THE ROLE OF INTELLIGENCE IN SHAPING
PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF TERRORISM By Bill Calcutt PSM
In responding to the threat of terrorism the former Australian government
acted to redefine the nature of intelligence advice. While the intent may have
been to shield secret information and intelligence from public scrutiny and
conceal its inherent limitations, the effect could be to devalue and undermine
the vital role of professional intelligence analysis in transforming collected
information into valuable and reliable interpretations and insights.
The graphic images of terrorist attacks on the very heart of the western
world on 11 September 2001 are now etched deeply into our psyche. For
governments across the world the spectre of a grave new security threat
emanating from a capable, determined and apparently fearless enemy has
necessitated a major rethink of how to balance individual human and civil
rights with the need to ensure the community is protected from intimidation
The resultant global war on terror has largely crystallised international
efforts by governments to combat terrorism in a new post-September 11
security environment. Struggling to respond effectively to the prospect of
devastating attacks anywhere from a highly committed and unconventional
foe, governments have adopted a range of exceptional and sometimes
indiscriminate measures. Some of these measures have impinged
significantly on important and long-standing conventions relating to human
and civil rights (Public Interest Advocacy Centre, July 2006; SLRC, June
After six years of fundamental and wide-reaching changes to the
national and international security environment it is therefore timely to review
Australian responses to the threat of global terrorism. This paper specifically
• the (mis)representation of secret intelligence. as a reliable basis for
national counter-terrorism policies,
• the viability of intelligence as evidence in legal processes,
• the use of intelligence as justification for the concentration of authority,
• the effectiveness of terrorism in changing Australian society, and
• the alienation of particular religious and ethnic minorities within the
Australian community, and the emergence of latent xenophobia.
Understanding the nature of intelligence
Covert intelligence operations have played a major role in the global war
against an elusive enemy, and intelligence advice has been pivotal in the
development of national and international responses to the threat of terrorism.
Because of the secrecy that invariably surrounds intelligence activities the
community remains largely oblivious to the true nature of intelligence and its
The community's limited understanding of the intelligence function
places it at a significant disadvantage in determining whether government
responses to perceived threats are justified. A challenge for communities
committed to public accountability and concerned about maintaining a balance
between individual rights and national security has been to obtain sufficient
information to judge whether government actions are proportionate. In
intelligence and national security matters the community has to rely on, and
trust in, the government's integrity and assurances that it would only act
responsibly and with substantial justification. The community's confidence in
such assurances has been undermined with revelations that the intelligence
basis for a number of major national and international actions was flawed.
In Australia the various intelligence agencies operated under a cloak of
absolute secrecy until the mid 1970s. It was mainly the conduct of two Royal
Commissions by Justice Hope that raised community awareness of the
existence and activities of these previously hidden organisations. The
observations and recommendations of the two Hope Royal Commission
reports remain highly relevant more than two decades later. The 1977 report
of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (RCIS) observed that:
Assessments should be an integral part of the intelligence cycle.
Whatever the source of information ASIO collects, it must be critically
evaluated and assessed soon after collection. Simply to store it, or to
sort and store it, does not produce intelligence.
The process of intelligence production must be one of distilling what is
most relevant from a large volume of material. In this way trends are
identified and overall perceptions of the situation develop. The
intelligence analyst faces a situation where his information, coming from
different sources and with widely varying credibility, must be constantly
and sceptically appraised. In security work nothing can be assessed to
be what it seems.. Thus intelligence assessment is no simple or routine
activity but a highly-skilled and subtle task (RCASIA, 1984, p. 164).
The 1983 report of the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and
Intelligence Agencies (RCASIA) observed that:
The assessments produced by ASIO vary in quality and format. I think
there has been an overall improvement in quality since RCIS. However,
an annoying feature to an outsider is a tendency to state assertions or
beliefs as facts and to mingle facts with inferences drawn from them
(RCASIA, 1984, p.165).
