The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) is the Australian government intelligence agency responsible for collecting foreign intelligence, undertaking counter-intelligence activities and cooperation with other intelligence agencies overseas. ASIS is roughly equivalent to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) or the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.
According to its website, the mission of ASIS is to:
protect and promote Australia's vital interests through the
provision of unique foreign intelligence services as directed by
As its mission statement implies, ASIS's focus is on overseas operations. This distinguishes it from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
ASIS is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio.
ASIS was created as a result of an Executive Order in 1952, and as such, had no legislative basis. On 27 June 2001, the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA) was introduced into Parliament by Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, which proposed significant changes to the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). The Act was passed by Parliament on 29 October 2001.
In relation to ASIS, the Act:
- converted ASIS into a statutory body, headed by the Director General;
- set out the functions of ASIS and DSD and the limits on those functions;
- prohibited the use of weapons by ASIS and the conduct of violent or para-military operations;
- authorised the minister responsible for each agency to issue directions to the agency;
- required ministerial authorisation for collection activities involving Australians;
- limited the circumstances in which ministers can authorise collection of intelligence on Australians;
- required the ministers to make rules regulating the communication
and retention by the agencies of intelligence information concerning
Australian persons; and
- provided for the establishment of a parliamentary oversight committee, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD.
Intelligence Services Amendment Act 2004
On 15 October 2003, the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2003 was introduced into Parliament by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, as an amendment to the original Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA). The Bill sought amend the original ISA to allow ASIS to:
- be involved in the planning and undertaking of paramilitary or violent activities by others, and
- provide, train with, and use weapons and self-defence techniques in certain circumstances.
The Bill created controversy over its allowance for ASIS to work with other organisations (such as the CIA or MI6) in paramilitary operations, provided ASIS staff and agents were not personally involved in carrying it out.
The Bill was passed on 1 April 2004, five and a half months after it was introduced.
The agency primarily focuses on intelligence gathering in the
Asia-Pacific region; in particular people-smuggling operations as well
as the activities of Islamic militants in that region.
ASIS is also not primarily responsible for the high-level analysis and reporting of the data it collects, a task performed by the Office of National Assessments.