Tassie Greens undecided

Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKin is still unclear on whether he plans to back Labor or the Liberals following a state election which has given his party a clear balance of power in the state.


Will Hodgman’s Liberals won the most votes, but the outcome of Saturday’s poll is an expected 10-10-5 split of Liberal, Labor and Greens in the 25-member assembly.

Tasmania’s new political dynamics will be tested next month when the nation’s leaders meet to discuss the federal government’s planned hospital funding takeover.

But the tight results mean that it’s unclear whether Hodgman or Bartlett will be heading to the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting next month.

Meanwhile, South Australia finds itself in a similar position.

Labor Premier Mike Rann is expected to retain power but was last night saying it would be presumptous to claim victory after his party suffered an eight per cent swing in the state.

And the uncertainty over the make up of the meeting has some speculating that Prime Minister Rudd may have pushed the meeting back to April 19 because of the uncertainty, although a spokesman for the PM yesterday said that clashing timetables were the reason.

Potential weeks of delay have McKim undecided

In Tasmania, two state seats remain in doubt, and it could take weeks before they are decided.

On Sunday, Greens leader Nick McKim didn’t have a plan in mind about what role his party might have in trying to influence which of the two major party leaders attends COAG.

Mr McKim was asked by a reporter in Hobart whether he would seek to talk to whoever is the new premier before COAG and have the Greens’ interests represented at the meeting.

“That depends on what happens over the next few days and next couple of weeks and I’m not in position to predict that at the moment,” he replied.

Mr McKim was specific about the Greens’ concerns over Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plan.

“We need to see more detail around whether there will be job losses in the public sector, particularly amongst health workers…,” he said.

Greens could gain one more seat

The Greens are still in the race to gain one more seat, that of Denison in Hobart, which would take them from four to six seats, assuming they hold on to their likely gain in the northwest seat of Braddon.

The man many expect to become Tasmania’s next premier, Liberal leader Will Hodgman, says he’ll act in the state’s best interest on the federal government’s planned funding takeover of hospitals.

Issues such as reduced GST revenues and the prospect of hospital closures in regional and rural centres were chief among his concerns about the plan.

“These things are very important here in Tasmania,” he told reporters in Hobart on Sunday.

Bartlett supports takeover

David Bartlett supports the takeover and had hitched most of Labor’s central health policy platform to it in his election campaign.

The incumbent premier said it would be days before he knew whether he had lost office.

“Anything can happen in a couple of electorates, for those fifth seats, and we’ll wait patiently,” he told reporters in Hobart.

On Saturday night, Mr Hodgman laid claim to being the premier of the state’s hung parliament after Labor suffered a general 12 per cent swing against it on Saturday’s.

The Liberals have polled more votes overall than Labor and in the event of a tie, it has been agreed he would become premier.

CIA files prove America helped Saddam as he gassed Iran

The US government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus.


But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. US intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on US satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

US officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the US had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the US government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

In contrast to today’s wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein’s widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.

In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons’ use – even though the agency possessed it. Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.

It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior US officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.

Top CIA officials, including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, a close friend of President Ronald Reagan, were told about the location of Iraqi chemical weapons assembly plants; that Iraq was desperately trying to make enough mustard agent to keep up with frontline demand from its forces; that Iraq was about to buy equipment from Italy to help speed up production of chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs; and that Iraq could also use nerve agents on Iranian troops and possibly civilians.

Officials were also warned that Iran might launch retaliatory attacks against US interests in the Middle East, including terrorist strikes, if it believed the United States was complicit in Iraq’s chemical warfare campaign.

“As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings,” the CIA reported in a top secret document in November 1983. “Tehran would take such evidence to the UN and charge US complicity in violating international law.”


At the time, the military attaché’s office was following Iraqi preparations for the offensive using satellite reconnaissance imagery, Francona told Foreign Policy. According to a former CIA official, the images showed Iraqi movements of chemical materials to artillery batteries opposite Iranian positions prior to each offensive.

Francona, an experienced Middle East hand and Arabic linguist who served in the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he first became aware of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran in 1984, while serving as air attaché in Amman, Jordan. The information he saw clearly showed that the Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent (also known as “GA”) against Iranian forces in southern Iraq.