Commenting on two cases where information in security assessments
produced by ASIO had been proved to be incorrect, Justice Hope concluded:
By its nature, the information available to an intelligence organisation will
often be less than firm and precise. Checking is not always easy, and
the time available may not allow much scope for it. However, given time,
ASIO should be at pains to verify, as far as possible, any information on
which it may base an adverse assessment of an individual. It must also
be meticulous to correct any information which it has given and which it
discovers to be inaccurate (RCASIA, 1984, p.171).
While the intelligence function encompasses a myriad of activities
relating to the (often covert) collection, organisation and analysis of
information, the over-riding objective is the development of insights that
provide direction for effective action. While governments prefer to act on the
basis of proven facts, in their absence it is sometimes necessary to interpret
and infer. Available (but often incomplete) information is critically analysed to
develop well-founded interpretations on the nature of existing activities, and
predications on future activities. These valuable insights are called
There are broadly two types of intelligence product; strategic and
tactical (or operational) intelligence. Strategic intelligence typically informs on
broad trends and organisational capabilities, with implications for longer-term
strategy and policy (sometimes including legislation). Tactical intelligence
typically informs on specific activities and individuals, with implications for
investigations and immediate responses.
The raw data and information that is collected and analysed to create
intelligence product can take many forms. Information sources can be
conversations, written communications, observed actions, hearsay, rumour or
opinion. Information can be collected from public sources or through highly
sensitive technical means. It can range from fantasy to speculation to fact.
While individual pieces of (sometimes secret) information can be of vital
importance, how or where the data is obtained (whether overtly or covertly)
does not transform it into intelligence product.
The key to the development of high quality intelligence product is
professional analysis (assuming the analyst can access sufficient relevant
information). The intelligence analyst possesses the skills to process, absorb,
analyse, interpret and transform the available information into valuable
insights, and to add value in terms of meaning and implications. This can be
an extremely difficult and demanding task where the intelligence analyst is
required to demonstrate exceptional skill, judgement and intellect, and can be
held accountable for the accuracy and reliability of their intelligence product.
A highly disciplined approach to the collection and analysis of
information raises the level of confidence in the reliability and accuracy of the
interpretations (the intelligence product) from speculation/possible to
probable/likely (but never certain). But even using multiple, diverse and
independent information sources and the most critical and objective analysis,
the intelligence produced remains intrinsically fallible because it always
involves an element of human interpretation and subjectivity.
Quality intelligence assessments from professional intelligence analysts
should thus be thorough, logical, realistic, balanced, thoughtful, perceptive,
timely, relevant and appropriately qualified. Hence, the high-level skills and
attributes required for professional intelligence analysis include:
• the ability to think laterally
• a determination to establish the truth
• personal courage and independence
• communication and reasoning skills
• a personal commitment to life-long learning
• intellectual rigour, scepticism and incredulity
• a level of sophistication and sensitivity to nuances and
• the ability to remain objective (unbiased), open to new
perspectives, and able to maintain a sense of proportion and
• a capacity for meticulous and extensive research in order to
develop valuable insights that provide direction for effective
Maintaining the authority of intelligence
The nature (and limitations) of intelligence product has important
implications for its use in the public domain. Neither secret information, nor
intelligence product, are necessarily produced to withstand rigorous public
scrutiny. Using them as public justification for accountable decisions and
actions has thus proved to be increasingly problematic.
More than 20 years after the Hope Royal Commissions clearly explained
the central role of analysis in transforming collected information into
intelligence, in responding to the threat of terrorism post-September 11 the
vital differences between intelligence activities (in particular the covert
collection of information) and intelligence product have become blurred. The
effect (if not the intent) of this redefinition is to shield intelligence advice from
further public (and possibly official) scrutiny.
In 2004, in the wake of what is now widely acknowledged as a profound
intelligence failure relating to the exaggeration of Iraq.s capabilities and
possession of weapons of mass destruction, the government commissioned
Philip Flood to conduct a review of Australia.s foreign intelligence services.
The resultant Flood report states:
Intelligence is covertly obtained information. While it may take a number
of forms, the key characteristic of intelligence information is that it is
obtained without the authority of the government or group who .owns.
the information (Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence
Agencies, July 2004, p. 5).
