High Commissioner Downer has a list of priors as far as contributing editor-at-large, Tess Lawrence, is concerned. Tess has been studying Downer's form for decades and in the first part of this series, she pulls no punches.
Alexander Downer, our man in London, is a renowned political opportunist and business gamester.
Media reports that he is embarrassed about being recently outed as a major player in the Trump election campaign's ongoing "Russiagate" saga are arrant nonsense.
It would come as no surprise to discover that Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer himself, was responsible for leaking the story about his boozy assignation with Trump campaigner and likely Russian stooge, George Papadopoulos, to the New York Times in the first place, albeit by a circuitous route.
He's leaving his post in a few weeks and the free international publicity is a timely refresh on Brand Downer and his elite business interests. He knows when to fold them. He knows when to roll them.
Downer's intersecting political, diplomatic and business careers are all laced with intelligence gathering, spying, duplicitous conduct, lying, treachery and self-aggrandisement — just to mention a few of the nicer characteristics. He's a repeat offender.
Unfair? You decide.
DOWNER HAS FINGERS IN SO MANY PIES, SOME OF THEM PORKIES, DON'T BE FOOLED BY BESPOKE SUIT AND PACIFIC RIMLESS GLASSES
I spy with my little eye that Alexander Downer spies for the Five Eyes (FVEY), the small league of white-ish Anglo-ish Western-ish nations to which Australia clings, whose prime role is multilateral signals intelligence gathering and spying on everyone — including other allies and one another.
The rest of the gang includes Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
FIVE EYES ALLIANCE DEMANDS DOWNER SHARES INTEL WITH USA
In fact, under the Five Eyes alliance, Downer/Australia has an obligation to share pertinent intelligence with the States, as well as other members.
So he was obliged to dob in Papadopoulos – at the time on Trump's foreign policy advisory panel – and report his claims about Russia's email cache and spying on Hillary Clinton.
(WikiLeaks has also published thousands of two-way Clinton emails and attachments from her private email server, after access surprisingly granted by the U.S. State Department, through the Freedom of Information Act.)
DOWNER IS LICENSED TO SPILL: THE NAME'S BOND ... CHESTY BOND
Downer is licensed to spill. Forget about James. In this case, the name's Bond ... Chesty Bond — Downer's codename for sure.
The name's Bond ... Chesty Bond. Alexander Downer's Five Eyes code name. Note the physical resemblance, save for the hair colour. (Image: Bonds)
Like many political and intelligence speed dating cabals with an endemic and brooding distrust of each other, indulging in the jealous squirrelling of information, things don't always go to plan.
International intelligence agencies, just like our national and state agencies, are notoriously competitive, kudos-seeking missiles not beyond "spoiling" and leaking information initially procured and secured by international rivals, and even their own national sibling agencies.
After last year's atrocious Manchester Arena bombing at the end of an Ariana Grande concert – that killed and wounded dozens of people, many of them children including an eight-year-old girl, who had come to see their pop idol – U.S. intelligence leaked privileged information and crime scene photos to the New York Times about the bomber, Salman Abedi — who, it transpired, was known to the UK police.
The published material was described as "heartless", amid claims it compromised and undermined UK police investigations whilst alerting Abedi's accomplices and social networks.
Five Eyes alliance betrayal. Front page of 'New York Times' featuring leaked information and photos from UK police and intelligence services.Trump forced to apologise. (Source: Adweek)
British police reacted by refusing to share any more information about the bombing and suspects with the United States, in direct violation of the Five Eyes alliance. Diplomats, bureaucrats and the back room squads set to work to ameliorate the crisis. The UK police relented.
President Donald Trump was forced to condemn the leaks. He promised an investigation. Sure.
IA understands the same information shared with the U.S. about the Manchester bombing was also shared with Australia and other Five Eyes members. Only the U.S. breached the alliance's confidential and privileged secret information.
WHY HASN'T FIVE EYES BEEN MENTIONED IN DOWNER DOSSIERS?
