You can write my name down

by January 10, 2011

The pursuit of knowledge can be addictive

The most famous organization of spies in the world is the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States — although it is possible that continuing pop-culture references to the now-superseded KGB might still give the CIA’s fame a run for its money — and for several years after the attacks of 9/11 even more global attention was directed at the agency, its exploits, and its now-infamous transgressions. One of the most contentious and long-running debates about it, however, was organizational in theme: concerning as it did the CIA’s proper role in the American national security apparatus, a complex entity made up of numerous civilian and military agencies with precious little trust between them.

Yet for all of its power and resources, the US intelligence community might not actually hold the crown for secrecy, distrust, and opacity. Sally Neighbour, writing in the Australian political and cultural magazine The Monthly, presents evidence to suggest that maybe — just maybe — it is the newly-Brobdingnagian spy agencies of the Australian government that can in fact lay claim to this distinction, with all of the amusing, surreal, and sometimes tragic results that this implies:

Such a plethora of agencies, each jealously guarding its secrets, inevitably leads to overlap and duplication, along with rivalry, suspicion, information hoarding and turf wars. There are myriad anecdotes to this effect. A participant at a recent conference attended by representatives of various agencies in Sydney tells how delegates sniggered when an ASIO [the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] staffer told the gathering, “you can’t write my name down, so if anyone’s written my name down would you please pass the piece of paper up to the front of the room.” The speaker following him announced “my name’s [withheld] and you can write my name down and for fuck’s sake don’t hand the piece of paper up to the front.” This second speaker was reportedly furious, having learnt that ASIO had kept important new research data to itself, and went on: “This is supposed to be an adult working environment but as you can see it’s not. They lie to us continuously, and I don’t know why they do it, but it makes our job impossible.”

Read the rest of Neighbour’s essay here.