By Michelle Fahy, for Declassified Australia.
Read the whole article here.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra is the government’s primary source of outside-government advice, research and analysis on military and strategic affairs. Since its establishment in mid-2001, it has veered away from its founding vision.
There is a jarring disconnect between the lofty goals of independence expressed in ASPI’s charter, and theinfiltration of ASPI by tentacles of the military-industrial complex. This has been barely mentioned in Australia’s mainstream media.
A Declassified Australia investigation has uncovered a casebook example of ‘state-capture’, with the development of deep connections between ASPI, and the world’s largest and most powerful military weapons manufacturers.
Australia is a significant participant in the global arms trade at present. Its $270-billion decade-long spending spree upgrading weapons and war machines is large by international standards, and Australia is increasingly becoming an arms seller too. As Australia moves militarily ever closer to the US, even defence insiders say the defence industry is ‘awash with money’.
The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen have made the world’s biggest weapons manufacturers richer, larger, and more influential. At the lesser-known end of the spectrum, the Yemen war is notable for its extensive human rights abuses and war crimes: it has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Despite pleas from the UN, the arms still flow and the war continues. The weaponry for this war has been supplied by the world’s top arms manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Boeing, and missile-maker Raytheon.
ASPI receives its core funding via a grant from the Defence Department. In 2018, the Morrison government approved a $20 million grant to cover five years’ of ASPI operations. In May 2021, this grant was increased by $5 million to cover two years of operations of a new Washington DC office.
Since 2012, ASPI has vigorously pursued additional funding. Within two years, annual income from commissioned research jumped from $37,000 to $1.1 million, and sponsorships were up 235% to $746,000. ASPI’s own-sourced revenue has continued to grow dramatically. In 2011-12, ASPI received less than $500,000 above its base funding, by 2020-21 it had exploded to $6.7 million.
The single largest source of ASPI’s funding in 2020-21, beyond its core funding, was from the US Government’s Departments of Defense and State ($1.58m), followed by additional funding from Defence ($1.44m) and other federal government agencies ($1.18m). The NSW and Northern Territory governments provided $445,000. In the private sector, the largest source was social media, tech and cybersecurity companies ($737,362), with Facebook ($269,574), Amazon ($100,000) and Microsoft ($89,500) being the largest. From the arms industry, ASPI received $316,636, with more than two-thirds of that coming from two of Australia’s largest defence contractors, Thales ($130,000) and BAE Systems ($90,000).
In 2019-20, Twitter gave ASPI $147,319 for its cyber research. Significantly, Twitter last week announced a partnership with ASPI said to be dealing with misinformation from the Chinese communist party that was seeking to counter evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. As a result of ASPI’s research, thousands of “state-linked accounts” were shut down by Twitter.
While the cash from the arms industry may not appear substantial, as we have seen, the arms industry wields its major influence via its representatives finding their way on to seats at the top table.
The substantial extra funding from the US government, Defence and other Australian government departments, as well as corporate interests, provides a real challenge to ASPI’s responsibility to remain independent. It raises serious questions about undue influence, including foreign influence, at ASPI.
ASPI responded to our questions about protecting the perception of its independence by saying it retains ‘complete editorial independence on the material we choose to research’. It said it would not accept funding from parties attempting to constrain its editorial independence.
But just what does the US government get in return for its $1.57 million funding of ASPI, beyond its research projects on human rights violations, disinformation, and cybersecurity in China?
And what might BAE Systems get for its $90,000 grant to ASPI, other than a new report on the need for a ‘collaborative and agile’ intelligence community?
And what about Thales Australia, in return for its $130,000 grant to ASPI, beyond just being lead sponsor of the 2020 ASPI Conference?
The answer for them all, is ‘influence’.
ASPI’s role in advising the Australian government on defence strategy and procurements and cybersecurity would better serve the Australian people if it was to return to its original charter of researching and publishing a diversity of views from a position of uncompromised independence.