ASIO security assessments are currently controversial, because refugees deemed to be security risks are detained, indefinitely, with no right to appeal. The media has covered this well recently, but it’s hard to find information on the assessment process itself.
This post presents two new sources that became available in June. I have not read them in full, but they should be very useful for anyone researching this issue.
The first is this report released on Monday by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO): Security Assessments of Individuals.
It gives a large-scale overview of ASIO assessments, not just of visa applicants but also of people applying for sensitive jobs, and counter-terrorism security assessments. The report provides plenty of statistics, covers changes in assessment practices over time, and has a particular focus on boat arrivals. Some of the information is also in ASIO’s annual reports, but this paper puts all that in one place.
The audit examined 411 randomly chosen cases and gives largely positive findings:
18. Within this context, the ANAO concluded that ASIO’s arrangements for providing security assessments of individuals to client agencies are robust and, broadly, effective. The agency has a sound governance framework in place, including strategic risk management arrangements that are updated regularly. There is an effective mechanism to report to the ASIO Executive and the Government on risks that affect security assessment processes, including most recently, the emerging area of risk arising from the rapidly increasing number of security checks for immigration community detention cases. However, at an operational level, there are some aspects of the security assessment regime that deserve further focus. These aspects limit assurance that the agency is making sound assessments that result in non-prejudicial advice, and that the recent initiatives implemented to reduce the IMA security assessment caseload are being managed sustainably. It is also important to address impediments to mutual accountability between ASIO and its client agencies, and that ASIO puts in place workforce planning strategies to respond to future changes in demand for security assessments.
It also shows how extensive ASIO’s security assessment role is:
3. In the last six years, ASIO has completed, on average, 179 847 security assessments annually. The number of security assessments completed varies from year to year and between assessment types. Over this period (from 2005–06 to 2010–11), ASIO completed between:
- 34 000 and 73 000 visa security assessments annually (around 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the annual security assessment caseload);
- 18 000 and 31 000 personnel security assessments annually (around nine per cent to 16 per cent of the annual caseload); and
- 65 000 to more than 135 000 counter-terrorism security assessments annually (around 40 per cent to 66 per cent of the annual caseload).
The second source is the proceedings of the recent challenge to indefinite detention, available at: Plaintiff M47/2012 v. Director-General of Security & Ors.
While the ANAO report did not give information on how ASIO actually assesses someone’s potential threat to security, these High Court proceedings give some insight into one person’s assessment process. The plaintiff in the case is a Sri Lankan Tamil, who was found to be a refugee but then failed an ASIO assessment because of involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and is now locked up with little hope of release.
Most of the proceedings don’t examine the actual assessment, but some bits do. The man argued he was denied procedural fairness by not being given a chance to respond to the following allegations against him:
(a) that the plaintiff maintained further involvement with LTTE Intelligence activities from 1999-2006;
(b) that the plaintiff remains supportive of the LTTE’s use of violence to achieve political objectives; and
(c) that the plaintiff is likely to continue to support the LTTE activities of security concern in and from Australia.
See page 18 of the plaintiff’s submission.
The government side disputed the claim, arguing that:
The transcript of the interview (Special Case, Attachment 5) demonstrates that ASIO informed the Plaintiff of the purpose of the interview and provided him with an opportunity to provide any information that he wished in relation to each of the following topics:
40.1. whether he was a voluntary and active member of the LTTE Intelligence Wing from 1996-1999;
40.2. whether his responsibilities included identifying Sri Lankan Army collaborators;
40.3. whether he was aware that his identifying of Sri Lankan Army collaborators likely led to extra judicial killings
40.4. whether he maintained further involvement in intelligence activities on behalf of the L TTE from 1999 to 2006;
40.5. whether, during the interview, he deliberately withheld information regarding his activities of security concern, and provided mendacious information; and
40.6. whether his purpose in withholding information and providing mendacious information was to conceal his activities with the LTTE.
The focus of the interview was upon the Plaintiff’s membership and role with the LTTE in Sri Lanka. A particular focus was whether he joined the LTTE voluntarily, and then performed his roles with the LTTE voluntarily, which had obvious ramifications for the existence and degree of his support for the LTTE. The Plaintiff repeatedly insisted that he was forced to join LTTE.
Consequently, it was futile for ASIO to explore with the Plaintiff whether his past voluntary association with the LTTE meant that he remains supportive of, or would continue to support, the LTTE. His denial of the premise for any such questioning had the consequence that any questions about whether he remained supportive, or was likely to continue to support, the LTTE, could only have been asked on the premise that his denials were false. Such questioning would have been pointless. Procedural fairness did not require it to occur.
See pages 10-11 of the defendant’s submission.
It will be interesting to see whether the High Court finds that the process met the standards of procedural fairness, and the Court’s findings could change how these assessments are done in future.