The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq’s chemical attacks and its plans for launching more. “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border,” the CIA said in a top secret document.

But it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.

The CIA noted in one document that the use of nerve agent “could have a significant impact on Iran’s human wave tactics, forcing Iran to give up that strategy.” Those tactics, which involved Iranian forces swarming against conventionally armed Iraqi positions, had proved decisive in some battles. In March 1984, the CIA reported that Iraq had “begun using nerve agents on the Al Basrah front and likely will be able to employ it in militarily significant quantities by late this fall.”

The use of chemical weapons in war is banned under the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which states that parties “will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the” agreement. Iraq never ratified the protocol; the United States did in 1975. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production and use of such arms, wasn’t passed until 1997, years after the incidents in question.

The initial wave of Iraqi attacks, in 1983, used mustard agent. While generally not fatal, mustard causes severe blistering of the skin and mucus membranes, which can lead to potentially fatal infections, and can cause blindness and upper respiratory disease, while increasing the risk of cancer. The United States wasn’t yet providing battlefield intelligence to Iraq when mustard was used. But it also did nothing to assist Iran in its attempts to bring proof of illegal Iraqi chemical attacks to light. Nor did the administration inform the United Nations. The CIA determined that Iran had the capability to bomb the weapons assembly facilities, if only it could find them. The CIA believed it knew the locations.

Hard evidence of the Iraqi chemical attacks came to light in 1984. But that did little to deter Hussein from using the lethal agents, including in strikes against his own people. For as much as the CIA knew about Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, officials resisted providing Iraq with intelligence throughout much of the war. The Defense Department had proposed an intelligence-sharing program with the Iraqis in 1986. But according to Francona, it was nixed because the CIA and the State Department viewed Saddam Hussein as “anathema” and his officials as “thugs.”

The situation changed in 1987. CIA reconnaissance satellites picked up clear indications that the Iranians were concentrating large numbers of troops and equipment east of the city of Basrah, according to Francona, who was then serving with the Defense Intelligence Agency. What concerned DIA analysts the most was that the satellite imagery showed that the Iranians had discovered a gaping hole in the Iraqi lines southeast of Basrah. The seam had opened up at the junction between the Iraqi III Corps, deployed east of the city, and the Iraqi VII Corps, which was deployed to the southeast of the city in and around the hotly contested Fao Peninsula.

The satellites detected Iranian engineering and bridging units being secretly moved to deployment areas opposite the gap in the Iraqi lines, indicating that this was going to be where the main force of the annual Iranian spring offensive was going to fall, Francona said.

In late 1987, the DIA analysts in Francona’s shop in Washington wrote a Top Secret Codeword report partially entitled “At The Gates of Basrah,” warning that the Iranian 1988 spring offensive was going to be bigger than all previous spring offensives, and this offensive stood a very good chance of breaking through the Iraqi lines and capturing Basrah. The report warned that if Basrah fell, the Iraqi military would collapse and Iran would win the war.

President Reagan read the report and, according to Francona, wrote a note in the margin addressed to Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.”

Subsequently, a decision was made at the top level of the US government (almost certainly requiring the approval of the National Security Council and the CIA). The DIA was authorised to give the Iraqi intelligence services as much detailed information as was available about the deployments and movements of all Iranian combat units. That included satellite imagery and perhaps some sanitised electronic intelligence. There was a particular focus on the area east of the city of Basrah where the DIA was convinced the next big Iranian offensive would come. The agency also provided data on the locations of key Iranian logistics facilities, and the strength and capabilities of the Iranian air force and air defense system. Francona described much of the information as “targeting packages” suitable for use by the Iraqi air force to destroy these targets.

The sarin attacks then followed.

The nerve agent causes dizziness, respiratory distress, and muscle convulsions, and can lead to death. CIA analysts could not precisely determine the Iranian casualty figures because they lacked access to Iranian officials and documents. But the agency gauged the number of dead as somewhere between “hundreds” and “thousands” in each of the four cases where chemical weapons were used prior to a military offensive. According to the CIA, two-thirds of all chemical weapons ever used by Iraq during its war with Iran were fired or dropped in the last 18 months of the war.

