Under the radar: the Australian intelligence chief in the shadows of the Aukus deal

11 months ago 144

It was precocious April erstwhile 1 of Australia’s apical quality chiefs arrived successful Washington for important talks with cardinal officials successful the comparatively caller Biden administration.

Andrew Shearer, a longtime overseas argumentation hawk and 1 of Scott Morrison’s astir influential advisers connected however Australia should presumption itself astatine a clip of rising tensions with China, met with Joe Biden’s apical Indo-Pacific adviser, Kurt Campbell, successful the gathering adjacent to the White House connected 30 April.

The caput of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence was joined by the Australian ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, for the discussion, held successful country 386 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building – a 19th-century authorities premises described as “one of America’s champion examples of the French Second Empire benignant of architecture”.

They would person had plentifulness to speech about. Campbell – the designer of Barack Obama’s “tilt” to Asia that, among different things, began the rotation of US Marines done Darwin – had already pledged publicly that the US would not “leave Australia unsocial connected the field” successful the look of “economic coercion” from Beijing.

But it conscionable truthful happens April was an important period for what would aboriginal go the Aukus information deal with the US and the UK, triggering a rift with France. April is erstwhile it became wide to the Australian authorities that the thought of getting assistance to get nuclear-powered submarines could beforehand into the American governmental system.

So, was the well-connected Shearer’s antecedently unreported travel to the US a cardinal plank successful Australia’s efforts to beforehand the Aukus plans?

Neither broadside volition say, specified is the sensitivity astir the negotiations. The events person go highly controversial, amid accusations by France that it was “stabbed successful the back” and deliberately kept successful the acheronian by its friends, prompting Paris to callback 2 ambassadors.

ONI, the premier minister’s bureau and the Biden medication each declined to remark connected the intent of Shearer’s late-April travel and whether the program to stock delicate submarine exertion was discussed.

“Dr Campbell meets with Australian officials often to sermon the afloat scope of issues successful the US-Australia relationship,” a elder Biden medication authoritative said.

The ‘betrayal’

Australian overseas   affairs curate  Marise Payne with US caput   of authorities   Antony Blinken (second from right) successful  Washington successful  September.
Australian overseas affairs curate Marise Payne with US caput of authorities Antony Blinken (second from right) successful Washington successful September. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Sinodinos was backmost astatine the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to spot Campbell conscionable 2 weeks later. This clip the ambassador – a erstwhile Coalition furniture curate – was joined by the Australian overseas affairs minister, Marise Payne.

Payne besides met with the US caput of state, Antony Blinken, and with Biden’s nationalist information adviser, Jake Sullivan, during her halt successful Washington. There was gathering momentum for person information cooperation. “We person each other’s backs,” Blinken said, “so we tin look threats and challenges from a presumption of corporate strength.”

Just a period later, Scott Morrison met with Biden and the UK premier curate Boris Johnson successful a trilateral gathering connected the sidelines of the G7 successful Cornwall. At the June meeting, the trio are understood to person made advancement connected the wide outlines of what would aboriginal go Aukus.

Morrison told reporters astatine the clip helium and Biden and Johnson had discussed “the Indo-Pacific situation” – codification for China – and argued it “only reinforces the request for america to person deeper cooperation”.

(L-R) British premier  curate  Boris Johnson, US president   Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison conscionable   during the G7 acme  successful  Cornwall successful  June.
(L-R) British premier curate Boris Johnson, US president Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison conscionable during the G7 acme successful Cornwall successful June. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

But the “forever” concern wasn’t finalised and announced until mid-September. Indeed, Morrison stopped into Paris aft the G7 for talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, seemingly leaving the impression that they were making advancement connected hurdles with the $90bn woody for French-designed accepted submarines.

Angered by what it called a “betrayal”, the French authorities has not yet accepted Morrison’s petition for a telephone telephone with Macron. The White House has acknowledged determination should person been amended connection with France. Malaysia and Indonesia past week renewed their concerns that Australia’s program to get astatine slightest 8 nuclear-powered submarines could adhd to a determination arms race, portion China’s overseas ministry said Aukus “may adjacent pb to the illness of the planetary atomic non-proliferation regime”.

A ‘missed’ chance

Shearer, a longtime authorities authoritative who erstwhile worked astatine the Australian embassy successful Washington, had ne'er been peculiarly keen connected the French enactment to regenerate the six ageing Collins people submarines.

Shearer’s vocation past includes serving arsenic a nationalist information advisor to premier ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott.

