A novel way to ease the pain

> The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
> November 24, 2007 Saturday
> A novel way to ease the pain
> After enduring the life of an army whistleblower, Lance Collins has
> found solace in writing
> Lance Collins has been immersed in blood and severed limbs for the
> past few years. The carnage has been so brutal that even he, a former
> senior military intelligence officer, winces and curls his mouth in
> distaste when he recounts some of the atrocities.
> Entire cities wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of captive soldiers
> blinded by their conquerors. Women and children massacred.
> ”Some of it is simply horrific,” he says. ”Cities of 150,000
> people, all of them being put to the sword.”
> Lieutenant-Colonel Collins, retired, has just completed a
> 200,000-word novel set more than nine centuries ago during the
> Byzantine wars that raged across eastern and southern Europe. The
> book revolves around a true-life Frankish knight hired to fight for
> the Byzantines in the 11th century.
> ”I’ve tried to write a book that will entertain but also inform,” he says.
> Collins, 52, knows his military history. He has also made some of his
> own. The senior military intelligence officer for Australia during
> the East Timor conflict in 1999, and the right-hand man to General
> Peter Cosgrove, Collins triggered a series of high-level inquiries
> three years ago with claims of serious failures by the nation’s
> leading spy agencies.
> He had returned from East Timor convinced Australia’s intelligence
> gathering was compromised by politics and a powerful pro-Jakarta
> lobby he believed existed within the Department of Foreign Affairs.
> He was soon marked as a troublemaker by the military, despite many of
> his allegations being supported by a series of reports.
> Ostracised as a whistleblower,and disappointed that the army he had
> served loyally would not support him, Collins resigned from the
> Defence Force in 2005 and co-wrote a book about the intelligence
> world that alleged Indonesia’s intelligence services had recruited a
> long-serving Australian spy who worked as a double agent.
> The double agent’s role was eventually uncovered, he said, but the
> spy was never prosecuted, despite putting at risk key Australian
> intelligence assets in Indonesia and elsewhere. For the past 18
> months he has lived on a farm in Victoria, riding horses, polishing
> the novel and avoiding headlines.
> In the words of his partner, Yvonne, Collins has been ”healing”
> from years of enduring the life of a whistleblower; being watched,
> investigated and pilloried by a Defence Force and government that
> wanted to discredit his credentials and hose down his claims.
> He briefly returned to Sydney this week, summoned by the call of
> politics. Collins has been advising Margherita Tracanelli, a
> human-rights activist and filmmaker standing as the Climate Change
> Coalition candidate in the Prime Minister’s seat of Bennelong.
> On paper it seems an unlikely match. But Collins is hardly
> stereotypical, despite a physical appearance that has ”army”
> stamped all over it. He was once described by a colleague as having
> the classic ”thousand-yard stare” of a soldier. It’s still there;
> the ability to look at you and through you into the distance. It’s
> just that these days it doesn’t burn as fiercely, perhaps because
> there are fewer enemies on the horizon.
> He is still fit and has a head of silvery, short hair and the sort of
> chiselled face that can be found in the pages of the 1950s Boys Own
> adventure books that he devoured in his youth. His was hardly a
> typical army upbringing.
> He came from a poor rural Victorian family, graduated from La Trobe
> University with an arts degree in sociology and a keen interest in
> history, kicked around the Outback working on stations
> as a hired hand, before shocking his family with the news that he
> wanted to join the military.
> Quickly establishing a reputation as a shrewd analyst with an
> intuitive grasp of intelligence, he rose quickly and served in Kuwait
> in 1998, alongside US military intelligence officials as they worked
> themselves into a mindset, says Collins, ”that war with Saddam
> Hussein would be inevitable”.
> It was in East Timor a year later, as part of the senior Australian
> command brought in to restore order to the troubled island, that
> Collins first met Tracanelli. They have since worked with one another
> raising awareness of human rights abuses in West Papua.
> Tracanelli, tall and willowy and with a thousand-yard stare of her
> own when it comes to human rights abuses, says Collins has been an
> invaluable source of advice and information, particularly during the
> election campaign.
> ”Lance is one of those great Australians who nailed his colours to
> the mast and said what he believed,” she says. ”He gave up a career
> to tell the truth. He has a superb intellect and an enormous grasp of
> history and how it relates to what we are experiencing today.
> ”I can see 20 years into the future where climate wars will be
> fought, where people are fighting over water and food. They’ll be
> shooting each other to feed their families.”
> He says his novel, which he is about to send to publishers, resonates
> with many of the issues now confronting the world in the 21st century.
> ”History shows the source of some of the bloodiest conflicts have
> been over resources,” he says. ”Before guns and technology came
> along, you would see cities of hundreds of thousands of people put to
> the sword, bloodshed on a huge scale, all because of disputes over land.
> ”Water is going to be a crucial resource in years to come.
> ”Wars have always been fought over resources and with climate
> change, if most of our water is to be found in the north, which is
> relatively undefended, then we’ll have to rethink our strategies on
> defending northern Australia.
> ”I don’t think people grasp the gravity of the situation.”
> Collins says he has moved on from his experiences as a whistleblower
> and that the bitterness he felt over his treatment by the military
> and the Government has been tempered by time.
> But it still rankles and there is a lingering resentment that
> inevitably will never quite go away.
> He was disappointed, he says, that Cosgrove, a man he worked so
> closely with during the East Timor campaign, never gave him the
> support he thought he had earned.
> His relationship with his former commander is now non-existent and
> while he won’t say so himself, many of Collins’ supporters believe
> Cosgrove cut his intelligence officer adrift as he pursued a career
> that ultimately saw him rise to the role of chief of Australia’s
> military forces, an undisputed favourite of Prime Minister John
> Howard and mooted as a future governor-general.
> Collins remains deeply concerned over the treatment given to others
> who have supported his stance, including a naval barrister, Captain
> Martin Toohey, who wrote the first report into Collins’ allegations
> about Australia’s spy agencies.
> ”Since I became involved in this thing, I’ve been confronted with a
> legion of hired liars who keep pushing this message: ‘I’m just doing
> my duty. I’m doing what I’m told.’ And that’s actually the ethics of
> the hit man. Nothing personal, just business,” Collins said two years ago.
> Since then he has returned to the land and refined his tale of a
> knight who went into battle almost 1000 years ago.
> And with that out of the way, Lance Collins now has plenty of time to
> concern himself with the wars of the future.


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