From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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A likely story

1 December 2003

Alleged al-Qaeda operative Willie Brigitte is in solitary at Fleury-Merogis Prison outside Paris. Under French terrorism laws he can be held without trial for up to four years. They sent a couple of boys from the Australian Federal Police to Paris to interview Willie the other day, but the French wouldn’t let them near him. Well, we never, really, needed to actually talk to him anyway, the AFP spokesman said.

What we’re now hearing about Sydney’s thrilling squeak with terrorism are stories emanating from “a source close to the investigation”. The mainstream press have had a field day with the Willie Brigitte Affair but it’ll probably fade slowly out of the news, in a carefully managed sort of way. Which is a pity really. Having allegedly been under relentless surveillance by French security since 1998, Willie arrived in Sydney in July on a French passport and the French didn't bother informing us. He swaggered around the mosques and even Tony Mundine’s boxing studio. According to completely unconfirmed reports he put out feelers to all and sundry … hinting he was a big man from al-Qaeda.

You never know your luck in the big city: the handsome devil attracted the amorous attentions of an Aussie gal named Melanie Brown and after the requisite three or four dates they marry in an Islamic ceremony. Not one of the guests (according to reports) was well known to either of them. She’s a recent convert to Islam who now calls herself Khadija.

The official story goes that shortly after the wedding the French consulate belatedly informed Australian authorities that Willie is a long-standing terrorist suspect. Our boys pounce, arrest him for overstaying his tourist visa and working illegally. Interestingly, they don’t use their new anti-terrorism powers. Obligingly we deport him to France. Terror Ring Smashed.

Unconfirmable leaks link him to top al-Qaeda honchos and even to the exact same French camcorder that housed the explosives that killed Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud, a few days before September 11.

On the face of it, it’s an incredible story about carelessness by our own spooks and the perfidious French. The Murdoch media descend on it like ravening wolves.

What do they come up with? Ms Brown is a graduate of Danebank, a second line Anglican school, who went on to become an Army signaler, serve in East Timor, and be trained in Arabic. The Murdoch scribblers correctly point out that signalers often go on to careers in Defence Signals Directorate (our electronic ears on the world) or Australian Security intelligence Organisation. The evil terrorists are seducing innocents at the heart of our security establishment. The matter must be laid bare.

There’s a stirring call for Murdoch press readers to come forward with more information on Ms Brown ... and what results? Embarrassment all round. Turns out she previously identified as, er, 1, Jewish ... and um, 2, Lesbian.

There’s even a picture of the leggy Ms Brown on the 2002 Mardi Gras float of Dayenu, a Jewish G &L group. She’s wearing high-top Doc Martens and looks ravishingly butch.

So what? With all those rampaging hormones, a girl can get confused. But in the light of subsequent events there’s possibly an alternative explanation for this queer escapade: Melanie was, all along, an undercover agent.

Why join a Jewish gay group? Perhaps it was a training exercise of a type routinely used by security services: Pick a milieu that’s remote from the trainee’s experience, tell them to “penetrate” it, get accepted, then credibly break off contact. She told the folk from Dayenu she was Jewish on her mum’s side, told them the army had sent her to Israel. Strangely, they never saw her with a lesbian partner. Finally she provoked a total break with the group over abortion. Hmmm.

Perhaps Ms Brown passed the test with flying colours and went on to riskier assignments, but what of Willie Brigitte?

On the face of it Willie looks like a small time al-Q player. Came to Paris from the West Indies as a boy and became a social worker, converts to Islam at the age of 30, and immediately gets involved with a radical Sunni group. Just afterwards, on the eve of the soccer World Cup, the French cops round up 70 of his new comrades. But not Willie, they narrowly miss Willie (or so they say).

Unlike some of his associates, Willie didn’t go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, instead he goes briefly to Yemen to study the Koran. But just after September 11, he rushes to Pakistan and tries to cross into Afghanistan to offer his services. He takes a look at the border security, thinks better of it, and sits out the invasion in a Lashkar-e-Tayyiba training camp in Pakistan playing with Kalashnikovs (or so they say he says).

So that’s Willie: knows lots of insiders, never gets picked up by the cops, but he never quite gets to the scene of the action either (until now). Might be the CV of a minor, not-too-courageous al-Q player, but it could equally be the CV of an intrepid French secret service operative. Take your pick.

So here’s an intriguing speculation that makes just as much sense as the official yarn: what we really saw was a comedy of errors in the wilderness of mirrors that is the world of espionage.

Let’s say Willie was an agent provocateur sent to pull terrorists out of hiding. Maybe the French and Australian services were collaborating, maybe not. Khadija/Melanie might have been an ASIO undercover girl. Maybe she stumbled on Willie, thought he was the real thing and blew the whistle. Perhaps she was, by agreement with the French, part of his cover story. Whatever. At any rate, the operation turns into a fiasco, Willie looks too much like a spook. The subjects suspect him. A decision is taken to terminate his mission without blowing his cover. He’s arrested and whisked off to be debriefed, his bride goes to ground.

Khadija Brigitte is playing it rather professionally. She ain't saying much, just a few cryptic words to the Herald, never the Tele. She ain't flying to France to be near Willie and says she's keeping in touch with hubby via her mum-in-law in Guadeloupe. The story is dying quietly.

Is this just silly speculation? paranoid? fanciful? Perhaps, but undercover agents exist, fuck-ups happen, governments lie, and things are not always what we’re told they are.