In October 2006 the Australian Government published a booklet titled
The Australian Intelligence Community. The booklet restates the Flood
definition (that intelligence is .covertly obtained information.) and describes
collected information as .raw or unassessed intelligence. (AGPS, 2006, p. 3).
These definitions of intelligence explicitly fail to specify:
• how and when raw data and information is transformed into
carefully crafted and qualified advice that can be used with some
degree of confidence in government decision-making,
• the inherent limitations of all intelligence product, given it is
typically based on the interpretation of incomplete and sometimes
inaccurate information, and
• the unique professional analytical skills and expertise that are
required to produce high quality intelligence product.
Under the .covertly obtained information. definition of intelligence it is
virtually impossible for the community to determine whether what is being
presented as compelling evidence of a serious and imminent threat (and
justification for action) is unassessed raw data or carefully evaluated
intelligence product (or something in between). The community is unable to
confidently question whether a proposed response is proportionate and
appropriate. Ultimately this ambiguity and lack of clarity serves to reinforce the
illusion that all intelligence must be credible and important, simply because it
comes from secret sources.
There is a fundamental difference between obscuring the true nature of
the intelligence function and (sensibly) protecting the methods, sources and
details of current intelligence operations/activities. There may be a number of
motives for maintaining the mystique of the intelligence function and avoiding
explicit public accountability. These could include sustaining the unquestioned
status and authority of intelligence advice (knowledge is power); maintaining
intelligence agencies. independence and dramatically increased funding;
sustaining an illusion that information collection equates to intelligence
production; avoiding comparisons in terms of cost-benefits between different
intelligence agencies; and moderating expectations for high quality
intelligence product (such as forewarning of terrorism activities) and diluting
The viability of intelligence as evidence in legal proceedings
Intelligence can undoubtedly constitute a valuable source of advice in
the absence of facts and evidence, but the sensitivity and intrinsic fallibility of
this advice means that it is rarely suitable for use in the public domain. The
limitations of secret information and intelligence product are likely to be
exposed as legal proceedings are commenced against suspect individuals
and groups under recently introduced counter-terrorism legislation. By its
nature, tactical intelligence (on specific individuals/groups and activities) is
rarely suitable as evidence in legal proceedings, where the information
tendered has to be able to withstand thorough external scrutiny and a jury has
to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt.
The complexities involved in the use of secret information and
intelligence as evidence in terrorism-related criminal proceedings have arisen
previously in Australia. The explosion of a bomb in a garbage truck outside
the Hilton Hotel in Sydney in February 1978 killed three people and injured
several others. The Hilton bombing is often portrayed as Australia.s
introduction to terrorism. The incident was immediately linked with a
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that was being held
at the Hilton Hotel. The police and intelligence actions that followed this event
are illustrative of how early decisions by investigative agencies can ultimately
confuse rather than clarify who is responsible for a terrorist action, and have
the potential to increase rather than reduce the threat of (and capability to
perpetrate) further acts of politically motivated violence.
It was immediately assumed that the bomb was intended for one of the
foreign dignitaries attending CHOGM. At the time a number of Commonwealth
countries were experiencing levels of internal dissent, some including threats
and violence by various .radical. religious and separatist groups. In several
instances there were representatives or affiliates of such groups in Australia.
Following the explosion, suspicion immediately fell on the Australian
members of a particular religious sect. The spiritual leader of the sect had
been incarcerated in a Commonwealth country overseas, and sect members
across the world had been conducting a campaign for his release. Several
members had been involved in various acts of violence in Australia and
overseas pursuant to the campaign to free their spiritual leader. Intensive
police investigations into the sect following the bombing were complemented
by covert intelligence operations involving technical and physical surveillance,
and the penetration of the sect by a police informant, later named as Richard
In June 1978, just over four months after the Hilton bombing, two
members of the sect and Richard Seary were arrested in a vehicle carrying a
bag containing explosives (gelignite). It was later alleged the group were on
the way to bomb a member of a neo-Nazi group. A third sect member was
arrested at another location. The three sect members (who were to become
known as the Yagoona 3) were charged with attempted murder, and
subsequently convicted and imprisoned in August 1979. During the trial, at
which Richard Seary was a key witness, it was alleged that the Yagoona 3
had made admissions about their own involvement in the Hilton bombing. Due
to the central role of a police informant and the use of verbal admissions the
prosecutions attracted considerable controversy from the outset. There were
allegations of a police conspiracy to frame the sect members using an
.agent provocateur. Following the convictions an active public campaign was
commenced to secure a legal review of the case.
