NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
We have met the enemy, and he is us
, December 8, 2007
ASIO should be amalgamated with the Australian Federal Police to form an organisation similar to America's FBI.The laws on terrorism, introduced by the former Howard Government, have been disconcertingly draconian to some. ASIO was given powers to detain persons of interest for questioning (interrogation). ASIO's use of the power to date, however, has been, as far as we know, less than the standard expected. That provides grounds for considerable concern.
Many in the community are not yet convinced that we face a serious terrorist threat. I have pointed out elsewhere that the Islamic community in this country is estimated to number about 300,000, and that constitutes a substantial pool, or critical mass, from which people can be drawn by extremists, demonstrably living in this country. Young, impressionable minds can be easily convinced that our society is corrupt and rotten, government is illegitimate and Western politics and beliefs are inconsistent with devout Muslim practice.Radical Islam
I have not and will not suggest that every Muslim is a terrorist, but it is well-known to the authorities that terrorist organisations exist in this country, and we have the constituent elements for recruiting a broad spectrum of the young, alienated, often unemployed youth to radical Islam.
Furthermore, as events have shown overseas, that is a rather overworked profile of a would-be terrorist. It is just as likely that terrorists can come from professional backgrounds such as engineers and doctors.
The ordinariness of the British suicide-bombers of July 7, 2005, has been remarked upon quite regularly. But the failed suicide-bombings in late June this year by a group of young Muslim doctors, mostly from Pakistan, has shown that tertiary-educated professionals can be lured by the siren-song of martyrdom.
The young men of both sets of attacks in the UK were second and third-generation migrants who gave the impression of fitting in and adjusting to the host society. But, in secret, they had adopted radical Islamic religious practices and taken trips to Pakistan for terrorist training and, ultimately, suicide-bombing.
If we look at the Australian authorities charged with protecting us from terrorism, it could probably be said that the Australian Defence Force, Defence Intelligence Organisation, Defence Signals Directorate, Australian Federal Police and, to a lesser extent, ASIS enjoy the confidence of the populace and the elites.
For a variety of reasons, ASIO continues to be the leper in the so-called Australian intelligence community. As I have recounted earlier in other publications, ASIO does not enjoy the respect or reputation of its principal foreign counterparts, the UK security service MI5 and America's FBI.
In short, ASIO is distrusted for a number of historical reasons, from the nature of its establishment through to the present day and its role in the affair earlier this year of Dr Mohammed Haneef and more recently, in mid-November, the case of Pakistani student Izhar ul-Haque.
Here was a student who was interviewed under warrant on November 6 by three ASIO officers. From the judgment handed down by Justice Michael Adams, it appears that in 2003 and 2004 Izhar ul-Haque was interviewed by AFP officers. Without going into full details, the accused was charged with receiving training in combat and the use of arms from a terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation which is now illegal but had not been banned at the time ul-Haque undertook training in Pakistan.
Reading between the lines, ASIO's appearance on the scene had two origins. First, it had been publicly acknowledged by a number of top security officials that it is hard to spy on Muslims. Second, ASIO had obviously decided that it was worth trying to recruit ul-Haque. The transcript released from the New South Wales Supreme Court reveals all the hallmarks of a recruitment "pitch", which, as the saying goes, went pear-shaped. Plan B presumably was to prosecute ul-Haque for the training he received in 2003-4 in Pakistan.
I do not wish to make a judgment on this case without the full possession of facts. However, the general portrayal of ASIO (once more) as incompetent was compounded by the fact that two of its officers apparently acted in breach of the law, which renders them liable to prosecution for what has been described as false imprisonment and kidnapping. By anyone's standards, the ul-Haque case was a fiasco.Visceral hatred
ASIO has been changed radically from the days when those on the political Left had real grounds for concern. There are still members of the judiciary and legal fraternity, the civil liberties lobby and groups representing migrants who believe that, with the 2005 antiterrorist legislation, Australia has become a much more authoritarian country. Indeed, the word fascism has been used to describe security operations. In addition, the universities of this country have a visceral hatred of ASIO, and to a lesser extent of ASIS and the AFP.
This adds up to an extremely hostile constituency, and that is one of the reasons why I have called for the abolition of ASIO and its amalgamation with the AFP to form an organisation similar to the America's FBI.
At least a new organisation would start with a clean slate, provided it was not staffed from the top down by bureaucrats and yes men. Our democracy demands a robust and trustworthy intelligence community.
It needs people at the top who can defy politicians who want a quick result with photographs in the newspapers and good news. It requires a diverse range of talents, and not all of those are gained through attendance at university.
Above all, there should be a massive campaign to educate those people who are embittered towards ASIO and its sister organisations. If the recruitment of Izhar ul-Haque had been successful, he would have been a valuable asset in the war on terror and against LeT.
Nothing further should have been heard about the affair - that is the very nature of recruitment operations. However, it went wrong and the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has stepped in to enquire into the matter.- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.