The Australian government will be authorising new criteria for the use of lethal force by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). Under the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill, ASIS officers will be able to use reasonable force when necessary in overseas operations to protect themselves and friendly parties. Hitherto, ASIS officers could only use their weapons for self-protection or the protection of assets. The officers had to be under attack to respond. The new law seeks to amend that.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, cited the dangers that Australian intelligence operatives are facing overseas to justify the proposal. She said, “Our ASIS officers often work in dangerous locations, including under warlike conditions, to protect Australia and our interests. As the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for ASIS also becomes more complex.”

Therefore, when they operated in hostile environments, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous African countries, the Australian intelligence officers needed protection. That job was often done by troopers from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). CIA officers are often faced with the same situation. American special operators from various units or CIA Ground Branch officers accompany intelligence officers on their operations to ensure their safety.

“The changes will mean officers are able to protect a broader range of people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation. 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,” added the Australian Foreign Minister.

Field officers of many Western intelligence services are often faced with life and death situations. That is the reason why the selection and assessment programs are so rigorous, and why candidates are trained in hand-to-hand combat and firearms.

ASIS’ Director-General Paul Symon told the Australian Parliament’s Joint Intelligence Committee that the new legislative measures could prove crucial in hostage related missions: “There have been occasions where the government has looked to ASIS in a deniable way to effect a [hostage] handover. So, the sort of scenario I can see here is where, in looking after the hostage, there may be a circumstance where we might need to hold them on the shoulders and throw them into a car.”

The restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs) in both Iraq and Afghanistan have frustrated the warfighters’ ability to do their job. In some cases, for example, troops had to be fired at before engaging the enemy — it didn’t matter if they knew that they were enemy beforehand.

ASIS is responsible for providing Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and is part of the Five-Eyes (FVEY) agreement. The FVEY is an intelligence alliance between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, and the U.S. The members, among others, share intelligence.