Tag Archives: ASIO

The new Department of Home Affairs is unnecessary and seems to be more about politics than reform

The Conversation

File 20170718 19023 l0hltu
Peter Dutton (right) is set to assume responsibility for the newly created home affairs portfolio. AAP/Mick Tsikas

John Blaxland, Australian National University

It is difficult not to give in to cynical impulses over Tuesday’s announcement that the government will create a Department of Home Affairs.

Described as a “federation of border and security agencies”, the home affairs minister – set to be the current immigration minister, Peter Dutton – will be responsible for ASIO, the AFP, Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, and the Office of Transport Authority.

The Home Affairs department was announced at the same time the government released an eagerly awaited review of Australia’s intelligence agencies. But the rationale for the creation of a “super ministry” seems to conflate the well-intentioned and important intelligence review with an inadequately justified yet major rearrangement of federal government executive agencies.

Fraught with danger

The Home Affairs model appears to stand on contestable grounds.

There may be an argument to be made about potentially improving internal bureaucratic efficiencies by having power centralised under one minister. However, this is debatable. And the move upends long-standing conventions on how security intelligence and executive police powers are managed separately.

Bringing ASIO and the AFP together in one department and away from the attorney-general is a fraught move.

Multiple royal commissions and a protective security review following the Hilton Hotel bombing in February 1978 saw the police, security and intelligence functions tried and tested by fire. They were found wanting, but were then subject to significant review and reform.

That reform led to an understanding about how best to delineate and maintain the separation of powers while upholding robust accountability. That understanding has come to be broadly accepted as the best way of managing intelligence and security affairs.

This model includes a high degree of healthy contestability concerning intelligence judgements and operational options. This is thanks in large part to the diffusion of power between ministries, and authority between agencies, departments and ministers. These arrangements mean there are clear lines of accountability and responsibility.

Mechanisms for prioritisation and avoiding overlap exist with the Heads of Intelligence Agencies Meetings, the Secretaries Committee on National Security, cabinet’s National Security Committee, and the National Intelligence Collection Requirement Priorities mechanisms. It’s unclear how the new arrangements will alter the dynamics in these contexts.

Under the previous arrangements, in authorising a warrant the attorney-general had to be satisfied it was justified, recognised as consistent with agreed-upon national intelligence collection priorities, resourced appropriately, executed within the legal guidelines, and then suitably reported on in a timely manner.

Under the new arrangements, the attorney-general – having relinquished management responsibility for ASIO – will retain responsibility for issuing warrants and ministerial authorisations. Yet the attorney-general will not, seemingly, be responsible for seeing the process through to its completion.

This change risks diminishing the prospects of a clear connection between ministerial authority and ministerial responsibility. The two functions look set to be performed separately, by the attorney-general and the home affairs minister.

The attorney-general also will gain responsibility for two important oversight agencies: the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. These are two little-understood but important offices that have been performing significant roles to ensure intelligence agencies are accountable and compliant with legislation.

The inspector-general, for instance, has the enduring powers of a royal commissioner. They are able to walk into any sensitive intelligence facility and ask to see any files virtually at any time.

Like the monitor, the inspector-general can report directly to the prime minster. This is a powerful tool to ensure accountability. It is hard to think of a compelling reason for their lines of reporting responsibility to be altered.

What role did the intelligence review play?

Announcing the changes on Tuesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not speak about the intelligence review – undertaken by former senior public servants Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant – in great detail.

However, Turnbull did mention the headline items. These include:

  • the creation of an office of national intelligence (a sensible and graduated move);
  • the better resourcing and management of intelligence capabilities (also a reasonable step);
  • the establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate as a statutory body within the Department of Defence (something talked about for years by insiders); and
  • a bolstering of the profile and placement of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (an unsurprising step given the high profile of cyber affairs this year).

The review also proposed:

  • an expansion of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s remit to cover agencies with intelligence collection and reporting functions not previously counted as part of the six agencies in the Australian Intelligence Community over which he exercised oversight; and
  • a slightly expanded, operationally-oriented role for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to request briefings and initiate inquiries.

These recommendations are sound. But they were made in isolation of the Home Affairs proposal.

By announcing the review and the new arrangements together, the issues appear conflated. The Intelligence review is well considered and reasonable. The new governance arrangements lack the same level of intellectual rigour for the public to consider and accept.

The ConversationPut together, it suggests this is more about politics than substantive fact-based organisational reform.

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Anonymous takes on Islamic State and that’s not a good thing

The Conversation

Levi J. West

It’s been a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris and the hacktivist group Anonymous has further expanded its online confrontation with the Islamic State (IS). Its campaign was originally captured under the #OpISIS banner, but is now titled #OpParis.

The initial operation was launched in response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and since then, Anonymous claims to have taken down some 149 IS related websites and 5,900 IS videos.

While on the surface this seems like an overall positive outcome against IS, given its highly regarded and consequential online presence, the reality is much more complex and nuanced. It demonstrates the risks of vigilante style action being undertaken in areas of sensitive national security matters.

When not to take down IS content

Action in this domain, regardless of its quality and the implications, can be seen as inherently beneficial. But an absence of context, proper understanding and incongruent purposes can make the counter efforts of the state more difficult.

When a government is looking at IS content online, the context varies depending on the outcome it seeks to achieve and for the department or agency involved. In a law enforcement context, IS content can be used to form the basis of a search warrant or a control order, or as evidence in a prosecution.

