Folly of following the Five Eyes Anglo-Saxon relic

The main countries comprising this electronic espionage group have made an abysmal hash of responding to the economic and health impacts of Covid-19. Yet the Australian government has chosen them to develop a “strategic” economic response to the Covid 19 crisis.

The main countries comprising the “Five Eyes” electronic espionage group have made an abysmal hash of responding to the economic and health impacts of Covid-19. Yet the Australian government has chosen this Anglo-Saxon relic to develop a “strategic” economic response to the Covid 19 crisis. The two biggest Five Eyes members, led by Donald Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK, performed the worst on Covid- 19. Canada was not as bad but Australia and New Zealand were better.

Many countries in the Asian region, where our economic future lies, have done exceptionally well. The Communist Party government in Vietnam is the standout performer, with zero deaths in a population of 97 million. Taiwan has done a great job while mainland China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan have death rates below or around Australia’s and New Zealand’s,

I asked the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg why he’d chosen this Anglo- Saxon group to hold the series of economic meetings due to start soon between finance ministers. A spokesperson said, “These meetings with key allies, build on our Five Eyes security partnership”. The Treasurer did not answer whether this would involve Five Eyes “intelligence officials and technical capabilities”. Nor did he answer whether the meetings would cover proposals aimed at China

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison went further than his Treasurer by reportedly telling the Coalition party room that he intended to take the Five Eyes intelligence network “into the commercial sector to build trusted supply chains”. Instead of globally competitive supply chains, these would focus on serving the five Anglo countries and possibly on other proposals to stifle China’s economic growth.

The Government used the Cabinet national security committee for its initial consideration of the Covid-19 crisis before turning to health specialists. It has now reverted to its basic instincts by using the Five Eyes group to develop a belated economic response after the largely successful initiatives it took without the benefit of advice from Trump or Johnson.

Australia’s national security agencies and departments exercise an unprecedented sway with this government. Ministers and their staff are particularly fascinated by the Five Eyes group led by the US National Security Agency, which makes aggressive use of cyber espionage techniques that it condemns when used by others.

Many enthusiastic supporters believe this “whites only” club shares exclusive electronic signals intelligence. But the NSA shares intelligence with over 30 countries whose policies the US wants to shape.

In reality, the German intelligence organisation BND had a much closer relationship with the CIA and NSA for several decades than Australia did. In February, the Washington Post and the German broadcaster ZDF published reports based on leaked information showing that in the 1950s the CIA and the BND bought control a Swiss company Crypto AG which produced the encryption equipment for over 100 countries, including NATO allies and other friendly governments (but apparently not Australia). Owning the encryption machines gave US and Germany easy access to all the sensitive messages sent by the equipment. The NSA became increasingly involved over time, but the BND eventually pulled out after becoming increasingly concerned about ethical issues. The US agencies started pulling out in 2004.

In February, I asked the Australian Signals Directorate if its predecessor, the Defence Signals Directorate, and previous Australian governments had been told at the time that US and German intelligence agencies controlled the company which manufactured most of the encryption machines in the world. I also asked if Australia received the product of this particularly unscrupulous form of cyber espionage. Although this was unlikely, ASD merely replied, “We do not comment on intelligence matters”.

The government should be extremely careful about what Australia is doing by using the Five Eyes group for economic policy making. If the Trump administration has its way, Australia will be involved in full-scale economic warfare against China that could easily morph into a full-scale hot war.

This column appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 17. It is posted with the approval of Brian Toohey.

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Brian Toohey is author of Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State.

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