Australian oil spying on East Timor, whistleblowers persecuted

This video says about itself:

Spying on the neighbours: Timor bugging could be criminal case

26 November 2015

Australia’s bugging of East Timor ahead of gas negotiations may be illegal under Australian law according to experts, meaning some cabinet ministers may face prosecution.

Now it is over two years later. But it looks like not these cabinet ministers, but the whistleblowers exposing their crimes are prosecuted.

By Mike Head in Australia:

Ex-spy and lawyer face jail for exposing Australian bugging operation in East Timor

30 June 2018

Nearly four years after raiding their homes and offices, the Australian government has laid serious criminal charges against a former intelligence officer and his lawyer for exposing Australia’s spying operation against East Timorese ministers during talks over disputed oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea.

In a move clearly intended to send a wider chilling political message, the pair face up to two years jail for making known to the public that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), the country’s overseas spy agency, surreptitiously bugged the East Timor cabinet room in 2004 under the guise of providing aid to the tiny state.

Attorney-General Christian Porter personally authorised the prosecution, so the decision was taken at the highest levels of the Liberal-National government. The lack of any Labor Party criticism points to a bipartisan move, in line with the Gillard Labor government’s rejection of East Timor’s initial 2012 complaint about the bugging.

The decision to place the pair on trial indicates that much is at stake for Australia’s military-intelligence apparatus and political establishment. This is both in terms of protecting the escalating operations of the US-linked apparatus itself, and of covering up Australia’s protracted bullying of East Timor, which has become a testing ground for Washington’s drive to combat growing Chinese influence in the region.

Independent member of parliament Andrew Wilkie revealed under parliamentary privilege on Thursday that a former ASIS officer, who can be identified only as Witness K, and his lawyer, former Australian Capital Territory Attorney-General Bernard Collaery, had been charged by the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.

Witness K, ASIS’s head of technical operations in 2004, revealed the bugging operation and was going to be a key witness in East Timor’s case in the International Court of Justice at The Hague to overturn the 2006 Timor Sea treaty ultimately imposed by Canberra.

But Witness K was unable to give evidence after his passport and documents were seized and home raided, along with Collaery’s Canberra office, in December 2013 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the federal police.

The ruling establishment regards the pair’s exposure of one of ASIS’s many illegal operations as a threat to the US-led “Five Eyes” global surveillance network, of which ASIS is a key part, together with the Australian Signals Directorate, the electronic spying agency.

This network is at the centre of Washington’s escalating trade war and military offensive against China, including preparations for war to reassert US hegemony over the Indo-Pacific region, which it established through World War II.

After Wilkie’s speech, prosecutors confirmed the pair had been charged with breaching the Intelligence Services Act by “conspiring” to “communicate” ASIS “information”. A maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment applies because the alleged offence was committed before the maximum sentence was increased to 10 years in 2014.

The confirmation came on the same day as the Labor Party joined hands with the government to ram through parliament two huge “foreign interference” bills that constitute the greatest assault on fundamental legal and democratic rights in Australia since World War II.

As part of that legislation, wider secrecy provisions have been expanded. Previous jail terms of two years for leaking classified documents have been increased to up to 10 years for communicating “inherently harmful information” (i.e., even if not classified as secret), or information that “is likely to cause harm to Australia’s interests.” These punishments now apply not only to whistleblowers who allegedly leak information but to anyone who helps make it public.

While denouncing “foreign interference,” supposedly by China, the government is criminalising any exposure of US-backed Australian “interference,” including in East Timor.

By charging Collaery, as well as “Witness K”, the government is also attacking the principle of lawyer-client privilege, a centuries-old protection against authoritarian rule. This is not the only core legal and democratic right threatened. Media reports indicate that the government will apply to have the trial heard in secrecy, overturning another key principle—the right to a public trial.

Addressing the media on Thursday, Collaery said the charges were an attack on freedom of expression, the legal profession, and on him personally for acting as a lawyer. Collaery also threw doubt over the government’s case. He denied that his client was a whistleblower. “He went with his complaint to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, received approval and I received approval to act”, Collaery said.

The charges are the latest development in a saga stretching back to 2004, when ASIS planted listening devices in East Timor’s cabinet room while the Howard Liberal-National government was coercing the impoverished state into relinquishing its territorial rights to the lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas field.

ASIS’s illegal surveillance was just part of a concerted campaign of economic and diplomatic bullying by Canberra, from the day that it sent troops to occupy the territory in 1999, supposedly to protect the Timorese people, and continuing long after nominal independence was granted in 2002.

The Timorese leadership was coerced into dropping its request for a demarcation of the maritime border between the two countries in line with international law, which would have allocated East Timor the majority share of the undersea oil and gas fields. The chief beneficiaries were Woodside Petroleum and other Australian, US and European energy conglomerates, which secured the rights to mine the reserves.

The bugging operation also assisted the violent regime-change operation that Canberra launched in 2006 against then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s Fretilin government. This involved the instigation of a split within the Timorese armed forces, followed by a renewed Australian military intervention.

Under the 2006 oil and gas treaty, the Australian government secured 50 percent of the revenues from the $40 billion Greater Sunrise gas project in the Timor Sea and deferred the setting of a maritime boundary for 50 years. By international law, Greater Sunrise should be in East Timor’s territory. However, Canberra had declared in 2002 that it would no longer abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in settling the Timor border.

In March this year, the Australian government finally agreed to a treaty with East Timor that essentially conceded that their undersea boundary should be set at halfway point between the two countries, in line with international law, thus placing most of the vast untapped gas reserves within East Timor’s territory.

Nevertheless, the Australian government and the transnational energy giants that control the gas fields remain adamant that East Timor cannot have the gas processing operations, and all the associated profits.

After more than 15 years of illegally denying Timorese sovereignty in the disputed zone, there were concerns in both Canberra and Washington that Australia’s defiance of UNCLOS was opening the door for China to acquire greater influence in East Timor and the Asia-Pacific region.

