Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended his country's intelligence gathering during a visit to Ottawa, saying that countries should “never, never apologize” from doing what’s necessary to protect themselves.
Abbott, who met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, spoke in Ottawa a day earlier in reference to The Five Eyes partnership, an intelligence agreement between Australia, Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The partnership dates back 70 years but has only recently attracted attention after the leak of intelligence documents out of the U.S. National Security Agency by former contract worker Edward Snowden.
Snowden has embarrassed leaders around the world, and compelled President Barack Obama to suggest that U.S. intelligence agencies had gone too far in their snooping.
CBC News reported last year those documents also shed light on the top-secret intelligence-sharing agreements between the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
But unlike Obama, Abbott insisted intelligence services from those countries, known as Five Eyes, have nothing to be chagrined about.
"We should never, never apologize for doing what's necessary to protect ourselves and to help our friends and that's exactly the Five Eyes arrangements are designed to do" Abbott said.
Abbott made his comments Sunday at an event at the Canadian War Museum, one where he mingled with Canadian and Australian dignitaries, including Canada’s top spy, John Forster, who is the head of the normally super secretive Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).
“What is sometimes forgotten about the work of the Five Eyes is that it's not just for the benefit of those five countries but it is ultimately for the benefit of the wider world," Abbott said.
Snowden documents controversial in Australia
Wesley Wark, a leading expert on national security and intelligence at the University of Ottawa, says the Snowden revelations were just as controversial in Australia. He said they revealed Australia's willingness to conduct intelligence gathering against the Indonesian leadership and share its findings with the US.
But Abbott has defended the way his government gathers information.
“Our intelligence gathering has got to be done in a way which is decent and fair and which doesn't betray the fundamental values that we are doing our best to uphold” said Abbott in defence Australia’s intelligence gathering capabilities," he said.
“The important thing is not to be deterred from doing what is necessary to protect our citizens our interests and our values.”
Wark said he’s not surprised Abbott values the Five Eyes partnership and said its equally unsurprising Canada doesn’t talk about its role in the intelligence partnership.
“We are the most secretive of all our intelligence allies, for no particularly good reason”, said Wark.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office didn’t rule-out that the two leaders may have talked about the five eyes alliance while Tony Abbott was in Canada.
"CSEC, and its Five Eyes partners, play a vital role in keeping Canadian families and businesses safe from the threats of terrorism, espionage, and cyber-attacks" the prime minister’s office said of CSEC in an email.
CSEC said in a statement it works closely with its allies, including Australia, "to address threats that affect our collective interests."
Relationship with intelligence partners 'deep and strong'
"CSEC is unable to target its activities against Canadians, nor can it ask Five Eye partners to do things CSEC is itself prohibited from doing” it said.
The intelligence agency said while Forster was an invited guest to Sunday's event, there were no meetings scheduled between Forster and Abbott while the prime minister was visiting Ottawa.
Speaking with Harper at a joint news conference on Parliament Hill on Monday, Abbott reiterated his commitment to the intelligence partnership.
"We have a strong and deep security and intelligence relationship as members of the Five Eyes family" he said.
He went on to say that the Five Eyes partnership was for the “good of the world."