Thursday, 20 July 2017

A new Australian Federal Government super ministry capable of deploying armed soldiers on our streets

“The first question to ask yourself is this: does handing Dutton that power sound like a good idea?” [journalist Katherine Murphy, The Guardian, 18 July 2017]

A new Australian Federal Government super agency capable of deploying armed soldiers on our streets? With a former Queensland police officer of no particular merit as its head?

What could possibly go wrong with a rigid, far-right, professed ‘Christian’ property millionaire having oversight of a super portfolio which would reportedly bring together the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Australian Border ForceAustralian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC along with a database on ordinary citizens, ‘intellectuals’ and perfectly legal organisations, going back literally generations?

How long will it take before any industrial action or protest event would be quickly labelled as terrafret and armed soldiers sent to disperse people exercising their democratic right?

Australia’s been down that painful path before during the last 229 years and been the worse for it.

Turnbull at Holsworthy Barracks, Forbes Advocate,17 July 2017

“The measures I am announcing today will ensure that the ADF is more readily available to respond to terrorism incidents, providing state and territory police with the extra support to call on when they need it.”  
[Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull, media release, Holsworthy NSW,17 July 2017]

Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed a dramatic shake-up of Australia's security, police and intelligence agencies that will put Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, in charge of a sprawling new Home Affairs security portfolio.

The department of Home Affairs will bring together domestic spy agency ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and the office of transport security and will be put together over the next year.

And Mr Turnbull has also announced the government would, in response to the 
L'Estrange review of Australia's intelligence agencies, establish an Office of National Intelligence and that the Australian Signals Directorate will also be established as an independent statutory authority. 

The new Office of National Intelligence will co-ordinate intelligence policy and is in line with agencies in Australia's "Five Eyes" intelligence partners in the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand…..

The changes are to be finalised by June 30, 2018 - subject to approval of the National Security Committee of Cabinet -  with Mr Dutton to work with Senator Brandis in bedding down the changes.

Senator Brandis will lose responsibility for ASIO under the changes but, crucially, retain sign-off power on warrants for intelligence agency. 

Mr Turnbull said the Attorney-General's oversight of Australia's domestic security and law enforcement agencies would be strengthened, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the independent national security legislation monitor moving into his portfolio. 

The Prime Minister said Australia needed these reforms "not because the system is broken, but because our security environment is evolving quickly…..

However that L'Estrange review – part of a routine reassessment of national security arrangements – is understood not to specifically recommend such a super-portfolio.

Mr Turnbull has been dropping strong hints lately that he is inclined to make a significant change, rejecting what he's branded a "set and forget" policy on national security and warning that Australia must keep up with an evolving set of threats from terrorism to foreign political influence.

Security and intelligence agencies themselves are also believed to have concerns about such a change, while some former intelligence heads have publicly said they do not see any need for change.

However, a well-placed source in the intelligence community said a Home Affairs office - as opposed to a US-style Department of Homeland Security - was the preferred options for police and intelligence agencies.

That was because a Home Affairs department would potentially be broader, including agencies such as the Computer Emergency Response Team, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Crimtrac, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the new Critical Infrastructure Centre, rather than just police and intelligence agencies.

The Guardian, 18 July 2017:

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, put it well on Tuesday when he said any “grit” in the Dutton/Brandis relationship could be problematic for intelligence operations, which is obviously problematic for all of us, given we rely on the efficiency of the counter-terrorism framework to keep us safe.

So we’d better hope for the best, to put it mildly.

We’d also better hope it’s a good use of the time of our intelligence services and public servants to nut out how the Big Idea is going to work in practice, which will be a reasonably complex task, at a time when these folks already have a serious day job.

Recapping that specific day job again: trying to disrupt national security threats, in a complex environment. Pretty busy and important day job, that one.

It’s cartoonish to say this is all about the prime minister rewarding old mate Dutton, on the basis you keep your friends close, and your (potential) enemies closer.

Nothing is ever that simple outside a House of Cards storyboard– although it remains an irrefutable fact that Dutton wanted this to happen, and if Dutton really wanted it to happen, it would have been difficult for Turnbull, in his current position, to say no.
The Australian, 19 July 2017:         
The pressure points lie in the risk calculations that link intelligence to response. In a liberal democracy, we rightly demand high certainty of the intention to carry out an act of violence before we are comfortable with our security services pre-emptively taking someone off the streets. Usually when an attack happens, here or in the US or Europe, it’s because the calibration of risk hasn’t worked. It’s not because security services weren’t concerned about an individual’s beliefs and actions or couldn’t find him.
For those of us without access to national security data, the evidence suggests that Australia does these important risk calculations relatively well. Our list of foiled terrorist attacks is quite a bit longer than the list of attacks. The reason for this is the national security structures we have evolved: the combination of separate national security agencies, each with highly developed specialist capabilities and slightly different cultures and perspectives, working in close, 24/7 collaboration.
When calculating risk, separation and diversity are a strength because they build contestation, careful deliberation and stress testing into the system. Britain, the US, France and Belgium have chosen more centralised structures, and the evidence is that their systems do not work as well as ours. Bringing our highly effective agencies into a super-department cannot help but disrupt their inner structures and cultures. Such enterprises inevitably lose sight of the goal — keeping Australians safe — as they become driven by the desire for efficiencies and cultural homogenisation, and the urge for bureaucratic tidiness. Look no further than the creation of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, a process that has consumed enormous amounts of resources in reconciling two incompatible cultures, with no apparent benefits and a list of embarrassing blunders.
Creating one security super-department places a major imperative on the government to get everything right, first time. Separate but closely collaborating security agencies create a powerful check against underperformance: a struggling agency or a leader who’s not up to it are spotted and called out quickly. But underperformance in a federation-style conglomerate is not so easy to see and to call out. And in the meantime, it’s the safety of Australians that will be the price for underperformance.
If the Turnbull government were serious about national security, it would not engage in evidence-free experimentation with our national security. It should instead be building on what’s working well and making it even stronger. We need better co-ordination and cross agency connectivity, not big-bang organisational redesign.
We should be getting these sorts of issues right in a system that is working, rather than indulging in the risk-riddled gesture politics of a grand restructure.
Michael Wesley is professor of international affairs and dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.

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