Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Intelligence spending to see increase in Australia

REUTERS , CANBERRA AND SYDNEY

Australia will double the budget and staffing of one of its main intelligence agencies after a critical independent report on pre-Iraq war and Bali bombing intelligence, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday.

The report by former intelligence chief Philip Flood said Australian intelligence relied on thin and ambiguous information to assess Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and failed to gauge the threat from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) prior to the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, 88 of them Australian.

Howard, a staunch ally of the US and who faces a cliffhanger election later this year, said he would accept all the major recommendations included in the inquiry.

This included increasing annual funding for the Office of National Assessments (ONA) to A$25 million (US$18 million) from A$13.1 million and boosting ONA staff numbers to 145 from the current 74.

"In order to strengthen the contribution of sound intelligence to government decision-making, Mr Flood proposes an extensive list of recommendations concerning the better functioning of the intelligence agencies, improved oversight arrangements and greater transparency and accountability," Howard said.

In his report, former intelligence chief Flood wrote that, "There has been a failure of intelligence on Iraq [weapons of mass destruction]. Intelligence was thin, ambiguous and incomplete." This mirrors similar intelligence inquiries in the US and Britain.

"The inquiry has seen nothing to indicate that any Australian agency ... had any specific intelligence warning of the attack in Bali," Flood said in his report.

"The failure to appreciate the serious nature of the threat posed by JI was widespread outside Australia's intelligence agencies and in Indonesia itself," he said.

Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch US ally, sent around 2,000 military personnel to the US-led war in Iraq, citing at the time the need to prevent Iraq's weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terror groups.

Howard has since said the Iraq war was justified despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, arguing the Iraqi people were better off after the removal of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

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