Australian Secret Intelligence Service

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The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) is the Australian government intelligence agency responsible for collecting foreign intelligence, undertaking counter-intelligence activities and cooperation with other intelligence agencies overseas. ASIS is equivalent to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Canada's Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.

According to its website, the mission of ASIS is to:

Protect and promote Australia's vital interests through the provision of unique foreign intelligence services as directed by Government.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
As its mission statement implies, ASIS's focus is on overseas operations. This distinguishes it from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).<ref>This is also reflected in the Intelligence Services Act 2001, eg in subsection 11(1):
the functions of [ASIS and DSD ] are to be performed only in the interests of Australia's national security, Australia's foreign relations or Australia's national economic well-being and only to the extent that those matters are affected by the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia.' (Emphasis added).

ASIS is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio and is housed within DFAT's headquarters in Canberra. Its current Director-General is David Irvine.


[edit] History

On May 13 1952, in a meeting of the Executive Council, Prime Minister Robert Menzies established ASIS by the executive power of the Commonwealth under s 61 of the Constitution, appointing Alfred Deakin Brookes as head.<ref name="digest">Parliament of Australia Bills Digest No. 11 of 2001-02 of Intelligence Services Act 2001. This document contains numerous references upon which this article is based.</ref> The existence of ASIS remained secret even within the Government for a period of twenty years.

Its Charter of December 15 1954 described ASIS's role as "to obtain and distribute secret intelligence, and to plan for and conduct special operations as may be required".<ref>Brian Toohey and William Pinwill, Oyster: The story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1989, p. 288</ref> ASIS was expressly required to 'operate outside Australian territory'. A Ministerial Directive of August 15 1958 indicated that its special operations role included conducting 'special political action'.<ref>Toohey and Pinwill, op. cit., pp. 291-292</ref> It also indicated that the organisation would come under the control and supervision of the Minister for External Affairs rather than the Minister for Defence. At the time, ASIS was substantially modelled on the United Kingdom Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. ASIS was at one time referred to as MO9.

On November 1 1972, ASIS was sensationally exposed by The Daily Telegraph.<ref>Richard Farmer, 'School for Aust. spies: Top-Secret Espionage Ring Exposed', The Daily Telegraph, 1 November 1972. See also Max Suich, 'Untangle the intelligence web', The Australian Financial Review, November 3, 1972</ref> This paper ran an exposé regarding recruitment of ASIS agents from Australian universities for espionage activities in Asia. This article was followed by a more in-depth piece in The Australian Financial Review on the Australian Intelligence Community (ASIO, ASIS, the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) [now the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO)], the Defence Signals Division (DSD) [now the Defence Signals Directorate] and the Office of National Assessments (ONA)).

The article in The Australian Financial Review stated that '[t]he ASIS role is to collect and disseminate facts only. It is not supposed to be in the analytical or policy advising business though this is clearly difficult to avoid at times'.<ref>Max Suich, 'Untangle the intelligence web', The Australian Financial Review, November 3, 1972, p. 3</ref> The Ministerial Statement of 1977 stated that the 'main function' of ASIS was to 'obtain, by such means and subject to such conditions as are prescribed by the Government, foreign intelligence for the purpose of the protection or promotion of Australia or its interests'.<ref name="Fraser">Mr Malcolm Fraser, 'Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security', Ministerial Statement, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 October 1977, p. 2339</ref>

On October 25 1977, then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser declared the existence of ASIS and its functions following a recommendation by the first of the Hope Royal Commissions (see below).<ref name="Fraser"/>

In 1992 two reports were prepared on ASIS by officers within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Office of National Assessments for the Secretaries Committee on Intelligence and Security (SCIS) and the Security Committee of Cabinet (SCOC). The Richardson Report in June examined the roles and relationships of the collection agencies (ASIO, ASIS and DSD) in the post cold war era. The Hollway Report in December examined shortfalls in Australia's foreign intelligence collection. Both reports endorsed the structure and roles of the organisations and commended the performance of ASIS.

[edit] Royal Commissions examining ASIS

Three Royal Commissions have examined, among other things, ASIS and its operations: in 1974 and 1983 (the Hope Royal Commissions), and in 1994 (the Samuels and Codd Royal Commission).

[edit] First Hope Royal Commission

On August 21 1974, the Whitlam Government appointed Justice Robert Hope to conduct a Royal Commission into the structure of security and intelligence services, the nature and scope of the intelligence required and the machinery for ministerial control, direction and coordination of the security services. The Hope Royal Commission delivered eight reports, four of which were tabled in Parliament on May 5 1977 and October 25 1977. Aside from the observation that ASIS was 'singularly well run and well managed', the report(s) on ASIS were not released. Results from the other reports included the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 and the establishment of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and the passage of the Office of National Assessments Act 1977.<ref name="digest"/>

[edit] Second Hope Royal Commission

On May 17 1983 the Hawke Government reappointed Justice Hope to conduct a second Royal Commission into ASIS, ASIO, ONA, DSD and JIO (now DIO). The inquiry was to examine progress in implementing the previous recommendations; arrangements for developing policies, assessing priorities and coordinating activities among the organisations; ministerial and parliamentary accountability; complaints procedures; financial oversight and the agencies' compliance with the law. As with the first Hope Royal Commission, the reports on ASIS and DSD, which included draft legislation on ASIS, were not made public.<ref name="digest" />

[edit] Samuels and Codd Royal Commission

In response to a Four Corners program aired on 21 February 1994, on 23 February 1994, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Gareth Evans announced a 'root and branch' review of ASIS. The Government appointed Justice Gordon Samuels and Michael Codd to inquire into the effectiveness and suitability of existing arrangements for control and accountability, organisation and management, protection of sources and methods, and resolution of grievances and complaints. The Royal Commission reported in March 1995.

