Boom time for Australia’s spies

Cost of spy game breaks $1 billion

m.theage.com.au | Jan 26th 2012


AUSTRALIA’S spies cost more than $1 billion a year to run and they are becoming increasingly involved in frontline operations, according to a landmark review of the country’s intelligence community.

Not only is the report the first time Australia has provided a headline figure for its spend on its six intelligence agencies, the inquiry – the Independent Review of the Intelligence Community – is the first time the agencies have been independently scrutinised since 2004.

”Australia has seen the dramatic expansion of … intelligence in the last 10 years,” the review’s leaders, former senior public servant Robert Cornall and management consultant Rufus Black, state in their public report, released yesterday.

In acknowledging the massive growth of the agencies – the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation alone grew 471 per cent from 2001 to 2010 and will this year occupy new Canberra headquarters worth $590 million – Mr Cornall and Dr Black said the role of the agencies had changed significantly since the last review.

The agencies today are more directly involved in military and civilian operations.

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”The intelligence agencies have been integrally involved in supporting military operations, protecting our maritime borders, stopping weapons proliferation and thwarting terrorist activities in Australia and our region,” the review states.

One of the most potent examples of that changing role is within the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. A decade ago the agency’s largest overseas station was in Jakarta, where they were primarily engaged in running ”agents” or foreign informants.

Today the largest station is in Afghanistan and, rather than running agents, ASIS officers there are more likely to be involved in joint military operations with the Australia Defence Force and its international partners.

The authors also note the significance of the huge growth in the intelligence community’s funding, revealing that the combined budget of the six agencies has grown by an annual rate of 14.6 per cent between 2000, when the budget was $317 million, to 2010, when it was $1.07 billion.

The six Australian intelligence agencies are: the domestic security agency ASIO, the foreign intelligence service ASIS, the electronic intelligence agency DSD, the analytical Office of National Assessments, as well as the Defence Intelligence Organisation and its geospatial partner DIGO.

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The report released yesterday is an unclassified overview of the highly secret final report, which was handed to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in November.

The public version is broadly positive and, unlike its 2004 predecessor which primarily probed intelligence failures regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, does not refer to any of its specific recommendations.

Despite that, Carl Ungerer from the Australian Security Policy Institute said the report included some veiled criticisms.

”It concerns me, and the report hints at it, that even though we’ve accepted the rhetoric of an inclusive national security community, the reality is the second-tier agencies … are not fully integrated.”

The report does refer to problems regarding the relationship between the intelligence agencies and their law enforcement partners, which since 2008 have been part of Australia’s national security community.

More than a decade after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the intelligence agencies are only ”beginning” to work more effectively with their partners, the report states. Dr Ungerer noted that the report identifies continuing problems with co-operation between the agencies at ”the lower levels”.

The report found that increased powers created by Coalition and Labor governments since 2001 were ”sound” and subject to adequate oversight.

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