According to a recent assessment Australia is the world’s 11th most vulnerable country in terms of its exposure to internet security threat. This is the general case. The particular case, articulated by the Five Eyes signals intelligence agencies, is that China is to be feared the most because Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, and ZTE, China’s second largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, are both attractive suppliers technologically speaking, and a definite national security risk because they cannot conceivably be regarded as independent of the Chinese Government.
The Five Eyes intelligence community therefore urges that Huawei and ZTE be proscribed from the 5G networks facilitating faster speeds and greater connectivity set to be launched by 2020. This is also a demand which cannot be separated from the US grand strategy of containing China. By inference and implication the virtuous Western Alliance should adopt an Augustinian Denial: have nothing to do with Huawei and trust only those that have received Five Eyes’ benediction. Both are incredible injunctions. And frightening.
To begin, a few principles and facts. First, a sovereign, competent, analytically robust, technologically advanced, ethically and legally grounded signals intelligence agency is imperative for Australia.
Second, the Five Eyes arrangements, in which Australia is a constituent through the Australian Signals Directorate, is the provider of first recourse for the protection and defence of those forms information which are necessarily secret yet essential for the peace and security of the country.
Third, when Five Eyes determines that a threat exists, it deserves to be taken very seriously. Supporting this judgement, is not only Huawei’s corporate history in which it has been accused of stealing intellectual property and violating international sanctions but also the reasonable claim that, since no Chinese company is truly independent of the Chinese government, it is an existing or potential instrument of Chinese espionage.
From these principles comes an extraordinary Inductive Leap: only by taking the precautionary and prudent measures outlined by Five Eyes will Australia and other like-minded members of the Western Alliance remain true in spirit and behaviour to the rules and conventions of the liberal international order that has served global politics so well since the genesis of Five Eyes in the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and the subsequent UKUSA Agreement of 1947.
The problem is that this is only possible if two additional, logical and empirically verifiable principles are adopted: fourth, forget the past; fifth, ignore the present. Both are mandatory because any interrogation of the past and the present undermines the confidence – which is essentially faith-based – in which the non-Chinese reliance is founded.
Specifically, it is to ask this question: if the cyber-crimes which China has been accused of, or could potentially commit, are the criteria by which Australia has proscribed Huawei, where would it leave Australia if the same schedule of breaches of information security and communications – and others besides – were found to be standard operating procedures within Five Eyes?
An interrogation of this nature can only be undertaken if forearmed with the introduction of yet another two principles and facts. Thus, the sixth – and proclaimed on the CIA website no less as the “First Commandment” – holds that there is no such thing as friendly intelligence agencies, only the intelligence agencies of friendly nations.
And the seventh, empirically verifiable, is the simple truth that, in matters of intelligence, all governments lie. Successive Australian governments since 1945 have practised secrecy, evasion, and deceit of a type and frequency incompatible with their declared adherence to the tenets of democracy, law, and ethics by which they condescended to those beyond the Western intelligence Pale.
Ever-present in any analysis of this type are the many stark reminders that US intelligence itself provides for a sense of foreboding. Though the lies told under oath in 2007 by CIA Director, Michael Hayden, relating to the CIA’s interrogation and detention programme, and those told under oath in 2013 by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper (denying that the NSA had illegally mined the metadata on millions of Americans) constitute extraordinary breaches of law and ethics, they are shaded somewhat when placed in the company of the 1991 confirmation hearings for the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), the principal intelligence advisor to the President and the National Security Council, as well as the coordinator of intelligence activities among and between the various U.S. intelligence agencies.
In the course of these hearings, the designated officer was shown to have not only an extensive personal record of arrogance (professional and personal), but also, under the rubric of serving power with the analyses it needed for its own purposes, exaggeration, poor judgement, corruption of the intelligence assessment process, deceit, dishonesty, dereliction of duty, selective amnesia, and even fantasy. Robert Gates was also found to be a fit and proper person for the position by the 64 senators who voted to confirm him as the fifteenth DCI, a position he returned to under President George H. W. Bush, before becoming Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
This sense of foreboding, therefore, should need no further explanation. But what has been described above is radically incomplete. The official, unnecessary lies told by Australian Governments in matters of national security, and national security intelligence are an indictment enough of their lack of commitment to democratic politics, but they are frequently interwoven with a far more troubling mindset: the well-documented deferral of ultimate loyalty to a foreign power, the United States.
And it is far more troubling because it works its effects – to think and act American rather than Australian – under cover of deep secrecy. A catalogue of the former would have to include the Australian machinations to be involved in the Vietnam War and the first and second Gulf Wars.
The latter would need to include the fact that the political leadership of Australia was kept ignorant of the existence of UKUSA, including the related facilities and operations for more than three decades; the deceit and dissembling which became routine policy options, also for decades, with regard to the facilities at Northwest Cape, Nurrungar, and Pine Gap; and the requirement that Australian officers attached to the CIA in Vietnam between 1962 and 1970 had to swear that they would not divulge details of their activities (which included terror and assassination) to their nominal commanding officers, or even the Australian Government.
What this suggests is that the past is a historical record of Australia attributing no importance to the ways it is subordinated to the alliance intelligence relationships. The Huawei controversy – analysed in Part 2 – continues the habit. Essentially is it one of reflexive support without critical thought. Automaticity is the dominant mode and well captured by the description offered by a former senior insider: “seamless, instinctive, visceral.”
Michael McKinley is a member of the Emeritus Faculty, the Australian National University.