Intelligence reporting on Solomon Islands
Introduction: the Flood report
The quality of reporting on Solomon Islands and other Pacific countries by Australian intelligence agencies has been criticised by former intelligence personnel and outside analysts – especially the failure to predict coups in Fiji and Solomon Islands.
In 2004, the Australian government appointed Mr. Phillip Flood (a senior diplomat and former Director-General of the Office of National Assessments) to conduct an inquiry into the Australian intelligence agencies, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and faulty intelligence on the presence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Flood’s Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies included a case study of the intelligence analysis and reporting on Solomon Islands by the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO).
The case study on Solomon Islands looked at ONA and DIO reporting from early 2000 until the deployment of ADF and AFP personnel in July 2003.
The inquiry was supportive of the quality of intelligence on Solomon Islands and stated:
“Overall, reporting from ONA and DIO on the breakdown of law and order and the demise of effective government in the Solomon Islands stands in a positive light…Throughout the period of assessment that the Inquiry has reviewed, ONA retained an appropriately broad perspective on events in the Solomon Islands. Its assessments were balanced and dispassionate.”
However the report noted the failure of the ONA to predict the overthrew the government of then Prime Minister Bart Ulufa’alu in a June 2000 coup:
“Although analysts captured well the decline in governance and society, there was no clear assessment that an MEF-led coup was likely.”
The report is also critical of the DIO’s reporting to assist with ADF operational planning for the evacuation of Australians from Honiara in 2000:
“In the period leading up to the June 2000 coup, despite a consistently negative assessment of the Solomon Islands, DIO did not portray the scene in a way that clearly highlighted the likelihood of an ADF-led evacuation. From an operational planning perspective, this was an important gap in assessment. Most notably, in product from late May 2000, the prospect of a coup was dismissed as unlikely.”
Commentary and Analysis
Can our spies come in from the cold? Brendan Nicholson, The Age, 24 April 2004
“…early in 2000, defence intelligence officers said a coup in the Solomon Islands was highly likely. DFAT and DIO rejected the proposition as absurd. The coup happened a fortnight later.”