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Downer's dodgy memory: Paul Moran & The Mulla

By Richard Tonkin
Created 15/11/2007 - 09:32

When I heard that Alexander Downer hadn't made a connection between the founder of an organisation and that organisation's most famous victim (the first Australian casualty in the Invasion of Iraq) I thought his memory had gone wonky again, like it had in the AWB hearings.  Then I checked his website and began to wonder.

The key to the current events is an interview that Downer gave from his Stirling palace on April 9, 2003. At the time Downer was triumphant, and more anxious to talk about having set up the arrangements that would later lead to the AWB scandal than to talk about Moran. Perhaps that might have been why he instinctively denied that he knew of Moran's "other job"?

[DFAT transcript extract, April 9, 2003 [1]]

Journalist: On the subject of Paul Moran, there was a report over the weekend that I suppose effectively characterised him as a spy. Do you have any information about that?

Downer: No. I do remember seeing that report and I'm trying to remember whether I've seen anything more on it, but you've sort of asked me that a bit out of the blue, because I did read the story but I don't have any information to give you. We certainly had no knowledge of him being a spy for anybody. We don't have any information on that, and I don't think from recollection we've heard anything more about it.

Journalist: Do you have any information to support those claims?

Downer: I don't have any information to support those claims.

Journalist: Even whether he was contracted to the Rendon Group?

Downer: I don't – no.

At least we now have the date that, at the very latest, Downer became aware of the Rendon Connection. Surely, then, someone in DFAT would surely have passed on the Rolling Stone piece which explained where Moran fits in:

[Rolling Stone extract 17/11/05 [2]]

Moran had lived a double life, filing reports for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and other news organizations, while at other times operating as a clandestine agent for Rendon, enjoying what his family calls his "James Bond lifestyle". Moran had trained Iraqi opposition forces in photographic espionage, showing them how to covertly document Iraqi military activities, and had produced pro-war announcements for the Pentagon. "He worked for the Rendon Group in London," says his mother, Kathleen. "They just send people all over the world -- where there are wars."

Moran was covering the Iraq invasion for ABC, filming at a Kurdish-controlled checkpoint in the city of Sulaymaniyah, when a car driven by a suicide bomber blew up next to him. "I saw the car in a kind of slow-motion disintegrate," recalls Eric Campbell, a correspondent who was filming with Moran. "A soldier handed me a passport, which was charred. That's when I knew Paul was dead."

The Rendon Group responded to the piece by saying that Moran used to work for them...

[Rolling Stone extract 23'11'05 [3]]

While we are proud to acknowledge that Mr. Moran, a gifted freelance cameraman, provided video services to TRG (and many other clients), he had not done any TRG work for years prior to the events described by Mr. Bamford.

 Oh really?  What one expect a media-spin company to do?  Admit all?

[Australian Story 3/10/03 [4]]

NEWS REPORTER: Now it has been revealed that Moran worked extensively for the INC [Iraqi National Congress] and with a company working for American intelligence and the Pentagon, employed to spread anti-Saddam propaganda. And al-Haideri's story certainly hit that mark.

ZAAB SETHNA: It's true that he was unwittingly involved in, I guess, what could be called a propaganda operation in the early '90s, but people must remember he didn't know that.

Here's what Mullah Krekar had to say about Moran on Tuesday night:

Foreign Correspondent extract: [5]

“It is allowed for me in Islam to kill him, to kill his translator, to kill the people which give him food and water, give him medicine – all of them”.

Krekar claims to have relinquished control of Ansar al Islam in 2002, months before the suicide bombing in which the Australian cameraman Paul Moran and five Kurdish soldiers were killed.

Even so, he knows intimate details of the attack, including what the Saudi suicide bomber did in his last minutes alive.

Krekar is entirely unrepentant about the killing . Asked what he would say to the widow of Mr Moran and his family Krekar said, “I say to all the western women don’t send your sons to kill us.”

Corcoran: “ He wasn’t killing anybody, he was a cameraman!’

Krekar: “Yes. He was also with our enemy. “

Downer's memory seems to have been much better back when he addressed  Parliament, only a few days after Krekar's arrest in Norway:

[ABC-PM 24/3/03 [6]]

ALISON CALDWELL: Last month, US Secretary of State Colin Powell identified Ansar al-Islam as "Exhibit A" in America's case to link Baghdad with al-Qaeda, based on several as yet unproven allegations. Today, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer endorsed that contention.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: There was a report, Mr Speaker, in February of this year that claimed that Iraqi intelligence agents are among Ansar al-Islam's leadership, though we can't confirm that. There are also reports that Ansar al-Islam has been experimenting with poison gas and toxins, and that these may have been provided by the Iraqi regime.
ABC Tuesday [7]:

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says he is not aware of any links between an alleged terrorist detained in Norway and the death of an Australian in Iraq.