Beijing had politically exploited the issue to undercut the denunciations from Washington and Canberra of China’s refusal to recognise a US-orchestrated international tribunal ruling in 2016 rejecting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

As the Chinese economy has grown rapidly over the past two decades, Chinese agencies and companies have been increasingly active in East Timor, as throughout the region, funding infrastructure and establishing business operations.

The territory is a strategic part of the Indonesian archipelago, which is pivotal to Washington’s war preparations against China. Critical sea lanes, on which China depends for its trade, pass through Indonesia and have been identified by the Pentagon as “choke points” to be blockaded in the event of war.

As the documents released by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden have proven, Australia’s spy agencies are central to the NSA’s vast global surveillance operations, with Australian diplomatic missions, including in East Timor, Indonesia and China, functioning as NSA listening posts.

Despite protests in East Timor and Australia, and opposition by lawyers and human rights groups, the Australian government is proceeding with its extraordinary prosecution of an intelligence agent identified as “Witness K” and his lawyer Bernard Collaery. They face up to two years’ jail for exposing a sordid espionage operation in Dili in 2004 that sought to secure Australian imperialism’s hold over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea: here.

Confident of the opposition Labor Party’s support, recently-installed Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week reinforced his government’s determination to proceed with the extraordinary trial of an intelligence officer and his lawyer for exposing an Australian espionage operation against the tiny state of East Timor: here.

After days of intensive backroom collaboration, the opposition Labor Party today sought to assist the crisis-wracked Liberal-National Coalition government to push through encryption-cracking and computer-accessing laws during the final hours of this year’s last parliamentary session. Labor’s support for the bill, with only token amendments, will hand extraordinary powers to the spy and police forces, setting a global precedent that has been demanded by the US intelligence and military establishment: here.

Australia’s government is pushing ahead with two major trials of military and intelligence whistleblowers. It also intends to hold hearings behind closed doors, further defying widespread public opposition. Canberra’s authorities are determined to persecute and jail anyone who exposes the criminal activities of the country’s US-linked spy agencies and armed forces: here.

World’s oldest fishhooks discovered

World's oldest fishhooks, photo National Academy of Sciences

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Fishhooks, oldest in the world, found in Japan

18 September 2016

Archaeologists have found the oldest fishhooks in the world in Japan. They were in a cave on Okinawa island and are estimated to be 23,000 years old.

The hooks are made from a sea snail‘s shell. From this discovery archeologists conclude that fishing techniques have existed already much longer than expected, and were used in more places in the world.

Eels and frogs

Okinawa was first inhabited around 35,000 years ago. Scientists wondered how people there survived all the time. The fishhooks have answered that question.

In Sakitari cave researchers found also remains of eels, frogs, birds and small terrestrial animals. They conclude from that these were also on the menu of the first inhabitants of Okinawa.

East Timor

Until now, scientists assumed that the fishhook was invented about 16,000 years ago.

They based themselves on a find in East Timor in 2011. In the northern part along the coast hooks were found which were made of shellfish.

Largest rats ever discovered in East Timor

Jaw bone of giant rat species discovered on East Timor, being compared with the same bone of a modern rat. (Photo : Stuart Hay, ANU)

From Science World Report:

Giant Rat Fossils Discovered, Largest To Have Existed

Rosanna Singh

Nov 06, 2015 01:23 PM EST

Archaeologists have discovered fossil remains of the world’s largest rat species in East Timor. The seven giant rat fossils were ten times the size of modern rats, according to the team of researchers from the Australian National University (ANU).

“They are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog,” said Dr Julien Louys, lead author of the study, in a news release. “Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo.”

The researchers claimed that this species is considered to be the largest known rats to have ever lived. The researchers’ main objective in the study was to figure out what caused the rat species’ extinction. The study is a part of the Sunda to Sahul project, which is examining the earliest human movement through Southeast Asia.

ANU researchers found that the earliest evidence of humans in East Timor dates back to 46,000 years ago, leading them to believe that humans from that period lived with the rats.

“We know they’re eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks. The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago,” said Louys. “The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale.”

The researchers are hoping that they can find out when humans started inhibiting islands of Southeast Asia and how their activities impacted the ecosystem. The researchers believe that this information in turn can be used to create conservation practices.

“We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” said Louys. “Once we know what was there before humans got there, we see what type of impact they had.”

The findings of this study will be presented at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Texas.

Australian East Timor oil spying scandal continues

This video from Australia says about itself:

Timor spy scandal: Alfredo Pires interview

9 Dec 2013

The Australian spy scandal took a surprising turn today with the East Timorese government claiming it had identified at least four Australians involved in an espionage operation in Dili.

East Timor alleges Australia spied on the Timorese during oil and gas negotiations in order to extract a commercial benefit.

East Timor says the spies’ lives could now be at risk.

SBS reporter Lisa Upton sat down today with Timor’s Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires.

By Patrick O’Connor in Australia:

East Timor takes Australia to International Court of Justice over ASIO raids

23 December 2013

The East Timorese government last week initiated a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague over raids carried out on December 3 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) on the orders of the Liberal-National government.

On the pretext of “national security,” ASIO raided the offices of Australian barrister and former Australian Capital Territory Attorney General Bernard Collaery. He is representing the East Timorese government in an application to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, another international judicial body in The Hague, to revise or nullify an oil and gas revenue-sharing treaty because of Australian espionage in 2004.

Collaery and the East Timorese government claimed to have proof that Australian spies were ordered by then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to install listening devices in Timorese government offices in Dili while posing as aid workers helping to construct and renovate public buildings.

At the same time as the ASIO raids, the Australian government cancelled the passport of a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) technical operations director—who was involved in the 2004 operation and has since come forward as a whistleblower—preventing him from going to Holland and testifying in person.

The Timorese bid to challenge Canberra’s illegal actions before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) marks a further escalation of diplomatic tensions between the tiny state and its imperialist neighbour.

East Timor has asked the ICJ to rule that the seizure and continued retention of legal documents and electronic data by ASIO violated the country’s sovereignty and breached international law. It wants Canberra ordered to issue a formal apology and pay Timor’s legal expenses.

