Our current system of accountability for intelligence agencies is broken, and hopelessly inadequate for an era of mass surveillance.
Here's why. Vivienne Thom is the "Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security", whose role, the Inspector-General's office maintains, is to provide "independent assurance for the Prime Minister, senior ministers and Parliament
as to whether Australia's intelligence and security agencies act legally and with propriety by inspecting, inquiring into and reporting on their activities." [my emphasis]
As Crikey reported recently
, the strange case of Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery -- representing East Timor in its dispute with Australia over the Timor Sea Treaty -- has brought into question public statements by Dr Thom
, which appear to contradict a statement by Collaery
that have now been incorporated into Hansard following a parliamentary attack on Collaery by Attorney-General George Brandis.
At issue is whether a former Australian Security Intelligence Service approached the former IGIS -- Ian Carnell -- and sought advice in relation to his role in the bugging of the East Timorese cabinet room in 2004, an operation intended to advantage Australian resources companies -- and whether Carnell recommended that the whistleblower obtain legal advice, which he then did.
Senator Nick Xenophon tried to explore this in a late night exchange last week in Estimates hearings with Dr Thom
. The first issue was whether Thom was being completely truthful when she asserted, as she did in December, that no former ASIS officer had ever approached her or Carnell about the East Timor issue.
There would appear to be a prima facie case that Thom's statement is wrong. Collaery's statement refers to correspondence to and from Carnell, and incorporates specific details and dates that are readily checked. But Thom refused point blank to discuss the matter when Xenophon raised it. Their exchange continues for an extended period; the persistent theme is that Thom simply refuses to accept that there is even a reason to go back and check the IGIS records or any discrepancy between her statement and Collaery's.
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