Mullah Krekar is the founder of the extremist group Ansar al Islam and has urged his followers to attack Australian troops in Iraq.

Tonight's Foreign Correspondent [8] on ABC TV tonight reveals he may have been connected to the car-bombing that killed ABC cameraman Paul Moran in Iraq in 2003.

The United Nations and the US Government believe Mullah Krekar is a terrorist and he is fighting deportation from Norway, which considers him a threat to national security.

Mr Downer says Mullah Krekar will not influence Australia's presence in Iraq.

"Somebody who is wanted, who is a serious terrorist, we would expect him to make extremist and threatening and blood-curdling comments as he has done," he said.

"But obviously we're not going to have our foreign policy dictated to by him," he said.

Too late Alex, he's been influencing Australian foreign policy for years.

Remember this report by Mark Forbes in The Age [9]  on 25/3/03?

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said intelligence had identified the organisation responsible [for Moran's death] as Ansar al Islam, which he said was "actively supported by al Qaeda"

To look at things from another angle, take this BBC report (11 days after Saddam Toppling) from  2/04/03 [10]

Two other Australian journalists have been detained by Iraqi authorities in Baghdad, and another Australian reporter has been deported.

Reporter Peter Wilson and photographer John Feder were under Iraqi guard at the Meridien Palestine hotel in Baghdad, the editor of their paper, The Australian, said: "They are not allowed to leave the hotel, their phones have been confiscated and they are not allowed to file," the newspaper's national security editor, Patrick Walters, told Reuters news agency. On Wednesday, the Sydney Daily Telegraph said its reporter, Ian McPhedran, had been ordered to leave Baghdad.

McPhedran told his newspaper the officials accused him of breaking regulations by travelling from his hotel to the Iraqi capital's information ministry building, the French news agency AFP reported.

If things were this bad for journos "after the event", then it can only be imagined how bad things were beforehand.  Actually, no imagination is required when you've met someone who was there at the time.

In 2003 I met a man who'd just come out of Iraq. Josh Mainka had been blogging of his experiences on musician Grant Lee Phillips' (Grant Lee Buffalo) website and was travelling with Phillips as he toured Australia [11].   I saw the amazing pictures in his camera, and decided that the best treatment for shell shock was a serious amount of Absythe. Somehow he still remembers me. When you read his words below you can understand how peculiar a Sunday night at The Gov must have been in comparison to what he'd just been through:

[Sky News extract 14/4/03 [12] (three weeks after Moran's death]]

Tanks belonging to the US 3rd Infantry Division were now on the Jumhuriya Bridge. Three mechanised warriors were goading the Iraqi defenders of the east bank of the Tigris into a fight. The battle had begun under cover of darkness with explosions on the west bank announcing that the armour was on the move.

Mid morning brought disturbing news. The Al-Jazeera office on the east bank, close to the ministry of planning, had been hit by a shell, igniting a generator and killing one reporter and seriously injuring his cameraman......

Rafat, an Al Jazeera engineer, had been helping CBS stay on air since the others had gone. I offered my condolences to him over the loss of his colleague when suddenly I heard a sound I instinctively knew spelled danger

"Down! Down," I shouted, pushing him and CBS correspondent Lara Logan to the ground. Then an explosion and the sound of debris falling all around us. Then, for a moment, silence.

I ran back to my tent, called London and screamed: "They've hit the hotel." There was a sound I will never forget: A woman's voice, distorted with shock and fear saying: "Oh my God, they've hit Reuters. They've hit Reuters."

One of the tanks on the bridge had turned his barrel towards us, mistaking the glint of a TV camera on a tripod for a rocket launcher and fired one shell. The mile between it and its target, our hotel, took a split second to negotiate. Lara, ex-Reuters like myself, had witnessed one of anyone's worst nightmares here: So called "friendly fire" directed at people you know and love.
24 hours after this Mainka was manning the satellite uplink that provided the "picture of the End Of The War". Here's how he describes the event:

The focus turned to the statue of Saddam Hussein in the centre of the square. Iraqis were releasing decades of fear and loathing and smashing the smiling figure towering over them. A large man, built like a circus strong man, wielded a sledgehammer and pummelled the base of the statue, exorcising his demons the only way he knew how.