As “provisional measures,” ahead of a final ruling by the ICJ that is likely to take at least several months, the Timorese have requested that all material seized from Collaery’s offices be immediately returned, all copies made by Australian officials be destroyed, and a list provided of everyone who was given these copies. In addition, Dili has demanded that Canberra “give an assurance that it will not intercept or cause or request the interception of communications between Timor-Leste and its legal advisers, whether within or outside Australia or Timor-Leste.”

Initial hearings, to consider the application for these “provisional measures,” have been scheduled for January 20-22.

The documents seized by ASIO include correspondence between East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and Collaery, as well as advice from international law experts, including British QC Vaughan Lowe. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Lowe outlined the strengths and weaknesses of East Timor’s case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Stephen Webb, of international law firm DLA Piper and another partner advising the East Timor government, told the Herald: “Such internal advice documents would never be shown to the other side, in this case the Australian government, during legal proceedings. Internal legal advice is legally privileged and obviously highly sensitive.”

The entire “security” operation conducted earlier this month was aimed at bolstering the Australian government’s position before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and protecting its ongoing intelligence operations against East Timor and elsewhere in Asia.

Mafia-style tactics and blatant contempt for international law have been the hallmark of successive Australian governments, both Labor and Liberal, in their scramble to maintain control over strategically significant areas of the Timor Sea and its oil and gas reserves.

In 1975, the Whitlam Labor government encouraged the Indonesian junta’s invasion of the former Portuguese colony, and in 1989 the Hawke Labor government became the only Western country to formally recognise Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor, in return for the Timor Gap treaty that granted Australia a large share of the enormous undersea energy reserves.

Ten years later, in 1999, the Liberal government of John Howard launched a military intervention into the territory, using a bogus “humanitarian” pretext, in order to maintain Australian hegemony by overseeing a transition to so-called independence after Jakarta’s continuing rule became untenable.

The Howard government subsequently strong-armed Dili into signing a series of treaties carving up the Timor Sea’s resources. Under recognised international law, the maritime boundary ought to be set mid-way between the two countries’ land mass, leaving the biggest reserves on the Timorese side. In 2002, however, Canberra declared it would no longer submit to maritime border rulings by the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Following the 2004 espionage operation, and other dirty tricks, including the alleged covert bribing of members of the Timorese negotiating team, the Australian government succeeded in securing 50 percent of the oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea and deferring any setting of a maritime boundary for 50 years.

This outcome is now being challenged by the Timorese government because it confronts the prospect of outright destitution unless the Greater Sunrise gas fields are developed.

Dili is the most oil-dependent state in the world, with about 95 percent of government revenue deriving from another Timor Sea oil and gas field, Bayu-Undan, that is expected to run dry within a decade. Woodside Petroleum, the Australian corporate giant at the head of the Australian-US consortium with the rights to develop Greater Sunrise, has refused to invest anything in the project unless Dili drops its demand that the gas be piped to Timor for processing. Woodside executives, who have intimate connections with both the Labor and Liberal parties in Australia, have insisted they will only consider a floating processing facility that would maximise the company’s profits while denying East Timor thousands of desperately needed jobs.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government has refused all offers of compromise. Attorney General George Brandis, who personally authorised the ASIO raids, has refused to return to legal documents seized. Earlier, Brandis warned that Collaery, as well as the ex-ASIS officer, could be charged with disclosing official secrets, offences that could lead to up to seven years’ imprisonment.

On December 13, Australian Federal Police detained Palmira Pires, sister of Timorese Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires and Finance Minister Emilia Pires, at Darwin airport after she allegedly brought undeclared currency into Australia. The police confiscated mobile phones, sim cards, an iPad and memory sticks, demanding that Pires provide passwords to the devices, which she told the media contained correspondence with her siblings. Pires denied having undeclared cash in her luggage and accused the AFP of staging a “politically motivated” operation.

Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has issued a thinly-veiled threat of a foreign investment strike if the Timorese government pursues its case in the ICJ. Accusing Dili of using The Hague to bolster its case for the development of Greater Sunrise, Downer told the Australian: “They are entitled to pursue this strategy. But I think it has a downside and that is it increases the perception of sovereign risk for business dealing with East Timor.”

Australian government defends seizure of East Timor’s documents: here.

How Australia steals East Timor’s oil: here.

Students from East Timor and Australia, as well as academics, professionals and retired people, attended a public meeting in Melbourne on April 30 called to discuss the Australian government’s latest moves to retain its grip over the vast oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea: here.

An estimated 10,000 East Timorese rallied in the country’s capital, Dili, last Wednesday against the Australian government’s continued refusal to negotiate permanent maritime boundaries between the two states. The demonstration involved a significant proportion of Dili’s 200,000 residents, and was among the largest public mobilisations in East Timor since the former Portuguese colony and Indonesian territory received formal independence in 2002. This reflects mounting anger among ordinary Timorese over Canberra’s theft of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea: here. Banners and signs read: “We don’t need your aid—we need our oil back!” “Hands off Timor’s Oil” and “Permanent, fair maritime boundaries.”

Australian government dismisses international law in The Hague over Timorese oil theft: here.

Acrimonious disputes are continuing between the governments of Australia and the tiny neighouring state of East Timor despite last week’s signing at the UN in New York of what the media misleadingly called an “historic” maritime boundary treaty covering the oil- and gas-rich Timor Sea. Continuing its decades of betraying and bullying the impoverished territory’s people, the Australian government is still insisting that the billions of dollars’ worth of gas beneath the sea be pipelined to Australia’s northern city of Darwin, rather than to East Timor: here.

Australia’s East Timor oil spying scandal update

This video is called The 2004 spying by Australia on East Timor Cabinet during Timor sea negotiations.

By Mike Head in Australia:

More whistleblowers emerge in Australia’s Timor spying scandal

7 December 2013

The Australian government’s moves to suppress further exposures of its surveillance operations suffered a blow yesterday when it was revealed that three more whistleblowers have given statements to the East Timorese government about the illegal installation of bugging devices in the walls of Dili’s cabinet offices. The bugging involved Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agents posing as aid workers helping renovate Timorese government buildings.

