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Minister appoints Major General Maurie McNarn appointed head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

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Tuesday 14 December 2004

Minister appoints Major General Maurie McNarn appointed head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation


MARK COLVIN: There's a new face at the top i n one of Australia's key intelligence roles. Major General Maurie McNarn, who commanded Australia's troops in the Iraq War, is to be the new head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the DIO. It ends a five-year reign in the job for Frank Lewincamp. 


The Defence Minister Robert Hill made the appointment in line with recommendations in the Flood report into the country's intelligence agencies. The organisation, the DIO will now be expected to focus more closely on military and defence threats, rather than broader political and economic analysis.  


From Canberra, Greg Jennett reports. 


GREG JENNETT: With 300 staff, including 160 intelligence analysts, producing 3,000 reports, on a budget of $53 million, the Defence Intelligence Organisation is one of the bigger empires in Canberra's intelligence community. 


Under the civilian leadership of Frank Lewincamp, the DIO has also suffered an identity crisis, attracting criticism in defence circles that it's wandering too far from its original brief to provide intelligence on military matters and venturing into broader assessments of political and economic developments in foreign countries. 


The Flood report into Australia's intelligence agencies gave a road map for refocussing the DIO's work. Frank Lewincamp started to set those changes in place, but now, the Defence Minister Robert Hill has decided that after more than five years, Mr Lewincamp must move on, to be replaced by senior military commander, Major General Maurie McNarn. 


ROBERT HILL: Defence Intelligence Organisations of the same type as DIO throughout the world are generally led by a military officer. We, in this country say that the best person should have the job, whether they are in uniform or not. And in the selection of General McNarn, I'm pleased to say the Secretary and CDF advised, that not only he was in uniform, but he was also the best candidate. 


GREG JENNETT: Under Major-General McNarn, it's expected that the DIO will revert to producing strictly defence-related analysis and employing more uniformed intelligence officers. But standing shoulder to shoulder with his Minister for the announcement of his appointment, Maurie McNarn was not about to start publicly flagging any changes. 


MAURIE MCNARN: No, nothing in particular. The Flood report recommendations have already been commenced. Frank Lewincamp and his team have got them well underway. And I'd see my job as continuing those. It's a good organisation - I've worked with it closely over the years. The people that I work with there are dedicated and professional and I think it's going to be an interesting time. 


GREG JENNETT: Frank Lewincamp's departure has been widely anticipated in the intelligence community, not only because he didn't fit into Philip Flood's preference for a uniformed officer to lead the DIO, but also because he's become something of a controversial figure. 


Under Mr Lewincamp, the DIO has been widely praised for taking a more sceptical line about the state of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction in the lead-up to war, but there've been embarrassments too - like being publicly admonished by the Defence Department Secretary Ric Smith in February this year after comments Frank Lewincamp made to a university seminar were reported by the Age newspaper.  


The DIO director later denied he'd ever said that the threat posed by Iraq's WMD program wasn't great enough to justify invasion, but Secretary Smith told a Senate Inquiry Mr Lewincamp needed to be more careful. 


RIC SMITH: I therefore counselled Mr Lewincamp in regard to his responsibilities and specifically about the risks of placing himself in situations in which the basis on which he is speaking might not be clear, or on which there are risks of him being misunderstood, misinterpreted or misreported. 


GREG JENNETT: Almost from the time he took up the job in 1999, Frank Lewincamp has also been embroiled in a feud with the Army's top intelligence officer in East Timor, Lance Collins.  


Only last week it was revealed that the DIO did deliberately cut off top-secret intelligence to troops in East Timor in late 1999 as Lance Collins has insisted. Mr Lewincamp didn't order that to happen, but as Labor's Defence Spokesman Robert McClelland points out, he leaves before anyone finds out who was responsible. 


ROBERT MCCLELLAND: We do know as a result of that report that there is going to be internal disciplinary action within the Defence Intelligence Organisation - that was suggested in the Minister's statement.  


But we don't know who is being disciplined, what they're being disciplined about and nor do we know whether those events - the suggestions of internal discipline have flowed over to the decision to move Mr Lewincamp away from the Defence Intelligence Organisation.  


GREG JENNETT: Major General Maurie McNarn will take up his post as DIO Director towards the end of January. 


MARK COLVIN: Greg Jennett.