By 1988, US intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein’s military. That March, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq.

A month later, the Iraqis used aerial bombs and artillery shells filled with sarin against Iranian troop concentrations on the Fao Peninsula southeast of Basrah, helping the Iraqi forces win a major victory and recapture the entire peninsula. The success of the Fao Peninsula offensive also prevented the Iranians from launching their much-anticipated offensive to capture Basrah. According to Francona, Washington was very pleased with the result because the Iranians never got a chance to launch their offensive.

The level of insight into Iraq’s chemical weapons program stands in marked contrast to the flawed assessments, provided by the CIA and other intelligence agencies about Iraq’s program prior to the United States’ invasion in 2003. Back then, American intelligence had better access to the region and could send officials out to assess the damage.

Francona visited the Fao Peninsula shortly after it had been captured by the Iraqis. He found the battlefield littered with hundreds of used injectors once filled with atropine, the drug commonly used to treat sarin’s lethal effects. Francona scooped up a few of the injectors and brought them back to Baghdad — proof that the Iraqis had used sarin on the Fao Peninsula.

In the ensuing months, Francona reported, the Iraqis used sarin in massive quantities three more times in conjunction with massed artillery fire and smoke to disguise the use of nerve agents. Each offensive was hugely successful, in large part because of the increasingly sophisticated use of mass quantities of nerve agents. The last of these attacks, called the Blessed Ramadan Offensive, was launched by the Iraqis in April 1988 and involved the largest use of sarin nerve agent employed by the Iraqis to date. For a quarter-century, no chemical attack came close to the scale of Saddam’s unconventional assaults. Until, perhaps, the strikes last week outside of Damascus.

Read the CIA files

Situation report on the Iran-Iraq war, noting that each side is preparing for chemical weapons attacks (July 29, 1982) 

Iran-Iraq Situation Report


Top secret memo documenting chemical weapons use by Iraq, and discussing Iran’s likely reactions (Nov. 4, 1983) 

Iran’s Likely Reaction to Iraqi Use of Chemical Weapons

Memo to the director of Central Intelligence predicting that Iraq will use nerve agents against Iran (Feb. 24, 1984) 


Memo Predicts Use of Nerve Agents

CIA predicts “widespread use of mustard agents” and use of nerve agents by late summer (March 13, 1984) 


CIA Predicts Widespread Use of Mustard Agents and Use of Nerve Agent by Late Summer

CIA confirms Iraq used nerve agent (March 23, 1984) 


CIA Confirms Iraq Used Nerve Agent

CIA considers the consequences for chemical weapons proliferation now that Iraq has used mustard and nerve agent (Sept. 6, 1984) 


Note on Chemical Weapons Proliferation and Posisble Consequences

Intelligence assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program (January 1985) 


Intelligence Assessment of Iraqi Chemical Weapons Program

© 2013, Foreign Policy

Media in spotlight at diversity debate


Hosted by World News Australia’s Anton Enus, the SBS CQ forum discussed whether the media served as friend or foe in Australia’s discussions about diversity.


Forum participants included former news directors of networks 10 and 9 and the Daily Telegraph journalist Joe Hildebrand, along with former Immigration Minister the Hon Amanda Vanstone.

They shared the floor with community advocates and refugees including the Liberal candidate for Cabramatta Dai Le, Bahati Masudi from SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From and Pino Migliorino from multicultural peak body FECCA as well as commentators and researchers including Julie Posetti, Ien Ang, Tanveer Ahmed, Ghassan Hage and Andrew Markus.

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said SBS’ expertise as a broadcaster and thought leader on diversity could help provide new perspectives on long-standing debates about multiculturalism.

“SBS is the catalyst for the national discussion about diversity and SBS CQ will become a conversation series as well as a permanent resource,” he said.

The forum, which will be broadcast on SBS TWO on December 22, was launched alongside a website which will become a permanent hub for views, news and research about diversity.

It features exclusive interviews with key thinkers and commentators as well as resources including SBS’s research into Australian attitudes towards immigration, refugees and asylum seekers.

