Jul 21, 2024 Last Updated 2:08 AM, Jun 8, 2024

Producers & Distributors of High Quality Australian Film and Television

We've got quality not quantity. We break the ice for others to follow.

On this site you will find details of our past film production, direct sales info, 

who we are, what we've got in development plus bits about our heros.

Essay - The Role Of Intelligence In Shaping Public Perceptions Of Terrorism by Bill Calcutt

Category: Reviews, Comment, Essays




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

and violence.


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

inherent limitations.


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

intelligence product.

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

balanced perspective

• 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

individual accountability.

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

terrorist group,

• the inherent unreliability of informant information as evidence in

criminal proceedings,

• 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

community attitudes.

• 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

or groups.

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

since WWII,

• 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

accountable decisions.

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