Secret Documents American Media Will Never Disclose
An Interview with Tim Byrnes by Kourosh Ziabari
A few weeks ago, German political analyst and author Dr. Christof Lehmann put me in touch with an Australian journalist whom he said possessed precious and valuable information about an underground arm smuggling deal and needed to publicly talk about the long way he has come to unveil one of the most complicated and vicious machinations of the United States for dominating the Caucasus region.
After some correspondence, I conducted an interview with the Australian journalist and filmmaker Tim Byrnes, who was fired from his job at the Australian Government’s Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy after acquiring some secret information and leaked documents about the plans by the U.S. government to illicitly transfer arms and ammunitions to Georgia, where it had successfully brought to power its close ally Mikhail Saakashvilli in a Rose Revolution in 2003.
Byrnes and his American colleague Jeffrey Silverman have obtained some materials and information which indicate that the United States has had furtive plans and an intricate agenda for dominating the Caucasus region by compelling Georgia to become a NATO member and establishing a huge military base in the country, which will then become a potential threat to Iran and may be used as a leverage for containing and pressuring Iran over its nuclear program.
The Australian journalist was dismissed from his job after his employers found out that he has got hold of the leaked documents regarding the U.S. arms smuggling to Georgia, and brought up this excuse that he should have disclosed the documents to them, but failed to do so. Now, Byrnes wants to produce a documentary about the secret relationships between the United States and Georgia and their underground arms deal and is looking for a sponsor to fund his project and an audacious media outlet to air his documentary.
In order to learn more about the important case of Tim Byrnes and his colleague, the reasons why he became involved in this affair, the case which was brought up against him by the Australian government and the details of what he knows about the U.S.-Georgia ties, Iran Review conducted an in-depth interview with him last week. What follows is the full text of this interview.
Q: I learned that you were fired from your office after gathering some confidential materials about the illegal arm smuggling into Georgia by the United States. Would you please explain more about your job, and the reasons why your employers dismissed you? Can your accessing the leaked materials be a sufficient reason for your removal from office? Are the reasons they provided logically and legally justifiable?
A: I was a press officer with the Australian Government’s Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy in Canberra. I was responsible for handling media enquiries and preparing press releases. Although, I did not get a chance to do any work because I was there for less than 5 days.
It was not a restricted security level job so I had no access to any ‘secure or restricted’ information. Senior management claimed that I was a ‘security risk because I reported to them that I had in my possession material that was leaked to me, as a journalist, by a human rights activist and U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Silverman, who is based in Georgia.
The voluntary disclosure was done because I wanted the relevant security agencies to be notified because the damning material exposed possible high level corruption in the United States arms industry. And I believed that I could potentially save lives from these ghastly weapons. Instead, the department sacked me immediately and escorted me from the building like a criminal who had broken the law.
The media and communications manager, who instigated the sacking, Jane Weatherly, “had to leave” the department shortly after a Freedom of Information application was made by a journalist. She re-appeared shortly after, in what would appear to be a demotion, at the Department of Health and Ageing.
After speaking to the media, senior executives, under the nose of the minister’s office, reported me to the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australia’s domestic spy agency.
They also reported me to the National Security Hotline and claimed I was a ‘threat’ to the national security of Australia. This information was also passed on to the U.S. authorities, presumably in the U.S, Embassy in Canberra.
The material, a 2 hour film and 89 page transcript, outlines the mechanisms and infrastructure used to illegally export arms from the U.S.
The Australian Government claimed that the material related to ‘Russia and Georgia’ but they were wrong. It related to the U.S., Germany and Turkmenistan, although Georgia was mentioned briefly as a ‘transit country.’
A new leak has emerged to show that Mexico is somehow mixed up with the trade of weapons to Georgia, but we have not yet confirmed any U.S. involvement.
Despite having my career destroyed by the department, I have no regrets about going public because what I did was the right thing. It is the department who made a complete debacle of the affair and they refused to accept responsibility for their mistake.
But what can you do against a massive well-funded government department who will never admit an error? If you speak up against the government here in Australia they will smash your career and label you mentally insane, which is exactly what they did.
Documents obtained, under Australia’s Freedom of Information laws, do detail a department that went into damage control and emails also show they attempted to cover up the truth.
