Australian-US intelligence relations – Afghanistan and Iraq

Australian-US intelligence relations – Afghanistan and Iraq

Australian-US intelligence relations in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Government sources

Department of Defence Submission, Joint Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Inquiry onto Australia – United States Defence Relations, February 2004

“36. The Defence Intelligence Group (DIG), consisting of the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO), is a key player in our strategic relationship with the US, and a major beneficiary of that relationship. The intelligence sharing relationship between the US intelligence community and the agencies of the DIG is critical to our defence and security. It enhances considerably the ability of the Group to meet the needs of Government and Defence decision makers and ADF [Australian Defence Forces] operational customers. Cooperation with counterpart agencies in the US remains a cornerstone to the intelligence support provided by the DIG.

37. At the strategic level, as well as at the operational and tactical levels, Australia and the US have engaged in defence intelligence sharing activities, to mutual benefit. This has most recently been demonstrated during military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where intelligence sharing between Australia and the US directly contributed to the success of ADF operations. During operations, the US provided Australia with unprecedented access to its intelligence and intelligence systems.”


Australian, US defence ministers discuss Afghanistan, Kim Landers, Australia Network News, 12 April 2010

Australia’s Defence Minister John Faulkner has met the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. A spokesman for the Minister says the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and was dominated by Afghanistan. But the Minister’s spokesman says Australia did not offer, nor did the US ask for, an increase in Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan.

Building bridges over Afghanistan’s troubled waters, John Kerin, Australian Financial Review, 25 March 2010

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James claimed it was now an open secret in Canberra that the Americans were angry at Australia’s reluctance to send extra troops to Afghanistan. Defence Minister John Faulkner, while maintaining Australia is not prepared to send any extra troops, says it is prepared to change the makeup of the existing force.
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Rogue message, Ben Iannotta, C4ISR Journal, 1 March 2010

 Among those who spoke to Flynn after publication of the report was Canadian Air Force Maj. Gen. A.G. “Glynne” Hines of NATO headquarters in Brussels. As director of the alliance’s communications, command and consultation staff, he oversees NATO’s information technology work in Afghanistan. Hines said he told Flynn that online tools such as social networking and blogging could help allies gather and disseminate information. “The first step is going to be Internet access to the [provincial reconstruction teams],” Hines said.

Afghans should be brought into the information effort, he said, adding that the country’s civilian communications infrastructure is improving. “Two years ago, I couldn’t get my Blackberry to work.” He now can, Hines said.

One possible locus for Flynn’s stability centers might have been existing fusion centers in Afghanistan. The blueprint offers both praise and criticism of those centers, which were patterned after those in Iraq — “Al Qaeda’s top terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, died as the result of a successful Fusion Center mission,” the report notes. But because of this “red” culture — focusing on the enemy — the fusion centers have not provided much support to the provincial reconstruction teams that build wells, irrigation systems and other infrastructure.

When the authors asked people working in the PRTs how much help they received from the fusion centers, “the answer was simply, ‘not much.’”

The authors don’t want to distract the fusion centers from their red missions, hence the proposal for new Stability Operations Information Centers. But they will have to assemble these centers fast.
July 2011 is coming very quickly.

Afghanistan: Is Australia really up to it?, Matt Brown, ABC News, 21 July 2009

And now Australia’s Coalition allies are asking how ready Australia really is for the fight at hand… provincial boundaries have been declared all but irrelevant by Australia’s allies. “British and American commanders are looking at it as a whole RC South and also RC East Pashtun belt issue, so they are trying to knock down the provincial boundaries,” says Dr Daniel Marston, a counter-insurgency expert at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra. “They are recognising that you need to have flexibility to serve in all these different areas. So I do think that the fact that the Australians are pushing for an Uruzgan-only mission might be a bit outdated right now.”

The Government says Australian troops are killing and dying in Afghanistan in the name of a vital national interest: deterring terrorism. But if they are called on to send mentors beyond Uruzgan the answer would probably be “no”. It’s called a ‘red card’ – a limitation on what troops will do for a coalition and where they’ll go – and it’s the kind of thing that has plagued America’s relations with its allies in the past.

