Monday, November 23, 2009
When Indonesia invaded East Timor Now Release of Balibo papers blocked
The Australian Defence Department has blocked the release of 34-year-old intelligence papers that would shed new light on the deaths of the Balibo Five journalists and potentially embarrass former prime minister Gough Whitlam. Defence Minister John Faulkner's department has withheld from public release the contents of Defence intelligence reports on the events surrounding Indonesia's 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.
In mid-2007, Australian Defence Force Academy senior lecturer Clinton Fernandes applied under the Archives Act for access to reports on East Timor prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence within the Joint Intelligence Organisation, the forerunner to today's Defence Intelligence Organisation. Dr Fernandes served as historical adviser to producer Robert Connolly's movie Balibo, which deals with the murder by Indonesian troops of five Australian-based newsmen at Balibo in East Timor in October 1975. The Indonesian Government still maintains that the journalists were accidentally killed in crossfire.
After more than two years' delay, the Defence Department released to the National Archives hundreds of pages of material, including Office of Current Intelligence situation reports formerly classified Top Secret Australian Eyes Only. However, almost all of the contents have been blacked out on the publicly released copies. In justifying the decision to withhold almost all of the content, the National Archives cited advice from Defence that the information ''continues to be sensitive''.
It is known that the Office of Current Intelligence's 1975 reports on East Timor drew heavily on the interception of Indonesian military communications that revealed Indonesian forces were operating covertly in the Portuguese colony before the full-scale invasion. A former military intelligence officer, Dr Fernandes said he was ''surprised'' by the decision to withhold the information given ''the lengthy passage of time, the independence of East Timor, democratic political change in Indonesia, and great changes in the technology of intelligence collection''.
''It really is long overdue for the Australian people to get the truth about what our government knew about the invasion of a small, defenseless neighbour about whether our diplomats and politicians, most notably Gough Whitlam, turned a blind eye to what was about to happen,'' he said. Long-time East Timor campaigner and widow of journalist Greg Shackleton who was killed at Balibo, Shirley Shackleton, also expressed surprise at the decision.
''Senator Faulkner ought to show his commitment to openness and accountability, rather than allow his officials to keep the cone of silence over the truth about Balibo.'' However, Professor Alan Dupont, of Sydney University's Centre for International Security Studies,
expressed the view that the intelligence reports should not be released, at least not for another 20 or 30 years, if ever.
Professor Dupont served as an analyst on the Office of Current Intelligence's South-East Asia desk in 1975 and wrote or contributed to many of the suppressed reports. ''This material would only inflame relations [between Australia and Indonesia],'' he said. Meanwhile, Indonesian censors have formed a special team to decide whether to allow Balibo to be shown at the Jakarta International Film Festival. The film's release in Australia earlier this year came just weeks before the Australian Federal Police announced they had opened a war- crimes investigation into the killings. The Canberra Times By Philip Dorling National Affairs Correspondent