Australian Govt new of bobing in advance

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    The warning tourists never heard
    By Tom Allard, Mark Riley and Marian Wilkinson
    October 17 2002

    The Prime Minister, John Howard, yesterday admitted that Australia received recent US intelligence identifying Bali as a possible target of a terrorist attack on Western tourists but had decided not to change its advice to Australian holidaymakers.

    The revelation came a day after Mr Howard, along with other members of cabinet and the US ambassador to Australia, Tom Schieffer, said they had been unaware of any such intelligence.

    Mr Howard told Parliament that Bali had been mentioned in recent intelligence reports as a site, along with other tourist locations across Indonesia, in which there was a risk of "possible terrorist activity against United States tourists".

    "This intelligence was assessed by agencies and the view was formed by them that no alteration in the threat assessment level, then at a high, applying to Indonesia was warranted," he said.

    The most recent Australian travel advice on Indonesia prior to the terrorist attack was on September 20, several days before the US intelligence mentioning Bali was disseminated.

    The notice advised travellers that bombs had been exploded in Indonesia, including tourist areas, and that further explosions "may be attempted".

    However, it also said, in bold type, that tourist services were "operating normally" in Bali.

    Up to 20,000 Australians were on the island at the time of the bombing.

    The US changed its travel notice twice after September 20 in response to threats identified by the CIA. It specifically warned its citizens to avoid bars, restaurants and tourist areas in Indonesia where Westerners gather.

    The US warning urged Americans and Westerners to "avoid large gatherings known to cater primarily to Western clientele including certain bars, restaurants and tourist areas".

    Mr Howard maintained yesterday that Australia's travel advice had been adequate and that there had been no intelligence that "specifically warned" of a bomb attack in Bali on October 12.

    But the Greens Senator Bob Brown said the revelations meant a parliamentary inquiry into suspected intelligence failures ahead of the Bali massacre was now inevitable.

    "There are serious concerns about the intelligence warnings or failure to warn," he said. "It is easy to be wise in hindsight but it's part of our role as parliamentarians to make sure that we do review the warnings or the failure of warnings before the Bali bomb blasts."

    Labor and the Democrats have not ruled out supporting such an inquiry.

    A former regimental intelligence officer with the Australian Army in East Timor, Andrew Plunkett, said the lack of a more specific warning based on the intelligence at hand constituted "another tragic intelligence failure" at a managerial level in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

    "I've seen it happen where diligent intelligence officers pass on significant information on activity in Indonesia that is later hosed down and wordsmithed by careerist departmental officers for political purposes," he said.

    "They water down the intelligence so as not to upset the Indonesians and because they place the narrow short-term business interests of Australian companies in Indonesia ahead of human security and our long-term national interest."

    In admitting to a silent Parliament that his Government had received the US intelligence, Mr Howard also ordered a full review by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security of all relevant material received by Australia's spy network on terrorist threats in Indonesia before the Bali bomb blast.

    Australia elevated its official threat assessment of Indonesia following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, but specifically excluded Bali from the warnings.

    In Bali yesterday, no clear leads emerged in the investigation of the bomb blast despite a swirl of rumour and speculation about the detention of suspects. Australia has posted a $2million reward for the capture and successful prosecution of the terrorists.

    The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Indonesian President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, agreed yesterday to formally establish a taskforce to investigate the attack, including Indonesian, Australian, British and American investigators.

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