In 1983, the Yagoona 3 successfully appealed to the High Court to
review the relevance of all intelligence records held by the Australian Security
Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) relating to the matter, rather than accept a
public interest immunity declaration from the Attorney-General. The High
Court determined that none of the intelligence records held by ASIO were
relevant to the issues at the original trial (ie admissible as evidence).
In 1984 a judicial review was initiated and revealed flaws and inconsistencies
in the police case against the three sect members. All three sect members
were subsequently pardoned in May 1985.
Police investigations into the unsolved Hilton bombing continued, and in
1989 after the re-arrest and charging of one of the Yagoona 3, a former sect
member came forward and confessed to planting the Hilton bomb. The former
sect member was convicted of the three murders in September 1989. The
Yagoona 3 member was convicted in October 1990 of the murders, but the
conviction was quashed on appeal in June 1991. After the acquittal,
a Federal Member of Parliament asked the Commonwealth Attorney General
a series of questions in Parliament about the Hilton bombing, including
whether intelligence agency personnel had been trained in the use of explosives,
and whether intelligence agency personnel had trained others in the use of explosives.
Extensive media coverage and ongoing speculation about official complicity in
the Hilton bombing continued and, in late 1991, an unidentified male appeared
on the television public affairs program Sixty Minutes. During the interview
the unidentified man claimed that he had worked for a number of years during
the late 1970s and 1980s as an ASIO informant in the religious sect.
Following the Sixty Minutes program Richard Seary (the police
informant) wrote to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and
complained that ASIO had failed to produce evidence in its possession (from
its own informant, and other covert sources) that would corroborate his
evidence. The Inspector-General subsequently conducted a comprehensive
review and concluded that ASIO had acted reasonably and with propriety in
meeting its legal obligations to disclose relevant information and intelligence
(IGIS, September 1994).
This saga highlights a number of the issues that are highly problematic
in the use of secret information and intelligence in terrorism cases, and the
use of human sources (informants). These include:
• the dangers of relying on uncorroborated hearsay in making
assessments on the capabilities and intentions of a suspected
• the inherent unreliability of informant information as evidence in
• the degree to which an informant can legitimately participate in
activities within a group of interest without enhancing the
expertise and capabilities of the group (such as the provision of
training in military or terrorism techniques), and
• the sorts of violent or .revolutionary. activities that the informant
should be authorised to participate in to maintain his cover.
A complicating issue for ASIO was the ongoing media speculation that it
had been involved in the Hilton bombing in order to justify an increase in its
resources. Any actions by an ASIO informant that resulted in, or contributed
to, a terrorist incident would have reinforced the broader perception that ASIO
was willing to be involved in illegal activities. The Hilton bombing case clearly
demonstrates many of the pitfalls likely to emerge in any criminal proceedings
that rely on intelligence advice.
Intelligence as justification for the concentration of authority
A general lack of transparency in national security decision-making
processes makes an evaluation of the specific influence of intelligence advice
quite difficult. It is important to acknowledge that, with the exception of ASIO.s
detention and questioning powers, the national intelligence agencies are
largely information collection and advisory bodies.
Intelligence product can go some way towards providing valuable
insights on the nature and dimensions of a prospective terrorism threat, but
ultimately the government decides how to respond to these threats.
Examining the intelligence advice provided does not really explain the
dynamics of, and major influences on, the policy-development process.
