Tom Allard, Defence Reporter
Defence Intelligence Organisation chief Frank Lewincamp ordered that a crucial flow of intelligence to Australian troops during the East Timor conflict remain shut down, in an extraordinary act that came amid a major row among Defence spies.
The Herald has also learned Mr Lewincamp instructed that the intelligence flow remain shut down until he had relayed his anger at Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins, then the senior intelligence officer in East Timor reporting to the operation commander, General Peter Cosgrove, for criticising DIO's reports.
The findings - which cast doubt on the completeness of recent statements by General Cosgrove, now the Chief of the Defence Force - were contained in a May 2003 review of the grievances of Colonel Collins, the army whistleblower who has called for a royal commission into the nation's intelligence agencies.
The classified review by the inspector-general of intelligence, Bill Blick, released yesterday, is generally unfavourable to Colonel Collins's claims, but provides an intriguing insight into arguably his most disturbing allegation.
That claim, backed by a review by navy barrister Captain Martin Toohey, was that Mr Lewincamp "caused the flow of intelligence to East Timor to be suspended" for 24 hours in December 1999 when about 5000 Australian troops were fighting militia remnants, a potentially life-threatening act.
The Blick report reveals the top secret intelligence database - one of several serving East Timor - went down on December 20, 1999. Engineering staff in East Timor quickly found it had been turned off by Mr Lewincamp, a view relayed to DIO headquarters by an angry Colonel Collins.
The next day, the project office looking after the Joint Intelligence Support System in Australia confirmed, via email to Colonel Collins, that the loss of access to the database was "not a technical matter but a DIO policy decision".
That view appeared to be reinforced by the deputy director of the DIO, Doug Kean, who wrote to Mr Lewincamp: "When we get those security aspects fixed, I believe we should turn [the database] back on."
The Herald understands that those issues related to concerns Colonel Collins was accessing intelligence beyond that immediately relating to military activity in East Timor and sending missives back to Canberra about its quality.
It is understood Mr Lewincamp considered removing his right to see the material. There were also concerns in Defence about leaks of highly classified documents, although Colonel Collins has never been under investigation for this.
Amid vociferous complaints from Colonel Collins about the shutdown, Mr Lewincamp instructed another officer to tell Colonel Collins that, despite the previous email, he had not turned off the database but had "asked that it not be turned back on" until Colonel Collins had "certain messages" conveyed to him.
The reason for the delay in turning it back on was subsequently confirmed in a note by Mr Lewincamp that upbraided Colonel Collins for his criticism of DIO's intelligence reports.
While all these emails and notes were provided to Mr Blick, he found it was impossible to "determine conclusively" the reasons for the loss from written records.
He relied instead on later statutory declarations from Mr Lewincamp and others to find there "was no policy decision" to cut the intelligence flow.
Colonel Collins and Captain Toohey have both expressed deep disquiet over Mr Blick's review, saying his findings did not accord with the facts.
Regardless, Mr Blick did not dispute that Mr Lewincamp demanded that the intelligence flow from the database remain turned off once the shutdown had been detected.
However, General Cosgrove and the secretary of the Department of Defence, Ric Smith, last week failed to acknowledge this crucial fact when they disputed claims that Mr Lewincamp had "placed in jeopardy" the lives of troops by denying them access to intelligence.
They said only that the loss was due to "technical problems and a number of power outages" and there was "simply no basis" to suggest Mr Lewincamp was responsible.
Defence rejects the shutdown could have cost lives but Labor's defence spokesman, Chris Evans, said: "That troops in the field were denied intelligence because of a spat in Defence is deeply disturbing.
"This report doesn't ease my concerns about what occurred. It still leaves many questions unanswered."
Also see http://expage.com/lancecollins1