SBS CQ: Cultural Intelligence will air on Thursday, December 22, on SBS TWO at 8.30pm. It can also be viewed online at 南宁桑拿,sbs南宁桑拿会所,广西桑拿网,/cq.

Swan quiet on tax for miners

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan is playing down speculation the government is preparing to tax mining companies $5 billion a year with a resources rent tax, once the Henry Tax Review is released.


“Let’s not have hysterical short-term reactions to speculation which is probably inaccurate in the press,” Mr Swan told Sky News in Washington where he attended a meeting of G20 finance ministers.

Many mining companies exporing Australian resources to the world- including the big ‘Australian’ firms BHP and Rio Tinto, are actually majority foreign-owned.

The plan to impose a new national resource rent tax, to be collected by the commonwealth, has been widely tipped to be part of the federal government’s response to the Henry tax review.

The review and the government’s response to it will be published on May 2nd.

Despite tax breaks for mining companies, executives complained to the Weekend Australian that a federal resources rent tax on top of the $7 billion already paid in state royalties was the “worst-case scenario” and a “thermo-nuclear option” that could stop projects going ahead or limit expansion.

Under Henry’s model, state royalties charged on production rather than profits would be replaced by a national system kicking in once profits hit a certain level.

But the argument that competitiveness could be affected is the same one that garnered concessions under the emissions trading scheme.

The review, carried out by Treasury secretary Ken Henry, is believed to recommend the rate be set at 40 per cent of mining industry profits and replace state royalties.

Only a few weeks ago, the Green party suggested the rate should be set at 50 per cent.

Mr Swan said he would not speculate what may or may not be in the Henry review or the government’s response.

“Many of the articles that have been written are simply inaccurate.”

US State Dept admits it doesn’t know who ordered Syrian chemical strike

With the United States barreling toward a strike on Syria, US officials say they are completely certain that Bashar al-Assad’s government is responsible for last week’s chemical weapons attack.


They just don’t know who in the Syrian government is to blame.

On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf admitted as much.

“The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if … he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, ‘Go,’ on this,” Harf said.

“I don’t know what the facts are here. I’m just, broadly speaking, saying that he is responsible for the actions of his regime. I’m not intimately familiar with the command and control structure of the Syrian military. I’m just not. But again, he is responsible ultimately for the decisions that are made.”

On Tuesday, The Cable reported that US officials are basing their assessment that the Assad regime bears responsibility for the strike largely on an intercepted phone call between a panicked Ministry of Defense official and a commander of a Syrian chemical weapons unit. But that intelligence does not resolve the question of who in the government ordered the strike or what kind of command and control structures are in place for the use of such weapons. “It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable Tuesday. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?” 

Because of that lack of clarity, Harf took a beating on Wednesday. In a testy exchange during her daily briefing, Harf very nearly admitted that it makes no difference who in the Syrian government ordered the attack, a reflection of the lack of certainty that still shrouds U.S. understanding of the chemical attack that may have left as many as 1,000 people dead.

In effect, Harf was left arguing that because no one else could have carried out the attack, it must have been the Syrian government.

“The world doesn’t need a classified US intelligence assessment to see the photos and the videos of these people and to know that the only possible entity in Syria that could do this to their own people is the regime,” she said.

Given that U.N. inspectors with a mandate to investigate chemical weapons use were on the ground when the attack happened, the decision to deploy what appears to have been a nerve agent in a suburb east of Damascus has puzzled many observers. Why would Syria do such a thing when it is fully aware that the mass use of chemical weapons is the one thing that might require the United States to take military action against it? That’s a question US intelligence analysts are puzzling over as well. “We don’t know exactly why it happened,” the intelligence official said. “We just know it was pretty fucking stupid.”

Pressed on whether the United States would still consider itself justified in launching a punitive strike if the chemical weapons were deployed by a “rogue officer,” Harf said, “yes,” before quickly adding a caveat: “But that’s also a wildly conjecturous question.”

© 2013, Foreign Policy

Miners lose, small businesses win

The Government has released the long awaited Henry Tax Review, with good news for small businesses, an increase in superannuation contributions and a 40 per cent slug on mining companies.