They won’t admit it publicly, or to me, that they made a massive mistake but the wider public, and some people inside the department, know exactly what went on and who made the blunders.
I have received a huge amount of support from the public, plus I have also received numerous emails from people inside the department apologising for the damage and stress caused to me and my young family.
The fight for justice will continue and I am currently looking at launching a legal case in early 2013. There has been widespread coverage in the media, of the sacking and the circumstances involved so it has been a victory for the truth.
Unfortunately, senior management went out of their way to crush my career for speaking up against an injustice.
Q: Have you ever tried to file a lawsuit against your former employer? In the letter they issued and sent to you, it was noted that your receiving the leaked materials ran counter to your responsibilities in the office and you should have disclosed the materials. Would you please tell us more about that?
A: Yes, I did attempt to take the Department to Fair Work Australia, the country’s industrial relations commission, but the case was thrown out on a technicality. The Department hired an expensive law firm who were able to have it thrown out because I had lodged a late application. I can still take the Department to court, under common law, for damages.
But this is an expensive process; the Department’s legal bills are paid for by the Australian taxpayer, meaning it will probably drag out the case to exhaust my funds without it ever coming to judgment.
I am not too sure how possessing the leaked materials ran counter to my responsibilities because it had nothing to do with my job and I had disclosed it to them out of courtesy on my first day on the job.
I was a journalist and Russian studies researcher prior to taking the job. I was also working on producing a documentary with my colleague in Georgia, Jeffrey Silverman, on the illegal arms trade. On the 4 March 2012, before taking the job, I decided that I could no longer be working on the project and needed a secure job. I also have copies of the emails which prove ‘my allegiance was not with the Australian Government’-and I had renounced the project.
The Australian Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy, who was pulled into the fray, told parliament that I should have disclosed this information during the recruitment process. However, at no time during the employment screening process, or under the terms of the security clearance to which I was assigned, was I legally required to come forth and freely disclose such information to anyone. I was hired on a basic entry level clearance, not a security clearance.
Q: You wrote that the United States is funding many Georgian institutions with the objective of turning Georgia into its political and military base in the strategic Caucasus region. Would you please share with us the information you have about the activities and operations of the United States in Georgia?
A: Back in 2008, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel, based in North Ossetia, told me in confidence that the U.S. had been providing covert support to the Chechen rebels, who had fought two bloody and brutal wars with the Russian military before the September 11.
The same was confirmed to me by my colleague in Georgia, Jeffrey Silverman, who had investigated how the U.S. government was providing material support to Chechen fighters in the Pankisi gorge of Georgia and had spent much time personally acquainting himself with the Chechens and their plight.
Some of these Chechen rebels were responsible for carrying out the deadly Beslan school massacre and the Moscow theatre siege. It is highly suspected that they were provided with training and material support by Georgia and its strategic partners, especially the United States.
As Jeffrey explained to me, “The Chechens were supported via an NGO funded by USAID and the U.S. State Department, which used these funds not for humanitarian purposes but to support aggressive and covert operations. The presence of Chechens in Georgia was used to justify the 64 million dollar U.S. Train and Equip Program, purportedly established to fight international terrorism, which in reality was a means of using Georgia to gain a greater toe hold in the region and use it as a regional forward operating base for future wars. Georgian military bases, port facilities and airbases have been upgraded with the objective of being eventually used by U.S., Israeli and NATO troops.”
My contacts in Georgia also tell me that all of this activity is most likely related to Iran being the final target for a regime change campaign which will topple the so-called “axis of evil” defined by George W. Bush.
Further connections with Georgia include weapons programs, encouraging Georgia to start the war over South Ossetia as part of the U.S. Election President Campaign back in 2008, the appearance of bio weapons labs in Georgia, the footprint of Bechtel National in pseudo-civilian peaceful projects, and Georgia becoming a transit “conduit” country for weapons and foreign fighters, not to mention a hub for drug smuggling and arms for weapons swaps.
What I know about Georgia falls exactly into line with what the FSB Colonel claimed.
