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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:05 a.m., Sunday, July 8, 2007

Australia to let spies share info on background checks

Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — The government has accelerated plans to let spies share information with immigration officials, a week after a foreign doctor was arrested in connection with the failed British terror attacks, the prime minister said Sunday.

Prime Minister John Howard said that new software linking the computer systems of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization and the Immigration Department will allow deeper background checks on anyone applying to enter Australia.

Howard called it a "major upgrade of Australia's control system."

"These new resources ... give us extraordinary additional capacity to drill down into the backgrounds of people who seek to come to Australia," he told reporters.

ASIO is Australia's overseas spying agency and the new system could sharpen links between international security agencies, including those in the United States and Europe, with the country's immigration watchdog.

The plans, which have been on the table since last year, are being brought forward after a possible Australian link was revealed in the British plot — in which two unexploded car bombs were found in central London on June 29 and two men drove a burning, gas cylinder-laden vehicle into an airport in Glasgow, Scotland a day later.

Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old Indian doctor who migrated to Australia from Britain last year, was arrested in the eastern city of Brisbane last Monday as he tried to board a flight with a one-way ticket.

Australian authorities acted on intelligence from British investigators into the failed attacks, and Haneef is believed to have known some of the suspects being held in Britain. He has not been charged.

Howard declined to give examples of how the new system would work, saying doing so could give clues to suspects about ways to could get around it. But he said the system would "track patterns of travel and other behavior which suggest a predisposition on the part of somebody towards malign behavior," he said.

In addition to a person's travel history, the system would cross-check financial data with particular organizations, Howard said — suggesting bank payments to banned groups would appear in searches.

Australia already has watch lists that ban people with links to terrorist organizations or proscribed terrorist suspects, but the new system goes further, Howard said.