Australia has two main intelligence agencies: the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). Broadly speaking, ASIO is responsible for domestic national security operations, and ASIS is the international spy agency.
ASIO is the bigger agency but ASIS wants to close the gap by expanding its influence into the domestic market. Specifically, it wants the power to spy on Australian citizens:
Australia’s overseas intelligence agency, ASIS, is seeking the power to collect intelligence on Australians who threaten the security of its highly secretive operations.
In what would amount to a significant expansion of its powers, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service has petitioned MPs for greater leeway in conducting operations against Australians and for working with its domestic counterpart, ASIO.
It is also asking for permission to conduct joint weapons training with agencies such as the Australian Federal Police or the CIA.
At present, ASIS’s power to target Australians is strictly circumscribed, with the spy agency requiring special ministerial authority to snoop on citizens.
Citing the all-encompassing ‘national interest’ is par for the course for security agencies seeking to expand their powers. ASIS’ most recent attempt is no exception:
“There are situations where ASIS is concerned about a threat to operational security involving an Australian person, but cannot seek ministerial authorisation to collect intelligence to properly assess that threat,” the agency explained.
Any attempt to make it easier for ASIS to secretly collect information on Australian citizens should be rejected unless there are extremely compelling reasons for doing so. An ambiguous reference to “operational security” is simply not a strong enough argument.