Friday, October 01, 2004

Axis of Deceit, by Andrew Wilkie

This book is much, much better than I thought it would be. When I saw it on the shelves I immediately thought, Oh, do we really need a whole book on this? Intelligence officer blows whistle, causes a furor, end of story. I only borrowed it reluctantly, more because I was interested in Wilkie's bid for the seat of Bennelong as a Greens candidate.

How did a young hooligan who once roughed up an anti-uranium protestors' site outside Parliament House, and who used to think that anti-war protestors were misguided, end up giving anti-war speeches as a guest of the Greens? It makes me think of the peerless Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice, who says when she discovers how wrong she has been about Mr Darcy, 'up until this moment I hardly knew myself.'

Wilkie opens his book by telling us of his conservative Catholic upbringing, his career as a lieutenant colonel in the army. He's no left-wing looney ideologue. That's what's so interesting about this book. And it shows how out of control the Howard Government is.

Everyone will know Wilkie's story. He was a high level intelligence officer for the Office of National Assessments. He was reading lots of the incoming material about Iraq - knew a fair bit about it as a natural course of his work - and was not convinced that it warranted a war on Iraq. He estimated that Iraq did indeed have WMD capacity, but that this was limited and was not a threat to the world.

The real reason for the invasion, according to Wilkie, lay elsewhere:

'If the war had a bottom line, this was it: the US now stands to control an oil reserve of genuinely strategic proportions, one set to become valuable beyond measure over the next fifty years as other oil fields eventually and inevitably run dry.'

Howard and Blair were determined to go into Iraq, no matter what the intelligence that was coming in. The flimsiest evidence and most tenuous connections would be marshaled as proof of a direct threat to world security.

Wilkie shows how ironic this is, seeing Howard never showed much interest in foreign affairs:

'John Howard's complete lack of interest in most off-shore matters was a frequent source of amusement and concern in ONA while I worked there. Time and time again important issues were not assessed because the judgement was made that Howard would not be interested.'

The lengths that Howard goes to to demonise Wilkie make the jaw drop as, showing how obviously freaked out he and his government were by Wilkie's quitting ONA and going public with his concerns. The government leaked a story to the media that he was unstable due to a breakdown in his marriage.

Later that day, Wilkie spoke to Howard's Chief of Staff, Arthur Sinodinos. Sinodinos gave the exscuse that is was probably an over zealous staff member who had leaked the story. Wilkie thought this was rubbish, especially seeing Sinodinos didn't show any sign of regret of apology.

'I have no doubt that Howard was in on the attempt to discredit me. It's well known to insiders that his office - and for that matter, his government's entire parliamentary machinery - is controlled too tightly by him personally and his senior staff for something so reckless to take place independently. The whole incident speaks volumes about the type of man Howard is.'

Does it what! What a coward, getting his henchmen (and presumably women too), to leak this sort of story, then feign not to know anything about it. And he's the prime minister of the country!

It's worth remembering that Mr Wilkie is currently experiencing grief with his campaign in Bennelong. Thugs have been vandalising his campaign posters and ripping them down. Even John Valder, former Liberal party president, said on the Sunday program that there is now a lot of thuggish behaviour in the Howard camp.

Another interesting episode in the attempt to discredit Wilkie is an ONA document that was leaked to the Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt. It was written by Wilkie about the possible negative humanitarian outcome if Iraq was invaded. It listed worse case scenarios, quite a few of which didn't come to pass. Bolt used this to discredit Wilkie's abilities and judgement.

What is so interesting about this episode is the fact that leaking ONA documents carries a possible prison sentence. Bolt has not been charged with anything. Nor has there been any interest in following the matter up. In the book Wilkie says that there are records that show the ONA report that was used in the Bolt article was requested by Alexander Downer only a few days before the article went to print. So who leaked it do you think? As I said, such a leak is a criminal offence and carries a jail term.

Axis of Deceit is a must read. It's written in a straight forward style and isn't cluttered with too much detail. This is the simple voice of truth. A conservative man, looking at serious issues with basic common sense.

I hope Andrew writes more books and contributes more to public life.

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