ASIS – Afghanistan
There is no public confirmation that an Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) station exists in Afghanistan. However, it is highly likely that there is such a station and that it is active on a number of matters. Declared ASIS stations exist in India (and Pakistan). ASIS established stations in Baghdad and Cairo in the 1970s and 1980s, but both were at least temporarily closed under adverse circumstances. It is likely, but not confirmed, that stations have been re-established in both Baghdad and Cairo.
The ASIS budget has tripled since 2001, and the numbers of agents has grown comparably. Stations are established following approval by Cabinet on the basis of ministerial submissions – in this case from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, essentially on the basis that Australia has a sufficient national interest in the country concerned to warrant the expense, and possibly, the risk.
Given the importance of Afghanistan since at least 2001 in Australian military operations, counter-terrorism concerns, refugee assessment requirements, and as the world’s primary supplier of opium for heroin production, the case for an ASIS presence would have been strong – especially in a time of unprecedented budgetary expansion and ministerial support for all these activities.
Spy agency ASIS shuts six foreign stations, Dylan Welch, Age, November 20, 2010
Australia’s foreign spy agency has shut down six of its international intelligence stations in eight months – including the crucial Baghdad post, despite US pleas to keep it open. In a remarkable step for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the closures have been privately blamed on a ”cash freeze”, though some intelligence sources are doubtful an agency that has grown by almost 350 per cent in a decade is starved of funds.
”There are cuts in the Middle East, and they are savage,” a source told The Age. Baghdad was closed in July, weeks before the federal election. While the closures – primarily in the Middle East – were planned late last year, it took the government eight months to follow through. In recent years Baghdad has been ASIS’s largest station and has played a vital role in foreign intelligence collection.
It is believed a number of the intelligence officers from the station have been relocated to Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, where Australia’s war efforts have been centred. Staff from Baghdad and the five other stations have been spread around the international network, which consists of as many as two dozen stations. However, in recent years some of the agency’s stations have done less spying and more liaising with the US and UK intelligence agencies, who run many agents in the Middle East.
New ASIO chief ‘blew Cairo spy’s cover’, Tom Allard, The Age, 17 July 2005.
“Australia’s new spy chief was accused of blowing the cover of an Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent and forcing the closure of the ASIS station in Cairo when he was a diplomat at the embassy there. Earlier this month Prime Minister John Howard promoted Paul O’Sullivan, a key personal adviser on international affairs in his office, to head the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The evidence of the Cairo incident was given by Warren Reed to a top-level judicial inquiry into ASIS conducted in the mid-1990s. Mr Reed was the ASIS station commander at Australia’s mission in Cairo in 1984.”
A shortage of spooks, Deborah Snow, Sydney Morning Herald,15 November 2004
“The methods used by the West appear to be growing more ruthless in response to the ruthlessness of militant Islamic terrorist networks. Australian intelligence undoubtedly reaps the benefit of the questionable interrogation methods used by the US at Guantanamo Bay. One former intelligence officer says he believes ASIS has translators and analysts in Baghdad, poring over transcripts from detainees held by the coalition forces in the Abu Ghraib prison – a claim not possible to verify as the Government will not comment on ASIO or ASIS operations.”
Updated: 22 November 2010