The Marines came to help and attached a chain to the statue's neck. A solitary soldier from New York climbed up and and draped the stars and stripes on the dictator's head. Then in respect for the Iraqis, their flag - a reminder that this was not an occupation but a liberation. Iraq was for the Iraqis, not a privileged few.

The chain grew taught, pulled by American tracked armour, and Saddam Hussein leaned parallel to the ground to cheers as he bowed to the will of the people. One final pull and all that remained were a pair of boots and a broken figure of a man being trampled under dancing celebrating feet.

"They got it down," were the words of President George W Bush in the White House, watching Sky News live on Fox. They certainly had. And the world watched, too.

There you have it.. Saddam Toppling was carried out by US soldiers! Mainka, unsurprisingly, now works for Al Jazeerah.

So now let's get back to Downer's denials this week. There was a lot going on at the time; Moran's death was being used to explain the deaths of journalists in Baghdad, Downer was organising Trevor Flugge's paperwork, and a media organisation that reportedly invented the Iraqi National Congress had lost its Australian operative. It's amazing mark of respect on Rendon's part, given all that was transpiring, that he flew all the way to Adelaide for the funeral. Did Downer take the 20 minute drive dowm from his Mayo manse to attend? What, and risk being photographed with Rendon?

You get the gist. Before denying any knowledge of the Norwegian connection to Moran's death, all Downer had to do was check on his own website. Given that Moran's death might have been intrinsic to creating the most media-friendly [sic] environment to broadcast a sanitised version of the end of the war, and given what Alex had been up to, there is much that Alex could probably tell us about behind-the-scenes machinations. But he never will.

[another Foreign Correspondent extract]
Krekar says Moran and correspondent Eric Campbell, who was injured in the attack, were in the “wrong work at the wrong time.”
After arriving in Norway as a refugee in 1991, Krekar began commuting back to Iraq to create the feared terrorist group Ansar al Islam. His goal was the establishment of a Taliban-style Islamic state in northern Iraq.
Moran was cited in US Army reports as amid apparent singling-out of journalists as targets [13]  , but this was obviously a slightly different situation. Rolling Stone explains the part of The Rendon Group's role in the piece:

The top target that the Pentagon assigned to Rendon was the Al-Jazeera television network. The contract called for the Rendon Group to undertake a massive "media mapping" campaign against the news organization, which the Pentagon considered "critical to U.S. objectives in the War on Terrorism." According to the contract, Rendon would provide a "detailed content analysis of the station's daily broadcast . . . [and] identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships."
Al Jazeerah and Moran both get blown up within a fortnight... do you see a possible connection? It looks like, from this week's report, that the bloke in Norway who apparently sponsored Moran's death knew (or at least now knows) exactly what the score was. That Downer now can't connect the dots is dumbfoundingly amazing.

For overkill, one final extract from the Rolling Stone piece:

As the CIA official flew back to Washington with failed lie-detector charts in his briefcase, Chalabi and Sethna didn't hesitate. They picked up the phone, called two journalists who had a long history of helping the INC promote its cause and offered them an exclusive on Saddam's terrifying cache of WMDs.

For the worldwide broadcast rights, Sethna contacted Paul Moran, an Australian freelancer who frequently worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I think I've got something that you would be interested in," he told Moran, who was living in Bahrain. Sethna knew he could count on the trim, thirty-eight-year-old journalist: A former INC employee in the Middle East, Moran had also been on Rendon's payroll for years in "information operations," working with Sethna at the company's London office on Catherine Place, near Buckingham Palace.

Oh, there's one more from Australian Story:

ZAAB SETHNA: Paul and I met in 1990. It was just after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and we'd both been taken on by a public relations and consulting company in America called the Rendon Group. At that point we were trying to help the Kurds and the Iraqis opposed to Saddam set up a television station.

Aha.. now there's a clue if I ever saw one!  From the look of it, you'd think that Mullah Krekar and Paul Moran might for a while have been working for the same intents and purposes..  What changed?  Think, Alex, think!  Sometimes it helps, when trying to remember bits of information, to remember what you were doing at the time they occurred.  Let me help.  Just after Moran's death you were in the US negotiating Australia's AWB "spoils of war."

Here's another memory aide-some events that, given timelines, happened within five days-.

Finally.. on the 24th of March 2003 you were recorded in Hansard as blaming Kreker's organisation for Moran's death.

You have a serious memory problem, Mr Downer.

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