Two weeks ago a preliminary meeting was held in The Hague ahead of East Timor’s legal claim at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to nullify an oil and gas revenue-sharing treaty because of the Australian spying. The Timorese representatives told the Australian delegation they intended to use the testimony of four Australian whistleblowers to support their case. This information almost certainly triggered Tuesday’s Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) raids on East Timor’s Canberra-based lawyer Bernard Collaery, and the interrogation of one of the whistleblowers, a retired ASIS technical operations director.

Attorney-General George Brandis, who authorised the raids, subsequently issued an extraordinary ministerial statement to the Senate, threatening to charge the lawyer and the ex-ASIS officer with divulging official secrets, an offence that carries jail terms of up to seven years. In addition, the government seized the former ASIS official’s passport, preventing him from going to The Hague to testify.

East Timor’s government, which condemned the “invasion” of its lawyer’s office as “inconceivable and unacceptable conduct,” is seeking legal advice on whether it can demand the return of the sensitive documents seized in the raids. According to Collaery, the material includes his own correspondence with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, as well as a legal opinion by East Timor’s international law experts Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and Professor Vaughan Lowe.

If the raids were conducted on the basis of information obtained during the arbitral procedure in The Hague, that would constitute a legal contempt of the proceedings, entitling East Timor to the return of the documents. East Timor’s representatives also revealed that at a second preliminary hearing one week ago, the Australian government agreed not to arrest the whistleblowers before the case was heard.

Basic legal and democratic rights are threatened as well. In his Senate statement, Brandis declared that the centuries-old principle of lawyer-client confidentiality would not protect Collaery from being charged with serious criminal offences. Lawyer-client privilege is a bedrock protection, preventing lawyers from being forced to pass on to the government and its security apparatus any sensitive or potentially incriminating information obtained while giving legal advice.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government is intensifying the drive, commenced under the previous Labor government, to shut down East Timor’s legal case and prevent further public exposure of the spying operation, which began in 2004 during negotiations in Dili on the $40 billion oil and gas treaty.

On Thursday, as East Timor and Australia held private talks at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Brandis made another bid to block the hearings. He insisted that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case because East Timor had not “sufficiently engaged in or exhausted the prior consultation machinery” required under the treaty.

Collaery told reporters this was “arrant, misinformed nonsense.” The lawyer pointed out that the previous Labor government’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, and attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, publicly disclosed East Timor’s case in May. At that time, Carr refused to deny the spying allegations, citing the “convention” barring ministers from commenting on intelligence matters.

East Timor also revealed that a year ago Prime Minister Gusmao wrote to Australia’s then Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, stating that his government had reservations about the treaty and wished to re-open negotiations. However, Gusmao received no response. At a subsequent meeting arranged between the two countries in London, the Australian delegates did not turn up. At a follow-up meeting in Bangkok later in 2012, only junior members of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade attended. These diplomatic snubs underscored the utter contempt of Australian imperialism for its tiny impoverished neighbour.

On Thursday and Friday, a small protest was held outside the Australian embassy in Dili. The demonstrators, mostly students and young political activists, carried banners stating: “Australia is a thief” and “Australia has no morals.” They shouted: “Australia, imperialist, capitalist!” and “Australia is a thief of world oil.”

The oil and gas treaty gave Australia a half share in the massive Greater Sunrise field—which lies just 150 kilometres south of East Timor and 450 kilometres northwest of Darwin—contravening international maritime border principles that would give East Timor sovereignty over the entire project. The main beneficiaries were Woodside Petroleum, a major Australian company, and its US consortium partners. Both Abbott’s Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Party have intimate connections with Woodside. The previous Howard government’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who was in charge of ASIS in 2004, now runs a public relations firm that works for Woodside. The former Labor government’s resources minister, Gary Gray, was employed by Woodside from 2001 to 2007.

The lengths to which the Abbott government, like its Labor predecessor, is going to block the spying revelations indicates that much more is stake than the immediate issue of energy reserves in the Timor Sea. The extensive bugging would have been invaluable as part of Canberra’s violent regime change operation that was launched in 2006 against then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s Fretilin government. This involved the instigation of a split within the Timorese armed forces, and a renewed Australian military intervention.

Canberra’s machinations, always backed by Washington, flowed from the 1999 dispatch of Australian troops to East Timor, supposedly to secure the half island’s independence from Indonesia. The territory is a highly strategic part of the Indonesian archipelago, which is now pivotal to Washington’s war preparations against China. Critical sea lanes, on which China depends for its trade, pass through Indonesia, and have been identified by the Pentagon as “choke points” to be blockaded in the event of war.

It is also clear, from the documents leaked by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, that the strategic espionage in East Timor is part of a wider pattern. The NSA and its partners in the global US-led “Five Eyes” surveillance network—Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have spied on the populations and governments of countries around the world, including tapping the personal phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and targeting the Brazilian oil company Petrobras and other international firms. Australian diplomatic missions throughout the Asia-Pacific, including in Indonesia and China, function as NSA listening posts.

Within the Australian political, media and legal establishment there has been a marked absence of opposition to the anti-democratic implications of the ASIO raids. The Labor opposition has sided with the government. The Law Council of Australia, which represents the legal profession, has raised no objection to the Abbott government’s threat to prosecute Collaery. The silence is another indication that critical imperialist interests are at stake—not just those of Australia, but its powerful ally, the United States.

Australian government censoring East Timor oil spying revelations

This video says about itself:

3 Dec 2013

A lawyer representing East Timor in its spying case against Australia has accused ASIO of intimidation.

By Mike Head in Australia:

Australian government threatens lawyer with charges over Timor spying revelations

5 December 2013

The Abbott government yesterday intensified its legal threats designed to suppress the latest revelations of the Australian bugging of the East Timorese government’s offices in 2004. Attorney-General George Brandis issued a ministerial statement to the Senate, in which he warned that the lawyer representing East Timor, Bernard Collaery, could face serious criminal charges for divulging official secrets.

