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ASIO may become the new FBI -

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ELEANOR HALL: There are reports today that Australia's domestic spy agency could be expanded to
become more like its US counterpart the FBI.

ASIO has undergone a number of changes since the September 11th attacks eight years ago but now a
complete change of brief is apparently being considered, as Nicole Butler reports.

NICOLE BUTLER: Espionage, sabotage, political violence and foreign threats have been ASIO's domain
since its inception but a report the agency is about to redefine its brief for the first time since
the Cold War has made the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today.

It's reported Australia's domestic spy agency could be expanded into an FBI-style agency that looks
beyond national security issues.

DAVID MCKNIGHT: It would be a very big change for ASIO to look at organised crime and to look at
border security.

NICOLE BUTLER: David McKnight from the University of New South Wales has written extensively about
ASIO.

The associate professor says a shift in the agency began after the September 11 terror attacks in
the US eight years ago. He says he's not surprised by the changes reportedly being considered.

DAVID MCKNIGHT: Terrorism is a criminal offence and traditionally ASIO has really never
investigated criminal activities. It has always been an advice body until 2001. So in a way this is
a kind of direction that things have been heading for some time.

NICOLE BUTLER: Dr McKnight says the globalisation of national security threats and other modern
issues are likely reasons for a broader focus.

DAVID MCKNIGHT: ASIO has always had a concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction. That's usually done across borders and it falls in the hands of politically motivated
people but also in the hands of organised crime. You know it's always had a brief to look at all
sorts of security threats which today merge into sort of criminal activity in a way that they
didn't before.

NICOLE BUTLER: ASIO currently has no arrest powers. Would that have to change if it takes on this
expanded brief?

DAVID MCKNIGHT: I really can't see that happening. They have so many other roles which are nothing
to do with criminal charges and needing to arrest people.

NICOLE BUTLER: Dr McKnight says one significant outcome could be that the highly secretive agency
becomes more accountable.

DAVID MCKNIGHT: If ASIO is involved more and more in preparing charges that go before a court, in a
way that functions as a kind of accountability because if your charges keep getting thrown out
somebody will want to know why.

NICOLE BUTLER: According to today's newspaper reports senior ASIO officials are cautious about
pursuing any large-scale changes. Dr McKnight says they could be concerned about the agency's
international relationships.

DAVID MCKNIGHT: They have accountability if you like to British, American intelligence agencies.
They have all sorts of responsibilities there. And if their role in Australia is made fuzzy and
less clear, the overseas partners felt there was any denunciation in ASIO's own ability to keep
secrets, then that whole relationship would be under threat.

NICOLE BUTLER: The Federal Attorney-General isn't confirming reports of an expanded ASIO. Instead
Robert McClelland's office issued this statement.

EXTRACT FROM STATEMENT FROM THE OFFICE OF ROBERT MCCLELLAND: The Government has received no formal
proposals regarding this matter. The adequacy of our intelligence, security and law enforcement
functions and powers are under constant review.

NICOLE BUTLER: In the past eight years ASIO's budget has grown from $66 million to more than $300
million and it's predicted it would have to grow considerably more if the agency does expand its
mission.

ELEANOR HALL: Nicole Butler reporting.