The ‘resource super profits tax’ – or a mining rent tax – will be set at 40 per cent by July 11 2012, which could bring the government up to $12 billion per year, Swan said

Wayne Swan told Sky News that he wants the sector to grow, and that the tax currently being carried out under eight jurisdictions, is inefficient.

“The Australian people are entitled to a fair return from their assets”, Swan said.

Swan announced a new federal-state infrastructure fund, and as expected, provided some good news for small businesses

Meanwhile, employer contribution on superannuation will rise from nine percent to 12 per cent, as expected.

Key recommendations

– Compulsory superannuation will go from nine per cent to 12 per cent by 2019.

– Super will be guaranteed for workers up to 75 years old, up from 70 at present. Super will be compulsory for over 70 year olds.

– Workers over 50 with low super savings will be able to make payments at a concessional rate.

– The government will also provide a super contribution of $500 a year to low-income workers, and will retain their super co-contribution scheme.

– Company tax will be reduced by two per cent to 28 per cent by 2015, but small businesses will benefit from the tax cut by 2012.

– Small businesses will be able to write off assets under $5,000, compared with the current $1,000 write off.

– The mining and resources sector will be slugged with a 40 per cent federal ‘Resources Super Profit Tax’ – but mining companies will be able to claim a rebate on any state mining royalties they pay.

– The federal government will contribute $700 million in 2012/13 to a state infrastructure plan. The government has pledged $5.6 billion to this fund over the next decade.

– Adding to the Goods and Services Tax rate has been ruled out, as has broadening the GST base.

In other aspects of the review, there will be no further excises on petrol, alcohol, gambling or a congestion tax.

Bare-chested and shoeless – our top 10 stories

We like to think that you, dear readers of SBS News online, are a discerning bunch, but you also like to let your hair down.


As such, this week’s satchel of most-read stories is a mixed bag as usual.

Along with letting your pony-tails flow free, it seems many of you have an interest in bare-chested protesters at Davos. And what’s not to like about the ladies AFP described as radical Ukrainian feminists? We know you were more keen on finding out what was happening at the Davos economic forum really. It was our top story. Guesses as to why in the comments below, please.

More politics with a helpful dose of scandal up next – yes, it was shoegate, tentgate, Gingerellagate, wotevs. Never mind that huge swathes of the media avoided talking about sky-high rates of Aboriginal incarceration or soaring levels of trachoma in remote communities – we wanted to know who told who what, when! Ah hah, it was a union leader, apparently. Gotcha!

And from scantily clad Ukrainians to considerably more-heavily-clad beachgoers, we learned that Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year was … Burqini!

Next story: when will they learn? Apparently many of you were concerned for these two keen athletes, who’ll probably be regretting that last schooner of methylhexanamine: they’ve copped a six month ban for it.

Consumers of online news will know that media outlets like to tease their readers. When we say ‘Flying people stun New Yorkers’, it is done within the bounds of a young but growing tradition of creating what can loosely be called ‘click-fodder’. It’s a pretty cool video we’re talking about though – and a hell of a way to flog a product.

Everyone likes space. Everyone. Ok, so the first chimp there probably missed his jungle home, but a bus-sized asteroid sizing us up was always going to do well on Twitter. I couldn’t tell you the actual significance of this, and whether any ‘Tasmania-sized asteroids’ are coming, but if a bus-sized one landed on your hills hoist, it would probably be big enough for you to notice it.

More serious stuff came later down the list of popular stories, with the horrific football violence which took a security-weak Egypt by storm. At least 74 were killed, and an inquiry has been promised.

Then there was the ‘he said she said’, they fled, and you read – all you could, in fact – as the PM’s staffer resigned over the tent embassy debacle, and the opposition sought an inquiry. Really, Canberra, get it together.

It was, as you probably noted, quite the Australia Day for race relations, and our Your Say on whether racism is widespread in this Great Southern Land was the place to be online, squeezing into ninth place of the top ten for the week.

And, if you missed it, shame on you! The Australian Open men’s final was a cracker (I’m told). Glenn Osborne got in early with this blog, commanding you to strap yourselves in. We hope you did!

Spy Kids

In the 21st century, the US National Security Agency (and other espionage agencies) face a storm of system-wide problems that I haven’t seen anybody talking about.


