Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Friday, 29 March 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 35: Operation 'Monarch'

Extract from my memoirs.

Intelligence capabilities with reasonable accurate forecasting of internal activities are an essential part of Special Branch (SB) operations.

In fact intelligence was always an essential part of my operational decision making. One was fortunate in having good SB people available when determining police operations and identifying threat levels to Solomon Islands national security. The Islands in fact owe a debt of gratitude to those people.

Here is just one example of what practical, basic, intelligence can do towards protecting governments.

In early September 1998, just prior to the full onset of GRA instigated militancy, the SB intelligence assessments were especially useful in the lead up to the Opposition’s Motion of ‘No Confidence’ in the government.

These assessments allowed us to anticipate events and deploy personnel to specific locations thus avoiding any major disturbances: In spite of the politically charged atmosphere at that time, which tended to be tense, both before and after the vote. It was a typical SB operation - unheralded.

At the beginning of 1999, there was a need for more in-depth intelligence to guide police deployment and operations. As the militancy intensified on Guadalcanal, with the internal conflict fast becoming a destabilizing and dangerous situation, we needed reliable intelligence to brief the government in determining an appropriate response to militant activity.

A major problem had developed in that the Special Branch field operatives had now reduced means of covert intelligence gathering: they were dependent on human sources only; which meant they had to travel throughout Guadalcanal. Road blocks, and other issues, which normally had not mattered in the past, now began to interfere with travel for intelligence gathering. Our SB people were reduced in their movements due to personal security problems.

These coupled with the fact that informants had become increasingly reluctant to pass on information in case they were identified and attacked, meant one was unable to get needed information to accurately predict developments. The area fear had increased considerably.

Given the scale of the emerging militancy, I made a formal request to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for assistance. My request was turned down however; citing that it would be unwise for the AFP to involve their personnel in what was viewed, from their perspective, as a purely domestic crisis.

This refusal to help from the AFP was disappointing because there was no doubt that the Australian government through the High Commission in Honiara and through their many aid agencies that operated in the national capital had considerable knowledge of the unfolding crisis.

Daily briefings were going on with the High Commission’s Defence Adviser, Lt. Colonel Mike Phillips: I had also regularly spoken with a visiting field operative from ASIS, Australia's Secret Intelligence Service, so there was no reason for the Australian government not to know what was occurring.

Given Australia’s refusal to help, I obtained the backing of Prime Minister Ulua’falu to engage, and fund, a British security intelligence analyst, one well experienced in counter insurgency operations and planning. For the purpose of this chapter, I will call him ‘Monarch.’

Monarch arrived, and acting as an undercover agent, set to work examining and deciphering documents including a diary we had captured from one of the core militants, Joseph Sangu, after his arrest on Bungana Island.

In less than two weeks after his arrival, he gave me two ordinance survey maps of Guadalcanal on which he had marked the locations of isolated militant’s bases, deep inside hostile territory, including one he considered was termed ‘OO Base.’ On the maps, he had also marked areas he believed WW11 arms and old munitions were stored and hidden.

Monarch, moreover, revealed that one of the captured documents described how Ezekiel Alebua had accompanied Joseph Sangu on an inspection tour of stored arms and ammunition at one of the militant’s secret locations.

George Grey a member of the Isatambu Freedom movement (IMF) was also named in the same document.

In the days that followed the handing over of the ordinance survey maps, Monarch wrote a detailed intelligence report which contained the broad outline for planned Isatambu Freedom Movement (IMF) operations.

The plan including targeting the commercial operations of the Solomon Islands Plantations (SIPL), Gold Ridge Mine, disrupting school life and the tourist trade, as well as discrediting me and the police as a whole. This included demanding my resignation as Commissioner, creating road blocks and cutting off access to both east and west Guadalcanal.

The miltants were now seen to have a sophisticated, workable, planned operation; which in support of the Guadalcanal province's demands then lodged with the SIAC government was alarming: Monarch believed the IMF was sufficiently capable of implementing its plans.

A copy of Monarch’s report was given to the Prime Minister and, with his consent, I gave a copy to the Australian Defence Adviser.

In the days and weeks to follow, I briefed the Solomon Islands Cabinet on the report and produced the two maps for their inspection. I was also authorized to brief all diplomatic representatives in Honiara on the contents of the report.

In addition, I did the same in New Zealand when I briefed officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the New Zealand Army Intelligence Corps in Wellington and a liaison officer of the New Zealand Intelligence Service.

