IT took more than an hour during what's called an informal chat before ASIO agents realised they had the wrong person.
The innocent Sydney man plucked
from his daily routine and plunged into the shadowy world of
counter-terrorism was so traumatised by his treatment at the hands of
Australia's spies, he complained to the Australian Muslims Civil Rights
Rabiyah Hutchinson, the woman authorities say is more closely
connected to "al-Qa'ida central" than anyone in Australia, was also
apparently approached by spies last year with an offer to meet in a
Bankstown hotel. But the former wife of a Jemaah Islamiah terror leader
must have known her rights and is understood to have declined the
"I can tell you that this sort of informal questioning does happen regularly," AMCRAN spokesman Waleed Kadous says.
theme that has come through ... from people contacting us is ASIO using
the powers that have been given to them as a tool of coercion. They
(ASIO) will say something like: 'We can do this the easy way (you
co-operating with us) or we can do things the hard way (use the new
legal powers we have been given to make life difficult for you).'
"This has turned up in the Izhar (Ul-Haque) case, but we have spoken to people subject
to such incidents before.
"Threat of the application of immigration powers seems to be extensive."
is exactly what caused the collapse of the commonwealth terrorism case
against Sydney medical student Ul-Haque. A judge this week found ASIO
agents had kidnapped and falsely imprisoned the 24-year-old medical
student during a so-called informal chat in a park in Sydney's western
Commonwealth prosecutors were forced to drop
charges that he had trained with terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba
after a damning judgment by NSW Supreme Court judge Michael Adams, who
said key interviews with Ul-Haque were inadmissible because of gross
misconduct by ASIO officers.
Adams found ASIO officers had intimidated, coerced and illegally detained Ul-Haque while questioning him.
Nothing about the Ul-Haque case surprises Sydney lawyer Stephen Hopper. "It is the norm rather than the exception," he says.
Hopper says he has had several clients who were inappropriately interviewed by ASIO officers while their houses were raided.
says his clients were often not advised of their rights or given the
opportunity to call a lawyer to determine their rights. "It is also
great fodder for the pro-Islamic extremist propagandists," Hopper says.
He warns that the present safeguards of ASIO's watchdog,
the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, are inadequate. "I
don't mean any disrespect to the current inspector or his predecessor
but there needs to be a body that is independent of ASIO and the prime
minister's office that oversees the agency," Hopper says. "They can't
all be part of the same club."
The Ul-Haque case is the
latest in a series of bungles by Australia's security agencies that are
causing an erosion of public trust in their operations, according to
former spies and security experts.
University of Sydney
anti-terrorism legal expert Ben Saul says there needs to be a criminal
investigation and internal ASIO disciplinary procedures. "There must be
a criminal investigation into whether ASIO has overstepped its powers.
An investigation by the (Australian Federal Police) would be
appropriate," Saul says.
chief Paul O'Sullivan has refused to comment on the actions of his
spies. Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Ian Carnell, who
has the power to investigate the actions of ASIO, has declined to
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, the
minister responsible for ASIO, is not going to take any action. "It was
not a trial of the ASIO agents," Ruddock says.
finds the organisation to be very professional but qualifies his
statement, saying: "I never say any organisation is perfect." However,
he says if anyone believes there has been an offence committed, they
are entitled to take the evidence and ask for an investigation. It just
won't be Ruddock investigating.
bungles by the agencies charged with the job of protecting Australia
from a terrorism attack are undermining public confidence, according to
former intelligence officers and academics.
began with the terrorism case against Zak Mallah, the first person to
be charged under Australia's new laws. The charge was eventually
rejected by a jury after the police were found to have acted illegally
in gathering evidence against Mallah, including using an undercover
officer posing as a television reporter to buy a suicide video from
In 2003, ASIO also missed warnings from its French
spy counterpart about terrorist Willie Brigitte. A routine request for
information was not acted on by ASIO for days because it was sent on a
weekend. A second French request a month later asking that Brigitte be
placed on immediate surveillance was also not acted on promptly because
it was sent over the Labour Day long weekend. Brigitte was eventually
arrested two days later on a visa violation.
2006 Melbourne man Jack Thomas had a verdict that he received funds
from a terrorist organisation overturned when the Victorian Court of
Appeal ruled interviews conducted by the AFP while he was imprisoned in
Pakistan were inadmissible. He faces retrial next year.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib, who was held as a terror suspect for four years, was released without charge.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal found key interviews conducted by the
AFP and ASIO while Habib was in custody "would be unlikely to be
admissible in any criminal proceedings".