Another question being raised by Australia’s allies is: are the Australian operational mentoring and liaison teams – known as OMLT or “omelettes” – as ready as they should be for counter-insurgent warfare? “Some comments have been made by some people in the army to me that they felt the OMLT could have been trained to a higher level in terms of education of COIN (counter-insurgency) as well as cultural awareness.”

“The Australians have a history, they think, of counter-insurgency excellence which is somewhat true if you look at the tactical levels of counter-insurgency,” Dr Marston said.

“But you have to remember that counter-insurgency is more than tactics, it is at the operational and a strategic level, and I think there are some questions being asked outside the Australian community, if Australia really understands all the nuances of a counter-insurgency campaign.

Aust/US Military: Importance of collaboration in counter terrorism, Karen Snowdon with General Gene Renuart, ABC, 11 February 2008 [Audio]

“Commander of the US Northern Command, Airforce General Gene Renuart, one of the United States’ most senior military commanders, says the US and Australia should be cooperating more on counter-terrorism measures and intelligence sharing in Asia.”

Australia gains from US intel, Janaki Kremmer, Christian Science Monitor, 17 October 2005

“In the past, Australian officers were often banned from briefings during the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, by the American officers in charge, even if the information being discussed contained intelligence gathered by the Australians. Australia’s controversial participation in the US-led war in Iraq has yielded the right to share in the highest levels of intelligence which had so far been reserved for the US’s closest ally, Britain.”

US spy chief flags greater intelligence sharing, ABC News Online, September 30, 2005.

“US intelligence chief John Negroponte has said the United States needs to assume greater risks in order to share more sensitive information with allies such as Australia. ‘Sometimes we’ve been a bit too categorical in withholding information from partners and allies,’ he said, also referring to Britain, Canada and New Zealand.”

Politics of Australia and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET)

PM slams Pentagon spy delays, Dennis Shanahan, The Australian, 4 October 2006

“John Howard has attacked the Pentagon for ignoring an order from George W. Bush to share top-level intelligence on Iraq with Australia’s military planners, forcing the Prime Minister to complain to the US President. Mr Howard confirmed yesterday he was angry at the Pentagon’s decision to restrict Australia’s access to its intelligence network on Iraq, and said he had complained directly to Mr Bush twice to clear the military veto. ‘Some of these agencies operate like a law unto themselves,’ he said yesterday. ‘I wasn’t very happy with those delays.’ In an extraordinary attack on the defence chiefs of Australia’s closest military ally, Mr Howard said he had protested to Mr Bush to ensure Australia had unfettered access to the network.

“In July 2004, Mr Bush signed a directive supported by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and acting Central Intelligence Agency director John McLaughlin stipulating that laws preventing foreign powers seeing highly classified intelligence would no longer apply to Australia and Britain when they were planning for combat operations, training with the Americans or engaged in counter-terrorism activities. But Mr Howard was forced to intervene a second time some months later when it became clear the US military headquarters was still delaying, despite the White House request.

“‘The point I made was that the commitment the President gave to me had to be delivered,” Mr Howard said. “That’s why I intervened, and I am now advised the flows are occurring that are meant to occur. Bear in mind Australia and Britain are given specially privileged access to American intelligence assessments. There is always a degree of inter-agency jealousy about anybody having access to these things, even very close allies, and it did take a lot of pushing. Even the President doesn’t always get what he wants straight away.’

“In September last year, The Australian revealed that Mr Bush had issued a decree upgrading Australia to the highest rank of intelligence partner the US has in the world – with resistance from US intelligence agencies. This rendition of events concurs with the latest revelations from Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in his book State of Denial, which chronicles the internal battles of the Bush administration and how these hampered the war effort.

“Hugh White of the Australian National University, a former Defence Department deputy secretary for strategy and intelligence, told The Australian that Canberra had always had to battle for access to US intelligence and details of US planning in coalition operations. ‘The Government sometimes claims that under its stewardship the alliance has changed fundamentally and become much closer,’ Professor White said. ‘This (Woodward’s account) suggests that this is not the case.'”