So far, Five Eyes don't seem to have been mentioned in relation to the Downer dossiers. Why not?
Let's have a closer shufti at the bigger picture and summon up ghosts from past, and present that expose the wheels within wheels, and the deals within deals. Nothing happens in isolation. The back stories and dot-joining are imperative to historical perspective.
Downer, our longest serving foreign minister (1996-2007 under John Howard's prime ministership) is a street-fighting political pugilist, a hustler and a client-touting lobbyist who – like former MP Andrew Robb and others – used privileged political intelligence acquired when a government minister, to later fatten his private commercial coffers — and Australia has much unfinished investigative business with him.
DOWNER SIGNED 2003 TIMOR OIL TREATY THAT BENEFITTED WOODSIDE
This includes forensically examining his 2003 role in Australia's hypocritical trickery and unprincipled behaviour (by successive governments) in the various protracted incarnations of what was known as the Timor Gap/Sea Treaty, later morphing into the cumbersomely named, Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty.
Downer's was the driving fist that signed the paper on behalf of the Howard Government. It was also the same year that Australia joined the "coalition of the willing" and the coalition of the killing in the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, based on the lie that President Saddam Hussein harboured weapons of mass destruction, a war that Downer justifies with facile argument.
WE CHEATING COLONIALS TRIED TO SHAFT TIMOR-LESTE "NATIVES" — A WONDER WE DIDN'T GIVE THEM HANDFUL OF SCRATCHIES FOR THEIR OIL
We literally tried to shift continental shelves, maritime and other boundaries in our favour. Yes, we tried to cheat and steal from poor Timor-Leste.
The old colonial attitude of "shaft the natives" dies hard with us. It's a wonder we didn't give them a handful of scratchies for their oil and gas reserves. Nice one, Alex. Nice one, Australia.
Was there a power imbalance in the negotiations? Yes. And it was common knowledge in government, diplomatic and legal services.
DOWNER TO EAST TIMOR "LET ME GIVE YOU A TUTORIAL ON POLITICS"; SAYS THEIR CLAIMS HAVE "NOT A CHANCE ... WE ARE VERY TOUGH"
"Your claims go almost to Alice Springs. You can demand that for ever for all I care. We are very tough. We will not care if you give information to the media. Let me give you a tutorial in politics — not a chance."
See what I mean? Downer's rant could be straight out of House of Cards. It's ugly. Not a good look. But within is a clue to Downer's modus operandi: “We will not care if you give information to the media”.
AUSTRALIAN POLLIES INCONTINENT WHEN IT COMES TO LEAKING TO MEDIA: DOWNER LOVES TO BLOW OWN MEDIA STRUMPET
Australian politicians, of course, are notoriously incontinent when it comes to leaking to the media. Downer loves the chance to blow his own media strumpet.
Nor must we ignore Australia's historical lurid and shameful connivings by both Liberals and Labor with Indonesia not only in relation to East Timor and its vulnerable people — but also in other matters.
We are still in denial of the extent of the role the Whitlam Government played in such collusion, let alone our shameful averting of eyes to Indonesia's barbarism.
NOAM CHOMSKY FINGERS AUSTRALIA AS SOLE COUNTRY TO RECOGNISE INDONESIA'S SOVEREIGNTY OVER EAST TIMOR. SHAME ON US
Of course, we were not alone. Others were just as culpable. Consider these telling words in Z Magazine by Noam Chomsky in 1999 when writing about the response from the international community to Indonesia's 1975 East Timor invasion. Shame on us.
Chomsky exposes Australia's greed and military aid as well as fingering us as the only country to legally recognise Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor:
On the one hand, the Indonesian aggression so clearly violated international law and the right of self-determination that the United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion, calling on Indonesia to withdraw its armed forces from East Timor, and the General Assembly rejected Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor as its 27th province, demanding that the people of East Timor be allowed to determine their own fate. With a single exception, Australia, no country has legally recognized Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor.
