Australia — Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on WikiLeaks, North Korea

FRAN KELLY: As we heard ear­li­er, the US Sec­re­tary of State, Hillary Clin­ton, has described the leak of con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments by Wik­iLeaks as a seri­ous crime, and has vowed to pur­sue the per­pe­tra­tors.
She said ear­li­er that it “puts peo­ples’ lives in dan­ger, threat­ens nation­al secu­ri­ty, and under­mines our efforts to work with oth­er coun­tries to solve shared prob­lems”.
It’s not clear what Aus­tralian cor­re­spon­dence will come to light with these leaks. We do know there are a quar­ter of a mil­lion clas­si­fied doc­u­ments though, and around 1,500 men­tion Aus­tralia in some shape or form.

Most of them are cables from the US Embassy in Canberra.

The Fed­er­al Police have been called in to inves­ti­gate, and the Gillard Gov­ern­ment has com­mis­sioned a whole of Gov­ern­ment task­force to see what can be done to try and reduce the impact of these leaks.

Stephen Smith is the Defence Min­is­ter, he joins us in our Par­lia­ment House stu­dio. Min­is­ter, good morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: The US Ambas­sador, Jef­fery Ble­ich, has briefed the Gov­ern­ment on what to expect from the pub­li­ca­tion of the cables. How bad is it?

STEPHEN SMITH: The Ambas­sador gave me, For­eign Min­is­ter Rudd and the Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, Mr McClel­land, the cour­tesy of let­ting us know at the end of last week that this was in prospect, and we’re now going through the painstak­ing job of search­ing all of the cables that are and pro­posed to be released to ensure that Australia’s nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests have not been adverse­ly impact­ed upon.

This is the third round of Wik­iLeaks that we’ve seen. The two ear­li­er rounds have been much more direct­ly in my own patch, but these ones are a much wider round, cov­er­ing as they do US cables. So we just have to go through that painstak­ing process of exam­in­ing each of the cables as they come to light.

FRAN KELLY: One of the cables appar­ent­ly refers to Aus­tralia and says, “rock sol­id part­ners like Aus­tralia, don’t pack enough punch to step out in front, and the UN is a non-play­er. It falls to the US once again”. 

That’s a bit insult­ing, isn’t it? What hap­pened to our sort of mid­dle pow­er kind of push there?

STEPHEN SMITH: When it comes to diplo­mat­ic cables, I think there are a num­ber of points that need to be made. First­ly, when they are released, you do have to be care­ful to ensure that there’s no adverse impact to a gen­er­al nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­est, but also the release of such cables can put peo­ple at risk, includ­ing the diplo­mats them­selves. So that’s our gen­er­al start­ing point…

FRAN KELLY: But is that their view of Aus­tralia? And is that the view expressed to you behind closed doors, that Aus­tralia real­ly does­n’t pack much punch?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, well the sec­ond point I was about to make is, of course, these are indi­vid­ual cables by indi­vid­ual diplo­mats, and you can’t take a pin prick from an indi­vid­ual cable to get a gen­er­al assessment. 

The cable to which you’re refer­ring is an indi­vid­ual diplomat’s view about cir­cum­stances in Zim­bab­we. Now Aus­tralia has been, as a Com­mon­wealth coun­try, at the fore­front in Zim­bab­we, but every­one knows that Zim­bab­we, with Pres­i­dent Mugabe, is very, very dif­fi­cult. There’s no mag­ic solu­tion there. 

But when I have con­ver­sa­tions with my coun­ter­parts, whether it is Sec­re­tary of Defence Gates, or whether it’s Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton, Aus­tralia is held in very high regard for the role that we play internationally.

FRAN KELLY: Anoth­er cable appar­ent­ly express­es con­cerns about Aus­tralian cit­i­zens who’ve gone miss­ing, or dis­ap­peared and they’ve end­ed up on US ter­ror­ist watch lists as a result, because they’ve dis­ap­peared in the Mid­dle East. Can you con­firm this? Do we know about this? Is this a con­cern for Aus­tralia? STEPHEN SMITH: First­ly, I’m not going to get into a run­ning com­men­tary, cable by cable, that’s the first point. 

Sec­ond­ly, more to the point that I made ear­li­er, it is the poten­tial that very many of these cables go to not just diplo­mat­ic report­ing, but also to either intel­li­gence mat­ters, or to secu­ri­ty mat­ters, or to oper­a­tional mat­ters, and that is the very grave risk here. 

In the two ear­li­er batch­es of Wik­iLeaks releas­es, which dealt with effec­tive­ly Iraq and Afghanistan, we had to, and in the case of the Afghanistan leaks, are still going through the process, had to go through a painstak­ing process of ensur­ing that peo­ple weren’t placed at risk, or that our oper­a­tions or our nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests weren’t prej­u­diced. And we need to do the same thing here. 

Now it’s also the case, because you’re deal­ing with hun­dreds of thou­sands of indi­vid­ual cables, that there will be ref­er­ences in those cables which peo­ple regard as either a sala­cious com­ment on an indi­vid­ual, or voyeuris­tic, one expres­sion I’ve heard on the ABC itself this morn­ing. Those com­ments always need to be kept in per­spec­tive. But from our point of view, our start­ing point here is very calm, method­i­cal, tra­vers­ing through the cables as they’re released, to make sure that nei­ther our nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests, nor Aus­tralians’ indi­vid­ual wel­fare, is put at risk.

