Interview: Warren Reed
July 17, 2005
Reporter : Laurie Oakes
JANA WENDT: As we've seen in the news, the new ASIO Chief, Paul O'Sullivan, has been accused of blowing the cover of an Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent, and forcing the closure of the ASIS mission when he was a diplomat at the Embassy in Cairo.
That evidence was given to a judicial inquiry by the former ASIS station commander in Cairo, Warren Reed, now a noted intelligence analyst. In a monumental blunder at the time, Mr Reed's assistant was kidnapped by Egyptian security agents and interrogated for more than a day.
Well, Warren Reed is in our Sydney studio, and here to talk to him is Laurie Oakes again.
LAURIE OAKES: Thanks Jana. Mr Reed, welcome to Sunday.
WARREN REED: Hello Laurie.
LAURIE OAKES: Now how do you claim that Paul O'Sullivan was involved in blowing your cover when you were spying in Cairo?
WARREN REED: Well, as the deputy to the Ambassador of the day, Ken Rogers, who has since passed away, both gentlemen were engaged in loose talk behind the backs of Egyptian staff members who were not only fluent in English but known to be reporting to the local intelligence service about activities of certain people in the Embassy — especially people like myself. And also by withdrawing from me certain crucial cover roles, foreign affairs cover tasks that I had to perform so that I would not be exposed, and I was left dangerously exposed, and I think deliberately so.
LAURIE OAKES: Well how do you know what they said in front of Egyptian staff?
WARREN REED: Because some of the staffers, believe it or not, actually fed that information back to me and warned me that my cover had not only worn thin but it had snapped.
LAURIE OAKES: Why would they have done that?
WARREN REED: They'd do that because their...
LAURIE OAKES: Why would two senior diplomats do something like that? It seems incredible.
WARREN REED: It seems incredible, but it goes back to the nature of the people involved, the traditional relationship between ASIS and Foreign Affairs on cover. It went back particularly to the nature of the Ambassador who was, I regret to say, not the proudest Australian I've ever worked with, and he worked very closely and cooperatively with Mr O'Sullivan. And when I appealed to Mr O'Sullivan to apply a bit of sanity to the situation he did not do so.
LAURIE OAKES: But the problem seems to be mainly the Ambassador, is that what you're saying? Mr O'Sullivan, as I understand, was his assistant.
WARREN REED: Ah no, he was his deputy but they worked in close cooperation, and what one did the other would do. You can't divide them in any way at all.
LAURIE OAKES: Now, the Prime Minister has been asked about your allegations in Washington. He says there was an inquiry carried out by Mr Justice Samuels, and that inquiry did not report adversely in any way on Mr O'Sullivan. That's true, isn't it?
WARREN REED: Well, but why Laurie? It was a cover-up. It was a whitewash. Mr O'Sullivan and the Ambassador, both of whom for the entire year that the inquiry ran in Canberra, were only some 800 metres away from where it ran. And they were never called to give evidence or to be cross-examined. And I jumped up and down over that, but I was thumped and told to be quiet.
I'll tell you if you wish, I could just read to you briefly for the first time exactly the finding of the secret report that has never been revealed to the Australian public. And I'm only prompted to do this, Laurie, because of this appointment and the seriousness of it.
'Finding: ASIS did not respond adequately to the concerns expressed by Reed as Head of Station about the difficulties of his relationship with the Head of Mission, and their implication for the ASIS station. ASIS should have responded immediately because of the services obligation of loyalty to Reed and his reasonable expectation that he would be taken at his word and because of the seriousness from the services operational perspective of the alleged threat to cover.'
That's what's never been revealed, Laurie. That's how serious it was.
LAURIE OAKES: But I should point out, that criticises ASIS, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, and it criticises perhaps the head of mission, the Ambassador. It doesn't mention Mr O'Sullivan.
WARREN REED: No, but it wouldn't, because the head of mission who's since passed on and Mr O'Sullivan were mysteriously never called to the inquiry to give evidence nor be cross-examined, which I regard as a travesty of justice.
LAURIE OAKES: And what were the consequences in your view of the loose talk you're accusing these people of?
WARREN REED: Well our cover was blown. I was caught in the street and bashed. Later when I left, my operational assistant was — as Jana mentioned — pulled in and subjected to a very severe interrogation. My career was ruined and the station had to be closed down. And the consequences — there were other consequences which I'd prefer not to discuss on television.
LAURIE OAKES: Does your decision to go public now reflect angst in the security community about the appointment of a bureaucrat to this job?
WARREN REED: Very much so, Laurie. In fact, many people in ASIO and myself are amazed that the Prime Minister could have made this appointment without knowing that this was in Mr. O'Sullivan's background. And also that the Attorney-General Mr. Ruddock also did not know.
That is a shocking breach of security and many people in ASIO, many of whom I might say could eminently well feel this job that Mr. O'Sullivan has been oddly appointed to — they are not very pleased at all. It is a rank insult to the ASIO staff at a time when we desperately need their energy streaming in a positive direction to help in the fight against terrorism.
LAURIE OAKES: Mr Reed, we're out of time. We thank you.
WARREN REED: Thanks Laurie.
LAURIE OAKES: Back to you Jana.
JANA WENDT: Warren Reed, talking there with Laurie Oakes.