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ABC news article, reported that the passport of the retired Intelligence officer cum whistle blower has been cancelled, in an attempt to bully and throw a spanner in the works of East Timor's legal case against Australia in the Hague.Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres said attorney-general's explanation would be rejected by any 'fair-minded Australian'
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia said his country was “deeply disappointed” Australian intelligence agencies had resorted to raids against the tiny nation’s lawyer and star witness in the international hearing of spying allegations and thought “fair-minded” Australians would reject the explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, as ridiculous.
The Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery, who is representing Timor-Leste in an international arbitration hearing in the Hague, has argued the raids were a deliberate effort by the Australian government to disrupt the proceedings, in which Timor-Leste alleges that in 2004 Australia improperly spied on the Timorese during negotiations on an oil and gas treaty worth billions of dollars in order to extract a commercial benefit.
Timor Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to explain himself and guarantee the safety of the witness – a former senior Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) officer allegedly directly involved in the bugging of the Timorese cabinet office during the sensitive negotiations of the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMAT) treaty.
"The actions taken by the Australian government are counterproductive and uncooperative," Mr Gusmao said. "Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct. It is behaviour that is not worthy of a close friend and neighbour or of a great nation like Australia."
Brandis confirmed he issued the warrants for the Asis raids, but denied they were intended to interfere in the case and said the matter was an issue of national security.
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia, Abel Guterres, rejected that assertion and said most Australians would also consider it ridiculous.
“Our country, Timor-Leste, which came out of 24 years of struggle and trauma, and the subsequent mayhem in 1999, do you think Timor-Leste could possibly pose a security threat to Australia,” he told Guardian Australia.
The explanation given by the attorney-general, George Brandis, was rejected by Timor-Leste's ambassador.( Photograph: Daniel Munoz/AAP)
“Thousands of people in Australia asked the government to help us [during the violence around the autonomy ballot in 1999] and Australia helped us … are we a security threat to Australia, I don’t think so, I think any fair-minded Australian would see this as ridiculous.”
Brandis rejected the suggestions of interference in the case, telling the Senate on Wednesday these were “wild and injudicious claims”. He said he issued the warrants on national security grounds but declined in his statement to disclose “the specific nature of the security matter concerned”.
“The search warrants were issued, on the advice and at the request of ASIO, to protect Australia’s national security,” Brandis said. He said he had instructed ASIO not to share any material gathered in Tuesday’s raids with Australia’s legal team in the Hague “under any circumstances”. Brandis said Australia respected the arbitral proceedings.
Guterres said Timor-Leste had acted “in good faith” throughout the long dispute over the negotiation, and both parties had agreed to try to resolve the issue through arbitration, “but now the whole thing has turned sour”.
He said Australia’s actions appeared designed to prevent the witness – who was due to fly to the Hague but has now had his passport cancelled – giving verbal evidence, and it was unclear what impact this would have on Timor-Leste’s case.
“It depends how the arbitration sees it if the witness cannot appear in person … but it doesn’t help our case,” he said. “Australia of all places, our ally, our neighbour, our trusted friend, is doing something that is not worthy of being an example.”
Guardian Australia understands Timor-Leste had intended to seek a form of witness protection for the former ASIS officer. The negotiation centred on boundaries to determine how the two countries would share oil and gas deposits under the Timor Sea, called the Greater Sunrise fields, worth tens of billions of dollars. Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, was working closely with the Howard government during the talks.
Timor-Leste alleges Australia inserted bugs in the cabinet room to listen to Timorese negotiators during the talks, under the guise of a refurbishment paid for by an Australian aid program.
Asked about the raids, Abbott said on Wednesday; "We don't interfere in cases, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld. That's what we're doing.”
The Greens have called for a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence overreach after revelations that Australian intelligence attempted in 2009 to listen in to the mobile phone of the Indonesian president, his wife and their inner circle; and revelations this week that Australian intelligence offered to share metadata about ordinary citizens with foreign intelligence partners in 2008.
Podcast of ABC audio segment posted below.
WSWS web article provides additional coverage of the fiasco:
East Timor based NGO, La'o Hamutuk has been covering the controversial negotiations between the Australian and East-Timorese Governments and their website has a wealth of background history and information, surrounding the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty.
Australian government orders ASIO raids to suppress East Timor spying evidence
By Mike HeadIn a blatant attack on fundamental legal and democratic rights, the Abbott government yesterday ordered Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the homes and offices of a lawyer and former intelligence agency whistleblower involved in an international legal challenge to Australia’s spying on the East Timor government during maritime border talks in 2004.
4 December 2013
Bernard Collaery, the Canberra lawyer representing East Timor in its case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, said his office was raided just 24 hours after he left Australia to prepare the proceedings. ASIO officers spent hours searching his office, alarming two young female staff members. They seized a personal computer, USB stick, and sensitive files relating to the legal proceedings, including the affidavit of the crucial witness, a retired senior Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) official.