Habib is suing the Government for compensation.
there was the case of Brisbane schoolteacher John Howard Amundsen, who
was charged with making preparations for a terrorist attack. The charge
was dropped and replaced with possessing incendiary devices.
Most recent has been the case of
Mohamed Haneef, the Gold Coast doctor who was charged with providing
support to a terrorist organisation. The case against him collapsed and
the commonwealth DPP admitted there was no reasonable prospect of
Ian Wing, a former long-time president of the
Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers, says some
ASIO officers do not seem to have the proper training and are acting
like police officers.
"Intelligence takes a completely
different approach than policing," says Wing, an associate professor at
Charles Sturt University. "Intelligence people are taught to break
through policies and procedures, break the rules if you like ... our
mindsets are trained to be lateral and alternative, whereas police have
to be more straightforward. They are completely different cultures. I
don't like the idea of secret police, which is what ASIO is verging on
However, Wing does not believe the actions of the ASIO
officers were deliberate or premeditated. "I think they thought that
what they were doing was OK."
Warren Reed, an MI6-trained
former Australian spy, disagrees. He thinks it was deliberate and
premeditated. "And the danger in that is that people at this level out
in the field feel that they can break the rules and get away with it,"
he says. Reed says there are likely to be many more similar cases that
have not been made public.
"This is just one case that has become visible to the public," he says.
believes there should be more intense scrutiny of the agency along the
lines of the US model, where the CIA is overseen by a powerful
congressional system that has the power to call people to give evidence
"We are at a serious stage when the general
level of trust in the authorities is being eroded. And the public is
turning away from the agencies like ASIO and the AFP, saying they are a
joke," Reed says. "We have to work to restore that faith as soon as
The men and women who we never hear about and who work long
and hard for these organisations deserve better."
of ASIO's operations is palpable in Lakemba's Haldon Street, the
bustling shopping strip in the heart of Sydney's Muslim community.
Shopkeepers are immediately suspicious of newcomers. One organisation
that runs Arabic classes is wary, believing ASIO agents have already
been sent to pose as students while they spy on them.
says a survey conducted by AMCRAN of about 150 Muslims at a community
event revealed an interesting picture about ASIO's activities.
is a relatively small survey, and it may not have been a truly random
sample, but it does give a feel for what is going on in the community,"
he says. The survey showed about 6 per cent of the respondents had been
contacted by ASIO and half knew someone who had been contacted by ASIO.
one of the comments made was: "I felt if I didn't co-operate, they'd
think I was hiding something and be suspicious about me." Kadous says
that appears to be what happened to Ul-Haque.
About 43 per cent of those surveyed also felt they were being monitored.
points out that the claim is not that they are being monitored but that
almost half the community thinks their email, mail or phone lines are
being monitored, and that indicates a level of paranoia.
has consistently complained ASIO has been conducting a campaign of
intimidation and harassment against him and his family. He says he has
been approached by ASIO agents and threatened because he had spoken out
about his interrogation while in detention. "They said I was talking
too much and it was not good for me," Habib says. "They threatened to
send me back to Egypt. Then they said, 'If you aren't scared, what
about your family?"' Habib's lawyer, Peter Erman, also felt intimidated
by ASIO agents who came to his office. Erman, who runs a law firm in
western Sydney, says his wife and son have been followed by ASIO agents
since he took on Habib's compensation case against the Government. He
believes his telephone calls have been interfered with or intercepted.
think it's intimidation," Erman says. "It's not as if they are going to
learn anything about national security or terrorists from a suburban
Hutchinson recently lodged a complaint with
local police alleging ASIO illegally entered her home and tampered with
her computer. Hutchinson is understood to be concerned that the alleged
intrusion was orchestrated by ASIO, which she says has been watching
her closely since she fled Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11
attacks in the US. The alleged incident took place at her southwest
Sydney home in September as law enforcement and intelligence agencies
prepared for the biggest security operation in Australia, protecting
the APEC leaders summit.
response to community concern about the activities of ASIO and police,
AMCRAN and the University of Technology, Sydney Community Law Centre
produced a booklet, Anti-Terrorism Laws: ASIO, the Police and You.
Kadous says people need to know their rights. "People often say they
have been approached by ASIO and they don't know what to do. We let
them know their rights and that is, if ASIO doesn't have a warrant they
can't be questioned," he says.
"The booklet also says
that if there is no questioning warrant, the secrecy provisions also
don't apply, meaning you can reveal that ASIO (has) made an approach to
ask questions. Then it is up to them whether they choose to co-operate
Natalie O'Brien, Sydney