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Submarines And Leaks: An Unhealthy Combination…

Well, at least the leak was in the White Paper and not in the submarines themselves…

As I’ve pointed out before, I read an interesting book called “Spy The Lie” by three former intelligence officers which gave some pointers on how to tell when people are lying. While it’s tempting to tell you that it’s easy with politicians – their lips are moving – that would be a cheap shot, and I’m not the sort of person who goes in for sniping and making fun of politicians.

“Is that true, Mr Brisbane?”
(At this point, I have the choice of lying or doing one of the many things that people do when confronted with a difficult question. I pick the latter!)
“I have spent many years of my life working in education and if there’s one thing that’s taught me it’s that sniping and making snide comments is rarely ever helpful.”
(Lots of people would take that as a denial and leave it at that, however, if you’re interrogating someone you need to actually get them to answer the question.)
“So you’re saying that you’ve never made fun of a politician?”
(Tactic number one didn’t work, so tactic number two)
“Look I can’t really comment at the moment, but when the truth comes out, I think you’ll find that I’m completely vindicated.”
(In political or public relations situations, this one is very good, but if one is being interrogated by the police or security forces, I imagine that it’s a lot less successful)

Anyway, you get the idea. Even people who are prepared to lie tend to avoid it at first. So whenever the media talk about denials from various public figures, I’m always tempted to look at what they actually said. Without naming names here, I remember a person saying that whoever had done this was no friend of the xxx (the organisation to which the person belonged). While the media took that as a denial that he was the leaker, I regarded the statement as something akin to a confession.

So with the leaking of the Defence White Paper, I thought it might be instructive to look at what various people said. While it would be wrong to draw any definite conclusions, it’s always what’s not said – or not asked – that’s the interesting bit. I mean we all know that when a potential challenger says that he or she is not counting the numbers, they’re telling the truth; occasionally, a journalist may think to ask if they persuaded anyone else to count them but it’s a pointless question because we all know the answer: the leader has his or her full support, and if there are no further questions, the interviewee is going to be leaving. Actually, the interviewee is probably going to be leaving even if there are further questions.

Let’s examine what the suspects have actually stated.

First, let’s look at what Tony said:

“I don’t leak, I don’t background. If I’ve got something to say, I say it.”

Notes: Ok, direct denial. But I do notice that he issued a statement rather than waiting to be asked about it. That way nobody could ask him if he knew who did leak it.

Next Kevin Andrews:

Interestingly, a quick internet search – about twenty minutes – hasn’t given me more than a reporter’s opinion that his denial was vague.

Thirdly, Peta Credlin:

The only thing I could find was a couple of paragraphs in “The West Australian” where she told them she did not give journalist Greg Sheridan the documents and it then quoted her directly saying:

“No. I didn’t remove any defence documents from the PMO. None.”

Notes: Interestingly she didn’t say that she didn’t pass on any defence documents that someone else removed from the Prime Minister’s Office. Neither did she say that she didn’t pass them on to another journalist; the paper only reported that she didn’t hand them on to Abbott’s buddy, Greg Sheridan.

Finally, Christopher Pyne:

Well, he may not be in the frame but I figured that I had to include him so that we could repeat that wonderful headline from “The Australian”:

Tony Abbott not leaking on submarines, Christopher Pyne

But Pyne did go on to say that he wouldn’t assume that it was Tony. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked if that meant that there was someone else who hated to Turnbull enough to release a classified document.

Now, if this was one of those British TV shows, where the police always gather all the suspects in the one place, before the detective goes through all the clues one by one and goes on to tell us why some were merely red herrings and that the only reason that Cyndy was lying was to cover up her affair and that even though she had a motive and no alibi, in fact, the murderer was Desmond who was jealous at being passed over for promotion by the victim and he cleverly made it look the murder had taken place at ten past nine instead of the actual time giving him a watertight alibi, then we’d at least get to find out who did it and it’d be the least likely suspect. In this case, that’d make Pyne the leaker, but I suspect that this one of the few times that he wasn’t responsible. (Oh, by few times, I’m talking about when compared to British TV shows… I’m not suggesting that Christopher would ever leak anything to a journalist, just in case that’s confusing. My sources tell me that – even after a few drinks – Pyne is the soul of discretion.)

Unfortunately, it’s not a TV show, so it’s highly unlikely that the culprit will be found and we’ll just have to speculate.

However, given this is a national security matter and the material was classified, couldn’t they use all this metadata that the companies are meant to be keeping?


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  1. Jan Dobson

    I laughed at this. Not just because some of the points were made with a humorous bent, but if I don’t laugh I might scream, pull my hair and generally behave like an ungracious, ousted politician.

    Once upon a time, even though I may have disliked the Prime Minister, I could consider that the party in power, and the opposition, had the best interests of the country and all people in mind. Mostly. And I knew if either of the major parties skewed a little too left or too right, the next election would correct the problem.

    Now, it seems, we’ve delegated our responsibilities to totally improvident, self serving bores. We’ve allowed someone who would jeopardise national security for personal political gain into the highest reaches of government. Well done, us.

  2. jim

    IMOO Abbott is simply to stupid to know the truth about anything and he’d forget it if he was told, you… you…err… you bet he needs a suppository err……um..

  3. Terry2

    I made the observation the other day, that as this confidential report had very limited circulation the AFP could just ask the usual suspects – starting alphabetically, Abbott, Abetz, Andrews – to execute a statutory declaration to the effect that they were not the leakers.

    Any falsehoods subsequently uncovered would lead to a prosecution and possible jail sentence of up to four years : Statutory Declarations Act 1959 s.11..

    Our Constitution (s. 44(ii)) would thus make it impossible for any politician to serve as a conviction with a sentence of 12 month or more, whether suspended or served would disqualify them.

  4. Matters Not

    David Bruce, your link is a good one. It seems to me that the use of drones is in its infancy, with the real possibility that they will take over many of the roles now filled by much more expensive fighter jets and the like. The downside is that they don’t offer the same photo opportunities. Why they don’t even have a cockpit. ?

    As for:

    this confidential report had very limited circulation

    True enough. But that shouldn’t be taken to mean that the limited circulation equates with the number of copies now, or at least ‘once’, in circulation. *Bo doubt many of the unauthorised copies would have been collected and destroyed) Take Abbott as an example. He would have received ‘a’ copy which in all probability would have been re-copied within his office so that his advisors could read it also. (His own work ethic is somewhat lacking).

    Multiply this by the very limited number who were or are members of this committee and five(?) authorised copies rapidly becomes 15 and if you add the number of public servants with access, the number balloons. The ‘leaker’ never leaks directly (that would be stupid) but uses at least one intermediary who seems to have no connections with the ‘leaker’ and are unlikely to be suspected and therefore not questioned. In all probability there was no written leak involved (no need and that could be ‘found’). No the leak was probably ‘verbal’ and well away from recording devices and well away from ‘prying eyes’.

    The ‘leaker’ would have no trouble signing a statutory declaration because it wasn’t him (or her).

    While it’s possibly true that each official copy is numbered or encrypted in some way, without a ‘leaked’ document there is no ‘evidence’. Suspicion would be all they have.

  5. PressOff.

    Thank you for drawing attention to the appalling standard of questioning by the media at pressers. There are rarely, if ever, any follow up questions since every media person there is struggling to get their own face or voice into frame therefore justifying their continued employment. So pollies play the hacks like violins.

  6. gangey1959

    Just looking at the newspaper front page.
    Rule 303, mr rabbott. You asked for it………

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