The Abbott government is attacking core legal and democratic rights. Until now, no Australian lawyer has ever been prosecuted for representing a client challenging illegal government activity—in this case, placing listening devices in Dili’s cabinet room walls to snoop on East Timor’s leaders in 2004. This occurred amid negotiations with Australia over the division of the resources of the oil- and gas-rich Timor Sea between the two countries.

In his Senate statement, Brandis defended his decision to issue warrants for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on Collaery’s offices and home on Tuesday. Also raided was the home of a retired Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officer, yet to be publicly named, who has blown the whistle on the former Howard government’s decision to have ASIS bug the East Timorese government.

Without any known legal basis, the ex-ASIS official was detained and interrogated, and his passport was seized to prevent him from appearing as the key witness in East Timor’s legal case in The Hague that is beginning today.

The Timorese government is seeking to overturn the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty, under which Australia gained a 50 percent share of the $40 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Under recognised principles of international law, maritime borders ought to be set at an equidistant point between the two countries involved. With Greater Sunrise lying entirely in East Timorese territory on this basis, Canberra openly junked any adherence to international law when conducting the negotiations. Dili is now arguing that CMATS is invalid because it was secured via the Australian government’s “bad faith”—that is, with the help of illegal spying.

Brandis concluded his ministerial statement with a threat to overturn lawyer-client confidentiality in order to charge Collaery, who is in The Hague for the Arbitral Tribunal hearing. “[M]erely because Mr Collaery is a lawyer, that fact alone does not excuse him from the ordinary law of the land,” the attorney-general declared. “In particular, no lawyer can invoke the principles of lawyer-client privilege to excuse participation, whether as principal or accessory, in offences against the Commonwealth.”

Brandis specifically invoked the Intelligence Services Act, which imposes up to two years’ jail for a current or former ASIS officer communicating, without permission, any “information or matter” connected to ASIS’s functions or performance.

The threat against Collaery has one known international precedent. In the US, Lynne Stewart, a civil liberties lawyer, was convicted in 2005, and ultimately sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, on trumped-up charges of assisting terrorism by relaying information from a client who was on trial for terrorist-related offences. That jailing, pursued actively by both the Bush and Obama administrations, represented a turn toward methods commonly associated with a police state. (See: “Judge sentences US civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart to 10 years”)

Collaery is being persecuted despite his client, the ASIS whistleblower, being previously advised by the government’s so-called intelligence watchdog, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), to hire a lawyer if he wanted an inquiry into the East Timor operation. Collaery told Fairfax Media that IGIS had refused to investigate the case.

Brandis’s ministerial statement advanced a pseudo-legal justification for Tuesday’s raids, saying he issued the warrants under the ASIO Act, at the request of the ASIO director-general. That Act hands sweeping powers to the government and its security apparatus to conduct searches and seizures, without judicial warrants, on the vague grounds that any information obtained will “substantially assist the collection of intelligence” connected to a “security matter.”

The Act defines “security” to include espionage, sabotage, “politically motivated violence,” attacks on Australia’s defence system, “acts of foreign interference” and “the protection of Australia’s territorial and border integrity.” Brandis did not specify which of these grounds he believed was relevant to the exposure of ASIS’s bugging operations that were aimed at ensuring the flow of billions of dollars of tax revenues flowing to Canberra and profits to Woodside Petroleum.

Brandis reiterated Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s claim that the ASIO raids had nothing to do with East Timor’s impeding legal case. This palpable lie—the raids occurred two days before the hearing began in The Hague—was rejected by East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. In a media release, Gusmão condemned the “invasion of the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste” and “aggressive” action against a key witness, branding it “inconceivable and unacceptable conduct.”

The Abbott government’s provocative stance has been enthusiastically backed by sections of the media. The Australian today issued an editorial to nakedly defend the mobilisation of the intelligence services against neighbouring countries for geo-strategic and corporate gain. “[I]t would be extraordinary to think that any government would not seek to obtain as much information as possible on such a crucial matter of sovereignty,” Murdoch’s flagship declared. “We, unsurprisingly, expect Canberra to work towards our national interest.”

The Abbott government and the ruling elite more broadly are attempting to use the vendetta against Bernard Collaery and the ASIS whistleblower to intimidate any other would-be leakers or whistleblowers within the intelligence apparatus. Canberra is deeply concerned about the impact of further revelations about its illegal activities via former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Australian has reported that as many as 20,000 secret Australian intelligence files could have been accessed by Snowden when he worked at the NSA. Brandis yesterday told the newspaper: “The Snowden revelations are the most serious setback for Western intelligence since World War II … we are talking about huge numbers of files that Snowden has put into the public domain.”

Events in the Senate yesterday highlighted the unity within the parliamentary establishment on protecting the intelligence agencies. The Labor opposition moved in lockstep with the government to oppose a Greens’ motion requiring Brandis to provide an explanation for the ASIO raids. The attorney-general praised Labor Senator John Faulkner, a former defence minister, who insisted that it was beyond the power of parliament to demand any such answers.

The Greens quickly back-pedalled following Faulkner’s intervention. Their legal spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam said he could not see how the East Timor spying operation had related to “national security,” when it directly served corporate interests, but explained that he would agree with the government’s stance if national security were involved. “I understand and respect the reasons why ministers of Coalition or Labor Party orientations would not comment on matters that would prejudice ongoing national security investigations,” he stated.

In other words, the Greens stand equally ready to defend the predatory interests of Australian imperialism when dressed in the garb of “national security.” Their only difference is how the term is defined. The Timor case, however, is another demonstration of how the Australian government, like its US and other allies, regards corporate espionage as a key responsibility of its intelligence apparatus, as part of the pursuit of broader geo-strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific.

East Timor criticizes Australian oil spying

This video from Australia about oil and gas in East Timor is called Big Oil: Stealing from The Poor?

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Australia slammed for raids before ICC snooping trial

Wednesday 4th December 2013

East Timor Prime Minister brands Australia ‘counter-productive and unco-operative’

East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao branded Australia “counter-productive and unco-operative,” after secret service agents raided the Canberra homes of a lawyer and a former spy.

