The Age
US spies were there: envoy

Beo002 - CARE Australia workers were spies - 2000-02-04 - Follow-up


Thursday 10 February 2000

The row over CARE Australia's link with US agents in Somalia is set to deepen with America's former chief official in the war-torn country confirming key details of an advance intelligence operation in the town of Baidoa.

The former Bush administration's special envoy to Somalia, Mr Robert Oakley, confirmed yesterday that four American agents had posed as State Department officials to help pave the way for the arrival of the US Marines in December, 1992.

The operatives were part of a joint CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency operation to provide tactical intelligence before US troop movements, Mr Oakley told The Age in an interview.

The Age reported yesterday that agents posing as State Department officials had conducted the intelligence work from the supposedly neutral CARE Australia aid compound, an allegation CARE vehemently denied.

Mr Oakley said he knew the spies had been in Baidoa and confirmed the cover story they had used, but said he did not know where they had been based. "Suffice it to say I would not be astonished if they professed to be State Department officials in Baidoa," Mr Oakley said.

"They had been going around Mogadishu (the Somali capital) before that telling people they were from the State Department and doing their intelligence work.

"I rang Washington and said, `This is bullshit. These guys can't go around passing themselves as State Department people. They're spies'.

"If CARE Australia was dumb enough to play their game, is something I don't know."

Former Age journalist Sue Neales, who was staying in the CARE compound in Baidoa at the time, reported yesterday that the men had been introduced to her and other journalists as State Department officials. She said the US operatives had been briefed extensively by CARE Australia's head of mission at Baidoa, Mr Lockton Morrisey, and had slept in the compound.

They had hidden most of their communications equipment in a room next to the compound's wheat storage bunker, while mapping strategic locations, intersections and roads with their military satellite positioning systems, she reported. When told of her account of how the four men had parachuted into the compound under the cover of darkness, Mr Oakley said: "That sounds like something they would do."

Mr Oakley, a former US ambassador to Pakistan and former head of the State Department's counter-terrorism office, is now a visiting fellow at the National Defence University in Washington.

The State Department yesterday declined to answer written questions posed by The Age on the issue.

However, it is understood that official US documents detailing the activities of the intelligence operatives are being held at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas, classified under a 12-year presidential secrets order.

Mr Oakley said the only other advance party in Baidoa at the time was his own, small group of political officers and humanitarian workers. Mr Oakley arrived in Baidoa with the US Marine and French Army contingents on 17December.

He said the CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency operatives left Baidoa in an army jeep that day to conduct their next round of advance intelligence gathering. Mr Oakley said their jeep hit a landmine, killing one and injuring two others.

The former US official said he never suggested that aid organisations should be used as intelligence source, but added: "I can tell you that if CARE Australia or any other NGO (non-government organisation) had helped these people it certainly did not have a negative effect on the way they operated in Somalia."