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Axis of Deceit (book)
By Andrew Wilkie 

In March 2003, Andrew Wilkie resigned from Australia's senior intelligence agency, ONA, in protest over the looming Iraq war. He was the only serving Intelligence Officer from the Coalition of the Willing - the US, UK and Australia - to do so. The dramatic move was reported throughout the world.

From his public stand against Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq, to contesting John Howard's own seat in the 2004 federal election, Andrew Wilkie has quickly become a household name. But who is Andrew Wilkie, and why is he willing to risk his career, his reputation and his own personal safety to tell Australia the truth?

 In Axis of Deceit, Wilkie looks at how the case for war was made in Washington, London and Canberra. With unique insight, he explains how the three governments routinely skewed, spun and fabricated the relevant intelligence.

Axis of Deceit is also the story of a whistleblower: how an act of conscience put an intelligence officer on a collision course with his country's government. Wilkie also offers some of the most up-to-date insights available into the world of international intelligence and life as a spook.

* * * 

Axis of Deceit
Review of Andrew Wilkie's book
June 26, 2004 

Andrew Wilkie, the intelligence analyst who caused the Government so much grief when he resigned on the eve of the Iraq War, was in many ways the most unlikely of whistleblowers.

From a conservative, rural family with a long and proud history of military service, Wilkie went to the Royal Military College at Duntroon as soon as he completed high school. As a high-spirited army cadet, he took great pleasure in a night-time raid to trash the permanent protest site of the anti-nuclear movement outside Old Parliament House.

Twenty or so years later, after a long military - and shorter intelligence - career, Wilkie is now a member of the Greens, what passes for the radical left of Australia's parliamentary system, and standing for election against a conservative Prime Minister, John Howard.

His book, Axis of Deceit, touches on this transformation but, aside from scattered vignettes and the prologue, focuses more on policy than on the personal.

This was the somewhat disappointing aspect of a book that is otherwise a clear-eyed and persuasive treatise on how the coalition of the willing conned the public about its motives for war and exaggerated and manipulated the intelligence it received.

Wilkie had a unique perspective, serving in the lead-up to the Iraq War as a senior analyst at the Office of National Assessments (ONA), with access to most of the intelligence on Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

First of all, Wilkie knew what the real reason for war was - a strategic play to insert a favourable government in the Middle East and create a new ally that would allow the US to rely less on Saudi Arabia for its oil and political support. Indeed, this view was regularly relayed to the Australian government as ONA also produced a "prolific" amount of assessments on the US and its motivations toward Iraq.

So Wilkie watched with growing disgust as a case for war was mounted on what he considered completely spurious reasons - that Saddam Hussein, with his alleged links to terrorists and his alleged WMD, represented a serious threat to international security.

Wilkie, in fact, believed incorrectly that Saddam did have WMD, although not in any substantial quantities.

Nonetheless, he tells how he and some of his ONA colleagues watched with disbelief as the US and Britain produced increasingly alarming evidence of Saddam's chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and nuclear ambitions. Much of it was parroted by Australian political leaders, always directly citing the overseas source of the information but without conveying the deep reservations that the Australian intelligence community had about its veracity.

Wilkie, perhaps unsurprisingly, lays most blame for the deception at the feet of the Howard Government rather than on the intelligence services themselves. Still, some of the most interesting passages of Axis of Deceit deal with how the intelligence agencies operate and how they have become politicised.

According to Wilkie, a conformist and conservative culture predominates and those who rise to senior positions are those who "play the game". Wilkie also provides an intriguing account of one facet of this politicisation, the briefing of opposition leaders by ONA officers. Such briefings are rare, and highly coveted by oppositions, but "only material that supports the government's position is allowed to be conveyed", says Wilkie.

This was particularly the case in an "unbalanced" briefing given to then Opposition leader Simon Crean about Iraq's WMD. (To this day, John Howard defends the absence of WMD in Iraq by saying Labor also believed Saddam had WMD.)

Another example of politicisation given by Wilkie was the decision by the former director-general of ONA, Kim Jones, to send back an analysis that Wilkie compiled, which found that Afghanistan remained in a state of violent chaos and asylum-seekers should not be returned there.

