More convicted dangerous terrorists due for release over the next five years
The nation’s domestic spy agency has warned the growing number of convicted terrorists due for release from Australian prisons over the next five years could use their profile to recruit more people to their cause.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation also raised the alarm about foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq in the coming years as it argued the case for expanded powers to forcibly question terrorists and foreign spies.
Without naming any specific country, ASIO warned foreign spies were operating “at a scale, breadth and ambition that has not previously been seen in Australia”. China has previously been blamed by security agencies for large-scale hacking in Australia, while ASIO has investigated a suspected Chinese military intelligence operative in Melbourne who allegedly approached a Liberal Party member about running for parliament.
ASIO would have the power to compulsorily question foreign spies and children as young as 14 under laws introduced to Federal Parliament earlier this month. The agency would also be able to place tracking devices on cars with only internal approval, rather than a warrant, as part of a major overhaul of the agency’s powers.
In its submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the bill, ASIO said the number of terrorism offenders scheduled for release would increase over the next five years.
“These individuals may be held in a position of greater standing among their peers following release, which could be leveraged to recruit others towards an ideology supportive of violence,” it warned.
It said the terrorism threat level remained “probable” and would probably stay “elevated at this unacceptably high level for the foreseeable future”.
Laws that came into effect in 2003 gave ASIO powers to obtain warrants to question a person for up to 24 hours in relation to a potential terrorism offence, or to detain and question them for up to seven days.
Under the proposed new laws, the questioning and detention power – which has never been used – will be removed. The questioning power, used by ASIO 16 times since 2003, will be beefed up to make it a criminal offence not to attend, and extended to include espionage, foreign interference and politically motivated violence.
ASIO would also be able to question 14-year-olds, down from the current minimum age of 16, but only if the minor was suspected of planning a politically motivated attack.
Civil liberty groups have welcomed the repeal of the detention power but raised concerns about the additional powers under the questioning warrants and the proposal to reduce the age of minors who can be questioned.
Since May 2015, one terrorist attack and three disrupted attacks have involved teenagers under the age of 18, including 15-year-old Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad, who shot and killed police worker Curtis Cheng in Sydney in 2016.
While the main terrorism threat remained Sunni Islamist extremism, ASIO said the threat from the extreme right wing in Australia had increased in recent years “and we remain concerned about the possibility of individuals being radicalised to an extreme right-wing ideology and committing acts of terrorism”.
It reiterated that more foreign spies and their proxies were operating in Australia now than at the height of the Cold War.
The security body said extending its compulsory questioning powers to cover espionage would allow it to “collect intelligence quickly and in high-threat environments”.
ASIO investigations have identified foreign interference operations directed at politicians, business leaders, the media and members of diaspora communities.
“Australia’s national security and economic growth are at risk from foreign states seeking
to advance their strategic and economic interests at our nation’s expense,” ASIO says.
“Foreign intelligence services continue to seek access to privileged and classified information. Australia’s research and development of innovative technologies and its military modernisation program are attractive targets for espionage by foreign states seeking to gain an advantage to the detriment of Australia’s security and prosperity.”
ASIO also said the ability to quickly plant a tracking device was needed because there had been an increasing trend towards individuals acting alone or in small groups using weapons that were easy to acquire and tactics that were straightforward to employ.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Department of Home Affairs said the bill included all of the safeguards and oversight mechanisms that were in the existing laws.
“In addition to this, the bill removes the ability for a subject to be detained, resulting in greater protection for civil liberties,” it said.
Source: Brisbane Times