The problems are sociological, and they threaten to undermine the way the Western security state operates.

The big government/civil service agencies are old. The NSA’s roots stretch back to the State Department’s “Black Chamber” (officially dissolved by Secretary of State Henry Stimson in 1929 with the immortal words “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail”). The CIA is a creation of the late 1940s. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was established as the Bureau of Investigation in 1908. These organisations are products of the 20th-century industrial state, and they are used to running their human resources and internal security processes as if they’re still living in the days of the “job for life” culture. Potential spooks-to-be were tapped early (often while at school or university), vetted, and then given a safe sinecure along with regular monitoring to ensure they stayed on the straight-and-narrow all the way to the gold watch and pension. Because that’s how we all used to work, at least if we were civil servants or white-collar paper-pushers back in the 1950s.

But outside the walled garden of the civil service, things don’t work that way anymore. A major consequence of the 1970s resurgence of neoliberal economics was the deregulation of labour markets and the deliberate destruction of the job-for-life culture (partly because together they were a powerful lever for dislodging unionism and the taproots of left-wing power in the West, and partly because a liquid labour market made entrepreneurial innovation and corporate restructuring easier).

Government departments may be structured on old-fashioned lines, but their managers aren’t immune to outside influences and they frequently attempt reforms, in the name of greater efficiency, that shadow the popular private-sector fads of the day. One side effect of making corporate restructuring easier was the rush toward outsourcing, and today around 70 per cent of the US intelligence budget is spent on outside contractors. And it’s a big budget – well over $50 billion ($A 55.7 billion) a year. Some chunks go to heavy metal (the National Reconnaissance Office is probably the biggest high-spending agency you’ve never heard of: it builds spy satellites), but a lot goes to people. People to oil the machines. People who work for large contracting organisations. Organisations that increasingly rely on contractors rather than permanent labour to retain “flexibility.”

Here’s the problem: The organisations are now running into outside contractors who grew up in the globalised, liquid labour world of Generation X and Generation Y, with Generation Z fast approaching.

We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we don’t see eye to eye with our parents on political questions or we sigh in despair about our kids’ fashion sense or taste in music, we generally have a handle on what makes them tick. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s generation screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking that our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens – people for whom a North Atlantic crossing by sail was as slow and risky as a mission to Mars, people who took it for granted that some races were naturally inferior and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.

Let’s focus on the next three generations and try to discern some patterns.

Generation X’s parents, the baby boomers, grew up in the 1950s. It was not unusual to expect to work in the same job for life. They seldom travelled internationally because it was expensive and slow, and their cultural environment was predominantly defined by their nationality – an extraordinary international incursion such as the arrival of Beatlemania in the 1960s was shocking precisely because it was so unusual.

With few exceptions, Generation X never had the job for life. Members of the generation are used to nomadic employment, hire-and-fire, right-to-work laws, the whole nine yards of organised-labour deracination. But they also grew up in the age of cheap jet travel, on a globe shrunk so small that 48 hours and two weeks’ average wages could take you to the antipodes. (In 1813, you could pay two weeks’ average wages and take 48 hours to travel 100 to 200 miles by stagecoach. In 2013, that can take you from Maryland to Hong Kong – and then on to Moscow.)

Generation Y’s parents are Generation X. Generation Y comprises the folks who serve your coffee in Starbucks and build software at Google. Generation Y has never thought of jobs as permanent things. Most Generation Y folks will stare at you blankly if you talk about loyalty to one’s employer; the old feudal arrangement (“we’ll give you a job for life and look after you as long as you look out for the Organisation”) is something their grandparents ranted about, but it’s about as real to them as the divine right of kings. Employers like Google or Facebook that provide good working conditions are the exception, not the rule. Employers are alien hive-mind colony intelligences that will fuck you over for the bottom line on the quarterly balance sheet. They’ll give you a laptop and tell you to hot-desk or work at home so that they can save money on office floor space and furniture. They’ll dangle the offer of a permanent job over your head but keep you on a zero-hours contract for as long as is convenient.

On the other hand: Generation Y has grown up in a world where travel is cheap and communication is nearly free. Their cultural zeitgeist is less parochial than that of their grandparents, more global, infused with Japanese anime and Swedish heavy metal, as well as local media produce. This is the world they grew up in: This is the world that defines their expectations.