Both men are involved in an International Criminal Court hearing into allegations that Australia bugged East Timor’s cabinet before sensitive oil and gas negotiations.

East Timor will go before the permanent court of arbitration today to argue that the espionage destroyed the validity of a bilateral agreement struck with Australia in 2006 over sharing seabed oil and gas reserves worth billions of pounds.

Australian attorney general George Brandis confirmed that he had authorised search warrants targeting lawyer Bernard Collaery, who will represent East Timor in The Hague, and a former secret service officer.

Mr Brandis’s office would not confirm reports that the former spy’s passport had been confiscated, preventing him from giving evidence in The Hague.

Mr Gusmao called on his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott to “ensure the safety of our witness for a prompt, just and fair resolution of this important matter.

“Raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct,” he said.

Mr Collaery said the case would proceed without the spy witness.

“This is an attempt to intimidate our witness and to prevent the evidence going forward.

“I can’t think of anything more crass.”

In a blatant attack on fundamental legal and democratic rights, the Abbott government yesterday ordered Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the homes and offices of a lawyer and former intelligence agency whistleblower involved in an international legal challenge to Australia’s spying on the East Timor government during maritime border talks in 2004: here.

NSA massive spying on ordinary Australians

This video from Australia says about itself:

16 June 2013

With the truth about the NSA spying on U.S. citizens on a daily basis. Do Australians have anything to fear from their government?

By Mike Head in Australia:

Snowden document confirms US-backed mass surveillance in Australia

3 December 2013

Australia’s intelligence apparatus mines the telecommunications data of ordinary Australians, and hands over the material to the US and its closest allies, according to the latest leaked document from Edward Snowden, partly published by the Guardian Australia web site yesterday.

The document obtained by the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor confirms that the electronic surveillance agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), monitors the domestic population, as well as the people and governments of many Asian countries.

Despite Australian legislation supposedly restricting the ASD’s internal spying, the agency hands over to the NSA and its global partners so-called metadata of the phone calls, texts, emails, on-line address books and social media posts of millions of people.

This exposure of mass surveillance follows the recent revelations, also from documents leaked by Snowden, that the ASD, then known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), tapped the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and that Australian embassies throughout Asia operate as electronic listening posts for the US-led spying network.

According to the partial extracts made public by the Guardian Australia, the DSD agreed to share “bulk metadata” at a top-level conference of the “Five Eyes” intelligence agencies—from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—hosted by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency in April 2008.

“DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national,” notes from the conference say. This formal caveat—a nod to legal restrictions on domestic spying—was regarded as no real barrier. As the notes state: “Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue.”

Metadata” is the information that everyone automatically generates whenever they use electronic technology, from the date, time and recipient of a phone call, to the location from which an email is sent, and lists of phone, email and social media contacts. Metadata can present a detailed picture of anyone’s life, including their political activity.

The “Five Eyes” officials ruled out limiting the intelligence-sharing to exclude “medical, legal, religious or restricted business information, which may be regarded as an intrusion of privacy.” The conference agreed to “not seek to set any automatic limitations.”

Australia’s representatives paid lip service to the requirement, under Australia’s Intelligence Services Act, for a ministerial warrant to be obtained to specifically produce intelligence on an Australian person.

The note taker at the meeting wrote that “if a ‘pattern of life’ search detects an Australian then there would be a need to contact DSD and ask them to obtain a ministerial warrant to continue.” A “pattern of life” search involves building up a portrait of an individual’s daily activities.

The ministerial warrant system itself points to the intimate involvement of successive Australian governments in the domestic spying system—it allows for surveillance by ministerial decree, without a judicial warrant.

It is technically possible to strip out the metadata of Australian nationals from the bulk collection methods used by the Five-Eyes countries, but the document shows that Australia’s intelligence services instead offered to leave the data in its raw state.

The April 2008 document adds to what is already known, from previous Snowden leaks, about the vast collection of electronic data by the DSD-ASD, both domestically and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the NSA’s worldwide operations.

One document showed how critical the ASD’s eavesdropping facilities within Australia are to an NSA program code-named X-Keyscore, which collects electronic data for storage in massive data banks (see: “Snowden confirms Australian agencies involved in NSA global spying”).

Another document revealed that Telstra, Australia’s largest telecom, signed a secret agreement in November 2001 to ensure that US intelligence agencies had unrestricted access to all electronic communications carried in its cables from the Asia Pacific to the US (see: “Australia: Telstra facilitates US electronic spying”).

A further document recorded that in just one day, in January 2012, a previously undisclosed NSA program “harvested” 712,336 email address books globally, of which 311,113, or more than 40 percent, were provided by the ASD (see: “Australian agency integrated into NSA spying operations”).

This latter document provided some indication of the enormous scale of the spying that was discussed in 2008. It underscores the fraud of efforts by the Abbott government, the Labor opposition and the mass media, especially the Murdoch outlets, to dismiss the latest document as an “unverified draft.”

Both the government and Labor immediately came together in a bipartisan front to deny any knowledge of illegal spying on the population, but the document points to intelligence-gathering and swapping on a vast scale. This could only occur with the full authorisation of successive Liberal-National and Labor governments, which have sanctioned the Five-Eyes arrangements since World War II.

Just last year, the previous Labor government sought to boost the spying. It unveiled a plan to require that everything that Australians do on-line, from phone and Skype calls to Twitter and Facebook posts, would be stored for up to two years so that the security agencies could mine the data. A public outcry eventually forced Labor to withdraw the proposal.

Desperate to counter the political damage of Snowden’s latest revelation, Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday dropped the political establishment’s customary stance of refusing to confirm or deny spying allegations. He falsely described the metadata as “billing data” and claimed: “You can only get access to the content of communications by warrant, under our system.” In reality, the metadata provides an electronic fingerprint of people’s lives, and ministerial warrants have only rubber-stamped the surveillance.

Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis also sought to justify the electronic data-mining as being needed to combat terrorism. But the sheer volume of material being collected by the intelligence apparatus and its global partners cannot be explained by concerns about small numbers of potential terrorists. It is directed against the entire population.