A detailed exposure of the interaction between intelligence advice and
government decision-making processes usually only occurs when there is a
major adverse outcome that is subject to official investigation (or revelations
from a person with inside knowledge, such as a whistleblower). Several
recent public inquiries have revealed in detail the normally concealed
interaction between intelligence and government decisions. These include the
circumstances surrounding the Australian Government response to the
murder of five Australian-based journalists following the Indonesian invasion
of East Timor in 1975, and the repeated misrepresentation of Australian
intelligence assessments concerning Iraq's possession of weapons of mass
These public inquiries have revealed that the government.s response to
intelligence advice is shaped by a range of broader political, strategic and
even personal considerations, not just the strength of the intelligence case. A
government disposed to act quickly may need only limited advice to justify
actions that are consistent with its prevailing ideological, political or national
imperatives. A more cautious government may seek additional collateral and
a range of different perspectives and options. In any event, one of the
attractions of using .secret intelligence. as primary justification for decisions is
the effective shielding from intensive public and political scrutiny.
Post September 11 the spectre of an imminent terrorism threat has been
the catalyst for an unprecedented concentration of authority, and the
emergence of a powerful paternalism under the guise of national .leadership.
in a time of crisis. In the face of a perceived threat to .our way of life.
governments have expressed a determination to .do whatever it takes. to
counter terrorism and to prevent future attacks, virtually transforming national
priorities and policies overnight.
It would appear that a complex interplay of forces and circumstances
(not all terrorism-related) converged to transform the dynamics of power and
national decision-making processes in Australia.
The factors that facilitated these unprecedented changes included:
• A level of zealousness amongst a number of world leaders who
were/are apparently convinced that the magnitude and immediacy
of the threat posed by global terrorism irrevocably .changes the
rules. and warrants extreme measures (including compromises to
long established human rights conventions). The changed
situation has been portrayed as a 'new paradigm'.
• The apparent (re)emergence of a conviction that the security of
the state can be assured through control and legal authority,
rather than inclusion, equality and moral authority. Under this
(largely discredited) belief national security and individual rights
are viewed as being at opposing ends of a spectrum. History has
repeatedly shown that stability and social cohesion have their
roots in a collective commitment to the universal values of
respect, equity and justice.
• In Australia, the former government.s apparent determination to
protect the community from terrorism threats at any cost spawned
a powerful and autocratic paternalism. Risk avoidance supplanted
risk management in government responses to perceived terrorism
threats, resulting in virtually unconstrained expenditure on
national security and counter-terrorism measures.
• A heightened level of community anxiety and fear as a result of
(government/media/intelligence-generated) perceptions of new
and potent security threats from global terrorism and religious
extremism, resulting in more defensive and conservative
• The emergence of normally latent xenophobia in sections of the
Australian community, with heightened concern about the threat
posed by .foreigners. and the level of integration of particular
religious and ethnic minorities within our diverse multicultural
• The impact of information .overload. as the result of new
technology, with mounting pressure on individuals to process and
assimilate enormous quantities of often real-time data. The result
has been the emergence of .intermediaries. who filter, simplify
and make sense of often complex and ambiguous information.
These intermediaries wield significant power and influence in
terms of .shaping. and articulating community opinions.
• The same technologies have provided new and powerful
opportunities for the distortion and manipulation of information by
the government and the media, and the dissemination of
disinformation. Simple .sound grabs. replace the communication
of complex issues. Simplistic and prejudicial stereotypes are used
to marginalise particular religious and ethnic groups.
• Information has become a valuable commodity that is packaged
and sensationalised to generate revenue. The media coverage of
arbitrarily selected national events is so intense, immediate and
competitive that an air of crisis is artificially created. In this
environment there is little opportunity or interest in analysis, the
provision of a sense of proportion or balance, or even the facts.
• The rapid emergence of new and alternative Internet-based
communication mediums that are making traditional media less
• The ascendance of the 'cult of personality' has accelerated the
centralisation and concentration of power at the apex of
government (matched by a corresponding reduction of the
influence and authority of other Parliamentary representatives, the
executive and the judiciary).
