There’s a basic system for intelligence agencies to assess the credibility of someone, such as Wang Liqiang, who purports to be a defecting spy – a simple matrix running on one axis from say 1 to 6 and on the other from A to F.
A known source would rank as a 1 and an unknown source as a 6.
So, for example, Vladimir Petrov was a known employee of the Soviet embassy in Canberra in 1954 when he sought political asylum and could at least be granted a 3, or possibly a 1 or 2 if ASIO was confident that he was not just a diplomat but was working in Australia as a Soviet agent.
Wang Liqiang, on the other hand, is an unknown and hard to rank as anything other than a 6.
On the other axis is the quality of the information the defector is able to provide.
Again, based on what 60 Minutes has broadcast, there is nothing that anyone quickly skimming the internet could not find.
You don’t have to go any further than Wikipedia to find a long account of the Causeway Bay Bookshop closure and the owners’ disappearances.
And who needs to do any research to make the claim that the Chinese government is seeking to interfere in the politics of Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Australia?
More complex grids can of course be constructed and microscopic examination of the defector’s every statement employed before reaching a final conclusion on his worth.
General observations can also tell us a little.
Strangely Wang spoke no English in the broadcast interview. So are we to believe that a highly placed Chinese spy — as he claims to be — speaks no English?
Watching the 60 Minutes interview two previous cases came to mind – first Godwin Grech, the public servant who provided a forged supposedly leak email to former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, and Curveball (Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi) one of the main sources for the claim that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Curveball provided intelligence to German intelligence agencies which was then passed on to the American Defence Intelligence Agency.
Rather than critically assess his stories his interrogators fell in love with his information, succumbing to a serious bout of “immaculate reception.”
Journalists too have an inclination to fall in love with sources and an inclination to broadcast or write the sexiest version of their story.
Who wants a dull boring account detailing the cross-checking and calling into question the very allegations that have been promoted as the story?
Hopefully Australian authorities are critically assessing Wang Liqiang’s claims as former foreign minister Julie Bishop has suggested they must.
She told the ABC that the fact that Mr Wang publicly outed himself raised “fascinating questions”.
“In my experience if they were truly a spy from any nation who was engaged in such high level espionage, that person would be enveloped in our intelligence community and would be nowhere near the media,” she said.
The anti-Chinese pundits, who are ready to promote every negative statement about China, should also think carefully before rushing to push his claims.
Wang Liqiang undoubtedly will not be welcomed back in China whether his claims are true, or whether he is a fraudster, as the Chinese Government claims.
Given that he faces jail in China, is that justification for granting him political asylum in Australia?
If such claims are enough, then prepare for the flood.
And don’t forget all those Hong Kongers who can now legitimately say that they have demonstrated against the Chinese government, thrown Molotov cocktails, vandalised shops, shot arrows at police and have been arrested.
Surely having demonstrated their anti-Chinese credentials, they too would be entitled to asylum in the Australia?
Paul Malone is a journalist with over 30 years of experience having worked for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and the Canberra Times, where he was Political Correspondent for five years and wrote a weekly column until late 2017.