Violent, broiling storms in teacups – spying allegations and wounded pride

By now the damage done by self-aggrandizing narcissist whistle-blower Edward Snowden is not news. Angela Merkel has already been in our papers and on our TV, translators telling us of her views that allies don’t spy on one another. And now, courtesy of the ego of Mr Snowden, we have revelations that Australian intelligence – likely ASIS at the behest of DSD – attempted to bug the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

In response, and with adroitly feigned indignation, Indonesia has recalled its ambassador to Canberra and noted that ‘the damage is done’. All sorts of diplomatic fallout is threatened.

In response, I’d like to firstly accuse Indonesia of hypocrisy and bullshit martyrdom, then suggest they invest less in histrionics and more in moving on from the incident. Every nation collects intelligence on other nations. Even their leaders! That’s right, as we speak you can bet money that intelligence is being collect from HUMINT and SIGINT sources on both Tony Abbott and 1920’s union hero Bill Shorten. American, Russian, Chinese, even Indonesian agencies will have a hand in it. As they damn well should, and as we should too.

Remember when ASIO, the agency responsible for maintaining domestic security (comparable to Britain’s security service, MI5), was caught bugging the Chinese embassy in the 90s? And when it emerged that Chinese government hackers had in turn sourced blueprints for ASIO’s new headquarters? Business. As. Usual.

The reaction in Australia has been mixed. Labor, predictably, aren’t owning up to this though the operation would have been made known to the minister by way of a briefing memo before it was undertaken. The Coalition’s trying to downplay it and maintain the relationship – which, under the previous Coalition government, was quite robust. Former ONA analyst and current MP Andrew Wilkie has spoken about it, saying in a perfect world of course such incidents wouldn’t happen (and therefore, implying it’s a regrettable necessity); and Greens leader Christine Milne issued a statement determined to show the Greens are manifestly fucking useless.

Wilkie, unsurprisingly, is the most honest and in my view, most accurate.

“Give the agencies a break. Of course they’re out there spying. Of course they’re out there trying to listen in to conversations of important people in other countries. The issue for Australians is whether their rights are being protected by Australia’s legislative framework. The issue for citizens of the United States is that whether or not their rights are being protected by the US legislative framework.

You know the fact that another country might spy on Australia, we can’t tell the other country to stop. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can.”

Wilkie, as I mentioned, came from the Office of National Assessments. It may be instructive for me to briefly expand on which agencies are part of the intelligence community in Australia.

ASIS – The Australian Secret Intelligence Service – this is our foreign intelligence collection agency. In that capacity it’s like Britain’s SIS (aka MI6) or the US’ CIA. ASIS does not conduct any analysis of its own.

ASIO – The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – our domestic security service, comparable to MI5 (as mentioned) or parts of the FBI. This agency is responsible for monitoring domestic threats to Australian security.

ONA – The Office of National Assessments – Australia’s primary agency for analysis of both collected intelligence as well as publicly sourced information. The CIA has a division of analysts (Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan started out as one) who perform similar functions.

DSD – The Defence Signals Directorate – This agency collects and analyses all intercepted communications. It’s also responsible for ensuring Commonwealth cybersecurity protocols are current. Comparable to the GCHQ in Britain or NSA in the US.

DIO – Defence Intelligence Organisation – Provides advice and analysis of intelligence related matters to the chiefs of the defence force and the Minister.

DIGO – Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation – DIGO’s mandate is to assess imagery of key strategic areas, ranging from photos to satellite imagery.

This may seem like a lot, but there’s probably counterparts in every other major allied nation (or just nation, full stop) out there. In some instances, functions are combined – both MI6 and CIA analyse their own Product, but in our case this is done by ONA (which makes sense as it removes analysis from organisational politics and bias’). And why do we have these? Because despite what academics tell us (or taught me), all states act purely in their own self interest.

Which, incidentally, was a rude awakening after all those units in international relations theory. Despite studying the liberal, realist, constructivist and Marxist paradigms, it turns out the only true one is realism. Morgenthau nailed it – though  Marxism is a useful tool for critique (see previous post’s reference to Lenin’s essay for an example). Accepting this, whether it’s right or wrong, is what makes this entire event so overblown. Every nation spies; most don’t get caught or dobbed in by assholes like Snowden.

(For the record, I think Snowden and Manning are cowards, not heroes. Snowden is clearly doing this for him and his own sense of worth; and Manning? I’ve seen REFTEL cables live. In not redacting any of it, he and Wikileaks ensured that lives were in danger. It’s not a conservative soundbyte to say it – it’s a fact. People who don’t want their day to day activities spied on have an insight into who is betraying them and you can bet a generous severance package isn’t how they terminate that relationship…)

The reason I called Indonesia a hypocrite is because BIN, Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, has undoubtedly sourced intelligence from our government and officials. I haven’t got proof of this, though if I did I wouldn’t be able to tell you either!

But, I’m convinced it’s true. We spy on Indonesia and will continue to do so, as they will continue to spy on us. The US will continue to collect intel on friend and foe alike. To borrow from the Bible, let whichever nation is not collecting, collating, and analysing intel on its friends and enemies, cast the first stone. Indonesia reaction might play well for the domestic market but it’s pretty tiresome from where I’m sitting.

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