Australia - Gov't Rocked by Resignation of Anti-War Official

Wednesday, 12 March 2003 19:13 by: Anonymous

     Australia - Gov't Rocked by Resignation of Anti-War Official
     Bob Burton
     Inter Press Service

     Wednesday 12 March 2003

     The Australian government has been stunned by the resignation of one of its senior intelligence analysts who argue that, based on U.S. and other intelligence information he has seen, there is currently no justification for a war on Iraq.

     "I'm convinced a war against Iraq at this time would be wrong. For a start, Iraq does not pose a security threat to the U.S., or to the U.K. or Australia, or to any other country, at this point in time, former Office of National Assessments intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie said, announcing his resignation late on Wednesday evening.

     ''I just don't believe that a war at this time would be worth the risk,'' he said.

     A critical factor behind Wilkie's resignation was claims made by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. Security Council purporting that a link exists between al-Qaeda and Iraq. "As far as I'm aware there was no hard evidence and there is still no hard evidence that there is any active cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda,'' Wilkie told Australia Broadcasting Corp (ABC) television.

     Three years ago, Wilkie, the 41-year-old career military officer, was seconded to the Office of National Assessments, which prepares briefings for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from a wide range of intelligence sources.

     Wilkie has worked on global terrorism and transnational issues including Afghanistan and the likely humanitarian consequences of a war on Iraq.

     Wilkie describes his resignation as the "biggest decision I think I've ever made in my life" but felt compelled to act by what he though is the prospect of a high risk of a humanitarian crisis from any U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

     "I don't believe I could stand by any longer and take no action as this coalition marches to war. I think the interests of the thousands of people, perhaps tens or even more, tens of thousands of people or even more who could be injured, displaced or killed in a war, I think their interests is more important,'' he said.

     The director general of the Office of National Assessments, Kim Jones, sought to downplay the significance of Wilkie's resignation. "The officer concerned was a member of our transnational issues branch. He normally worked on illegal immigration issues. The transnational issues branch does not deal with issues related to Iraq,'' Jones said reading from a statement.

     Speaking to journalists in Jakarta late Wednesday evening, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, also sought to dismiss Wilkie's resignation. "Mr Wilkie has come to the view that he doesn't support the Australian government's policy, and I think in those circumstances he's done the honourable thing and resigned.''

     As one of the few ex-military officers that work at Office of National Assessments, Wilkie was identified as one of the people that would work in the national intelligence watch office if a war in Iraq eventuated. In preparation for that role he had access to all intelligence information flowing into the agency on the topic.

     Only hours before Wilkie's resignation, Prime Minister John Howard sought to justify Australia's support for the U.S. war on Iraq on the basis of countering groups like al-Qaeda.

     "To me, the ultimate nightmare of the modern world is that chemical and biological weapons will get in to the hands of terrorists, and believe me, they will use them. They will not care about the cost they do to the countries against, or the peoples against which they are used,'' Howard said in Sydney.

     Wilkie believes that a war on Iraq may well turn out to be counter-productive. "In fact, a war is the exact course of action most likely to cause Saddam to do exactly what we're trying to prevent. I believe it's the course of action that is most likely to cause him to lash out recklessly, to use weapons of mass destruction and to possibly play a terrorism card,'' he said.

     Wilkie hopes that his actions will force Howard to rethink its unquestioning support for a unilateral strike against Iraq. "If my action today and over the next couple of days, if it can make the Australian government rethink its position, and maybe take a more sensible approach to developing its policy on Iraq, I think it's been worthwhile,'' he said.

     In the make of mass rallies in mid-February in which well over half a million citizens publicly demonstrated against the war, Wilkie's resignation has demonstrated the depth of concern amongst the normally conservative ranks of the intelligence and foreign affairs establishment.

     Former Office of National Assessments analyst and now the head of the Global Terrorism Centre at Monash University, David Wright Neville, believes there is great concern about Howard's policy in intelligence and military circles.

     "Speaking to former colleagues, former contacts both in the Office of National Assessments and other elements of the intelligence community, (there) are widespread concerns that are similar to Andrew's about the direction in which the Government is taking us,'' he said.

     With opposition to Australia's deployment of 2,000 personnel to the Middle East growing, opposition political parties and the peace movement sense that where Howard is now becoming electorally very vulnerable.

     An opinion poll commissioned by the public relations company that works for the Labor Party and released on Wednesday revealed that 59 percent of Australians oppose a unilateral attack on Iraq. However, a U.N.-endorsed attack was supported by 64 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed.

     According to opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, Wilkie's resignation "torpedoes the credibility" of Howard.

     (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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