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Downer defends SMS intelligence release -

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Broadcast: 13/09/2004

Downer defends SMS intelligence release

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, joining us now from Adelaide, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Thanks for joining us Mr Downer.


TONY JONES: How did a third-hand rumour from an Australian businessman about a bomb warning to
Indonesian police get repeated by the Prime Minister and yourself as if it were hard intelligence?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm a little surprised the Labor Party's started to attack the Government
about this, because what we normally do whenever we can, particularly in a circumstance like this,
is pass on information to the public about intelligence that we have.

I mean, for example in my particular case, at a press conference I was asked a simple question -
what intelligence did we have in relation to the bomb blasts - and I passed that on.

TONY JONES: This was not intelligence, was it, as it turns out?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, as it turns out, is down the track.

What we knew then, I'd been briefed by commissioner Keelty and the Prime Minister had been briefed.

I think even the Opposition leader had been briefed.

We pass on the information as we have it.

Let me put this into some perspective.

We produce, as you well know and we've discussed this on this program often before, a large number
of travel advisories.

Now a lot of information we have comes from intelligence that leads to the changing of our travel

It's not as if Mr Latham demands so-called established fact.

Mr Latham demonstrates his inexperience here.

If we were to apply the policy he announced today, that all information passed on must be
established fact, that would destroy the integrity of our travel advisory system.

We have to take seriously information that we get and pass it on to the public in the interests of

And the interests, in this case, the integrity of our travel advisory system.

TONY JONES: Did Mr Keelty agree that this information should be passed on to the public because he
seems to be in grave doubt about it even on the very evening that you pass this information to the

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, he didn't have any problem at all.

Remember, to put this again into some perspective for you - when I in answer to a question what
intelligence did we have and explained what intelligence we had, which was two pieces, Mr Keelty
was standing beside me.

I asked him to supplement my answer in relation to the SMS message.

I must admit, this would have to be close to the first time I've ever been asked by the media why
we have produced information.

Normally they ask us why we won't produce information.

TONY JONES: It actually raises the question as to whether the Government has been loose with the
truth about intelligence?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I didn't think it does.

Nobody's suggesting that at all.

Mr Keelty himself was talking about this information which we got from the Federal Police.

Put that into perspective -

TONY JONES: Did he explain to you, when you got the information, that this was third-hand gossip
from an Australian businessman that there was no credibility necessarily to be attached to it?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, he didn't put it that way at all.

He said that we had this information, that the police were investigating it and, you know - this is
a bit of a discussion -

TONY JONES: It is a bit confusing as to why he is saying that now.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Because several days later he has more information.

Can I just make this point - this is a bit of an argument over, if I could say this in relation to
Mr Latham, experience versus inexperience.

We can't just have complete and perfect corroboration of every piece of information that we put out
before we put it out.

Otherwise, we will not put out a large amount of information, some of which might endanger people's

In this particular case, that information could have been useful to an inquiry, it was pursued
fairly rigorously by the Australian Federal Police and now several days later they've cast more
light on the information.

That's all right by us.

I mean, I just think it's right to be transparent and up-front.

It's wrong for people to suggest the Government shouldn't pass on information.

TONY JONES: Can you say absolutely then that Mr Keelty told you that there was no doubt at all
about this information which you were about to put out as hard fact?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Dear me, I can tell you that Mr Keelty told me about the information.

It was information provided to the Prime Minister in a briefing and to the Leader of the Opposition
and when I was asked about a question about what intelligence we had I gave two pieces of
intelligence that we had.

I only had those two and I passed on those two piece of intelligence.

How the media treats these things, what they do with them, is a matter entirely beyond my control.

For all the allegations that have been made against our Government over the last eight-and-a-half
years, it's the first time I think we've ever been criticised for passing on information that's
been given to us.

TONY JONES: It's been suggested that this was something to do with a Madrid protocol, that in the
light of the Madrid bombing and what the Spanish Government told its people, that you would now put
out more information.

Is that correct?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I've never heard of the Madrid protocol, but I've certainly heard of the Madrid
bombings and in relation to Madrid, there were allegations made against the former Spanish
Government that they didn't put out sufficient information, that they covered up and didn't pass on
information to the public.

I would have thought that if that were true - I'm not saying it is - but if that were true then
they would be roundly criticised for that and we've done the reverse, have been frank and passed on
information as it's come available us to.

We considered it carefully and we passed on it.

Passed it on in a context, thought, where we passed on other information, too, about intelligence
we had.

The most germaine of which was the intelligence we had about possible attack on Western or
Western-style hotels.

TONY JONES: Can you assure us that you didn't float this explanation, because it linked the bombing
not to Iraq but to the imprisonment of Abu Bakar Bashir?


I can do that.

I can do better than that.