For an intelligence agency, an IS website may prove to be a vital element in ongoing surveillance, or form part of a broader assessment of an individual or a cell’s behaviour.

Beyond this, even the military may make use of IS online content as part of offensive information warfare targeting.

The distinction here is that the mere presence of IS content, while negative in the discreet sense, is part of the broader apparatus that is IS. It is multifaceted and complex, as is the response to it by the agencies of national security.

It is simplistic to think that merely removing IS content from cyberspace is sufficient, or even necessarily positive in the overall sense. There can often be a greater good achieved by leaving certain pieces of content in play.

This greater good is not supported by the interdiction of people unaware of the broader operations of government agencies, flawed and less than perfect as they may be.

For the public’s safety

The purpose for which Anonymous removes IS content is relatively narrow when contrasted with the public protection purposes of the state.

When a government, in collaboration with those companies responsible, removes online content, it is because it has been deemed both detrimental to public safety and security. It’s also because it’s considered that the content does not serve any other additional purposes, such as those mentioned above.

But Anonymous removes IS videos because IS disagrees with, and acts against, free speech. This presents both an ironic contradiction and also a much more self-interested motivation for Anonymous’ actions.

Tolerating vigilante style action by people affiliated with Anonymous would be an easier exercise if they were in some way representative, rather than a self-appointed vanguard, acting in the name of a public good they have determined to be overwhelmingly important.

When things goes wrong

The actions of Anonymous are also undertaken in a publicity-seeking manner. As further details are revealed in relation to #OpParis, it has been demonstrated that some of the personal details hacked and publicised by Anonymous were inaccurate.

While the state is not free of these types of errors, democratic states are at least accountable to some form of electoral and rule-of-law consequences.

In this heightened political and societal environment in the aftermath of a terrorist attacks, when a group such as Anonymous errs in identifying an individual as an IS recruiter or financier, it places those individuals in substantial danger while remaining largely free of consequences.

This is separate from the fact that much of the process of obtaining the data in the first instance is likely criminal.

While the actions of Anonymous in a range of domains, and in relation to many issues, can be seen as an overall positive, there are some very sensible reasons as to why its followers perhaps ought not to play in the national security space.

The takedown of IS content is generally viewed as being of fairly low impact when governments are involved, let alone when a vigilante style organisation adds additional risks of exposing innocent people, and undermining broader efforts to counter IS.

Perhaps most importantly, it does nothing for the people of Syria or Iraq, or those suffering within the controlled territory of IS.

The ConversationLevi J. West, Lecturer, Terrorism and Security Studies; Program Manager, Masters of Terrorism and Security Studies

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

1 Comment

Filed under Reblogs

Political leaders ask how gunman was on the loose

The Conversation

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When Tony Abbott was asked what he’d say to people wondering how Sydney’s siege had been allowed to happen given gunman Man Haron Monis was well known to police, the Prime Minister said cabinet’s National Security Committee had posed that very question.

“How can someone who has had such a long and checkered history not be on the appropriate watch lists and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community?

“These are questions that we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically, to learn the right lessons and to act upon them. That’s what we’ll be doing in the days and weeks ahead,” Abbott told a joint news conference with NSW Premier Mike Baird after briefings on Tuesday.

There are two issues, involving different institutions and agencies.

First, why was Monis out on bail when the criminal allegations against him were so serious? He was charged with being an accessory to his ex-wife’s brutal murder and with multiple counts of indecent and sexual assault.

Second, given his extremist political views were well-documented, why did security agencies – ASIO and the police – not use their powers to keep track of him?

Like Abbott, Baird was posing questions. “We are all outraged that this guy was on the street,” he said.

“We need to understand why he was. We also need to understand why he wasn’t picked up and we’ll be working closely with the federal authorities together with our own agencies to ensure what we can do better.”

Pressed on the bail, Baird said that he had already strengthened the law – although on police advice the new law was not being implemented before the end of January.

In the end the bail issue came down to court decisions.

The siege was a “lone wolf” attack, the sort ASIO fears most, in that it is hardest to detect beforehand because it doesn’t involve the “chatter” and multi-person planning that can give away elaborate operations.

While he invoked ISIL, Monis was not part of it, or in the mould of the young people who set out to fight with it.

For the national security agencies, a person like Monis presents a particular challenge in assessing whether his known radical views are likely to translate into violence.

If they have that fear, the agencies then have to decide how to proceed.

Police can seek a control order to monitor or regulate the person’s activities – which requires making a strong case of links to the threat of terrorism to get judicial approval.

Telephone calls can be monitored – not of great help if the lone wolf doesn’t engage in “chatter”.

There is the option of surveillance – but that takes very substantial resources if maintained over time, and is no absolute guarantee.

Abbott himself said that even if “this sick and disturbed individual” had been front and centre on watchlists and monitored around the clock, “it’s quite likely, certainly possible, that this incident could have taken place, because the level of control that would be necessary to prevent people from going about their daily life would be very, very high indeed”.

What to do about someone like Monis involves a complex balancing by the agencies of risks, rights, and resources. It is not a matter of powers – the authorities already have enough of those, especially with the new security legislation and more in the pipeline – but of judgement. What is the likelihood of this person turning extremist views into extremist action?

In retrospect, we know the answer in Monis’ case and the horrifying consequences of that answer. We can say that more should have been done to watch and investigate him. The point can also be made that a possible link should have been intuited between Monis’ alleged criminal violence and the potential for politically motivated violence. But then hindsight can always give a clearer view of how agencies should have assessed and prioritised risks and allocated resources.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs