Subject: GLW: East Timor: the truth will out (Collins)

From Green Left Weekly, August 3, 2005.

East Timor: the truth will out

Jon Lamb

On July 25, Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins, a leading intelligence expert on East Timor and Indonesia, blew the whistle on the Australian Defence Force’s intelligence manipulation and cover-ups in East Timor in 1999.

Collins has also quit the military because, he said, intelligence information was being skewed to defend government policy. Speaking on the ABC’s Australian Story on July 25, Collins said, “The problem with our intelligence system is it’s the politicians that choose, or approve the choosing of, the bureaucrats that run it. The system is very heavily weighted to produce a certain answer that is acceptable to a certain political party and its agenda, rather than the nation and its well-being.”

As part of the Interfet operation, Collins was part of the ADF’s intelligence gathering on the pro-Jakarta militia gangs that terrorised the East Timorese during 1999.

Collins’ understanding of the links between the militia and the Indonesian military was extensive. It contrasted sharply with the Howard government’s line from late 1998 and throughout 1999 that the TNI (Indonesian military) and the Indonesian police were attempting to control the militia gangs and providing security for the independence ballot.

“In 1998, there was increasing instability and violence in East Timor and a renewed momentum behind the independence movement”, Collins stated. “There was a regional crisis unfolding, as I and others perceived it. We did what’s called a ‘formal intelligence estimate’ and we pointed out that up until now Australian foreign policy had been driven by what we called the ‘Jakarta lobby’.”

Collins became increasingly critical of the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) and the International Policy Division bulletins. “I thought the intelligence reporting was too equivocal and quite vague. And so, I and others attempted to draw their attention to errors of fact, which wasn't appreciated.”

In response to his criticisms, the DIO sent a letter to Collins’ superiors requesting he stop openly questioning DIO reports. Collins (along with solidarity and human rights organisations) continued to forewarn that the TNI would not accept a vote in favour of independence and would unleash a wave of militia terror and reprisal.

According to Collins, as the situation in East Timor deteriorated, “there was a lot of conflict in the intelligence system at the time”.

One example was the treatment of Merv Jenkins, a senior DIO liaison officer, based in Washington. Jenkins provided classified information about East Timor to his counterparts in the United States, believing they needed to know.

Jenkins was investigated by the Defence Security Agency and led to believe he would face imprisonment for his actions. He later committed suicide.

Collins and other intelligence associates were shocked by Jenkins’ death. “It certainly registers as something very wrong in the system when you have people inside the military and intelligence system for all their working lives, and they suddenly commit suicide.

“When the news came out that the death had occurred after being visited by people from the Defence Security Agency and Foreign Affairs, there was a clear message: if you step out of line, there will be consequences”, Collins said.

After nationwide protests forced the Howard government to send troops to protect the East Timorese in 1999, Collins acted as a senior intelligence adviser to the Interfet command. His observations would have provided more evidence of the TNI links to the militia gangs, including their activity in West Timor.

Collins believes that because of his previous criticisms, senior DIO figures ramped up the pressure while he was serving in East Timor.

He told Australian Story: “I was involved in a conversation with a fellow from the Defence Intelligence Organisation. We finished the phone call and then what was called the GIS link went down and I had my signals officer spend the rest of that day looking for what we assumed was a technical problem. We didn’t find out until the next morning that it had been turned off.”

The DIO also sought to close down intelligence gathering from West Timor, where 150,000 East Timorese were being kept captive in camps run by the militia gangs, with the support of the TNI.

On his return to Australia, Collins was warned to keep his head down. Later in 2000, Collins was one of several investigated by the federal police about embarrassing intelligence leaks which proved the Howard government lied about what it knew about militia and TNI links. It was the beginning of the end of Collins’ intelligence career.

In an effort to clear his name and defend his criticisms of the intelligence hierachy, Collins requested an independent inquiry, which was eventually conducted by a long-time serving naval officer Captain Martin Toohey.

Toohey found in favour of Collins, stating in his report, released last year that: “I find as a fact that a pro-Jakarta lobby exists within DIO which distorts intelligence estimates to the extent that those estimates are heavily driven by government policy. In other words, DIO reports what the government wants to hear.”

The treatment of Collins and others within defence and intelligence organisations who dared question government policy ­ on East Timor or the war in Iraq ­ reflects this government’s determination to hide the truth from the public. But, as Collins and that other former intelligence official Andrew Wilkie have shown, the truth will out.

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