• A significant narrowing of the national political agenda to focus
predominantly on economic issues, at the expense of a balanced
perspective that recognises broader social and environmental
The effectiveness of terrorism in changing Australian society
A primary objective of terrorism as an organisational strategy is to
engender a disproportionate response within the wider community, and to act
as a catalyst for changes to society that advance the terrorists. goals.
Terrorism is as much an insidious psychological strategy as an actual
capability for mass, indiscriminate violence. It is the community.s powerful
emotional response (typically fear) to an ill-defined threat that gives terrorists
exaggerated power and influence.
Because of this effect it is possible for terrorists to be highly effective
without having to undertake any, or many, actual terrorism operations. Once
terrorists have demonstrated that they have a credible capability all they have
to do is raise the spectre of an attack (no matter how improbably) and the
disproportionate community response is rekindled. An alarmist and
sensationalist media; an intelligence community that grows in importance and
resources in the face of imminent threats; and a government that apparently
gains electoral advantage from appearing to be tough and protective; combine
to reinforce community fear and inadvertently serve the terrorists. interests.
The objectives of terrorism as an organisational strategy include to:
• inflict maximum damage, humiliation and intimidation,
• maximise publicity for the terrorism doctrine, and build the
organisation.s prestige, influence and adherents,
• inspire others to undertake similarly spectacular and effective
• induce an exaggerated level of fear in the community that far
exceeds the actual prospects of and capacity for violence,
• provoke a disproportionate 'knee-jerk' security, military or foreign
policy response that confirms and reinforces the terrorists.
ideology; draws the state into an escalating cycle of violence on
the terrorist's terms; and demonstrates the 'David and Goliath'
nature of the conflict,
• stimulate the adoption of authoritarian, undemocratic, inhumane,
illegal or immoral policies and practices, thus undermining the
government's legitimacy and political authority, and
• prompt an over-reaction (such as discrimination and repression)
that leads to the alienation and radicalisation of other individuals
None of the first three objectives appear to have been achieved in
Australia, although legal action is pending against a number of individuals
who allegedly have been involved in planning for a terrorist attack. The threat
of terrorism continues to induce an exaggerated level of fear within the
Australian community, though this may be diminishing over time.
An evaluation of the impact of the remaining terrorism objectives on
Australia is more ambiguous. Based on the (often intelligence-based) spectre
of a 'serious and imminent' terrorism threat, the Australian Government has:
• participated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, now widely
acknowledged as one of the most serious foreign policy failure
• fundamentally changed the way we manage people seeking
refuge in Australia, adopting a far less humane policy,
• introduced various pieces of anti-terrorism legislation that
compromise important and long-standing conventions that have
traditionally assured human and civil rights, including authorising
the state to act pre-emptively against individuals and groups on
the basis of .reasonable. grounds (Public Interest Advocacy
Centre, July 2006; SLRC, June 2006), and
• diverted significant public resources away from schools, hospitals,
aged services, indigenous welfare and other essential public
services to cover costly security and defence measures.
The extent to which the former government.s legitimacy and moral (and
political) authority may have been undermined by its involvement in a series
of highly publicised and controversial security-related incidents will ultimately
be the subject of historical analysis. In developing its counter-terrorism
policies the former government consistently asserted that it had 'acted in
good faith' on the (sometimes flawed) intelligence advice it had received, and
not intentionally deceived the community or acted arbitrarily. Unlike other
countries, it has not been established that the government of the day resorted
to disinformation and obfuscation in order to mislead and manipulate its own
Alienation of the Australian Muslim community
Arguably the former government.s most serious counter-terrorism policy
misjudgement was its handling of, and attitude towards, the Australian Muslim
community. Since the start of the 'war on terror' Muslim communities across
the world have experienced unprecedented intolerance, discrimination and
victimisation. In Australia, the government had remained largely silent while
the compatibility of Islamic beliefs with Australian values had been repeatedly
questioned, and cultural differences and communication difficulties had been
exploited to humiliate and demean Islamic religious and community
Misconceptions about the nature and tenets of Islam still appear to be
widespread, and the image of Islam as an extreme ideology is reinforced
regularly with violent images from Iraq and Afghanistan. In late 2005 bigotry
and resentment towards Muslims in the community escalated into open
conflict between groups of angry and resentful youth. In the absence of a
genuine understanding of the values and motivation of Australian Muslims,
simplistic, ill-informed and prejudicial stereotypes have driven policies and
actions that have exacerbated the alienation of sections of the community.
