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Reality TV wagging the dog
Margo: Richard Tonkin is our investigative writer. His archive is here. His Webdiary history began with my experimental offshoot Your Democracy, managed by my brother Hamish Alcorn after I took redundancy and went onto contract in September 2004. Richard has been a stalwart ever since. His first piece for Webdiary was Halliburton down under: Taking over South Australia by stealth. Richard is also a Webdiary comments editor.
This introduction to a Voice of America story exemplifies my worries that Dr Haneef has been used in Australian media to portray the possibility that a person similar to him could attempt to assassinate the likes of US President Bush and Russian President Putin when they come to Sydney in September.
The trouble is that if there is no "Australian connection" to the "terror scares" in Glasgow and London then the story being used to provide public support for the incredible amount of security that Sydney is about to endure will have much less credibility with the public. The intense APEC security is more likely to be regarded with suspicion.
If there is truly a fear of attack then why is the Australian federal government not changing our terrorism alert status? Might the public have negative feelings to PM Howard if they perceive that his organising the visit of an unpopular "War President" has created a dangerous perhaps deadly environment for the people of Sydney?
Bush will arrive here only several days before the sixth anniversary of the September 11 2001 terrorism attacks. Just as the date arrives US residents will be watching the President roaming abroad to help solve the problems of the world while a protective Australia makes sure his enemies can't harm him. Will the vision of such activity be enough to boost Bush's sagging polls and give him enough popularity to be able to justify invading Iran?
Does this line of thinking bear any relevance to the desperate tactics that have been used to implicate Dr Haneef? Today's Australian reports that the Australian Federal Police have been discovered to have written implicating notes into Haneef's personal diary. Hedley Thomas and Andrew Fraser have discovered this in a transcript of Haneef's interrogation at Brisbane airport.
Sergeant Simms states: "Now, as I was alluding to, or as I was going to show you, before ... police who have been looking through your diary have found some handwritten notes in the back of your diary. And one of these handwritten notes is details for Kafeel Ahmed. Telephone numbers and looks like an address. A couple of addresses. Now, that writing there, is that your writing?" When Dr Haneef again denies it is his writing, Sergeant Simms leaves the room. He returns and says: "Thought that might have been the case. In fact, it's not. This is what's been written by police. So it's not your handwriting at all."
Have the AFP deliberately "planted" false evidence in order to justify Haneef's detection? Were they aware at that time that the SIM card was not in the burning jeep in Glasgow but inside a mobile phone in Liverpool?
More important than those questions is this one: were the handwritten notes part of the information on which our immigration minister made the decision to deprive a man of his liberty virtually at the instant he was been set free by our legal system?
I also wonder how such problems appear to the likes of the CIA and the FBI. In their eyes ASIO and the AFP must be beginning to look like colonial Keystone Cops. Can they trust our forces in a situation where the possibility of an attempted attack on the leader of the world's only current superpower is deathly high? If they can't get a simple propaganda job right, can they be trusted to make sure a "dirty bomb" isn't set off from a suitcase in the middle of Sydney? Surely you'd only be risking your integrity if you were prepared to let such a devastating thing happen. Bush would be evacuated with no harm, and a radioactive Sydney would be on American TV as a 9/11 anniversary reminder of the international urgency of continuing a proactive global War On Terror. Downtown USA might even support Iran attack, though perhaps more from fear of having what they're seeing on TV happen to them.
I write these words only to raise the possibility of how such an unfolding timeline might one day need to be dissected in forums such as Webdiary, That is, unless such forums have been, by then, deemed to be inappropriate to Australia's national security interests and closed down. Stranger things have happened.
In the meantime we're watching what is most likely to be an inept attempt at controlling a large population's sentiments. By the way, there's nothing that's been suggested in the Go-Bag that'll protect a Sydneysider from a dirty bomb. Bush would be safely back in Washington long before the residents of Rose Bay began reporting symptoms of radiation poisoning.
The idea of creating fear of such an attack in order to win an election is not a new one. I first came across it ten years ago in the political comedy Wag The Dog. In that film the "producer" of a fake War On Terror made such a suggestion in order so save a President's dwindling pre-election poll figures. Nowadays the public, both US and Australian, are less likely to be watching films, more likely to be watching "Reality TV"
While I've been writing these words this morning's Sydney Morning Herald has come out. Let's see how far the dog has been wagged now...
But yesterday's report, in News Ltd newspapers, said that police found "images of a Gold Coast building" and its foundations in a raid on Haneef's apartment. The report said investigators were looking at documents referring to the "destruction of structures" and information that Haneef was one of a group of doctors who had been learning to fly in Queensland.
In his statement, Mr Keelty denied the federal police were the source of the leak.
Which brings me back to this synopsis of the movie's plot:
To keep the media from learning of this, Presidential adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) brings in political consultant and spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a specialist in such salvage operations. Brean suggests fabricating denials of non-existent emergencies -- such as denials about the B-3 bomber. The denial, of course, is true, since no B-3 bomber exists. Brean visits the mansion of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and gives him the assignment to create a patriotic campaign centered around a war in Albania. Motss assembles a creative team -- Liz Butsky (Andrea Martin), the trend-setter Fad King (Denis Leary), and songwriter Johnny Green (Willie Nelson). Treated like an ad campaign, the songs and symbols are transmitted directly from a Hollywood soundstage to CNN.
It's time we had some new scriptwriters, don't you think? But don't worry too much about the dirty bomb possibility. Here's what AP's Ben Stein wrote about it in 2002:
The latest post-9/11 disaster scenario making news headlines is the "dirty bomb." The theoretical situation occurs when terrorists get hold of radioactive material from a hospital or food-irradiation plant, attach it to an explosive, and detonate the bomb in an urban area. The explosion spreads the radioactive material all over a city and exposes the population to radiation. Yet according to a health physicist, the biggest health risk from a dirty bomb would not, reassuringly, be cancer, but something more preventable: panic.
Faulty assumption? There's a lot of it going round....