On the other hand, for many countries considerations of morality and decency were outweighed by the profits to be had from close economic ties with Indonesia and its huge population (“When I think of Indonesia—a country on the equator with 180 million people, a median age of 18, and a Muslim ban on alcohol—I feel like I know what heaven looks like,” gushed the president of Coca-Cola in 1992), by the prospects of selling arms to the Indonesian armed forces, and by the geopolitical advantages of allying with the largest nation in Southeast Asia, instead of one of the smallest. Washington’s support for Jakarta has already been noted. Australia has provided military aid to Indonesia and formally recognized Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, hoping to divide up East Timor’s offshore oil resources. Britain recently was Indonesia’s largest arms supplier, and Japan its largest source of economic aid and foreign investment. Canada has provided Jakarta with both economic and military aid, while the Netherlands and Germany have also been major weapons suppliers.
Unambiguous East Timorese graffiti nails Australia's attempted theft of the poor nation's oil and gas assets. (Image via sbs.com.au.)
Ironically, it was the former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith – a much respected diplomat regarded as a humanitarian who was appointed a cabinet member for political affairs and the Timor Sea in East Timor's United Nations-sanctioned first transitional government – who informed the Timorese that they were being spied upon to Australia's and Woodside's venal benefit.
He did the right and honourable thing by doing so.
DOWNER SPIED ON EAST TIMOR FOR AUSTRALIA'S AND WOODSIDE'S BENEFIT
In 2004 – in our name and in contemptible illegal and unjustifiable conduct under Alexander Downer's hauteur – the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted bugging devices in the very government offices in which Timor-Leste personnel discussed their oil treaty tactics against Australia.
It was an unconscionable and low act by both Australia and ASIS — Australia's equivalent to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.
It was the first of at least two spy/raid/theft operations against Timor-Leste and its legal and other representatives — that we know of.
What is worse, ASIS went in under sneaky cover of a benign aid project, an increasing practice of governments worldwide that jeopardises legitimate aid initiatives and projects by non-government organisations, with consequences that at times have aroused suspicion and even the murders of innocent civilians working in such humanitarian endeavours.
In no way was the surveillance operation one of protecting Australia's security. It was blatant commercial espionage conducted on behalf of and directly for the benefit of Australia's and, in particular, Woodside's commercial interests.
These crimes invite a more repulsive ethical hue when one learns that Downer was later to work for a substantial reward for Woodside, as a consultant. As foreign minister, he most certainly worked on their behalf on his own admissions as well as on a de facto basis by sanctioning the ASIS bugging of the fledgeling independent and impoverished nation.
In her 2014 Four Corners comprehensive documentary Drawing the Line, investigative journalist Marian Wilkinson questioned both Peter Galbraith and Alexander Downer – now a consultant for Woodside – about Australia's closeness with the oil companies when Downer was Foreign Minister.
Downer is clearly oblivious or doesn't care about any perceived or factual conflicts of interest in acting to benefit a company or companies while a government minister – and foreign minister at that – and later being appointed a consultant to that company or companies.
From the Four Corners transcript:
PETER GALBRAITH: The Australian Government was shockingly close to the oil companies and this I saw most dramatically at the beginning in, when I went down and I saw foreign minister Downer and I presented the East Timor position.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: We were close to all stakeholders and we would've been derelict in our duty had we not been. Galbraith was working for the United Nations, that's a different thing; the United Nations doesn't have an oil company. But of course, when we're involved in negotiations we maintain contact with Australian companies. The Australian government isn't against Australian companies, or if it is it's derelict in its duty. The Australian government supports Australian business and Australian industry. The Australian government unashamedly should be trying to advance the interests of Australian companies.
TIMOR LESTE'S PETER GALBRAITH CUTS AUSTRALIA DOWN TO SIZE
Galbraith, who happens to be the son of gamechanger economist John Kenneth Galbraith, was also savvy to Australia's attempts to rip off East Timor.