In many respects, the most fascinating part of the book is the chapter "Life on the Inside", where Wilkie gives readers a glimpse of what it was like to work in intelligence. Each working day, Wilkie would have to stand in a Star Trek-style plastic tube to be scanned before entering the ONA building. His attempt to join Australia's most secretive spy service, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, offers compelling insights even after reams of information were culled by Federal Government censors.

Axis of Deceit is a comprehensive, well-researched and cogent critique. For a concise summation of the core issues, the major deceptions and the failings of the intelligence community and governments in the lead-up to the Iraq War, readers could do a lot worse.

And for those considering a career in the intelligence services, it's a must-read on the foibles, eccentricities and demands of agencies that naturally have a certain glamorous cachet but, in reality, can be dispiriting and tedious places of employment.

Tom Allard is the Herald's defence and foreign affairs writer.


Senior intelligence officer, Andrew Wilkie, resigns in protest
AM Archive - Wednesday, 12 March , 2003  08:00:15
Reporter: Catherine McGrath

This is a transcript from AM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 08:00 on ABC Local Radio.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Unable, he says, to sit and watch in silence as Australia drifts towards war with Iraq, Andrew Wilkie, a senior Australian intelligence officer is this morning jobless at his own hand, after his resignation in protest against the Howard Government's position.

He says he hopes his public comments will help open debate on the proposed war, which, on the basis of his work at the Office of National Assessments, he says could end in a military or humanitarian disaster, pushing Saddam Hussein, he says, towards the terrorist groups which the world now so fears.

Mr Wilkie also asserts that war is not about the fight against those groups, but rather about US politics.

Andrew Wilkie's credentials put him firmly in the camp of the establishment. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Australian Army, a Duntroon graduate who spent nearly 20 years in the infantry, before moving to the Office of National Assessments as a civilian, and that underscores the broad community base from which war opposition continues to come.

So does he expect to be vilified for his stance, a question our Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath, put to Mr Wilkie in Canberra last night.

ANDREW WILKIE: ONA's statement to the media yesterday, I think has tried to play down my access to information on the Iraq issue, as I would have expected them to do, and I would expect that sort of management of the issue to continue from within Government.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: You believe this war is bad policy, why?

ANDREW WILKIE: In essence, Catherine, I think that invading Iraq at this time would be wrong. For a start, Iraq does not pose a security threat to any other country at this point in time. Its military is very weak, it's a fraction of the size of the military at the time of the invasion of Kuwait. Its weapons of mass destruction program is very disjointed and contained by the regime that's been in place since the last Gulf War. And there is no hard intelligence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda in any substantial or worrisome way.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now this gets to the key of the problem for the Government with you going public yesterday, because Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, has emphasised this week, but has emphasised for months and months, the link between terrorism and Iraq, his belief that weapons of mass destruction will pass from Iraq to terrorist groups if Saddam Hussein is not stopped. Now you're saying that is completely untrue?

ANDREW WILKIE: What I'm saying, Catherine, is that the Iraq problem is unrelated to the war on terror, it's more related to US-Iraq bilateral relations, US domestic politics, the issue of US credibility and so on. It's unrelated to the war on terror and yes, Iraq as rogue state should worry us as a potential source of weapons to terrorists, but there are other ways to manage that risk.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: So do you believe containment of Saddam Hussein is possible, rather than military action?

ANDREW WILKIE: Yes. I think there should be more time allowed for a, a better, more developed strategy of containment to see how it goes. I mean, it may well be that we have to go to war against Iraq eventually, but we should be exploring better inspections and so on, before we go to that last resort.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: In terms of weapons of mass destruction, do you believe that if war goes ahead, it's more likely those weapons will end up in the hands of terrorist groups?

ANDREW WILKIE: What worries me is that a war, an invasion, is the option that's most likely to prompt Saddam to do exactly what we're trying to prevent. A war is what is most likely to force him to act recklessly, to possibly use weapons of mass destruction himself and to possibly play a terrorism card.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: If war goes ahead, if next week Australia is at war as part of this military coalition led by the United States, how do you think at the moment things are going to play out?

ANDREW WILKIE: A war at this time is just not worth the risk. I think there is too great a risk of a military or humanitarian disaster and I think there's a real risk that a war now will further inflame popular anti-western opinion in the Middle East and push Saddam closer towards al-Qaeda, and push us all just that little bit closer to the so-called, clash of civilisations, that we've so far managed to stay well clear of.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Former Office of National Assessments intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie, speaking to our Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath, in Canberra.