ASIS role rarely acknowledged

THE role of one of Australia's chief intelligence agencies continues to grow with the threat of terror attacks against Australia an ever-present concern, Australian Secret Intelligence Service head Nick Warner said on Thursday.

In the first ever public address by a serving head of ASIS, Director-General Warner said the nation's intelligence gathering authority was expanding in the Mid East, Africa and Central and South Asia.

But the paradox of an agency that had to operate in secret was that its role in helping foil terror plots was rarely acknowledged in the wider community.

His address comes less than a fortnight after the government released a discussion paper proposing wide-ranging reforms to the intelligence community's ability to intercept telecommunications.

Mr Warner said the image of the spy as a skull-cracking, cloak-and-dagger operative was far from the truth, with 45% of all ASIS employees now female and 65% of all employees aged between 25 and 45-years-old.

He said the ASIS also had a suite of laws that had expanded the agency's role while ensuring blackmail and violence were not part of its modus operandi.

Those laws, enacted in part as a reaction to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, also had expanded its role in counter-terrorism around the world.

Mr Warner said the intelligence service had also helped to detain dozens of Asian terrorists in the past decade, including in recent months.

He said since the Bali bombings and September 11 attacks, terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against Australia was remained a valid concern.

Mr Warner said the agency also has had a role in cracking people-smuggling operations all over the world, with a particular focus on Asia and the Mid East.



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