Moreover, the ASD’s operations are critical to the Obama administration’s military and strategic “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific region to combat China’s rising economic influence. Australian Defence Minister David Johnston, the minister responsible for the ASD, told a recent defence industry forum that the Five-Eyes partners would press on with their activities despite the worsening Snowden disclosures. Johnston said the network had “invested far too much in this space to allow the event [the leaks] … to even contemplate a backward step.”

The Greens, the third party of the political establishment, sought to divert the popular concern over Snowden’s exposures by calling for a parliamentary inquiry “into surveillance overreach by these agencies.” Any such inquiry, as with previous parliamentary reports, would only serve to cover up the mass surveillance.

Far from “overreach,” the monitoring of the activities of ordinary working class people, as well as regional governments, demonstrates the essential purpose of the intelligence apparatus. Its function is, above all, to support the war preparations being made by Washington and its Australian ally, and monitor the political and social discontent being produced by this militarism and the ever-deepening austerity measures being imposed on the working class.

Timor-Leste spy case: ‘witness held, and lawyer’s office raided by ASIO’. Retired Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent and wife searched in Canberra while lawyer’s office is raided, say lawyers: here.

Facing mounting public opposition, Australia’s intelligence and police chiefs are demanding that parliament pass a bill that would set a global precedent for the compulsory cracking open of encryption and other privacy devices: here.

Australian oil spying in East Timor

This 27 November 2013 video is called The 2004 spying by Australia on East Timor Cabinet during Timor sea negotiations.

By Patrick O’Connor in Australia:

East Timorese government prepares legal case over Australian spying

29 November 2013

Amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis between Canberra and Jakarta over phone-tapping, the East Timorese government this week confirmed that it will tender evidence in The Hague of illegal Australian espionage operations. This will form part of East Timor’s efforts to revise a treaty sanctioning Australia’s unlawful claim to lucrative oil and gas revenues in the Greater Sunrise undersea fields.

The espionage allegations have been raised previously. Earlier this year the Timorese government said that in 2004, during negotiations for the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agents broke into government and prime ministerial offices in Dili and planted listening devices.

“It was a carefully premeditated, involved, very lengthy operation with premeditated breaches of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and premeditated breaches of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” Bernard Collaery, a barrister and former Australian Capital Territory attorney-general, told the Australian in May. “This is a criminal conspiracy, a break-in on sovereign territory and a breach of Australian law.”

The Timorese government also accused Canberra of bribing members of its negotiating team, and tapping into their mobile phones.

Agio Pereira, president of Timor’s Council of Ministers and a close adviser to Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, told the Australian ABC yesterday that “compelling evidence” would be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague next week. “Insider trading in Australia is a crime,” Pereira said. “It’s more than unfair, it actually creates incredible disadvantage to the other side and according to international law, the Vienna Convention and the law of treaties, you’re supposed to negotiate in good faith.”

The arbitration panel will take six months to assess the terms of the CMATS treaty. It involves three jurists, one appointed by Canberra (Yale professor Michael Reisman), one by Dili (former British Supreme Court judge Lawrence Collins) and another agreed to by both countries (Tullio Treves, University of Milan professor and former judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea).

The case will proceed as material continues to emerge from former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, detailing the criminal role played by successive Labor and Liberal governments in Australia, as one of Washington’s “Five Eyes” intelligence partners. Last month it was revealed that Dili was one of several Asian capitals in which the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) conducted electronic surveillance operations from within embassies, as part of a NSA program codenamed STATEROOM.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday again contemptuously refused to confirm or deny the allegations of espionage that occurred during his time in office. “The reason they [the Timorese government] have come out and repeated this claim is tied up with Indonesia and the controversy there, to get themselves more publicity,” he declared.

Timorese Prime Minister Gusmão denounced the US-Australian spying operations in a speech to the Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia on November 7. “Either we are in the presence of an extreme distrust where everyone is a potential enemy, or we are witnessing the fraudulent use of technology to obtain economic advantage over others, which is even more immoral when those others are weak and small,” he declared.

The statements underscore the heightened diplomatic tensions throughout the Asia-Pacific generated by the NSA revelations.

In 1999, the former Howard government dispatched a US-backed Australian military force to the formerly Indonesian-controlled East Timor, overseeing a transition to so-called independence. This operation, which was enthusiastically backed by the Australian pseudo-left groups and promoted as a “humanitarian intervention,” was a predatory drive aimed at maintaining Australian imperialism’s control over the Timor Sea’s oil and gas resources. In 2006, Canberra again militarily intervened after helping to instigate a split in the state’s armed forces, as part of a regime change operation against Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. The Fretilin leader was regarded in Canberra as too closely aligned with rival powers Portugal and China.

With Australian government and military backing, Gusmão was installed as prime minster in 2007. He closely collaborated with Canberra during the regime change operation, and was regarded as the figure in Dili most sympathetic to Australian imperialism’s strategic and economic interests. In 1998, when he was imprisoned in Jakarta as a pro-independence guerrilla commander, Gusmão met with Australian BHP executives and assured them that no international oil and gas companies with stakes in the Timor Sea would lose out under an “independent” East Timor.

In recent years, however, Gusmão has used the growing economic and strategic weight of China as a counterbalance to Australia’s domination over the impoverished country, including by expanding ties between the Timorese military and the Peoples Liberation Army.

Gusmão has also adopted a stronger line on the Timor Sea arrangements. This reflects the growing desperation of the entire East Timorese ruling elite, amid continued stalling by Australia’s Woodside Petroleum on the Greater Sunrise project. Timor is the most oil- and gas-dependent state in the world, with 95 percent of government revenue coming from royalties. Most of this revenue derives from a single project in the Timor Sea, Bayu-Undan, operated by US giant ConocoPhillips, and this is expected to run dry within the next decade.

Development of Greater Sunrise, which has far larger reserves than Bayu-Undan, is crucial to maintain any semblance of viability for the tiny Timorese state. Under accepted international law, the maritime border between Australia and East Timor ought to be equidistant between the two states, leaving all of Greater Sunrise in East Timor. Under the CMATS treaty, however, Canberra bullied Dili into shelving any resolution of a maritime border in the area for 50 years, at the same time dividing oil and gas revenues on a 50-50 basis.