The problem is, you can’t run a national security organisation if you can’t rely on the loyalty of the majority of your workers – both to the organisation and to the state it serves. At one time, continuity of employment meant that the agencies at least knew their people, but there is now an emerging need to security-clear vast numbers of temporary and transient workers with no intrinsic sense of loyalty to the organisation.

The NSA and its fellow swimmers in the acronym soup of the intelligence-industrial complex are increasingly dependent on nomadic contractor employees and increasingly subject to staff churn. Security clearance is carried out wholesale by other contractor organisations that specialize in human resource management, but even they are subject to the same problem: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioral rules that we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: Loyalty is a two-way street. (Another is hierarchy: Yield to the boss.) Such rules are not iron-bound or immutable – we’re not robots – but our new hive superorganism employers don’t obey them instinctively, and apes and monkeys and hominids tend to revert to tit-for-tat strategies readily when they’re unsure of their relative status. Perceived slights result in retaliation, and blundering, human-blind organisations can bruise an employee’s ego without even noticing. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty, because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging, are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable.

Nationalism might seem to provide a bulwark here, buttressing loyalty to the institutions of state with loyalty to the ideals of the state itself. But if the actions of the state deviate too far from the ideals embodied in the foundational myths its citizens believe, cognitive dissonance ensues. The public perception of America as being a democratic republic that values freedom and fairness under the rule of law is diametrically opposed to the secretive practices of the surveillance state. Nationalist loyalty is highly elastic, but can be strained to breaking point. And when that happens, we see public servants who remain loyal to the abstract ideals conclude that the institution itself is committing treason. And an organisation that provides no outlet for the concerns of loyal whistle-blowers like Thomas Drake is creating a rod for its own back by convincing the likes of leaker Edward Snowden that it is incapable of reform from within and disloyal to the national ideals it purports to serve.

Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z – the cohort born since the millennium.

Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally – energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability – but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.

To the Z cohort, the Internet isn’t a separate thing; it has been an integrated part of their lives since infancy. They do not remember a time before the Internet or a life without smartphones. All of them will have had Facebook pages, even though they had to lie about their age to sign up (and even though having a social network presence is officially a no-no for spooks). All of them have acquired long histories visible on the Internet, even if only through the tagged photographs of their schoolmates. Mostly they photograph everything (even though taking photographs or being photographed is officially a no-no for spooks). Many of them even use lifeloggers (which has got to be a career-killer if your career lies in the shadows). They grew up in a surveillance state; they might want privacy, but they are under no illusions that the centres of authority will permit them to have it. Steeply climbing university fees and student-debt loading have turned a traditional degree into their version of Generation X’s unattainable job for life; their education will be vocational or acquired piecemeal from MOOCs (massive open online courses), and their careers will be haphazard, casual, and dominated by multiple part-time contracts.

They saw their grandparents’ and parents’ generations screwed by the great intergenerational transfer of wealth to the baby boomers – their great-grandparents, many of whom are lingering on into their twilight 80s. To Generation Z’s eyes, the boomers and their institutions look like parasitic aliens with incomprehensible values who make irrational demands for absolute loyalty without reciprocity. Worse, the foundational mythology and ideals of the United States will look like a bitter joke, a fun house mirror’s distorted reflection of the reality they live with from day to day.

Generation Z will arrive brutalised and atomised by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?

If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.

© 2013, Foreign Policy

‘The Protester’ is Time’s person of year

The Protester has been named Time magazine’s person of the year, a tribute to those bringing change across the Arab world as well as anti-corporate greed demonstrations in the West.


“There’s this contagion of protest,” Time managing editor Richard Stengel told NBC television on Wednesday. “These are folks who are changing history already and they will change history in the future.”

The shared honour for protesters beat the traditional individual contenders, who included Admiral William McRaven, commander of the US mission to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

Last year, Time picked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose competitors included another 21st century communications guru, WikiLeaks maestro Julian Assange.

This time, the list centred on heavyweight political figures such as McRaven, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei, and influential Republican Congressman Paul Ryan.