I can say to you in relation to this argument, which, you know, some elements of the political
left, particularly the Labor Party, like to push, about Iraq and the bombing, that the
organisations behind these bombing, Jemaah Islamiah, Al Qaida, these are not organisations which
were set up in response to Iraq.

These were organisations set up some time ago and their objectives are very clear.

They want to drive Westerners out of the Islamic world and they want to overthrow moderate Islamic
Governments and replace them with extremist Taliban-style dictatorships.

That's what drives these organisations, not Iraq or to that matter, not Palestine and Israel or the
Israelis building a wall or whatever issue may be raised.

Its crucially important in this whole debate about terrorism to focus not just on the ephemeral
issue of the the day but what the terrorists electoral objectives really are.

That is absolutely crucial to understanding this issue.

TONY JONES: Would you agree with the statement that there's no doubt the terrorists will attempt to
attack coalition countries if they see they can get other coalition countries to pull out of Iraq?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, of course, this is an argument which is based on the attack in Madrid and
the proposition being put forward that by attacking the Spanish at that time, that led to a change
in the outcome to the Spanish election result.

Look, this latest attack that has taken place against the Australian Embassy we have no information
that it's linked to the Australian election or, for that matter by the way, to the slightly more
imminent Indonesian election.

We have no information to that effect.

So, you know, these kinds of propositions that are put forward are hypotheses.

TONY JONES: That hypothesis was put forward by the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, three
days ago.

He went on to say that terrorists know that some of these countries are having elections, they're
not stupid, they're smart, they've got brains, they think about it and they watch what Spain did.

They're going to go after coalition countries he says, do you think he's right?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, what I think is that in any case whether he's right or wrong - and we'll
just have to wait and see as time goes on - but around the world - in the long term we'll be in a
better position to be able to make a judgment about whether he's right or wrong, but what I do
know, is that the last thing that Western countries should do is show weakness and defeatism in the
face of terrorism.

It is the last thing they should do.

The problem we have in this country is that Mr Latham's cut-and-run policy from Iraq inevitably
gives comfort to terrorists who want to drive Western forces and of course some of them are from
East Asia and elsewhere, foreign forces, providing assistance to the Iraqi police and the military
at this time.

The terrorists want to drive those terrorists out because they want to overthrow the incoming
moderate government in Iraq.

So we don't want to give any comfort to those people at all and it's wrong to give those sorts of
people any comfort, either intentionally or unintentionally, and this cut-and-run policy, pull the
troops out by Christmas, provides precisely the wrong message to the international community.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer, you are sort of having it both ways aren't you?

You're suggesting that the Labor Party may in fact encourage terrorists but at the same time you're
saying there's no way that terrorists might be influenced by Australia's involvement in Iraq, but
if Mr Rumsfeld is right, Australia's involvement in Iraq can't be taken out of the equation, can

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm making, I would have thought, a crystal clear point.

That is, that on the one hand I don't have any evidence that this attack on the Australian embassy
in Jakarta is related to the fact we're having an election.

I'll be frank with you - I have no evidence that that is the case at all.

I'm making a separate point which is that there are terrorists who are very active in Iraq today, I
think we all know that, and one of their key objectives is to drive out the international troops
that are there providing support to the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police.

They have been trying to drive them out through all sorts of different methods that we've seen.

For Australia, as one of the key countries that was in the so-called coalition of the willing,
suddenly to put up its hand and say, "Haven't we got a great idea, we're going to cut and run by
Christmas," that will be something warmly welcomed by the terrorists.

That's not to say they're going to attack us because of that, but it is to say that that policy is
something which will give comfort to those people.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer when in Iraq you were also asked to comment on a statement on an Islamist
website which claimed that Jemaah Islamiah had bombed the embassy because Australian troops were in

You said you were having that website examined by intelligence people.

What's the result of their examination?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm not sure what conclusion they've reached.

I think there was initially a view of some scepticism about that expressed to me by ASIO, but I'm
not sure whether - I'll have to check because I'm not sure whether they still hold that view.

In other words, whether that site is credible or whether it's not.

There is an argument which goes that Jemaah Islamiah don't typically make statements either before
or after attacks have taken place, but, of course, that is what has happened in the past.

That's not necessarily what will be the case in this instance.

I think I'll -

TONY JONES: Isn't it critical to find out whether this website is credible or not because it's
saying we advise the Australian Government to withdraw our troops from Iraq if our demand is not
satisfied we will deal them painful blows.

It's saying the embassy bombing was one of those blows.

In other words, it's linked to Iraq.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We've had all sorts of threats made to us, some of which are credible and many of
which are not.

But it is being investigated and I don't have the latest information on it today.

I didn't hear anything further on it today.

TONY JONES: All right, we'll have to leave it there for now.

Alexander Downer, we thank you once again for joining us tonight.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's always a pleasure.