By Julian Bajkowski
The head of Australia’s domestic spy agency has revealed that internet-addicted loners and individuals with far right-wing and white-supremacist views have escalated as an area of concern for potential terrorist activity.
In a carefully nuanced speech to the Security In Government conference in Canberra, the Director General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, David Irvine, flagged the potential for internet hate sites and other online fora to become a trigger point for individuals to commit violent acts on Australian soil.
The direct identification of white supremacist and racially motivated groups as an area of concern is significant because it challenges the stereotype that radical Islamic elements are the core focus of security agencies.
“The Norwegian mass murderer Breivik, who killed 77 people last July in a shooting and bombing rampage in Norway, did so in the name of combatting Islamistion,” Mr Irvine said.
“Last Month a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in the US state of Wisconsin killing six. Local police [in the United States] described that as an act of domestic terrorism. The guman was said to have links to white supremecists,” he continued.
“The issue is with us on all sides of the spectrum.”
ASIO’s flagging of hard-right groups and individuals is likely to act as a wake-up call to many state police forces to keep an open mind in terms of where real threats of violence may emanate.
While anti-capitalist activist groups often attract the direct attention of police forces and the media as a potential source of politically or ideologically motivated violence, the scale of the Norwegian shootings coupled with the potential for murderers like Breivik to act as role models now appears to be firmly on the radar.
Mr Irvine said that “today’s terrorism” was no longer “the domain solely of the violent Islamic extremist. We’ve also seen it as an expression of nationalism and of racial and ethnic hatred.”
However ASIO’s chief readily acknowledged that there is a clear threat from radical Islamic terrorists, particularly against the backdrop of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That extremism represents a skewed minority and doesn’t reflect the views of the vast majority of Australians, or Australian Muslims, Australians of Muslim faith or other faiths,” Mr Irvine said, before again hitting out at stereotypes.
“As a society one must avoid the tragedy and the injustice of our law abiding Muslim population, who are contributing greatly to the progress of our nation, to be tarred with the Islamic terrorist brush.”
Concern over the ability for internet to used as a motivational tool for violent acts was also made plain by Mr Irvine, particularly the potential for “lone wolf” actors in Australia who may be influenced by Islamic extremism.
“We continue to see Australians gaining exposure, particularly via the internet to extremist interpretations of Islam both here and abroad – in person and via the internet,” Mr Irvine said.
“Exposure can lead sometimes very quickly to actions by extremists aiming to recruit individuals to adopt their views and act on them as happened with the Detroit underpants bomber.”
Ticking away in the background are security agency concerns over whether sufficient legal and technical resources are at hand to scan the cybersphere – sometimes retrospectively – to detect the warning signs of potentially violent groups or individuals on the internet.
A key bid for new powers by law enforcement and security interests in the government is a proposal for internet service providers to retain rafts of customer activity data including browsing history for up to two years.
Civil liberties groups and internet freedom advocates are vehemently opposed to the proposals on the basis that they constitute an intrusive, Stalinesque land grab for data that has not previously been available. Most of the telecommunications lobby also object to it because it would create an expensive administrative impost.
Speaking at the same conference as Mr Irvine, Attorney General Nicola Roxon defended the intent of the new powers in that law enforcement needed to be able to collect evidence in an online world.
But Mr Irvine acknowledged that moves by security agencies to work more closely with private business interests in the internet age could sometimes create friction.
“It’s demanding greater interplay and cooperation between government and the private sector and we are still, some of us, feeling a little uncomfortable [about] how that will work out, particularly the telecommunications sector,” he said.
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