Australian federal agencies
As with most nations, internal surveillance in Australia
and external espionage involves a range of agencies -
clandestine and otherwise. This page highlights some of
the federal government agencies.
It covers -
Christopher Tayler commented that
and means become confused for spies, who, in extreme
cases, start to take it for granted that thriving espionage
agencies are 'the only real measure of a nation's political
health'. Communists and capitalists use similar methods,
and their operations are equally likely to destroy any
innocents or idealists unlucky enough to figure in their
there is no major academic study that offers a comprehensive
map of the plethora of surveillance agencies in Australia
and New Zealand, covering bodies such as ASIO,
ASIS, DSD, GCSB, NCA, NZIS and ACS.
How much does it cost to run the intelligence machine?
How many people are involved. No one knows. The government
announced in 2004 that it would provide additional funding
of $228 million (including $31.5 million capital funding)
to the intelligence agencies over four years to enhance
Australia's counter-terrorism capabilities, in particular
for these agencies to improve their capacity to provide
analysis and assessment of high priority areas and to
meet increased operational demands.
encompasses the Australian Secret Intelligence Service,
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Department
of Defence and the Office of National Assessments.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO),
oversighted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the
and the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security
is the main Commonwealth domestic security agency. It
operates under the Australian Security Intelligence
1979. Recent amendments to the legislation are explored
in Jenny Hocking's Terror Laws: ASIO, Counter-Terrorism
& the Threat To Democracy (Sydney: UNSW Press
ASIO has been recurrently criticised as inward-looking,
inefficient and busy fighting the last war (eg against
the Soviets) at the expense of action against right wing
extremist groups and other contemporary terrorists. That
was reflected in a 1970s raid on its headquarters - at
that time in Melbourne - by Commonwealth police at the
request of reforming Attorney-General and later High Court
judge Lionel Murphy.
Justice Hope, head of the 1974-77 Royal Commission of
inquiry into Intelligence and Security, commented that
ASIO "could not be taken seriously as an efficient
organisation, still less an effective security organisation".
Hope concluded that ASIO was fundamentally blinkered by
a Cold War antipathy to political views it did not share
but which did not threaten national security, was hopelessly
politically partisan and misguided as to what should have
been the top priority of its counter-espionage function.
Hope's associate George Brownbill, in commenting on release
of some of the Royal Commission's papers in 2008, commented
that ASIO's then head was given to "slipping little
bits of gossip to the PM" and others in the Menzies
governments of the 1950s and 1960s, with "gossip
and tittle-tattle about people and their so-called 'communist
sympathies'" being provided to figures in those governments
and then revealed in under parliamentary privilege. "Much
of this was no more than slander under privilege. That
is, the evidence was just not there."
It is assumed that ASIO's databases cover much of the
federal bureaucracy (eg as part of routine security vetting),
contractors, political groups, the media, the judiciary
Former chief executive Tudor Harvey Barnett's Tale
of the Scorpion (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin 1988)
is anodyne and self-serving, offset by Frank Cain's lucid
ASIO - An Unofficial History (Richmond: Spectrum
1994), Jenny Hocking's Beyond Terrorism: The Development
of the Australian Security State (St Leonards: Allen
& Unwin 1993) and David McKnight's more problematical
Australia's Spies & Their Secrets (St Leonards:
Allen & Unwin 1994). Its antecedents are traced in Cain's
The Origins of Political Surveillance in Australia
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson 1983) and Terrorism & Intelligence
in Australia: A History of ASIO & National Surveillance
(North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing 2008).
The Murphy raid features in Jenny Hocking's Lionel
Murphy: A Political Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 1997). David Marr's The Ivanov Trail
(Melbourne: Nelson 1984) deals with controversial claims
about ALP executive David Coombe.
ASIS and AIC
The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS),
within the federal Department of Foreign Affairs &
is ostensibly concerned with activity overseas but secured
public attention by playing shootem-ups in a Melbourne
hotel. It was established in 1952 but only publicly revealed
ASIS was established by executive order on 13 May 1952.
It operated under government directive until the Intelligence
Services Act It currently operates under the Intelligence
Services Act 2001 (ISA) came into effect on 29 October
2001. ISA provides a charter to
and distribute intelligence information, not readily
available by other means, about the capabilities, intentions
and activities of individuals or organisations outside
Australia, which may impact on Australian interests,
and the well-being of its citizens.
will be reassured to know that it "does not plan
for or undertake activities involving violence".
There is an account in Oyster: The Story of the Australian
Secret Intelligence Service (Port Melbourne: Heinemann
1989) by Brian Toohey & William Pinwill.
The Australian Intelligence Corps (AIC)
is one of several Defence Department bodies. The AIC provides
intelligence personnel to military units, detachments
and the defence force headquarters regarding combat intelligence,
security and "other specialised intelligence duties".