For many young Australian-born men of Middle Eastern origin the rise in
overt racism has verged on the intolerable. A disproportionate number have
found it difficult to secure gainful employment due to prejudice, even though
they speak good English and have undertaken secondary education. Like all
minorities that encounter difficulties in gaining equitable access to social and
economic opportunities, some of these youth have found a sense of belonging
through participation in ethnic or religious subcultures. The combination of
high levels of frustration and bitterness, a pervasive sense of social exclusion
and isolation, and apparently arbitrary action by a government perceived as
lacking moral authority had the potential to be a dangerous mix for individuals
who may feel a growing sense of anger, hopelessness and despair. As has
occurred overseas, alienated individuals may well question the legitimacy of
Australia.s prevailing social values, and may be more likely to be attracted to
what may appeal as 'morally superior' fundamentalist ideologies. A
continuation of arbitrary and prejudicial government action focussing on
Muslims is only likely to heighten a pervasive sense of victimisation, with the
potential to turn a prospective threat into a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Intelligence advice has undoubtedly played a vital role in the
development of national and international responses to the threat of terrorism,
yet the community remains largely oblivious to the true nature of intelligence
and its inherent limitations. Following a series of highly publicised intelligence
failures, the former government acted to shield intelligence from further public
scrutiny by blurring the critical distinction between intelligence activities (in
particular the covert collection of information) and intelligence product.
Intelligence can constitute a powerful source of advice in the absence of
facts and evidence. But the sensitivity and intrinsic fallibility of this advice
means that it is rarely suitable for use in the public domain or as the basis for
Since September 11 the threat of terrorism has prompted fundamental
changes to national priorities and an unprecedented concentration of
authority. .Secret. intelligence has been used by governments as the
justification for policies and actions that shift the balance between the rights of
the state and the individual, at the same time avoiding the intensive public
scrutiny of an open decision-making processes. It is apparent that the threat
of terrorism has engendered a range of significant negative changes in
Australian society. Core democratic principles and institutions have been
compromised and human and civil rights diminished. National priorities
have been transformed, reducing an already inadequate level of funding
support for the most disadvantaged in our community
(poor/young/sick/aged/indigenous). The relationship between the
community and its elected representatives has changed, with the emergence
of a new and powerful paternalism under the guise of national leadership in a
time of crisis.
It now seems likely that community anxiety about .foreigners. has been
exploited for partisan political purposes to polarise society and to alienate
Australian Muslims. Ironically this has the potential to create the conditions
that will increase the future prospects of terrorism in Australia. Ignorance and
prejudice threaten to damage the fabric of Australia.s multicultural society
through the radicalisation of sections of our own community. Should a terrorist
incident occur in Australia in the future the inevitable response will
fundamentally change the nature of Australian society.
A government committed to maintaining a peaceful, just and humane
society will always act to ensure that all Australians, no matter their origin,
religion, race or colour, are respected as equals and enjoy fair access to the
opportunities that this unique country offers.
* The author worked for over 20 years in various national intelligence
roles in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the
National Crime Authority (NCA) in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
The Australian Intelligence Community . Agencies, Functions, Accountability
and Oversight. (October 2006). AGPS
Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (September 1994). Report into
complaint by Richard Seary.
Public Interest Advocacy Centre. (July 2006). Submission to the PJCIS.
Royal Commission on Australia.s Security and Intelligence Agencies.
(December 1984). Report on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies. (July 2004). AGPS
Report of the Security Legislation Review Committee (June 2006). AGPS