Spinning the Secrets of State: Politics and intelligence in Australia
by Justin T. McPhee
Monash University Publishing, $34.95 pb, 272 pp
It is not surprising that a book on the politicisation of intelligence in Australia should begin and end by referring to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. For many Australians, that episode will long remain the classic example of the misuse of intelligence for partisan political purposes, in sharp contrast to the ideal that intelligence analysts should speak truth to power, giving policymakers their unvarnished assessments, rather than telling them what they want to hear.
This book is not about that episode but about its prehistory. Written by an academic who, we are told, ‘teaches across the social and political sciences’ at RMIT University, the book uses several episodes in Australian history as case studies in the politicisation of intelligence. Justin T. McPhee places these episodes into analytical frameworks developed by scholars of intelligence in Europe and North America. His aim is to identify what he calls the means by which intelligence has been politicised in Australia, the forms of that politicisation, and the conditions under which intelligence has been politicised. These categories might be better defined as the purposes of politicisation, such as to promote a policy, to persuade a sceptical audience, or to discredit one’s opponents; the means of politicisation, including direct intervention and more discreet manipulation; and the social and political context.