In 2003, the U.S. Government funded the ‘Rose Revolution’ which installed, the U.S.-educated and apparently pro-American President Mikhail Saakashvilli under the banner of lighting a ‘beacon of democracy’ in the region. However, much earlier than expected, the beacon started flickering. Saakashvilli’s regime is still tainted by allegations of high-level corruption, human rights violations and arms and narcotic trafficking.
Q: What role is Israel playing in the advancement of the U.S.-Georgia relations? Is it the case that Israel is somehow benefiting from the expansion of Washington-Tbilisi ties? You wrote that Israel is furtively assisting the United States in establishing military bases in the region. Would you please elaborate more on that?
A: Israel is playing a more ‘shadowy’ and supportive role in Georgia, than the U.S., and has a much more hostile attitude towards Iran. They have both made no secret that they have drawn up plans for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Georgia is the only ‘friendly’ nation they have in the region to help it contain the growing influence of Iran in the Caspian region. Israel has been involved in supplying weapons to Georgia, especially before the 2008 war with Russia.
According to the FSB, the U.S. planned to build missile bases in Georgia to strike at Iran. The logic being that a missile launched from Georgia would be in Tehran within 3 hours. And two of those hours would be out of Iranian radar due to the Caucasus Mountains.
There is an Israeli drone base in Georgia and my colleague has met with the Israeli technicians who take care of the maintenance of these machines. However, I have heard allegations that the Israelis are using Georgia for more than that.
Q: A U.S. federal court has ordered that you cannot show to the public the video materials you have gathered. Would you please give us a gist of the content of these video files? Isn’t this order contrary to the principles of free speech which the United States officials and politicians constantly boast of?
A: Yes, I have been threatened by a U.S. Federal Judge from Arizona, Mr. Frederick Martone, a judge installed by arms lobbyist and U.S. senator John McCain. The order was an attempt to stop me going public with the material I have. The order has no sway or authority in Australia and I will not be adhering to this ridiculous attempt to hide the truth. It shows how hard the U.S. government will go to protect its lucrative arms industry.
I have also received a threat from a U.S. arms lobbyist in Washington, who represents the U.S. company mentioned in the leaked material. The film is a 2 hour piece detailing undercover officers from the U.S. homeland security doing a deal with two arms dealers. I am not too sure about U.S. law regarding free speech but it would appear there is hypocrisy on display. We have the material and it is up to the company to prove that they have not broken any laws.
Q: You said that the Syrian rebels have had meetings with Western and local arm traffickers in Georgia, and that Georgia has been used as a route to smuggle arms into Syria. This is a fact which had remained mostly unknown and undisclosed to the public. So, we can say that U.S. is somehow using Georgia as a proxy to fuel the fire of tension in Syria and destabilize the country. Am I right?
A: Yes, the network of shell companies and flight services used to do this is well documented. My sources have explained to me where these companies are registered, and the investigative media in Georgia have reported the links of companies who fly out of Georgia to various hotspots. Some of the arms deals which have been intercepted, such as one recently in Thailand, involved weapons and the cargo planes that were registered in Georgia. Georgia also assists in the procurement of weapons from third countries which are not NATO standard.
Q: In what ways can Georgia be used as a base for a possible U.S. military strike against Iran? Iran and Georgia maintain relatively sound and robust economic and political relations. Do you think that in case of a war against Iran, Georgia will give the U.S. a green light? Is that why U.S. is pressuring Georgia to join NATO?
A: Yes, Georgia and Iran are building greater economic and cultural ties but it will be interesting to see what the U.S. will do if the sanctions placed on Iran by the West continue to fail. I believe the U.S. is turning a blind eye to this because Georgia serves America’s purposes. Georgia is a country where ‘business is businesses.’
The U.S. wants access to Georgian military bases, hospitals and ammunition and bio weapons storage facilities. Some of these impressive facilities were first constructed by the Soviets and were highly developed for the period. Bechtel National, known for producing chemicals for Saddam Hussein, and various other defense contractors have been upgrading these facilities and command and control centers for this exact purpose. Even the rationale for good relations between Iran and Georgia is misleading, and these relations are not as good as they may appear, at least on a political level. They are part of a larger U.S. mechanism to collect human intelligence – and recruit Iranian nationals who can be paid and used in covert operations by the U.S. and its allies in support of their regional agenda.
