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The Forum > Article Comments > Who watches the watchers? > Comments

Who watches the watchers? : Comments

By Peter Coates, published 23/10/2008

Ian Carnell, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, plays a crucial role balancing balance security, secrecy and civil liberties.

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Its not a civil liberties campaign SO THE LAWYERS ARE SLEEPING.

I suspect that those most interested in the Inspector-General's activities (ie officers from "the Agencies" themselves) are prevented by law and convention from commenting on OLO articles - especially an article like this.

Also in Australia there is a marked disinclination about discussing the deeper regulatory basis for intelligence even if issues are important to the public. Few get past "ASIO's new repressive powers in this police state..blah, blah."

So with those realities in mind I'll fill in some gaps that the article couldn't cover.

If anyone is under the impression that the
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has genuine oversight powers over the agencies - they would be wrong. The Joint Committee is extremely limited in its powers.

For example the The Intelligence Services Act 2001 limits the inquiry powers of the Committee by providing that the functions of the Committee DO NOT include:

- reviewing the intelligence gathering and assessment priorities of ASIO, ASIS, DIGO, DIO, DSD or ONA;

- conducting inquiries into individual complaints about the activities of ASIO, ASIS, DIGO, DIO, DSD or ONA

- reveiwing the content of, or conclusions reached in, assessments or reports made by DIO or ONA,....

- [and other limitations]

Basically the Joint Committee looks at what parts of the Agency's Budgets it is permitted to look at - no Haneef matter and virtually no Habib.

Parliament only gets to see what the PM and relevant Ministers serve up to it.

There is no comparison with the stronger oversight powers of US Congressional Committees over US agencies.

Posted by plantagenet, Thursday, 23 October 2008 11:36:20 AM
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if you believe a word of this...

no one can watch a secret agency. a democracy should not have one, since the people's business must be done in view of the people. oz is not a democracy, and needs secret agents to make sure the sheep don't think about changing that.

if you are reassured by a report of an avuncular tone from the particular 'uncle' that is protecting ozzies from the too onerous duty of citizenship, then you are too naive to be reading this report. put on your jammies and get mum to tuck you in.

maybe she'll tell you how closely the wheat board was watched, to protect us from evil foreign spivs. that's a good bedtime story, or she can tell you how the evil dr haneef was foiled by our brave and clever police.

ozzies are not visibly defective genetically, but culture creates a kingdom of the blind just as surely as an invasion of triffids.
Posted by DEMOS, Thursday, 23 October 2008 11:43:12 AM
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Peter Coates provides an interesting overview of IGIS' Report and makes some useful observations on it. Of course, the Report never contains any benchmarks for Australians to judge how effective IGIS really is, no matter how well-intended its staff may be. How can we really know whether IGIS investigations have ever brought justice to intelligence officers who have taken their complaints to the organisation? How can we know whether wrongdoers in the agencies concerned have ever been disciplined? How can we know whether malpractice, incompetence and unprofessional conduct in those agencies have been properly addressed and rectified as a result of complaints made to IGIS? Meaning no disrepect to the incumbent IGIS and his colleagues, a full and independent audit of the organisation's actual (rather than claimed) effectiveness over its lifespan would be useful, especially if it canvassed the views of complainants on what ever really happened as a result of their actions.
Posted by Warren Reed, Thursday, 23 October 2008 5:19:33 PM
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An annual report or audit titled “Public approaches to government: a list of complaints and outcomes” (from the complainants perspective) collated and published through an independent body would certainly make interesting reading.

A brief read of the IGIS report reveals that they are relatively open about their inquiries – an earlier assessment of a complaint about ASIO’s treatment of Scott Parkin (in the 2005 report) shows IGIS is confined (as it should be) to investigating complaints in accordance with the current legislation. Perhaps it is the legislation that needs some fine-tuning as well as widening the scope for relevant Parliamentary Committees and oversight agencies.

[Certainly there are many other areas for improvement including, from an administrative point of view, the enormous waste of money for security clearances. Intelligence agencies and the wider APS insist on conducting their own in-house security clearances even if applicants already possess one at the required level but obtained through another Federal agency. If departments and agencies do not trust each other’s competency in relation to security assessments it does not say much for inter-agency cooperation or whole-of-government approaches in other areas of national and public interest.]
Posted by pelican, Friday, 24 October 2008 8:01:25 AM
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I think that the extremely small size of the IGIS prevents it from adequately carrying out many of its diverse functions – particularly that regarding agency employee grievances.

The IGIS has only 10 people - perhaps several of them on the learning curve of recent secondment. While knowledgable about security and intelligence matters, personnel management is probably not their forte or background.

Much, I think, relies on the standard culture of secrecy to suppress and contain problems but not resolve them.

As Warren Reed points out there is no way for the public to gauge how successful the IGIS is in its agency employee role. Employees, in their insular world, also wouldn’t know whether they are being treated fairly compared with normal Public Servants or compared to broader community grievance/compensation standards.

The mainstream legal profession knows to keep clear of the many natural justice implications of this situation. In any experienced “compo” lawyers would not be given the necessary security clearances to legally start inquiring.

One organisation that caters for the concerns of its security service members is the Police Association Victoria - It is large scale and very influential. The IGIS is quite the opposite - employer created and only able to sample employee problems.

So problems fester, pressure for systemic change builds and yet another politically and bureaucratically diverting Royal Commission occurs. Promises are made but become disconnected from any implementation.

The Office of the IGIS is a step in the right direction but it may need around 30 people to maintain security, public interests and to adequately accommodate its agency employee role.

Peter Coates
Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 24 October 2008 9:55:09 AM
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As an ordinary guy Id be happy, at the moment, to see some report on what intelligence agencies are doing about Chen Yonglins 1,000 spies.

It really bugs me that aussie intelligence folk allowed so many Chinese agents here... and didnt tell us.

We had to hear it from a defecting Chinese Embassy employee.

If you know any current information please put it up.
Posted by Gibo, Sunday, 26 October 2008 1:57:44 PM
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