The death of Mervyn Jenkins

The death of Mervyn Jenkins


Mervyn Jenkins was the Defence Intelligence Organisation’s attache in Washington from 1996 until his death by suicide on 13 June 1999.

A career army intelligence officer, Jenkins had been a commander of 72 Electronic Warfare Squadron, and retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel before moving to high level posts in DIO.

In the first part of 1999 Jenkins came under great personal and professional pressure as a result of competing demands from DIO and the US intelligence organisations with which he was tasked with liaising. The issue was the extent to which  Australian intelligence information concerning Indonesian military sponsorship of militia violence in East Timor was to be passed onto the United States. As Desmond Ball subsequently documented, the Australian government was well aware of Indonesian military planning to mobilize East Timorese militia as a result of DIO signals intelligence interception. Most such material was marked “AUSTEO – Australian Eyes Only”. Jenkins was directed to withold much of this information from the US, at a time when militia violence was mounting, and the Australian government was maintaining it knew little. DIO initiated an investigation into Jenkins for allegedly passing or attempting to AUSTEO (Australian Eyes Only) material in 1998 and early 1999.

Following Jenkins’ death, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security commissioned an inquiry by Mr. A.S. Blunn. The desire of the Australian government to withold the its full knowledge of the truth about the terror campaigns being propagated in East Timor by the Indonesian military from both its American ally and the Australian public in part reflected the institutional mindset within influential groups of the intelligence community known as the Jakarta lobby. Later in 1999, concerns about the influence of this intelligence grouping were raised by Lt Colonel Lance Collins following the deliberate cutting-off of access by the ADF intelligence cell on operations in East Timor to the man DIO intelligence information system.

Government sources

Report of the Inquiry by Mr A S Blunn on behalf of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security into the Investigation into the Alleged Security Breaches by the late Mervyn Jenkins, October 2000, Caught in the Crossfire – Resources, Four Corners, ABC Television, 16 April 2001

“Reconstructed from the unclassified version together with additions from the confidential version of the Blunn Report.”


A Strange Tale of Two Diplomats, Geoffrey Barker, Inside Story, 12 February 2009

The case was the $1.5 million three-year pursuit of diplomat Trent Smith following an unsubstantiated accusation by another diplomat, Matthew Hyndes, whose private and professional credibility was compromised. DFAT’s willingness to rely on an officer with damaged credibility suggests that its desire to pursue Smith overcame its judgement and sense of justice. There were even suggestions that the department might have been complicit in moves to destroy documents relating to the death of Merv Jenkins.

Spy case note gone, Richard Baker, Age, 8 September 2008

“A document detailing the alleged aggressive interviewing tactics of a Federal Government security official who interrogated Australian spy Merv Jenkins before his suicide in 1999 has been destroyed, possibly in breach of Commonwealth laws. Handwritten annotations on documents seen by The Age reveal a minute written by controversial Australian diplomat Matthew Hyndes about the behaviour of the Department of Foreign Affairs investigator, Darren Sharp, was “removed and destroyed” in June 2001.

“The revelation comes as the department has backed away from reopening the investigation into the circumstances of Mr Jenkins’ suicide.”

Desmond Ball, Silent Witness: Australian Intelligence and East Timor, in Richard Tanter, Gerry Van Klinken and Desmond Ball (eds.), Masters of Terror: Indonesia’s Military and Violence in East Timor, (second edition), Rowman and Littlefield, 2006

Caught in the Crossfire, Reporter: Andrew Fowler, Four Corners, ABC Television, 16 April 2001.

Includes transcript, visuals, and a large number of otherwise unpublished documents.

Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Bullying –but– Were too Bullied to Ask, Susan Moriarty, Trends in Employment Law, Continuing Legal Education, 23 May 2001.

“More recently, there is the shocking suicide of career public servant and agent, Mervyn Jenkins on his 49th birthday. From documents obtained by his widow’s lawyers, it appears that there had been substantial “turf wars” involving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Defence Intelligence Organization and the  Office of National Assessments.

“Mr Jenkins was accused of leaking confidential material to the CIA to do with post-referendum developments in East Timor. During his interrogation by DFAT investigators for alleged security breaches, they admitted to telling him that there were considering the preferment of treason charges against him and that he would face imprisonment if convicted at the subsequent court-martial. Mr Jenkins hung himself shortly afterwards at his home.

“In a subsequent investigation of the investigation, by the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence, the inquiry head, Tony Blunn concluded that it was reasonably well-known that relations between Mr Jenkins and his Defence Intelligence Organization colleagues in Washington were “poisonous and dysfunctional”, that the conduct of the DFAT investigation had been “oppressive” and that the causal connection between the threats made during interrogation and his subsequent suicide had been corroborated by “the notes he left” at the time of his suicide. Mr Jenkins’ widow is suing the Federal government. I suspect the government may wish to settle quietly out of court so that they can stem the flow of demonstrably damaging and embarrassing disclosures concerning workplace relationships in one of Australia’s most prestigious agencies.

“My contention, on which I will elaborate in greater detail later in the Paper, is that the abuse and misuse of human resource management policies, procedures, delegations and powers has become the preferred form of bullying in the public sector generally.”

See also

11 May 2009