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Three things to look for in the forthcoming intelligence review

Posted By on July 10, 2024 @ 08:47

Any day now, the government will release the public report of the latest independent review of the National Intelligence Community (NIC), conducted by Heather Smith and Richard Maude.

The review covers the 10 agencies that form the NIC (and are listed at the bottom of this article). The aim is to check whether the NIC is still fit for purpose or whether it needs improvements.

Here are three things to look for when the findings of the review are published.

A dedicated open-source intelligence agency

The world was different in 2018 when the Office of National Assessments, for which open-source intelligence was a major function, was reorganised as the Office of National Intelligence, which was also given broader responsibility for coordination across the NIC.

For decades, over-the-horizon reporting, such as the Future Joint Operating Concept, had been predicting an increasingly information-rich operating environment. So the 2018 reform missed an opportunity to bring open-source intelligence to the fore.

Analysts can now gather data from Twitter and Facebook, and resistance organisers use all sorts of open-source platforms when challenging repressive regimes. For example, I could use data from Twitter and international aircraft-tracking networks to analyse traffic from China [1] in the early days of the military coup in Myanmar in early 2021.

Open-source reporting is the most cost-effective form of intelligence and the technique of first resort. James Bayliss has argued [2] that open-source capability should be dispersed across government, but that could lead to duplication of effort. He is correct however, in his assessment that the government needs to better invest in its open-source capability outside of what the Defence Intelligence Organisation is providing. It would be sensible for this intelligence review to recommend establishment of a dedicated open-source agency separated from the Office of National Intelligence.

Filling the evidence gap

Since the last review, in 2017, stories about possible war crimes perpetrated by Australians have been all over the news. More than 200 Australians travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other terrorist groups, and they perpetrated not just war crimes but also genocide and crimes against humanity. Some estimates [3] put the number of Australians serving with the Israeli Defence Force, which is currently subject to an International Court of Justice case on genocide, at 1000. International authorities [4] have also identified a range of war crimes perpetrated as part of Israeli military operations.

Australian intelligence organisations were aware of the actions of individuals like Khaled Sharrouf [5] and Neil Prakash [6] who joined ISIS and perpetrated war crimes. Australia, as a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is obliged to investigate and prosecute these crimes in Australian courts. These crimes are incorporated into Division 268 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, but the legislation has never been used in a criminal court. Evidence obtained from intelligence organisations is not easily used in a criminal court, stemming from the need to protect intelligence sources. But updates are needed to keep international criminals behind bars, rather than roaming the globe, free to continue perpetrating.


Even though Defence has demoted its Gender, Peace and Security unit to the Defence People Group, research [7] from Valerie Hudson has definitively shown that ‘the best predictor of a state’s stability is how its women are treated’. As Australia shifts its focus away from the Middle East and back to the Indo-Pacific, the lessons learned by Australian gender advisers should not be lost. The Pacific is one of the most gender-unequal regions of the world.

The experience in Ukraine has also shown that gendered issues, including use of rape as a weapon of war, are pertinent in state-on-state conflict. These are just some of the reasons why the UN Security Council has been discussing issues of Women, Peace and Security for more than two decades and is now bemoaning backsliding in progress on the set of 10 resolutions it passed on the subject. Those resolutions require UN member states to have a gendered understanding of conflict and have gendered responses when conflict arises.

Violence against women is a key indicator [8] of other extremist activity. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has undertaken research [9] into the broader relationship between violent misogyny and violent extremism that leads to terrorism. These are patterns that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation can use in detection of far right extremism and other domestic terrorism.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked extensively on the development of a gender strategy [10]. They also have coordination responsibility for the whole-of-government National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security [11], but the other government departments are very behind on its implementation. Incorporating gendered reporting into Australia’s intelligence architecture would go a long way to ensuring we had a better response to crises when they arose.

NIC agencies

The agencies covered by the review are the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Signals Directorate, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Defence Intelligence Organisation, Department of Home Affairs and Office of National Intelligence.


Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/three-things-to-look-for-in-the-forthcoming-intelligence-review/

URLs in this post:

[1] analyse traffic from China: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/whats-on-the-clandestine-nightly-flights-between-myanmar-and-china/

[2] argued: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/osint-capability-should-be-dispersed-through-government/

[3] estimates: https://acij.org.au/letter-australia-should-investigate-citizens-fighting-in-the-idf/

[4] International authorities: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/06/israeli-authorities-palestinian-armed-groups-are-responsible-war-crimes#:~:text=In%20relation%20to%20Israeli%20military,%2C%20forcible%20transfer%2C%20sexual%20violence%2C

[5] Khaled Sharrouf: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-isnt-doing-enough-on-conflict-related-sexual-violence/

[6] Neil Prakash: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/neil-prakash-more-just-terrorist

[7] research: https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/04/24/what-sex-means-for-world-peace/

[8] key indicator: https://www.international-alert.org/blogs/ask-right-questions-about-gender-and-violent-extremism/

[9] research: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/d/c/525297.pdf

[10] gender strategy: https://www.dfat.gov.au/international-relations/themes/gender-equality/new-international-gender-equality-strategy

[11] National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security: https://www.dfat.gov.au/sites/default/files/australias-national-action-plan-on-women-peace-and-security-2021-2031.pdf

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