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Defence official admits he may have inadvertently leaked information about case for the war against Iraq.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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AM

 

Thursday 19 February 2004

Defence official admits he may have inadvertently leaked information about case for the war against Iraq

 

TONY EASTLEY: The Head of Australia's De fence Intelligence Organisation, Frank Lewincamp, has declared he was the source for a newspaper article which claimed Australia was told the Iraqi threat did not justify invasion. 

 

Mr Lewincamp says he inadvertently gave information to the journalist from the newspaper, but denies making some of the claims attributed to an "unnamed" senior official. 

 

The article sparked renewed debate about the justification for going to war against Iraq. 

 

The Head of the Defence Department says he considered action against Mr Lewincamp but instead decided to counsel him. 

 

Louise Yaxley reports. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Senators were astounded at Frank Lewincamp's revelation last night. 

 

FRANK LEWINCAMP: I believe that I am, at least in part, the official to whom Mark Forbes refers in his article in
The Age

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: In September, Mr Lewincamp addressed Masters students in strategic policy, including Mark Forbes, but it was on the basis that that speech not be reported. He's also had three other conversations with the journalist since. 

 

FRANK LEWINCAMP: I have never made and would not make some of the statements attributed to the official in Mr Forbes's 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. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Last night's admission ends an unprecedented chain of events. 

 

Late Monday the Head of the Office of National Assessments, Peter Varghese said the Federal Police could be called in to find the article's source. Early Tuesday, Mr Lewincamp went to see his boss, defence head, Ric Smith. 

 

Last night Labor's Robert Ray pursued the timing of that with Mr Smith. 

 

ROBERT RAY: Did you ask him why he hadn't informed you earlier? I mean, because we were asking questions about this, not in great detail, on the Monday. 

 

RIC SMITH: He, I think that during the day on Monday Mr Lewincamp and others were analysing the article. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: By 10am Tuesday, Ric Smith, Peter Varghese and Dennis Richardson from ASIO, met, considered asking the Inspector General of Intelligence to step in, but Mr Smith said they decided instead on counselling. 

 

RIC SMITH: What I counselled him about was the need for an officer in his position to be particularly cautious not to place himself at risk of being misquoted, misinterpreted, misunderstood. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Ray last night tried to determine which parts of Mark Forbes' story Frank Lewincamp thinks he did say. 

 

ROBERT RAY: The official also said a senior Cabinet minister questioned an intelligence agency in the lead up to the war, over why its assessments of Saddam's WMDs were not as gung ho as those of the US counterparts. 

 

The official, who was intimately involved in preparing the assessments, said "we have always told a consistent and reasonable story". 

 

Is there a denial that that was said? 

 

RIC SMITH: Mr Lewincamp has said that he doesn't have a transcript of what he said or didn't have a speech. He thinks he may have said that there were questions about, from the minister's office, about comparing the analysis of different agencies, but he said to me that in the absence of a transcript he can't remember whether he said that. He doesn't rule it out. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor also says the Defence Minister Robert Hill has questions to answer after this exchange. 

 

ROBERT RAY: He made comments about a senior Cabinet minister. I suppose that's you, is it Senator Hill, that it's meant to be? 

 

ROBERT HILL: Well we were discussing that the other night. The loop seems to have closed somewhat since then. 

 

ROBERT RAY: But you never said anything like that, did you? 

 

ROBERT HILL: For me to be inquisitive I think is not unusual. 

 

ROBERT RAY: I think there's a difference between inquisitive and asking why you aren't so gung ho. I mean it's a pretty nasty comment about you isn't it? 

 

ROBERT HILL: Well if I saw, well I don't know about the gung ho, but if I say differences in assessments about an issue as serious as this one, it wouldn't be unusual for me to be asking for an explanation. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The journalist has been instructed not to comment and the Editor of
The Age says the newspaper stands by the story and The Age neither confirms nor denies the identity of the source. 

 

TONY EASTLEY: Louise Yaxley reporting.