Comment: Major changes in Australian, NZ spy agencies

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd

This website has been keeping tabs on the ongoing transformation of New Zealand and Australian intelligence agencies. Recent media reports from both countries indicate that the changes, many of which are still underway, will mark the broadest reorganization in New Zealand and Australian intelligence agencies’ operational focus and mission in over half a century.

In Australia, a new $3 million (US$2,6 million) independent review of the intelligence community’s mission and operation, which is already undergoing a process of often painful transformation, is due at the end of next year. The government of Kevin Rudd has already indicated that it intends to augment the domestic surveillance capabilities of the country’s intelligence agencies, and to blur the traditional line of distinction between domestic and international threats to Australian national security. According to media reports, the government is preparing to recommend that the country’s military intelligence agency, the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), be allowed to engage in communications interception inside Australia. There are also rumors that agents of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) will be allowed to carry and handle weapons and engage in “paramilitary activities” outside Australia.

Similar changes are expected in New Zealand, where a comprehensive review of the country’s intelligence agencies has just taken place. Speaking earlier this week, Prime Minister, John Key, said his government would “improve the effectiveness and governance of the New Zealand intelligence system” by broadening the government’s intelligence oversight role. According to the plan, all Cabinet ministers, as well as the Department of the Prime Minister and the Treasury and the State Services Commission will monitor the intelligence agencies “performance, priorities and resources”, but not their actual operations, which will remain secret. As in the case of Australia, New Zealand policy planners have argued that there is excessive fragmentation among the country’s spy agencies, and have recommended increased cooperation between the newly renamed National Assessments Bureau, the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

The former minister for foreign affairs and trade, Simon Murdoch, who directed the government review that recommended the changes highlighted above, maintains that the recommendations have been “designed to ensure the agencies keep pace with changes in the security environment”. Critics, however, point to the troubling civil liberties record of Kiwi law enforcement and intelligence agencies in recent years, and argue that the recommendations lack stringent oversight and transparency measures. Commenting earlier this year on new cyber-monitoring powers assumed by New Zealand intelligence agencies, veteran intelligence observer Nicky Hager described the changes as “the largest expansion of police and [intelligence] surveillance capabilities [in New Zealand] for decades”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to Comment: Major changes in Australian, NZ spy agencies

  1. raiscuick says:

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    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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