FRAN KELLY: There’s been a lot of com­men­tary about how dam­ag­ing this might be for the US and its allies, but what about putting lives at risk? Could Aus­tralian lives be at risk, and do you agree with the White House that these cable leaks could put lives at risk more broadly?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolute­ly, absolute­ly. It’s the same point that I and my pre­de­ces­sor, Defence Min­is­ter Faulkn­er made about the ear­li­er releas­es. But because these ones cov­er a wider ambit, we have to be very care­ful to ensure that indi­vid­ual diplo­mats haven’t been put at risk because of com­ments that they may have made, which might be includ­ed in cables, or that peo­ple who are cit­i­zens of oth­er nations, who are work­ing close­ly with Aus­tralia, or indeed with the Unit­ed States, that their inter­ests aren’t put at risk because of these unau­tho­rised disclosures.

FRAN KELLY: Well the first leaks were back in July, I mean have you had any intel­li­gence to sug­gest there have been con­firmed deaths linked to these leaks so far?

STEPHEN SMITH: On the first batch of leaks, the Afghanistan leaks, I indi­cat­ed pub­licly some time ago that we had painstak­ing­ly gone through those mate­ri­als and come to the con­clu­sion that there was no adverse nation­al secu­ri­ty, or oper­a­tional or indi­vid­ual risk. We are still going through the Iraq leaks to try and sat­is­fy our­selves on that same basis. The pre­lim­i­nary reports that I’ve had, at this stage we don’t believe there’s any­thing which has caused any oper­a­tional or secu­ri­ty risk. But we haven’t com­plet­ed that task, and we will need to do, as we are, exact­ly the same with this round of leaks.

FRAN KELLY: And Min­is­ter, what is that, can you give us a sense, this com­mit­tee, are they sit­ting around a table going through one by one, every sin­gle one of these quar­ter of a mil­lion cables in this lat­est lot, and mil­lions before that?

STEPHEN SMITH: That is what has occurred in the past, and what is in prospect. As I said ear­li­er, because the first two batch­es were essen­tial­ly direct­ly in the Defence space, we estab­lished a Defence task­force. Because these cables cov­er a much wider ambit, there has been estab­lished a whole of Gov­ern­ment, or an across-Gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee on which Defence is rep­re­sent­ed, but as is the Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, the Fed­er­al Police, the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, or the For­eign Affairs and Trade Department.

So it’s a sep­a­rate task­force deal­ing with these dis­clo­sures, but that is the way in which this mat­ter has to be dealt with. Offi­cials need to go painstak­ing­ly through each of the cables that are released, that might have an impact upon Aus­tralia, and make a judge­ment about whether our inter­ests have been adverse­ly impact­ed, and whether there’s any­thing we need to do about it.

FRAN KELLY: We’d bet­ter talk about North Korea now, or ten­sions on the Kore­an peninsula…


FRANK KELLY: …yes­ter­day the South Kore­an Pres­i­dent warned that his coun­try would strong­ly retal­i­ate to any fur­ther provo­ca­tion from Pyongyang. Do you think it will come to that? Has the Com­mu­nist North stepped back, do you think, or are you concerned?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, obvi­ous­ly we’re very con­cerned. Cer­tain­ly we believe strong­ly that the Repub­lic of Korea, and Pres­i­dent Lee have con­duct­ed them­selves with great restraint in the face of ter­ri­ble provo­ca­tion, not just the recent mis­sile bar­rage, but the sink­ing of the Cheo­nan and North Korea’s nuclear program. 

So we con­tin­ue to urge restraint, just as we con­tin­ue to say that we strong­ly sup­port the Repub­lic of Korea at this very dif­fi­cult time. 

Yes­ter­day, for exam­ple, we saw the Unit­ed States and Repub­lic of Korea naval exer­cise. We had an offi­cial on board the USS George Wash­ing­ton as essen­tial­ly a show of sup­port… FRAN KELLY: Is that nec­es­sary, do you think that was wise?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolute­ly, we are a mem­ber of what is described as the Unit­ed Nations Com­mand Mil­i­tary Armistice Com­mis­sion, and that’s the Unit­ed Nations body which has the job of effec­tive­ly super­vis­ing or mon­i­tor­ing the Armistice Agree­ment. We’re, of course, not a par­ty to the Armistice Agree­ment, which end­ed the Kore­an War in the 1950s, but we are a par­ty to the Unit­ed Nations Com­mand Mil­i­tary Armistice Com­mis­sion, and we were one of three mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion — there are some 16 mem­bers — who were invit­ed by the US and the Repub­lic of Korea to observe. We observed yes­ter­day with France and the UK also rep­re­sent­ed. And today, the sec­ond day of the exer­cis­es, there’ll be oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Unit­ed Nations Command.

It is essen­tial­ly a way of us reflect­ing that we strong­ly sup­port the Unit­ed Nations mon­i­tor­ing of the Armistice Agree­ment, but we also strong­ly sup­port the Repub­lic of Korea at what is a very dif­fi­cult time. And we con­tin­ue to indi­cate to them, both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly, that we’re very pleased with the restraint they’ve shown. 

At the end of last week, I spoke to for­mer Defence Min­is­ter Kim, and made pre­cise­ly that point.

FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for join­ing us on Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Fran, thanks very much. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →