Is Canberra happy to help Israel in its “war on terror”?

In this Fairfax story today, the elephant in the room is Israel. Some key questions: has Australia ever provided our passports to Israeli agents? If so, when and for what actions?

Australian security agencies use false passports issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs to allow covert operatives to function overseas, intelligence sources have admitted.

Following the admission by the Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop, about Australian use of fake passports, sources confirmed Australia has a long-standing tradition of providing passports to overseas intelligence agencies. These countries are within the ”Western intelligence club” – specifically Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Canada, sources confirm.

While the government has leapt upon Ms Bishop’s comments, accusing her of a grievous breach of national security, sources within the intelligence community have confirmed she merely made public an inconvenient truth.

Security agencies, including the international spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, as well as ASIO and the federal police, use false passports issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs to allow covert operatives to function overseas.

Australia does not use the identities of its citizens or forge existing passports. Rather, it creates a passport of a fictitious person and provides it to an intelligence operative.

It is a practice similar to that used by state police when they create fake identities for undercover police officers.

In the grey world of espionage the necessity for covert activity can be great, and from time to time – in Australia perhaps as seldom as once a year – the Department of Foreign Affairs will create a passport at the request of an agency. The only caveat is that the intelligence service keep Foreign Affairs informed of the movement of the agent through national borders.

The Australian government would also be extremely judicious in its use of such passports, particularly so when providing them to other countries.

There is a big difference between creating fake passports and using real passports, as in the Mossad assassination of arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh that led Australia to expel an Israeli diplomat this week.

What Israel did was to forge the passports of actual foreign nationals – including four Australians – to use for their agents.

Ms Bishop – a cabinet minister in the Howard government – was pounced upon by Labor after her comments to the Herald on Tuesday. ”It wasn’t what you would call kosher,” one intelligence source said.