Australia, Intelligence and Security

Australia, Intelligence and Security


Australia gained its status as a British Commonwealth nation in 1901. The nation is largely autonomous, but technically under the British monarch. A 1999 national referendum sought to establish Australia as an independent republic, but Australians voted in favor of remaining part of Commonwealth.

Despite its location, Australia maintains close ties with the United States and Great Britain, joining the Allied efforts in World Wars I and II. Following the Second World War, Britain and the United States aided Australia in reconstructing and modernizing its intelligence community. Australian intelligence services flourished in the early 1950s, rapidly becoming one of the most advanced in the world. The nation's strategic location aided Cold War intelligence and security efforts by providing a regional location from which to monitor the expansion of Communism and Soviet influence in Asia. Today, Australia's strong intelligence community participates in international nonproliferation and anti-terrorism operations.

Australia's intelligence community is divided along traditional distinctions between civilian and military, domestic and foreign intelligence services. The Office of the Attorney General administers Australia's main civilian, domestic, intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). Founded in 1942 as the Allied Intelligence Bureau, the agency was key to allied intelligence and espionage efforts against Japan during World War II. Many of Australia's civilian intelligence services were disbanded after the war, but escalating Cold War tensions prompted their reinstatement in 1949. Today, the ASIO is charged with the protection of national security and focuses its operations on gathering and processing domestic intelligence. Participating in ongoing counter-intelligence operations, the ASIO and the Australian Protective Service (APS) work to secure government computer, information, and communication systems from out-side surveillance.

Though ASIO operations concentrate on broad-scale threats to national interests, duties such as the surveillance of extremist groups and crime syndicates are conducted with aid of accessory intelligence and security organizations. The ASIO works with the Australian Federal Police, the National Crime Authority (NCA), and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence (ABCI), providing information related to federal criminal investigations.

Australia's other large intelligence agency is the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). The ASIS was formed in 1952, after United States and British intelligence proved to the Australian government that Soviet operatives had infiltrated high-levels of the national government. ASIS focuses on foreign intelligence, often joining international intelligence services in global peacekeeping, security, and intelligence operations. The agency relies on a variety of means, including human intelligence, to collect data, but is expressly barred from domestic political espionage or the use of weapons.

Within the ASIS are two important divisions, the Strategic Policy and Intelligence Branch (SPI) and the Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Policy Section (ITC). The SPI coordinates intelligence and security policy among the nation's civilian intelligence community, sometimes working in close cooperation with military intelligence services. The ICT manages ASIS and inter-agency counter-terrorism efforts, sometimes working with foreign intelligence forces to combat global terrorist networks. Both divisions act as liaisons between the intelligence community and government officials, via the Office of National Assessments in the Office of the Prime Minister or Parliamentary oversight committees.

Australia's civilian intelligence community has undergone increasing scrutiny in the past two decades. In the 1990s, the Australian Parliament conducted a full review of the ASIS to determine its utility to the post-Cold War intelligence community. Parliament decided to keep the agency, but only after a detailed reorganization. In 1996, an Office of Inspector General was established to evaluate and report on the efficiency, ethicacy, and success of Australian intelligence operations. The Intelligence Services Act of 2001 placed ASIS under the stewardship of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Parliament further implemented a formal oversight process to promote accountability in both the ASIS and the ASIO.

The Department of Defense oversees military and strategic intelligence forces. The Strategy and Intelligence Program (S&I) is the coordinated intelligence policy for Australia, managing the operations of a variety of agencies. The Defense Intelligence Organization (DIO) and the Defense Security Branch (DSB) are the major intelligence and security departments within the Department of Defense.

Australia maintains one of the world's strongest militaries. The Australian military community has three branches, the Royal Australian Navy, Air Force, and Army, each with its own intelligence units. The Royal Australian Navy conducts both on and offshore communications intelligence and remote surveillance operations. The main concern of Naval intelligence is monitoring foreign intelligence in the South Pacific—Indian Ocean region, and protecting Australia's territorial waters.

Army intelligence conducts a variety of intelligence operations and maintains several intelligence forces. The central Army intelligence agencies are the Defense Intelligence Wing and the Army Intelligence Corps. The routine operations of these forces are predominately classified, and a majority of Army strategic intelligence forces is imbedded in combat units. The Army also operates Australia's primary military intelligence training school.

Australia's Air Force participates in international military operations, but is also charged with aiding the Royal Australian Navy in guarding Australia's territorial waters and expansive coastlines. A special division, the Maritime Patrol Group, assumes part of this responsibility, routinely patrolling the nation's coastal waterways and ports. The Air Force conducts aerial surveillance and remote intelligence operations both within Australia and abroad, in accordance with national and international law.

Law enforcement in Australia is predominantly exercised by the nation's seven territorial police agencies, as well as individual municipal police forces. The Australian Federal Police work with these agencies to infiltrate suspected crime syndicates and prevent drug trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting, paramilitary activities, and other federal crimes.

In 2001, Australia's intelligence and security agencies joined the international fight against global terrorism. Australia's strategic position in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean regions facilitates work of intelligence community surveillance of extremist groups and terrorist networks in southern Asia and Indonesia. Australian intelligence closely monitors the proliferation of weapons and nuclear technology in Asia and the Indian Ocean region, sharing information it garners with its allies and the United Nations Security Council. Remaining committed to international non-proliferation efforts, Australia joined the Coalition forces in the 2003 war in Iraq, providing military, intelligence, and humanitarian support.



Polmar, Norman and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1997.


Australian Security Intelligence Organization. < > (1 April 2003).

Australian Secret Intelligence Service. < > (1 April 2003).

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