Across the media and political establishment in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime ministerÂ Gough Whitlam. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.
Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had â€œreversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolutionâ€. Whitlam ended his nationâ€™s colonial servility. He abolished royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported â€œzones of peaceâ€ and opposed nuclear weapons testing.
Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his countryâ€™s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to â€œbuy back the farmâ€. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britainâ€™s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continentâ€™s vast natural wealth.
Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this â€œbreaking freeâ€ in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided â€œblack teamsâ€ to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washingtonâ€™s informants during the Whitlam years.
Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be â€œvetted or harassedâ€ by the Australian security organisation, Asio â€“ then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as â€œcorrupt and barbaricâ€, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: â€œWe were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.â€
Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. â€œTry to screw us or bounce us,â€ the prime minister warned the US ambassador, â€œ[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contentionâ€.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, â€œThis threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House â€¦ a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.â€
Pine Gapâ€™s top-secret messages were decoded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the decoders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the â€œdeception and betrayal of an allyâ€. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as â€œour man Kerrâ€.
Kerr was not only the Queenâ€™s man, he had longstanding ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, The Crimes of Patriots, as â€œan elite, invitation-only group â€¦ exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIAâ€. The CIA â€œpaid for Kerrâ€™s travel, built his prestige â€¦ Kerr continued to go to the CIA for moneyâ€.
When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of Americaâ€™s â€œdeep stateâ€. Known as â€œthe coupmasterâ€, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia â€“ which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia, to the Australian Institute of Directors, was described by an alarmed member of the audience as â€œan incitement to the countryâ€™s business leaders to rise against the governmentâ€.
The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britainâ€™s MI6 was operating against his government. â€œThe Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,â€ he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, â€œWe knew MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings for the Americans.â€ In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the â€œWhitlam problemâ€ had been discussed â€œwith urgencyâ€ by the CIAâ€™s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: â€œKerr did what he was told to do.â€
On 10 November 1975, Whitlam was shown a top-secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIAâ€™s East Asia division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.
Shackleyâ€™s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australiaâ€™s NSA, where he was briefed on the â€œsecurity crisisâ€.
On 11 November â€“ the day Whitlam was to inform parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia â€“ he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal â€œreserve powersâ€, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The â€œWhitlam problemâ€ was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.
â€¢John Pilgerâ€™s investigation into the coup against Whitlam is described in full in his book, A Secret Country (Vintage), and in his documentary film, Other Peopleâ€™s Wars, which can be viewed on http://www.johnpilger.com/