He wasn't going to tolerate it. He negotiated a fairer division of East Timor's spoils of oils. Instead of the then 50-50 split (there were various revenue splits to the detriment of East Timor), Galbraith negotiated a 90-10 percentage revenue split in favour of the East Timorese. A far cry from the 80 per cent claim we once had.
Australia, Woodside and Downer were not pleased.
It was yet another unethical assault on justice and the tiny nation.
Here's why. In what must have been a terrifying ordeal for his staff, the Canberra offices of lawyer Bernard Collaery, acting for East Timor against Australia for its first 2004 spying/bugging offences, were not only raided in an SAS counter-terrorist type operation, but a cache of electronic and hard copy documents pertaining to evidence and instruction for that very case was seized.
If ever there was a superglue to bind together the separation of powers, this was it.
The defendant thus had in its possession, the entire contents of the plaintiff's case against it. Evidence. Privileged information. Legal tactics. Nice one, ASIO. Nice one, too, AFP.
Preposterously, Collaery's colleagues were denied the right to see the warrant and the hoary disingenuous excuse of "national security" was invoked. What a load of bollocks.
People, this is what happens in Australia when one tries to speak truth to power. Welcome to Australia.
GALBRAITH AGAIN SPEAKS TRUTH TO POWER
In another interview with Tony Jones on the ABC's Lateline program two years ago, Peter Galbraith, refreshingly, again pulled no punches. No spin.
Here's an important grab:
PETER GALBRAITH, FMR LEAD NEGOTIATOR FOR EAST TIMOR: Good to be with you.
TONY JONES: Now do you have a view as to whether the Australian operation to spy on your negotiating team was a crime?
PETER GALBRAITH: Well clearly it was a crime under East Timor law. Obviously, it's a crime to break into the offices of the Prime Minister and the cabinet and to place bugging devices. It's a crime to commit espionage. So crime under East Timor law. I can't say whether it would have been a crime under Australian law, but clearly a crime under East Timor law.
TONY JONES: Well you've just heard a prominent Australian lawyer, Nicholas Cowdery QC, says there's a prima facie criminal case under Australian law of conspiracy to defraud the East Timorese Government. Do you think that case should be tested?
PETER GALBRAITH: Well, I certainly think it should be tested. There are really two issues here. First, under Australian law, can Australians send agents into the cabinet offices of a friendly country? That may or may not be the case. But there's really a separate issue, which is: do you use your intelligence services for the purposes of spying on what were essentially commercial negotiations, basically serving the interests of the Australian Treasury, but also of the oil companies, as part of a complex negotiation. I was the lead negotiator on all of this and what's critical in these negotiations – I get my instructions from the Prime Minister – I get to know what East Timor's bottom line is. What is the minimum that they will agree to settle for? And if the other side knows that, it has incredibly valuable information. It knows that it doesn't need in its negotiations to go beyond that bottom line.
TONY JONES: Any potential criminal prosecution in Australia would hinge on whether ASIS, the spy agency, acted improperly. Their key defence would be that their action was in the national interest. Is it conceivable, given the huge amounts of revenue that were involved there, that this could be construed as being in a nation's national interest?
PETER GALBRAITH: Again, I don't know Australian law. I don't know what Australia defines as national interest. But I spent much of my career as an American diplomat and I can tell you that, of course, we engage in a lot of espionage, but I have never seen the United States do this for a commercial advantage. It's always been for things that fall within what I think almost everybody would agree was national security, combating terrorism, understanding what the Soviets are doing. So, you know, I would say that this might well be illegal, but again, I don't know — I'm not an expert on Australian law, but what is clear is Australia was not doing this for national security reasons, it was doing it for its commercial interests, to help the oil companies and to secure additional revenue for the Treasury.
As always, it is the enemy within to be most feared. Sometimes, that enemy is our own government.
This is the first of a two-part investigation: Part Two will be published soon.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Get the facts. Subscribe to IA for just $5.