Q: In your writings, you mentioned that after you were dismissed and interrogated, your colleague in Georgia was beaten, harassed and molested by the U.S. authorities in the country for a long time. Why have they treated your colleague in such a brutal manner? What did your friend have to do with your case?
A: He is one of the few people with the long-term knowledge, education and experience in Georgia and the region, having now lived there for 21 years. He was behind Russian lines in 2008, like me, and documented many of the weapons Georgia was supposed not to have. He has made documentaries on this subject and these have been aired on national TV. Earlier ones about the Pankisi and Arab and Chechen fighters were shown on the First Channel of Russian TV (RTR, State TV).
He was one of the first Western journalists to discover how the U.S. government was supporting the so-called Chechen terrorists. They have since revoked his passport and denied him medical assistance when he was beaten. When he last went to the U.S. he was arrested and the U.S. government tried to block his passport, but a local judge refused to bow to pressure from the State Department and let him go. Every time something happens, because of his close contacts with the media and background he ends up on the front page of the paper or on national TV.
Q: Would you please tell us about the contributions of Roddy Scott to the disclosure of information you currently possess regarding the U.S.-Georgia relations and their furtive transactions? He was killed in the Republic of Ingushetia. Was his death in one way or another related to the information he had? I read that he was a photojournalist and mainly worked in such countries as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Sierra Leon and Yemen. What were his connections to the Georgia case?
A: Roddy Scott and Jeffrey Silverman worked together on stories in Georgia and Azerbaijan before I became involved in the region. They collaborated in exposing U.S. convert operations in the Pankisi Gorge.
When Jeffrey Silverman shared information about the illegal support for the Chechens with the U.S. Embassy it was leaked to the wrong people, and his friend, the British journalist ended up dead. Jeffrey was beaten and had his nationality revoked soon after. Because he has an old Georgian passport he was given some form of Georgian citizenship many years ago. He was behind Russian lines for the Georgian Human Rights Centre during the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war, and somehow got in and out of South Ossetia without being caught by Russian or South Ossetian forces and made it past the Georgian checkpoints in local transport with a sample collection of Serbian weapons which had been illegally imported from Jordan under his feet.
Jeffrey has the voice recordings and the scanned original first draft of the translations and transcription of a weapons deal being concluded – and he believes that for the sake of all concerned, and fighting international arms dealing, this information should be made public. This is why we first starting collaborating. He fully understands that this information would never be aired on European or American TV, as it gives the larger picture of U.S. policy in the region and how the U.S. is intent on controlling the oil supply in the larger region, including Iran.
His assignments have involved links between the Georgian banking and real estate market, Israeli links, money laundering, illicit payments for weapons and the integrity of energy testing laboratories and he has evaluated other manifestations of organized crime and links to not-so-hidden political agendas, both at the national and international level.
He is convinced many arms shipments to Georgia are not for defensive purposes but are destined for use against Iran and in regional proxy wars, including Sudan and the Congo. We first discussed doing a film project that would tell both sides of 2008 Georgia-Russian war from the perspective of average people. Our intention was to expose what actually happened immediately before, during and after that short but bloody conflict.
Jeffrey has also investigated Viktor Bout’s trafficking networks in Georgia and the former Soviet Union placing an emphasis on illegal arms shipments and fake end user certificates, and how weapons are coming into Georgia and being exported to third countries. These reports have been aired on opposition inclined Georgian TV stations.
Q: What are the most important materials which you want to include in your documentary? Will the Australian government, which you said directly takes order from the United States, allow you to produce this documentary, especially given that you are currently possessing leaked documents related to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security? What can be the possible international reactions to this documentary?
A: We have the documentary synopsis prepared and the material, evidence and participants ready to go into production. However, we are seeking funding from a network or agency willing to produce a hard-hitting and informative piece of journalism. There is no media in Australia willing to take this project on; the media here tends to be quite parochial. The project is rather ‘leftfield’ and is more suited to a Middle Eastern or European carrier. We are always willing to sit down and discuss our project with any interest parties who may read this article. I am not too sure of the reaction but I am sure the audience would not be surprised at our findings.
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