Four Corners reporter Ross Coulthart made allegations regarding intelligence held by ASIS on Australians. He claimed that 'ASIS secretly holds tens of thousands of files on Australian citizens, a database completely outside privacy laws'.<ref>Statement by Ross Coulthard in Four Corners program of 21 February 1994</ref> This allegation was investigated and denied by Samuels and Codd (see below),<ref>'[ASIS] does not maintain 'tens of thousands of files' containing dossiers about Australian citizens, as alleged in the media': Samuels and Codd, op. cit., p. xxiii</ref> but the Minister did acknowledge that ASIS maintained files. The Minister said: 'ASIS does have some files, as one would expect in an organisation of that nature, even though its brief extends to activities outside the country rather than inside. They are essentially of an administrative nature.'<ref>The Minister said: 'ASIS does have some files, as one would expect in an organisation of that nature, even though its brief extends to activities outside the country rather than inside. They are essentially of an administrative nature': Senator Gareth Evans, Answer to Question Without Notice, Senate, Debates, 22 February 1994, p. 859</ref>

However, Samuels and Codd did find that certain grievances of the former officers were well founded. They appeared to support the officers' concerns regarding the grievance procedures:

Bearing in mind the context in which the members of ASIS work, it is not surprising that there should develop a culture which sets great store by faithfulness and stoicism and tends to elevate conformity to undue heights and to regard the exercise of authority rather than consultation as the managerial norm.<ref>Samuels and Codd, op. cit., p. xxxi</ref>

However, Samuels and Codd observed that the information published in the Four Corners program was 'skewed towards the false',<ref>Ibid, p. xx</ref> that 'the level of factual accuracy about operational matters was not high',<ref>Ibid, p. xxiii</ref> and, quoting an aphorism, that 'what was disturbing was not true and what was true was not disturbing'.<ref>Ibid, p. xxiii</ref> They concluded that the disclosure of the information was unnecessary and unjustifiable and had damaged the reputation of ASIS and Australia overseas.<ref>The commissioners stated that 'evidence presented to us of action and reaction in other countries satisfies us that the publication was damaging': Ibid, p. xx</ref> They rejected any suggestion that ASIS was unaccountable or 'out of control'. They said, 'its operational management is well structured and its tactical decisions are thoroughly considered and, in major instances, subject to external approval'.<ref>Ibid, p. xxiii</ref> They recommended that complaints regarding ASIS operations continue to be handled by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) but that staff grievances be handled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.<ref>Ibid, pp. xxiii-xxiv</ref>

In addition to their recommendations, Samuels and Codd put forward draft legislation to provide a statutory basis for ASIS and to protect various information from disclosure. The Samuels and Codd Bill, like the bulk of the reports, was not made public.

[edit] Legislative changes affecting ASIS

[edit] Intelligence Services Act 2001

See main article: Intelligence Services Act 2001

ASIS was created as a result of an Executive Order in 1952, and as such, had no legislative basis. On 27 June 2001, the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA) was introduced into Parliament by Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, which proposed significant changes to the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). The Act was passed by Parliament on 29 October 2001.

In relation to ASIS, the Act:

  • converted ASIS into a statutory body, headed by the Director General;
  • set out the functions of ASIS and DSD and the limits on those functions;
  • prohibited the use of weapons by ASIS (except for self defence) and the conduct of violent or para-military operations;
  • authorised the minister responsible for each agency to issue directions to the agency;
  • required ministerial authorisation for collection activities involving Australians;
  • limited the circumstances in which ministers can authorise collection of intelligence on Australians;
  • required the ministers to make rules regulating the communication and retention by the agencies of intelligence information concerning Australian persons; and
  • provided for the establishment of a parliamentary oversight committee, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD.

[edit] Intelligence Services Amendment Act 2004

See main article: Intelligence Services Amendment Act 2004

On 15 October 2003, the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2003 was introduced into Parliament by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, as an amendment to the original Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA). The Bill sought amend the original ISA to allow ASIS to:

  • be involved in the planning and undertaking of paramilitary or violent activities by others, and
  • provide, train with, and use weapons and self-defence techniques in certain circumstances.

The Bill created controversy over its allowance for ASIS to work with other organisations (such as the CIA or MI6) in paramilitary operations, provided ASIS staff and agents were not personally involved in carrying it out.

The Bill was passed on 1 April 2004, five and a half months after it was introduced.

[edit] See also

[edit] References


[edit] Credit

A large portion of the history of ASIS was adapted from the Parliament of Australia Bills Digest No. 11 of 2001-02 of Intelligence Services Act 2001

[edit] External links

Australian intelligence agencies Image:Flag of Australia.svg

ASIS | ASIO | ONA | Defence Intelligence Group (consisting of: DIGO | DIO | DSD)

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Australian Secret Intelligence Service

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