Shearer was successful Abbott’s bureau erstwhile the past premier curate was weighing up the submarine project. Abbott and Shearer are known to person been keen connected acquiring submarines from Japan, whose authorities had travel to judge it was the starring contender.

Under governmental unit from South Australian Liberals, however, Abbott announced successful 2015 a competitory process that would necessitate a absorption connected maximising home shipbuilding jobs. That led Abbott’s successor, Malcolm Turnbull, to uncover the pursuing twelvemonth that Australia was partnering with France implicit Japan and Germany.

In April 2016, Shearer described the decision arsenic a “historic missed opportunity”. Shearer saw it arsenic “setback” successful the propulsion for person defence ties with Japan amid China’s “increasing assertiveness successful the South China Sea and East China Sea”.

In 2018, arsenic manager of the Alliances and American Leadership Project astatine the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Shearer warned that China was consolidating its subject forces and investing much successful nuclear-powered onslaught submarines.

Collins-class submarines successful  enactment    successful  Cockburn Sound, adjacent   Rockingham, Western Australia successful  2015.
Collins-class submarines successful enactment successful Cockburn Sound, adjacent Rockingham, Western Australia successful 2015. Photograph: Cpois David Connolly/AFP/Getty Images

He argued Australia should respond by allowing “a rotational beingness of US aboveground combatant vessels astatine HMAS Stirling successful Western Australia (and see the anticipation of investing successful the atomic enactment infrastructure indispensable for basing of onslaught submarines arsenic well)”.

Shearer returned to authorities nether Morrison’s premier ministership, archetypal successful a lawman presumption astatine ONI. In 2019 Shearer was appointed arsenic furniture secretary, a relation that saw him portion of deliberations connected Australia’s toughening presumption towards China. Under Turnbull, Australia had already introduced overseas interference laws and banned Chinese telco Huawei from the 5G network.

But successful 2020, the narration betwixt Australia and its apical trading spouse took a crook for the worse, with Beijing objecting to the Australian government’s aboriginal public calls for an autarkic planetary enquiry into the origins and aboriginal handling of the coronavirus outbreak. With Canberra besides expressing interest astir rights successful Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Beijing froze talks with Australian ministers and rolled retired a bid of commercialized actions against export sectors including barley, wine, ember and seafood.

An influential voice

Shearer is seen arsenic highly influential successful immoderate argumentation debates related to the sharpening strategical contention betwixt China and the US.

Shearer was a large protagonist of elevating the Quad grouping among Australia, the US, Japan and India, arguing previously that “China’s authoritarian leaders person nary respect for weakness” – connection that has immoderate resonance successful Morrison’s pronouncements that the satellite is astatine risk of “a large polarisation” betwixt autocracies and democracies.

In a motion of the spot Morrison places successful Shearer, the premier curate named him arsenic the caput of ONI past October, praising his “long and distinguished” career. The determination triggered pushback from Labor, which argued a “partisan operative” should not beryllium appointed to specified a pivotal quality position.

While idiosyncratic agencies similar Asio and the Australian Signals Directorate nutrient reports to government, it is ONI’s relation to compile “all-source quality assessments”.

In precocious September, pursuing the Aukus unveiling, Nine reported Shearer was backmost successful Washington with different Australian quality bureau bosses to assistance institutionalise the caller information partnership.

Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific
Kurt Campbell (pictured), the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, who met with Scott Morrison advisor Andrew Shearer successful Washington DC successful April. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

In Shearer’s earlier travels, successful summation to the 30 April gathering with Campbell, White House visitant logs amusement the ONI manager wide met connected 23 April with Biden’s lawman nationalist information advisor for cyber and emerging technology, Anne Neuberger.

Australia aboriginal joined the US, the UK and different countries successful publically attributing malicious cyber enactment to China.

The Aukus concern goes beyond submarines: cyber is 1 of the different areas successful which Australia, the US and the UK person promised to deepen their cooperation.

About 2 months aft the Shearer meeting, Campbell spoke astatine an Asia Society lawsuit and observed that China appeared to beryllium trying to “cut Australia retired of the herd”.

Campbell argued Beijing’s actions were backfiring: driving Canberra and Washington to “deepen” and “intensify” their relationship. Despite being of antithetic governmental persuasions, Campbell added connected 6 July, the Biden medication and the Morrison authorities shared “a tremendous consciousness of communal purpose” connected the challenges they were facing.

This Campbell webinar was pre-Aukus announcement, of course. He didn’t fto gaffe thing astir the atomic submarine woody that Biden medication officials aboriginal described arsenic Australia’s biggest strategical measurement successful generations.