The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD),
the local equivalent of the US NSA,
is Australia's major player in the global intelligence
community, reflecting a history of cooperation with overseas
signals intelligence bodies (notably those in the US,
Canada and UK) and advantageous geography for handling
radio and satellite traffic.
It is a participant in the Echelon
network, subject of criticism by some liberties groups
and parts of the EU Parliament. It is formally described
as "Australia's national authority for signals intelligence
and information security", with functions of foreign
signals intelligence collection and dissemination and
provision of information security products/services to
government agencies (eg advice about protection of the
national information infrastructure and about cryptographic
Background is provided in The Ties that Bind - Intelligence
Cooperation between the UKUSA Countries (London: Allen
& Unwin 1985) by Desmond Ball & Jeffrey Richelson.
Other works of importance by Ball include A Suitable
Piece of Real Estate (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger
1980), A Base for Debate: The US Satellite Station
at Nurrungar (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin 1987) and
Pine Gap: Australia and the US Geosynchronous Satellite
Program (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin 1988). For the
NSA see Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World
of Global Eavesdropping (New York: Random 2005) by
Patrick Keefe and three works by James Bamford: The
Puzzle Palace: A Report on NSA, America's Most Secret
Agency (New York: Houghton Mifflin 1982), Body
of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security
Agency (New York: Doubleday 2001) and The Shadow
Factory: The Ultra- Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping
on America (New York: Doubleday 2008).
The Defence Imagery & Geospatial Organisation (DIGO)
was created in 2000 through amalgamation of the Australian
Imagery Organisation, the Directorate of Strategic Military
Geographic Information and the Defence Topographic Agency.
Its site indicates that
is the lead imagery and geospatial organisation in the
Department of Defence. DIGO provides a wide range of
geospatial services from hardcopy maps to a range of
Defence standard digital geospatial and imagery based
products for incorporation into Geographic Information
Systems (GIS). A primary responsibility for DIGO is
the extraction of intelligence derived from a wide range
of imagery sources. This intelligence can be incorporated
into other digital mapping products and also used for
identifying issues which may affect Australia's interests.
2002-2003 IGIS Annual Report comments that DIGO
prime responsibility for the acquisition and analysis
of satellite and other imagery and for the development,
acquisition and exploitation of geospatial data.
This means that DIGO collects and analyses images of
foreign and domestic subjects (eg. landforms, waterways,
disputed territories etc.), and develops mapping and
imagery intelligence products for a range of Commonwealth
agencies and the Australian Defence Force.
Detailed technical analysis of imagery obtained by DIGO
can reveal information that is of value to key decision
makers in the development of policies that are in the
national interest, and of possible benefit in national
and international emergency management.
DIGO also has the capacity to combine imagery with other
available sources of data to prepare highly accurate
topographical maps and other aids that are of value
in the preparation of plans relevant to national defence
... while DIGO's collection priorities are focussed
outside Australia, there are occasions when it collects
images of Australian territory, for example in support
of defence operations.
The scope for collection of imagery which could intrude
upon the privacy of Australians is limited and occurs
subject to the Rules Governing DIGO’s Activities
in Respect of Australia and Australians.
Australian security intelligence assessment and coordination
bodies include the Office of National Assessments (ONA)
and the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO).
The NZ equivalents are the External Assessments Bureau
and National Assessments Committee (NAC).
ONA had a budget of around $13.5 million in 2004-05, with
some 61% attributed to staffing costs.
In relation to crimes a similar function is provided by
the Office of Strategic Crime Assessments (OSCA)
and the Office of Law Enforcement Coordination (OLEC).
other federal agencies
A range of Commonwealth agencies are authorised to conduct
surveillance under general or specific legislation. These
include the Australian Federal Police (AFP),
the Australian Customs Service (ACS)
and the Health Insurance Commission (HIC).
The Australian Transaction Reports & Analysis Centre
established under the Financial Transaction Reports
Act 1988, is Australia's anti-money laundering
regulator and specialist financial intelligence unit.
It oversees compliance by financial services providers
and the gambling industry. AUSTRAC provides financial
transaction reports information to federal, state and
lerritory law enforcement and revenue agencies. Its activity
complements work by the Australian Securities & Investments
Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC)
replaced the National Crime Authority (NCA), Australian
Bureau of Criminal Intelligence and Office of Strategic
Crime Assessments in January 2003. Its establishment under
the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 followed
criticism of the NCA for alleged ineffectiveness in prosecuting
misbehaviour. That agency had been oversighted by the
Commonwealth parliament's Joint Committee on the National
Crime Authority (PJCNCA).
The new organisation is to investigate matters relating
to federally-relevant criminal activity and to "collect,
correlate, analyse and disseminate criminal information
next page (New Zealand