When the US Pulled off a Coup in Australia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Weekly Review (CIA Freedom of Information Act)
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Washington’s role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a “strategic threat." The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?
The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal U.S. “ally." This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington’s coups — in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a “Ukraine” or a “Chile” could never happen to them.
Australia’s deference to the United States makes Britain, by comparison, seem a renegade. During the American invasion of Vietnam — which Australia had pleaded to join — an official in Canberra voiced a rare complaint to Washington that the British knew more about U.S. objectives in that war than its antipodean comrade-in-arms. The response was swift: “We have to keep the Brits informed to keep them happy. You are with us come what may.”
This dictum was rudely set aside in 1972 with the election of the reformist Labor government of Gough Whitlam. Although not regarded as of the left, Whitlam — now in his 98th year — was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride, propriety and extraordinary political imagination. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm” and speak as a voice independent of London and Washington.
On the day after his election, Whitlam ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO — then, as now, beholden to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the Nixon/Kissinger administration as “corrupt and barbaric”, Frank Snepp, a CIA officer stationed in Saigon at the time, said later: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”
Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, ostensibly a joint Australian/U.S. “facility." Pine Gap is a giant vacuum cleaner which, as the whistleblower Edward Snowden recently revealed, allows the U.S. to spy on everyone. In the 1970s, most Australians had no idea that this secretive foreign enclave placed their country on the front line of a potential nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Whitlam clearly knew the personal risk he was taking — as the minutes of a meeting with the U.S. ambassador demonstrate: “Try to screw us or bounce us,” he warned, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention."
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. Consequences were inevitable … a kind of Chile was set in motion.”
The CIA had just helped General Pinochet to crush the democratic government of another reformer, Salvador Allende, in Chile.
In 1974, the White House sent the Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, very senior and sinister figure in the State Department who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state." Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia — which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors — described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government."