restricted and more likely to be career-ending.

Australians settle for the necessity for excessive secrecy round spying operations geared toward combating terrorism and different safety threats. However does that social licence prolong to utilizing espionage for unlawful, immoral or corrupt acts? Ought to the state use its spies towards a pleasant authorities for purely financial acquire, both for the state or for personal corporations?

The main safety analyst Desmond Ball warned that “the connection between intelligence and coverage is complicated and delicate. It could actually simply turn out to be politicised, so demeaning the intelligence course of and finally risking nationwide safety.” That is what occurred in Canberra in 2004–05. And it’s arguably what drove Witness Okay to later increase with the Inspector Basic of Intelligence and Safety disquiet inside Asis concerning the operation.

Timor-Leste’s Jose Ramos-Horta and Australia’s Alexander Downer shake hands after signing the Timor Sea treaty in January 2006



Timor-Leste’s Jose Ramos-Horta and Australia’s Alexander Downer shake arms after signing the Timor Sea treaty on 12 January 2006. : Mick Tsikas/AAP

The workplace of the IGIS is chargeable for guaranteeing Australia’s intelligence companies act “legally and with propriety, adjust to ministerial pointers and directives and respect human rights”. In early 2008, Witness Okay approached the IGIS, Ian Carnell, alleging cultural change inside Asis had led to his constructive dismissal. In response to a press release Collaery made to federal parliament, a part of the grievance concerned an operation Witness Okay “had been ordered to execute in Dili, Timor-Leste”.

Collaery is restricted by nationwide safety laws from speaking concerning the operation. Clinton Fernandes, an Australian Intelligence Corps officer from 1997 to 2006 now on the College of New South Wales, shouldn’t be so constrained. In his 2018 ebook Island off the Coast of Asia, Fernandes writes that the listening gadgets put in within the Palácio do Governo “have been turned on and off by a covert agent contained in the constructing. They then beamed the recording by microwave sign to a line-of-sight covert listening base arrange contained in the Central Maritime Lodge … The digital recordings have been then allegedly couriered throughout city to the Australian embassy, and despatched to Canberra for evaluation.”

The 127-room Central Maritime Lodge was a transformed Russian hospital ship that was rebuilt in Finland, used as a resort in Myanmar after which towed to Dili as a result of there have been no motels or eating places of appropriate normal for worldwide guests. It was conveniently moored reverse the waterfront white-stuccoed Palácio do Governo.

The 2005 Fee for Reception, Fact and Reconciliation in East Timor estimated that greater than 150,00zero folks, 1 / 4 of the inhabitants, have been murdered or intentionally starved to demise between 1974 and 1999, when the territory was underneath Indonesian rule – a brutal occupation aided and abetted by Australia. In 2004, when the Dili bugging occurred, the Timorese remained bodily and emotionally traumatised.

Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh says Asis officers concerned within the Dili operation have been put in an unimaginable place: “Folks in Asis should not devoid of conscience. I’ve identified many Asis and Asio officers through the years … They need to maintain Australia, and Australians, protected. They might object to such an immoral operation, however there is no such thing as a avenue for them to boost issues.” The previous Asis spy Warren Reed argues that almost all intelligence officers have “a eager sense” of democratic values and “will usually stand agency towards makes an attempt by their service’s administration to diverge from these broadly accepted norms of behaviour”.

Timorese ‘knew they’d been dudded’

Australia’s goal within the negotiations was to retain rights to hydrocarbon-rich areas of the Timor Sea a lot nearer to Timor than to Australia.Within the early 1960s, Australia issued petroleum exploration permits within the Timor Sea to Woodside, now Australia’s largest pure fuel producer, in areas contested by Indonesia and Portuguese Timor. Australia refused Portugal’s requests for talks and as a substitute negotiated a treaty with Indonesia in 1972. The agreed boundary skirted the perimeters of the permits issued to Woodside and different corporations – nicely north of the median line. Woodside found the Higher Dawn oil and fuel fields in 1974.

The next yr, with Australia’s covert help, Indonesia invaded Portuguese Timor. Not like Portugal, which had argued for a median-line boundary, Indonesia instructed becoming a member of the top factors of the 1972 treaty, which might have put Higher Dawn solely in Australian waters. Regardless of UN resolutions calling on Indonesia to withdraw, Australia commenced negotiations with Indonesia in 1979 to agree on a boundary between Australia and occupied East Timor. This amounted to Australia formally recognising Indonesia’s sovereignty in Timor, the one Western nation to take action.

John Howard meets Australian troops leading the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste on 1 September 1999



John Howard meets Australian troops main the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste on 1 September 1999. : Paula Bronstein/Getty Photographs

When the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste got here into existence on 20 Could 2002, the Howard authorities thought-about the potential for Timor-Leste gaining sovereignty to the median line within the Timor Sea such a menace “to Australia’s nationwide safety, overseas relations or financial well-being” that it was apparently essential to direct Asis (and presumably different intelligence companies) to help Australia’s negotiating workforce on the maritime boundary. This was a damning indictment of Australia’s negotiators, among the greatest and brightest attorneys in authorities, backed by the sources of a number of departments. Timor-Leste’s workforce was led by former US ambassador Peter Galbraith, supported by a handful of idealistic younger attorneys.

