When former foreign minister Bob Carr published his diary in April, he launched himself into the struggle over what should remain a government secret and what should be revealed to the public.
Carr, who worked as a journalist with the now defunct Bulletin magazine, delighted in flourishing his Media Alliance membership card at press conferences, seemingly to impress reporters. But it seems Carr has been stuck somewhere between his journalistic desire to reveal information and his legal obligation as a former foreign minister to keep secrets.
Unlike Kevin Rudd – who as foreign minister had offered WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange support, dismissing a suggestion by the then attorney general that Assange's Australian passport may be taken away – Carr was openly hostile towards Assange. He took a deeply antagonistic stand against Assange being described as a journalist and went so far as to say that Assange's work was 'amoral'.
He even boasted in his recently published diaries that he'd been deliberately misleading about his handling of Assange's calls for diplomatic representation by the Australian Government. Carr says he was 'fed up' with Assange's supporters saying he hadn't done enough. Carr writes that he convened a press conference to tell the gathered media that Assange had received more consular support than 'any other Australian', but then suggests it didn't matter whether this statement was factually correct. It was, Carr writes, 'a broad healthy truth that I don't think anyone could disprove'.
Carr joined the chorus of politicians lining up to whack Assange, but it is Carr who is now suffering the very criticism hurled at the Wikileaks editor-in-chief — that he may have endangered security operations.
Carr tells of meeting with an official from Oman, Salem Ben Nasser Al Ismaily, in June 2012, who he suspects is 'more than Oman's trade adviser, his putative role'. Carr writes that he asked Ismaily for help with the Taylor case (Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, accused of spying in Libya) and was told that Oman had people 'on the ground' in Libya and 'referred to our (Australia's) liaison officer in UAE', the United Arab Emirates. Carr writes:
Liaison officer? Our Ambassador said to me, 'That would be the other agency you're responsible for.' Right.
The Australian Secret and Intelligence Service (ASIS) is the 'other' agency within the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
The US was also reportedly not impressed that Carr detailed 'a cable based on CIA sources' with a profile of the Zintan militia fighters holding Ms Taylor prisoner. 'This criticism would be preposterous if it were not so comic,' Carr told the Fairfax media, and blamed 'espionage antics' for causing much greater damage in recent times with Indonesia. 'I refer to the alleged decision to record the phone calls of the Indonesian president and his family...I'd like to know where the genius lay in the decision to target trade deals and pass information to the US.'
So Carr attacks Assange and then falls back on the work of whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose cache of US documents revealed the Australian spying on Indonesia, to defend himself. Carr's moral position, if nothing else, has entered what former CIA Counter Terrorism head James Jesus Angleton called 'the wilderness of mirrors'.
Carr disclosed information which could hardly be described as harmful. The fact that Australia has an ASIS officer stationed in the UAE is unsurprising. Yet according to The Age newspaper, Australia's spy agencies believe he may have broken the law by providing information about ASIS. This raises the argument that lives may have been put at risk, the same argument which has been run against Assange and WikiLeaks and recently in the Financial Review against Snowden with absolutely no evidence ever being produced that anyone has ever been harmed.
It is possible that Carr feels, as many journalists do, that Assange does not belong and that he is an interloper. It is also possible that he is merely continuing the attack on Assange started by the person who appointed him as foreign minister – former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Gillard made a famously erroneous statement that WikiLeaks' leaks of US State Department documents had been an illegal act. Gillard had much for which to detest Assange. The WikiLeaks documents revealed detailed briefings given by her supporters to US embassy officers in Canberra about the planned coup to topple Kevin Rudd.
Carr is now being called to account for his revelatory prose, and he is protesting in the same way Assange protested. Assange was motivated by a belief that the public had a right to know much that governments kept secret. Carr has similar motivations. They should see themselves as journalistic brothers in arms.
Photo by Flickr user DFAT.