One of Collaery’s shocked assistants told journalists: “They were filming it, explained to me that they were from ASIO and there were AFP officers there too.” The women were shown a substantially blacked-out search warrant, and told they could not even keep a copy, supposedly for “security reasons.”
Collaery said the key witness was also detained and questioned, along with his wife, at their home. Apparently, the ex-ASIS officer was later released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him from appearing in The Hague.
What, if any, legal grounds exist for these raids and other measures remain entirely unclear, and unspecified. Collaery commented: “I have no way of knowing the legal basis upon which these unprecedented actions [took place].”
Collaery said he had the evidence with him, and the raid would do “very little” to hinder East Timor’s case. “I can’t see what the government hopes to achieve by this aggressive action,” he said. “It can attempt to nullify the whistleblower’s evidence, but that evidence has flown—the evidence is here.”
Personally ordered by Attorney-General George Brandis, the raids are designed not only to block evidence being presented in The Hague of the illegal bugging of East Timor’s government. They send a wider threatening message to the media, the legal profession and potential whistleblowers not to release any further material exposing the intensive surveillance operations conducted by the Australian intelligence apparatus throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
These operations, which include listening posts in the Australian embassies in Dili and other Asia-Pacific capitals, are integral to the global US spying network—now exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden—and the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive “pivot” to Asia to combat China.
Significantly, as the ASIO-AFP raids took place, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was preparing to fly to Indonesia in a bid to mend relations after Snowden’s revelations of US-backed Australian tapping of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone in 2009.
The raids followed further damning revelations, via leaked Snowden documents, of massive surveillance by the Australian intelligence agencies, directed against ordinary people in Australia, as well as people and governments across the region. (See: “Snowden document confirms US-backed mass surveillance in Australia”). They also came amid an intensifying campaign by the Abbott government and the media establishment to denounce the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian Australia web site for publishing the incriminating documents.
Many unanswered questions exist about the raids. Last night, Brandis issued a terse statement declaring that he issued the search warrants to seize documents that “contained intelligence related to security matters.” Without offering any explanation, he simply branded as “wrong” allegations that his actions sought to impede East Timor’s litigation.
Collaery, however, said the raids sought to intimidate anyone else who wanted to come forward against the Australian government. He said the star witness was a former director of all technical operations at ASIS, who decided to blow the whistle because the “immoral and wrong” bugging of the East Timorese government served the interests of major oil and gas companies.
The illegal eavesdropping is now being raised by East Timor to challenge the outcome of the resulting pact, the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.
In 2004, during negotiations for the treaty, the Australian government, then led by Prime Minister John Howard, economically and politically bullied the East Timorese government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in order to secure the lion’s share of the vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed. It also ordered ASIS operatives to plant listening devices in government and prime ministerial offices in Dili, enabling Canberra to snoop on the East Timorese delegates throughout the talks.
Ultimately, the Howard government forced East Timor to shelve any resolution of a maritime border in the area for 50 years, while dividing oil and gas revenues on a 50-50 basis. The largest project, Greater Sunrise, which lies entirely in East Timor’s waters according to international maritime law, will be exhausted within 50 years, starving the tiny impoverished country of critical revenues.
A major Australian company, Woodside Petroleum, which wanted to exploit the field, worked hand in glove with the Howard government and its foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who was in charge of ASIS. Collaery said the former ASIS official decided to expose the bugging upon learning that Downer, after quitting politics, became an adviser to Woodside.
Collaery said the details in the whistleblower’s affidavit had never been made public, until now. The director-general of ASIS and his deputy “instructed a team of ASIS technicians to travel to East Timor in an elaborate plan, using Australian aid programs relating to the renovation and construction of the cabinet offices in Dili, East Timor, to insert listening devices into the wall,” he said.
The Canberra lawyer accused the government and ASIO of “muzzling the oral evidence of the prime witness.” The spying, he commented, amounted to “insider trading,” for which “people would go to jail,” if it happened in the financial markets.
Members of the former Howard government, including Downer, may have direct personal interests in suppressing this information. However, the geo-political context, bound up with the services provided by Canberra and its spy agencies to Washington, indicates that much more is at stake.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today vehemently defended the ASIO raids, claiming that the government does not interfere in court cases, “but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld—that’s what we’re doing.” Labor’s opposition leader Bill Shorten quickly closed ranks, lining up with the government to defeat a Senate motion asking Brandis to explain the raids.
By invading a lawyer’s office, and persecuting a former ASIS official, the authorities in Canberra are demonstrating that they will stop at nothing to protect the operations of the Australian intelligence services and their US patrons.