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Smoke and mirrors

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 7 June 2010

Julie Bishop was right, intelligence agencies manufacture documents to provide cover or cause trouble. Nothing remarkable in that.

In fact any organisation or individual wishing to evade detection will use false documents. The most acceptable in more recent times have been members of the anti-Nazi resistance and escaping prisoners of war.

Criminal gangs, drug couriers, and members of international crime syndicates all use false documents. They come into Australia using a combination of false documents and bribery.


Foreign agents seeking secret information, seeking to hide information gathering activities, seeking to establish networks to provide information, money or other items of use to their managing organisation, which in most instances would include their home government, would use false documents including passports. These can be manufactured or stolen. Not all governments know what their intelligence agencies are up to at any particular time. However the degree of political risk will usually determine the level of disclosure.

Escaping asylum seekers and others wishing to evade death, torture and terror use false documents, if they can obtain them. False documents cost a lot of money, the better they are the more they cost.

International terrorists use false documents; again if they have access to large amounts of money they will obtain high quality documentation. Intelligence agencies spend a lot of time and resources tracing the origin of these documents. Depending on the source they might be able to use them to make documents for an operation, that, should it go badly, will be traced to an organisation that sits on the other side.

The subterranean world of the production and use of false documents is messy, complex and sometimes dangerous. At times there is a cross over between intelligence and criminal organisations, particularly in the manufacture of documents, transport of people and goods and the use of laundered and counterfeit money.

Intelligence organisations can organise, promote and assist terror operations, such as that by Pakistan’s ISI in Mumbai at the end of November 2008. As part of that assistance false documentation was provided.

Russian agencies have carried out assassination attacks in Chechnya and Chechen rebels have carried out attacks in Russia involving false identities. The United States has eliminated fundamentalists in Karachi, using agents with false documents.


Mossad carried out a terror raid in Dubai in February 2010 against a member of Hamas. To do so they used false documents including Australian passports. The fact that many in the West, including Australia, agreed with the action does not make it any the less illegal or criminal.

The crime, if you like, was being caught. Mossad and its agents were careless. Passports and other documentation fell into the hands of the Dubai police who quickly identified the operation as Israeli.

How many other operations has Mossad carried out using Australian passports? Some may have been done with Australian consent and assistance. The United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia all share a common concern to eliminate Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and terrorists. They all work closely with Mossad and share intelligence. All had passports of their nationals involved in the attack. Was Australia in any way involved? It is possible.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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