ALP pledges inquiry into spy agencies

By Patrick Walters and Cameron Stewart
23 August 2004

AN incoming Labor government would establish a wide-ranging judicial inquiry into Australia's intelligence agencies that focuses on how effectively ASIO co-ordinates the fight against terrorism.

The proposed inquiry would be the first major external scrutiny of the national intelligence effort since a royal commission headed by Robert Hope two decades ago.

It would come in the wake of the Flood inquiry last month, which criticised the recent performance of the Office of National Assessments and the Defence Intelligence Organisation on the state of Iraq's pre-war weapons programs.

Philip Flood's report also said that Australia's intelligence agencies should have known more about Jemaah Islamiah before December 2001, when a large number of arrests of JI members took place in Singapore.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Labor's frontbench national intelligence committee had met with Mr Flood before deciding a further investigation into the intelligence agencies was needed.

"We've worked through this and we think there are still some gaps arising from Mr Flood's report and others that have been conducted in recent times into the Australian intelligence community," Mr Rudd told ABC TV.

"We think this should be of limited and finite duration and look specifically at those things that haven't been touched adequately so far.

"Those include ASIO's capacity to effectively co-ordinate the counter-terrorist intelligence effort."

Opposition defence spokesman Kim Beazley said any new inquiry should look at the public handling of intelligence in relation to Iraq and the links between intelligence advice and travel warnings put out by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before the 2002 Bali bombings.

"I think ASIO's doing pretty well, but we need to be pretty certain of that," Mr Beazley added.

The judicial inquiry would also examine what Australia's intelligence agencies had done inside Indonesia to stymie people-smugglers as part of a covert operation to prevent the departure of asylum-seeker vessels.

The Weekend Australian on Saturday revealed new details of this operation that has seen Australian spies and federal police use electronic intercepts, a paid network of informants and a fear campaign in fishing villages to dismantle people-smuggling rings inside the country.

The operation has led to the arrest of at least six smuggling ringleaders and prevented an estimated 7000 asylum-seekers from taking boats to Australia.

However, questions have persisted about whether the disruption activities of Australia's spies extended to the physical sabotage of boats - an accusation the federal Government has strongly denied.

Labor Senate leader John Faulkner yesterday said the revelations in The Weekend Australian about the nature of this operation had increased the need for closer scrutiny of it.

"Claims from an unnamed source that agencies 'sailed close to the wind' add further weight to Labor's call for the disruption program to be examined by a judicial inquiry," Senator Faulkner said.

"This will be a part of the broader judicial inquiry."


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