There were also an emotional nod for Kate Middleton, who was credited for putting a spring back in the royal family’s step with her wedding to Prince William.

“Admiral McRaven captured bin Laden and (Middleton) captured our hearts. They represent people who affected us in one way or another who swayed the conversation – captured our imagination,” Stengel said.

But he said that in the end, the selection committee was unanimous in backing street protesters, “the men and women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, who toppled governments, who brought democracy and dignity to people who hadn’t had it before”.

“We thought ‘these dictators are not going to be toppled’. And then these people who risked their lives, risked their livelihoods to go out there and brought about change that nobody had expected.

“It really is a transformational thing and I think it is changing the world for the better,” he said.

The Time award, which is purely honorary and dates back to 1927, noted that while the first and most dramatic protests took place in Muslim countries, they inspired demonstrators across the world.

Popular backlashes against economic turmoil and corruption among elites sparked months of large-scale demonstrations in Spain, Greece, Israel and other countries.

In September, the Occupy Wall Street movement began in New York, quickly spreading to other US cities, while now Russia is seeing rare protests by large crowds against election rigging.

“Loathing and anger at governments and their cronies became uncontainable and fed on itself,” Time’s cover article reads.

A protester at the Occupy DC camp in Washington, Kelly Canavan, said the Time magazine honour was “very exciting”.

“It’s inspirational. It shows people are paying attention to us, which is what we’re hoping for,” Canavan told AFP.

“Given how many occupations and how many mass movements there are … (this) demonstrates that we’re gaining a lot of legitimacy.”

Time magazine, featuring a cover photo of a female Arab protester, goes on the newsstands on Friday.

“The stakes are very different in different places. In North America and most of Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don’t get tortured,” the cover article wrote.

“Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed.”

Small miners want detail on tax reform

A small Australian mining company has told SBS that even small miners are facing major uncertainty over the proposed Resource Super Profit tax, despite government attempts to placate junior operators.


Alkane Resources is a multi-commodity producer, but plans upcoming production of gold and the increasingly valuable rare-earth metal group, which China currently produces up to 97 per cent of.

The government is offering a rebate on exploration costs, and has touted the benefits for junior mining companies.

Alkane Resources Managing Director Ian Chalmers says other smaller miners ‘might be’ tempted by the rebates on offer when it comes to exploration, but it’s far from certain.

‘If I was (only) a junior explorer offered a rebate on the money I’d be drilling holes all over the place, but you only get the rebate if you go into production.’

When it comes to the proposed 57 per cent ‘tax shield’ on exploration costs, Chalmers is incredulous.

‘If the mine falls over, they’re going to reimburse the costs…that to me was amazing. I can’t believe a government anywhere in the world could come up with anything like that.’

Air of uncertainty

‘The cautious response is that until we see the actual detail, I’m still very vague as to how it’s going to work…and I gather it may be twelve months until we see the detail.’

Chalmers says that large and small mining companies do not necessarily speak with one voice, but he agrees large companies could get ‘hammered’ over the tax slug on ‘super profits’.

‘If I take a broader view, it does seem to be a horrible cynical ploy trying to generate votes in the big population centres of Melbourne and Sydney, and the mining industry is well out of sight of Melbourne and Sydney.’

Rare Earth could be hit

Big mining companies have been queuing up to announce projects put on hold in recent weeks, but smaller miners such as Alkane, with planned gold and rare earth metal projects, are also being hit hard with investors concerns.

‘Rightly or wrongly, it’s frightening investors away’, says Chalmers.

‘In eighteen months time when we’re looking to fund the Dubbo rare earth project, and looking for $150m or $250m, if that tax comes into being, it may be very difficult for us to raise that money, unless we end up selling our soul to the Chinese.’

Rare earth metals are used in a range of hi-tech applications, and there is increasing concern at Chinese attempts to limit production and export of the metals from its Inner Mongolia mine.

‘There’s this nagging little doubt of what is this super profit tax going to do to us. Is it going to affect us? The short answer is that we don’t know.’

Chalmers says the government probably expected a warmer welcome from small miners, but he just needs to see the detail.

‘Until we small miners understand the detail we can’t be happy or less happy, or completely negative.’