Australia’s overseas intelligence agents will have greater powers to use weapons and violence on covert missions under changes proposed by the Morrison government.
Staff of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, which conducts clandestine operations on foreign soil, are presently allowed to use firearms as a last resort to protect themselves, colleagues and people co-operating with their activities.
On Thursday the Morrison Government will introduce new laws to Parliament allowing ASIS staff to use “reasonable force” during their overseas missions.
ASIS agents would have powers to protect people specifically approved by the foreign minister, hostages and others in the field.
The use of force could include the use of a firearm or physical means to “restrain, detain or move” a person who is uncooperative or in danger.
“As the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for ASIS also becomes more complex,” Senator Payne said in a statement.
The Government argues that the Intelligence Services Act provisions relating to the use of force by ASIS have not undergone significant change since 2004, despite the overseas spy agency being asked to carry out more dangerous missions in new places and circumstances unforeseen 14 years ago.
Senator Payne insisted ASIS’s watchdog would continue to have an important oversight role on the use of weapons and use of force by the intelligence service.
“Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defence, these amendments will be an exception to the standing prohibitions against the use of violence or use of weapons by ASIS,” she said.
In 2014 the ABC revealed an Australian special forces soldier had pulled a handgun on an ASIS spy during a drinking session in Afghanistan a year earlier.