In October 2004, the Dili bugging operation reportedly commenced throughout the second spherical of boundary negotiations between Australia and Timor-Leste. Regardless of the Asis finances enlargement, officers with the technical expertise to put in listening gadgets within the cupboard room of a overseas nation have been in brief provide. As Fernandes explains, set up is a fragile operation. “You want bodily entry to the room, so it’s important to invent a believable story. Then it’s important to map the geometry of the workplace, verify the acoustics, work out the place to put the listening gadgets, and since it’s going to go on for a number of weeks or months, you want an influence supply.” And on this case, the place the duvet story concerned renovating the federal government places of work underneath the guise of an Australian help program, Asis wanted expert tradespeople to hold out the renovations.

The Treaty on Sure Maritime Preparations within the Timor Sea (CMATS) was signed in January 2006 by overseas ministers Alexander Downer and Jose Ramos-Horta. Whereas CMATS was publicly applauded as a win by each nations, it was actually one other main victory for Australia, given worldwide legislation clearly favoured a median-line boundary. As Collaery informed Steve Bracks in April 2020, the Timorese “knew they’d been dudded, they only didn’t understand how”.

Australia shamed to the negotiating desk

By 2012 Gusmao had turn out to be conscious of the bugging and initiated confidential proceedings within the Everlasting Court docket of Arbitration in The Hague, in search of to have CMATS declared void as a result of Australia had acted in dangerous religion by spying throughout the negotiations. Witness Okay was to be Timor-Leste’s lead witness. Oddly, it was the Gillard authorities that made the spying allegations public. On three Could 2013, the then overseas minister Bob Carr and legal professional basic Mark Dreyfus issued a press release advising that Timor-Leste had initiated arbitration: “Timor-Leste argues that … Australia didn’t conduct the CMATS negotiations in 2004 in good religion by partaking in espionage … Australia has at all times carried out itself in an expert method in diplomatic negotiations and carried out the CMATS treaty negotiations in good religion.”

ABC Radio Darwin reported on the assertion, however the dispute was ignored by the nationwide media till Leo Shanahan printed a narrative within the Australian on 29 Could 2013. In response to the article, “Downer immediately authorised the operation to pay attention covertly to the negotiations in a cupboard room constructed with Australian help”. In September, the Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, gained the federal election. In December, Asio and the Australian federal police executed a search warrant on Collaery’s residence and chambers, issued by the then legal professional basic George Brandis underneath powers given after September 11, 2001 to fight terrorism. David Irvine, the director basic of Asis on the time of the Dili maritime boundary negotiations, was then director basic of Asio. Witness Okay’s residence was concurrently raided and his passport confiscated.

After years of additional negotiations between Canberra and Dili, the top consequence was a Timor Sea boundary that primarily adopted a median line and gave Timor-Leste a bigger share of Higher Dawn. A treaty was signed on the United Nations in New York in March 2018. This was the end result the Howard authorities was determined to keep away from within the negotiations greater than a decade earlier – so determined that it allegedly diverted intelligence property from the struggle on terror to help Australia’s negotiating workforce in Dili.

Australia’s Scott Morrison with Timor-Leste’s Taur Matan Ruak at the Government Palace in Dili on 30 August 2019



Australia’s Scott Morrison with Timor-Leste’s Taur Matan Ruak on the Authorities Palace in Dili on 30 August 2019. : Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

The Dili spying operation shamed Australia to the negotiating desk. It centered consideration on Australia’s hypocritical criticism of China’s South China Sea claims and made a mockery of Australia’s backing of the “worldwide rules-based order”. The decision of the dispute meant that for the primary time since Timor-Leste’s independence, the Australia-Timor-Leste relationship was not poisoned by the battle. As Timor-Leste’s minister of state, Ágio Pereira, informed a reception after the signing ceremony, the treaty marked a “new chapter within the bilateral relationship”.

However as a substitute of shifting to cement this new starting, in June 2018, 4 months after the treaty signing, 5 years after the Dili bugging operation turned public and 14 years after it occurred, the legal professional basic, Christian Porter, in what was now the Morrison-led Coalition authorities, consented to prices being laid towards Collaery and Witness Okay. This despatched a chilling message. In Australia, it confirmed that the federal government is not going to tolerant dissent, and had few regrets about an exploitative operation towards a pleasant neighbour. In Timor-Leste, it was seen as yet one more betrayal.

That is an edited extract of Kim McGrath’s essay Drawing the Line from the most recent Australian Foreign Affairs – Spy v Spy, printed on Monday. She is a researcher and creator of Crossing the Line: Australia’s Secret Historical past within the Timor Sea.