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DIO director believes he may have been source for an 'Age' article on pre-Iraq War intelligence.

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Wednesday 18 February 2004

DIO director believes he may have been source for an 'Age' article on pre-Iraq War intelligence


MARK COLVIN: There's been a significant development this evening in the story of Australia's use of pre Iraq war intelligence, the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation has outed himself as a source in an recent newspaper article. 


That article published in the Age newspaper last Saturday claimed that intelligence agencies had told the Federal Government in the weeks before the Iraq war that some of the Bush Administration's claims were exaggerated. 


The DIO head Frank Lewincamp told the Defence Estimates Committee in Parliament this evening that he believes he is at least in part the source of the story. But Mr Lewincamp claims that parts of the story were also incorrect. 


We are joined now by Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath 


Catherine, what has Mr Lewincamp been saying in his testimony this evening? 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, Mark, he was speaking to the defence estimates committee and it appears that Mr Lewincamp revealed that there has actually been an investigation by the Defence Department this week to see whether there had been a leak of material, whether there had been a security breach. 


It has been revealed now that Frank Lewincamp went to see the Chief of Defence Rick Smith to say that in this story by Mark Forbes that appeared in the Saturday Age there were statements there that he recognised and he appeared he may be in effect part of the source. 


Now, Rick Smith told the estimates committee then that he'd investigated and decided there had not been a breach. 


Mr Lewincamp outlined to the committee what had happened. He said that most of the material appeared to come from a seminar he gave at the Australian National University last year and Mark Forbes was at that seminar, and he said that the information given was under Chatham House rules, in effect that what was said there shouldn't be reported and he believes it was reported by Mr Forbes - that's his claim. 


He says part of the take that Mr Forbes took was incorrect, but in essence there's much in that story that he hasn't denied, Mark, and this is Frank Lewincamp, a short time ago, outlining his case. 


FRANK LEWINCAMP: The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House rule, there was a further injunction given clearly to the students, including Mr Forbes, both before and after my presentation that there be no attribution, citing or disclosure of any of the information presented. 


I have spoken to Mr Forbes on about four occasions since the seminar, most recently when he called me last Friday to say that an article about intelligence reporting on Iraq WMD would be appearing in the Age the next day. He did not tell me the content of the article. 


As to the content of Saturday's article, I have given testimony to this committee in June and November last year about the key judgements which DIO provided to government on the state of Iraqi WMD.  


There are similar statements in the article about a latent WMD capability able to be activated at short notice and the degree of weaponisation being unknown, but I have never made and would not make some of the statements attributed to the official in Mr Forbes article. 


For example, I have never said that the Bush administration's claims justifying an invasion were exaggerated, nor have I said that the Government was told that Iraq WMD did not pose an immediate threat. 


Overall, the article characterises these issues in ways in which I do not. There are judgements in there with which I disagree and views that I do not hold. 


MARK COLVIN: That's Frank Lewincamp, the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation, DIO. 


Catherine McGrath, is the reporter, the Melbourne Age reporter standing by his story? 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: He is, Mark. I spoke to him just before coming on air. It's interesting there we heard from Frank Lewincamp the parts of the story he did not agree with, but there are parts in the story that he has not denied, comments for example, attributed to the official, that last year Iraq did not have… the threat posed did not justify an invasion, Mark. 


MARK COLVIN: Catherine McGrath, our Chief Political Correspondent in Canberra.