Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 14 February 2012
Mr David Irvine AO, Director General of Security, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Irvine, on 7 January the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about spying on climate activists and NOSIC, the company, was named. Could you indicate whether ASIO has a contract with NOSIC?
Mr Irvine: Let me just check on that. ASIO may from time to time use external contractors to provide a service that we ourselves would be unable to provide as efficiently and as effectively as we could buy it in. For example, we contract out the compilation of media articles, media monitors and that sort of thing. I guess that is normal practice. But I will not, if you do not mind, go into specific details about outsourcing generally. Let me say however that ASIO intelligence collection and information collection activities are managed by ASIO.
Senator RHIANNON: You do not have an ongoing contract that would be in any way similar to what the Australian Federal Police have with NOSIC or any other company?
Mr Irvine: Again, I will not go into what for us, as opposed perhaps to the AFP, are operational details. The fact is that we collect open source information ourselves. We collect intelligence and manage the collection of intelligence ourselves.
Senator RHIANNON: In the report in early January it did say that one of the government ministers, Mr Ferguson, had indicated his concern about some of the electricity stations and possible protest actions. Could you indicate what response you provided about extending any of your intelligence operations or providing new intelligence operations?
Mr Irvine: No, with respect, I think that would definitely be an operational matter for a security intelligence agency, and I am not confirming or denying that either way. I would not want to answer that question.
Senator RHIANNON: Have there been any activities that have had a damaging impact on the delivery of energy in this country?
Mr Irvine: What sort of activity? Sorry—I am finding it quite hard to hear.
Senator RHIANNON: I was interested in ascertaining if ASIO has any understanding if activities have been undertaken that have damaged the delivery of energy in this country—either at power stations or in delivery of energy across the country—in an organised way?
Mr Irvine: I guess that the question you are asking in relation to ASIO is: have there been forms of sabotage, for whatever reason, against energy facilities in Australia—as sabotage is defined by the ASIO Act? I do not know the answer to that, but to the best of my knowledge, no.
Senator RHIANNON: I am not asking for any operational details—I respect that—but considering there have now been public reports about government requests for the targeting of groups or individuals involved in possible protests at coal-fired power stations, does ASIO look at the history of or any recent activity with regard to possible unlawful activity in making an assessment if they should provide such intelligence?
Mr Irvine: We do not target particular groups or individuals unless there is a security related reason to do so. It is behaviour and activity that directs our interest. If we have reason to believe that there could be a violent attack, for whatever reason, within Australia, and particularly against critical infrastructure of whatever type, then that would be a legitimate area for ASIO to investigate under the ASIO Act.
Senator RHIANNON: You identified violent attacks, so therefore can we assume from that that you do not target organisations engaged in peaceful protest?
Mr Irvine: I would refer you to section 17A of the ASIO Act, where it quite specifically does not limit:
… the right of persons to engage in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent and the exercise of that right shall not, in itself, be regarded as prejudicial to security …
Where such an act may become prejudicial to security is where violence of some sort, as defined under the ASIO Act, is planned or occurs.
Senator RHIANNON: In your opening remarks when you spoke about external organisations I understood you to say that ASIO gathers its own information. I just want to clarify this. Have you used NOSIC at all or are you using any of these private organisations, if not on a permanent basis, on a periodic basis?
Mr Irvine: That goes to the sources and methods issue for ASIO, and it is very definitely an operational issue which I could not answer. But, yes, we do use and outsource media monitoring, for example—open source media monitoring.
Senator RHIANNON: But it would be your own ASIO intelligence officers who would be gathering information from Facebook, Twitter, the internet and those sources—is that what we should conclude?
Mr Irvine: It is our own ASIO officers who gather pretty much all the information that we gather, with the possible exception of the outsourcing of media monitoring.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.