The legal representative of the United States of America, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from Canberra was similarly briefed when he visited Honiara; especially relevant as the USA was considered a weapons supplier, since the government of Solomon Mamaloni had secretly in 1997, ordered a considerable quantity of small arms, ammunition, and other light weapons from Century Arms Pty Ltd, brokered by a Patrick Murphy, an American friend of Mamaloni who was then living in Honiara.

I had wanted to stop this transaction, which only came to light after being told of the arms deal by the US Ambassador to the Solomon Islands, as mentioned in a previous chapter.

Monarch's intelligence assessment proved to be highly accurate and my regret to this day, as I've repeated often enough, is that our regional partners failed to heed the advice given to them.

By remaining as passive witnesses from what started as a low intensity civil conflict fermented by a few insurgents, it was allowed to turn into a full blown humanitarian crisis: which included many deaths of innocent civilians and the overthrow of a legitimate government at the point of a gun.

What was so different from Uluf'alu's early call for regional help to end the conflict on Guadalcanal than that of the Solomon Islands Government's reported request in 2003 which led to RAMSI's intervention?

Prevention is better than a cure, isn't that the saying?

Well, the facts are that the world had changed after the 9/11 tragedy and Australia's strategy belatedly began to focus on terrorism and the potential for failed states to become targets for terrorists.

The internal security situation in the Solomons became a security concern for Australia only when the Prime Minister, John Howard, stated "failed states present a dangerous breeding ground for crime and terrorism." He could well have added - "In our neighbourhood."

The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing which killed 88 Australians was a direct wake up call.

It was also the increase in crime, apart from a potential threat of terrorism, which was a highly relevant factor in inducing the decision for Australia to intervene in 2003.

Two words together - 'crime, terrorism.' One was a local concern: the other an International concern. The second one involved dollars.

Was it not not considered serious enough in the first few months of 1999, to warrant that crime - as such - was destroying a country, indeed rife, when Malaitan settlers had been forcibly evicted, brutally attacked, women allegedly raped, homes burned, twenty thousands refugees evacuated, police firearms stolen, militants armed with stolen weapons and improvised WW11 arms roamed freely and major industries, vital to the national economy, raided and either closed, or at the point of economic closure?

We must assume it was because Australian civilians were soon evacuated from the Solomons, but then any assistance to help us was ignored. We were on our own.

Prior to 9/11 the traditional view on sovereignty was a sensitive issue and governed by International law embodied in the United Nation's Charter and which was clear on the use of force. The relevant provisions calling on all member states from refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

There are two exceptions to the Charter, however, which allow for intervention, the right of self defence and
"to restore international peace."

Australia's intervention and the deployment of RAMSI in 2003 was clearly not an act of self-defence.

The rise of militancy on Guadalcanal did not pose a danger for an armed attack on Australia or our other regional partners.

On what grounds did intervention occur? The answer seems to lie in the fact that after the 2000 attempted coup it was then considered the Solomons no longer had the capacity to provide peace and security. Facts pointed to the Islands opening up to becoming a terrorist base of operations opportunity.

By then the view on national sovereignty had shifted and modification of the law on intervention and State Sovereignty seemed to have been put aside to allow for intervention when states were either unable or unwilling to protect their own people.

I argue that throughout the crisis on Guadalcanal, that I had accurately assessed and reported on, our regional and closest partners failed to come up with rules on how and when to intervene, and under whose authority.

After 9/11 the modifications in the law on intervention, as I've said, given the humanitarian and worsening security situation on Guadalcanal, could have facilitated external help there and then, if not earlier, if only there had been the will and a belief in a "right to protect."

We were never unwilling to protect our own people but unable to meet the security challenges which I have constantly highlighted with a weakened, ill equipped and under-resourced police service, still suffering from years of neglect by successive governments.

Short term military and police assistance with a transfer of assets in 1999 could have swiftly ended the insurgency on Guadalcanal and at far less cost in lives and financial and political terms than what subsequently and tragically was allowed to happen.

Even the Strategic Review undertaken by Australia at the request of the Solomon Islands Government and presented to the Prime Minister in April 1999, as I commented on in an earlier chapter, failed to recognize there was a serious security situation then evident in the country.

We know now, however, that at the time the ongoing security situation in the Solomons was still being considered a domestic concern and merely monitored by our regional off-shore intelligence services.

RAMSI, has become a rather expensive operation for both Australia and New Zealand, to say nothing of the fact that the domestic tax payers in both countries are still footing the bill.

Yes, RAMSI is winding down now in 2013, but I do wonder what lies ahead still.

The problem with law and order is that participants involved have to follow the same rules.

To be continued...



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.