State of Denial, Bob Woodward, Simon and Schuster, 2006

“One of the most inexcusable examples of failure to et things done, [Frank] Miller [chair of the Executive Steering Group for Iraq] felt, had to do with the classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET), which was used to store and communicate information about intelligence, operations orders and technical data. The classified information on the SIPRNET had a caveat – “NOFORN” – meaning no foreigners were allowed access, a restriction that included even the british and Australian troops fighting alongside the Americans in Iraq.

“At times it went beyond the absurd. British pilots flying American warplanes, F-117s and F-15Es, weren’t allowed to read parts of the classified pilot manuals and maintenance manuals because they were marked NOFORN. In another case, raw intelligence data gathered by British intelligence operatives in Iraq was given to the U.S. intelligence fusion center that was supposed to merge all-source intelligence into one product. The report came out and the British couldn’t see it, let alone get a copy, because it was marked NOFORN.

“Prime Minister Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard complained directly to the president about the issue several times. In July 2004, Bush signed a directive, supported by Rumsfeld and John McLaughlin as acting director of Central Intelligence, that said NOFORN would no longer apply to the British and Australians when they were planning for combat operations, training with the Americans or engaged in counterterrorism activities. Bush told Blair and Howard about the directive, saying, ‘I’ve just signed something out.’ Problem solved.

“But Miller soon discovered that instead of giving the Brits and Aussies access, the Pentagon began creating a new, separate SIPRNET for them. The SIPRNET had years of information stored  on it and the U.S. military did not want to give it to the Britsih and Australians. It could take years to sort and comb through it all. The president’s orders were to put the British and Australians on the real SIPRNET, not create a new version for them.  The problem dragged on. Months later it was not fixed.” (pp. 318-9)

“[January 2005] Miller was still on his mission to implement the president’s order allowing the British and Australians access to the full secret SIPRNET military network. Hew went to a meeting at the Pentagon with some of the key civilians and Joint Staff officers dealing with the issue. he read both Rumsfeld’s and the president’s directives to the group.

“‘You don’t mean unfettered access,’ said one of the three-stars on the Joint Staff.  ‘If the President or the Secretary of Defence had wanted to say give them access according to the following limitations, they would have said so,’ Miller replied looking staright at the general. ‘This is an interagency cleared document. Your people signed up to it. Access means access. What about ‘access’ don’t you understand?'” (p. 380)

The partnership: the inside story of the US-Australian alliance under Bush and Howard, Greg Sheridan, UNSW Press, 2006

“In July of 2004 US President George W Bush sent a one-page presidential directive to the US Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. It instructed them to upgrade intelligence cooperation and access for the Australians. Its purpose was to alter, by presidential directive, US national disclosure policy. From this day forward Australians were to have access to virtually everything in the American intelligence system concerning international terrorism and joint military operations. material previously classified as ‘No Forg’*, meaning to be seen by no foreign eyes, would henceforth be available to Australians.”

“Part of the extraordinary new intelligence closeness involved increased Australian access to US information systems themselves. This is new and uncharted territory in intelligence cooperation. The normal way is that the Americans collect vast amounts of information and then give Canberra material which is relevant to its known interests, or which Canberra asks for, or which they think Canberra may find useful. The new idea is that Australians would be directly plugged into the American system and take what they want, within limits and protocols.

“Now, Australian forces in the Middle East, in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere, get direct battle space information from the central American surveillance and intelligence systems. There’s no question of asking for the information. The Australians have automatic access to it. Of course Australia-US defence intelligence cooperation has a long history, and the Americans would always want to give a close ally like Australia militarily useful information in a conflict. But the speed and comprehensiveness of their Australians having their own access is priceless. It also makes our forces extremely attractive for other coalition partners to work with.

“The former defence minister, Robert Hill, told me: ‘In recent years we have obtained unprecedented access to US intelligence and tactical planning. This is access to the greatest repository of information that exists.'” (pp. 98-100)

*Sheridan subsequently noted that “NOFORG” should have been “NOFORN”.

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Ronald Li
Updated:12 April 2010