A consortium with the rights to develop the fields involves ConocoPhillips, Shell and Osaka Gas, but is headed by Woodside Petroleum, which has refused to accede to Timorese government demands that gas be piped to and be processed in Timor. This would generate desperately needed jobs in Timor, but Woodside instead wants to build a cheaper floating processing facility. Moreover, the massive expansion of the US coal seam gas sector in recent years has transformed the global gas industry, and many energy experts have questioned whether Woodside is still interested in investing the estimated $18 billion required to commence extraction. Last August, the Timorese government offered to contribute $800 million toward the cost of a processing pipeline to southern Timor, but this was dismissed by Woodside executives.

The Gusmão government has threatened to revoke the Woodside-led consortium’s rights to Greater Sunrise, and has claimed that rival Asian energy companies have expressed interest in the project. It has not, however, exercised its right to annul the CMATS treaty. The arbitration case in The Hague appears aimed at adding greater pressure on Canberra.

The tendering of documentary evidence of the Australian intelligence agencies’ illegal operations is nevertheless likely to heighten the diplomatic and political crisis confronting the Australian government in Asia, as more NSA material continues to emerge detailing US-Australian spying activities throughout the region.

Workers and students in southern India have expressed their support for the international campaign by the World Socialist Web Site in defence of whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has exposed the vast illegal spying operations carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA): here.

East Timor conservation

This video is about conservation in East Timor (Timor Leste).

From the Conservation International Blog:

Biodiversity Survey Supports New No-take Zones in Timor-Leste

Today, the government of Timor-Leste announced the establishment of seven no-take zones in the country’s coastal waters. This development follows the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey carried out by CI and partner scientists last year, which confirmed the community-identified zones as being biologically significant. Coral scientist and guest blogger Dr. Lyndon DeVantier shares his experience.

Wrasse documented at Timor-Leste's Atauro Island

This beautiful wrasse (Cirrhilabrus tonozukai) was previously known from Palau and Indonesian localities, including Raja Ampat, eastern Sulawesi, and Halmahera. A single male individual was photographed at Timor-Leste’s Atauro Island, which represents a significant southerly extension of the geographic range.(© Gerald Allen)

In August of last year, I joined Mark Erdmann, Gerry Allen, Emre Turak and local scientists in Timor-Leste to participate in a CI RAP marine survey. At the request of the government, we set out to record the marine biodiversity of corals and fishes and assess the overall health of the reefs to help identify areas of importance for conservation and marine tourism.

To their great credit, the Timor-Leste government has already established a large national park on the eastern tip of the country, covering both land and sea. The park was established in 2007 — after the country had spent only five years as an independent nation — and named in honour of Nino Konis Santana, a Timorese freedom fighter in the 1990s.

We surveyed 22 reef locations both inside and outside of the national park and on Atauro Island off the northeastern coast. Having done similar work in many other parts of the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans over the past 20 years, we had a good basis for comparing Timor-Leste’s reefs with other places.

Timor-Leste marine RAP team

Left to right, international taxonomists Lyndon Devantier, Gerald Allen and Emre Turak were part of the RAP team surveying Timor-Leste’s waters. (© CI/photo by Mark Erdmann)

I was glad to discover that the reefs, particularly those inside the national park, were in moderate to good condition, with three times more living than dead coral covering the reefs overall.

The dead coral was caused mainly by population outbreaks of the coral-feeding crown-of-thorns starfish, a species that has wreaked havoc on other Pacific reefs. There was also some legacy damage from blast fishing, but most reefs — especially within the park — appeared to be in an active state of recovery.

Along with neighbouring countries, Timor-Leste forms part of the renowned Coral Triangle, Earth’s most diverse tropical marine realm. Hence we expected to find highly diverse coral reefs. We were not disappointed.

This small nation, with only a limited area of coral reef habitat, hosts a number of reef-building coral species comparable to Australia’s enormous Great Barrier Reef — some 400 species in all. Three of these coral species we documented may be new to science.

The fish fauna was also highly diverse; Gerry and Mark recorded some 740 species (including six possibly new species!) With inclusion of additional records from previous researchers, the Timor-Leste fish species tally has been raised to 800 species; for the greater Timor region, the tally is likely to be well over 1,200 species. Local levels of species richness on individual reefs were also high, although targeted fish species — including sharks — were rarely seen, an indication of intense fishing pressure.

Importantly, there was no evidence of recent or past coral bleaching caused by high sea temperatures. This likely reflects the presence of relatively cool waters, which were 25–28 degrees Celsius at the time of our survey — three to four degrees cooler than many nearby locations in the Coral Triangle.

Why are Timor-Leste’s waters cooler? It’s mostly because the major ocean current system known as the Indonesian Throughflow (ITF) passes to the north and south, transporting massive quantities of water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean each day. Before passing Timor-Leste, waters of the ITF are cooled by mixing in the Banda Sea. If this cooling effect remains consistent into the future, as appears likely, then Timor-Leste’s unique oceanographic setting may provide a cool water buffer and refuge against the increasing sea temperatures predicted from climate change over coming decades.

Timor-Leste has already shown great initiative in declaring Nino Konis Santana National Park, which, with effective management, can play a very important role in conservation, and contribute to the replenishment of populations of fishes and other harvested species.

And with the high-quality reefs and miles of sandy beach, Timor-Leste has excellent potential for marine and coastal tourism. However, it will be important to set clear regulations from the outset to ensure that tourism development is environmentally sustainable and provides clear benefits to local communities.

It is promising to see that the government is going a step further to protect these resources: officially recognising seven community-established no-take zones within the national park. The first in the country, these zones will help preserve this wealth of marine life for the food and economic well-being of the country’s people.

Dr. Lyndon DeVantier is a coral ecologist with more than 30 years of experience in international coral survey work. The survey was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a collaborative project between the Coral Triangle Support Partnership and the Timor-Leste national government. Learn more about  CI’s work in the country.