There has been much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over the recent sacking of Andrew Probyn, the political editor at Australia’s taxpayer-funded broadcaster, the ABC.
If one were to believe all the praise gushing forth about this doughty individual, then he was a combination of all that is good about journalism.
But Probyn’s last contribution to the ABC shows that he is much better suited to a role in the public relations industry. That is, if one goes through his documentary Breaking the code, which, to be blunt, is one of the most sickening exhibitions of sucking up to some of Australia’s intelligence operatives.
Probyn does not appear to be familiar with the use of technology to solve crimes or with the work of network analysts and digital spies. This shows through clearly in his lavish praise of even the most mundane tasks.
To anyone with even a smattering of knowledge about online attacks, it would be embarrassing to claim that this program was conceived of by a journalist. Yet Probyn appears to be proud to claim such a program as his own, with some credit given to another ABC employee, Greg Jennett, one who is also known to uncritically praise government functionaries.
Probyn’s documentary begins with the women who functioned as operators during World War II. He then covers the investigation of the Bali bombings in which 88 Australians were killed in 2002. The chief of the Australian Federal Police at the time, Mick Keelty, is made out to be some kind of wizard, when all that was being done was tracing the owner of a mobile phone through its IMEI number.
Probyn’s tone when he describes this amateur sleuthing makes it seem like the eighth wonder of the world. It is embarrassing to watch a grown man employ such lavish adjectives to describe a routine operation.
But wait, there’s more. Probyn also deals with some of the intelligence agencies’ work in disrupting cells of the Islamic State terrorist group in Mosul. Once again, simple things like a denial-of-service attack are painted as though they require an Einstein to effect.
While intelligence staff use the best possible buzzwords to describe what they did — very basic stuff for anyone who has even a rudimentary understanding of technology — Probyn sits there with a look of wonderment on his face.
He does everything, but prostrate himself on the floor as Mike Burgess, former head of the Australian Signals Directorate, and the current head of the domestic spy agency, ASIO, employs every superlative in the book to describe the work done by his staff. The thought did occur to me that programs like this would be a very effective means of gaining a bigger budget for the ASD.
Throwing in a good word or twenty are the current ASD chief, Rachel Noble, and Mike Rogers, a former head of the American NSA. Probyn never questions anything; one squirms to see him accept all the guff that these intelligence functionaries dish out without so much as a single interruption. And this is the man described as one of the best journalists in Australia!
In any Australian documentary of this kind, one always encounters the mandatory dig at Russia and Vladimir Putin, and Probyn duly obliges. Not to forget a few criticisms of China.
The fiction that Australia was the first to warn any country about the alleged dangers of using telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies is also recycled. It has been documented back in 2018 that the US warned then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, not to allow Huawei to supply equipment for any 5G networks, indicating that there were security risks involved.
Had Probyn bothered to do a simple search, then he would have chanced upon more than one report stating this fact clearly. But then it is extremely doubtful if Probyn was interested in anything other than giving the Australian intelligence community a tongue bath.
Showing Probyn the door is unlikely to diminish the ABC’s journalistic abilities. One would not be surprised if he turned up at one of the spy agencies as a PR manager. He is well suited for the job.