Australian intelligence organisations

Australian intelligence organisations

Government sources

The Australian Intelligence Community: Agencies, functions, accountability and oversight, Australian Government, 2006

“Intelligence is covertly obtained information. That is, it is obtained without the authority of the government or group that ‘owns’ the information. There are three broad categories of intelligence information: human intelligence (‘humint’) that is obtained through interaction with people; signals intelligence (‘sigint’) that is obtained by intercepting electronic communications such as telephones, faxes and e-mail; and imagery and geospatial intelligence (‘geoint’) that is obtained from imaging satellites and other sources. Humint, sigint and geoint comprise what is known as ‘raw’ or ‘unassessed’ intelligence. Separate organisations undertake each of these three intelligence collection functions outside Australia: the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) is responsible for humint; the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) for sigint; and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) for geoint. Intelligence analysis or assessment is the process of using raw intelligence as well as information from other sources – such as the media, the internet and diplomatic reporting – to form a picture of an issue or occurrence. Australia’s foreign intelligence assessment agencies are the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO).”


Intelligence oversight - image

Lines of ministerial responsibility for Australian intelligence agencies.

Source: The Australian Intelligence Community


Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

“The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is Australia’s national security service. ASIO’s main role is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia’s national security. The ASIO Act defines ‘security’ as the protection of Australia and its people from espionage, sabotage, politically motivated violence, the promotion of communal violence, attacks on Australia’s defence system, and acts of foreign interference. Currently the major concerns stem from:

Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS)

“ASIS’s function is stated in the Intelligence Services Act 2001. Its role is to:

  • collect foreign intelligence, not available by other means, which may impact on Australian interests;
  • distribute that intelligence to the Government, including key policy departments and agencies;
  • undertake counter-intelligence activities which protect Australian interests and initiatives; and
  • engage other intelligence and security services overseas in Australia’s national interests

Defence Signals Directorate (DSD)

“DSD is Australia’s national authority for signals intelligence and information security. DSD has two principal functions: one is to collect and disseminate foreign signals intelligence (known as Sigint); the other is to provide Information Security (Infosec) products and services to the Australian Government and its Defence Force.”

Defence Intelligence Organisation

“The Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) is an intelligence assessment agency that provides services and advice at the national level. Its mandate is to support Defence and Government decision-making and assist with the planning and conduct of Australian Defence Force operations. DIO is located in Canberra and is one of four organisations that make up the Intelligence and Security Group in the Department of Defence. DIO is responsible for assessing military intelligence that focuses on global security activity, terrorism, defence economics, military capabilities, and science and technology that has military applications. DIO’s intelligence product and services help inform its customers on military activities at home and abroad, defence acquisition processes, force readiness decisions, strategic policy, foreign relations and defence scientific developments.”

Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation

The Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) was established “to provide geospatial intelligence, from imagery and other sources, in support of Australia’s defence and national interests. Geospatial Intelligence is intelligence derived from the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information about features and events with reference to time and location. Imagery is a photographic or digital image of any natural or man-made feature, object or activity on the Earth’s surface. Imagery can be collected by satellites, airborne platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles or other similar means. Rather than being just a picture of a surface feature, imagery also has the characteristic of identifying the location of imaged features. In this sense imagery is a geospatial (mapped) as well as photographic information source. DIGO is responsible for the tasking, collection, processing, dissemination and archiving of imagery used by the ADF and other government agencies.”

Office of National Assessments

“The Office of National Assessments (ONA) is an agency of around 145 staff and reports directly to the Prime Minister. ONA provides all-source assessments on international political, strategic and economic developments to the Prime Minister, senior ministers in the National Security Committee of Cabinet, and senior officials of government departments. ONA operates under its own legislation. ONA also has responsibility for coordinating and evaluating Australia’s foreign intelligence activities. The Director-General of ONA is an independent statutory officer who is not subject to external direction on the content of ONA assessments.”

Foreign Intelligence Co-ordination Committee

Parliamentary committees

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

Australian parliamentary committee with limited powers of oversight over the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence service, and the Defence Signals Directorate, providing annual reports and reports on matters referred to it by the government.

Government inquiries

Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, Inquiry into Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004.

Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies (Flood Report), Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 22 July 2004.

Commentary and analysis


Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Brian Toohey & William Pinwill, Heinemann 1989.

The Ties that Bind – Intelligence Cooperation between the UKUSA Countries, Desmond Ball & Jeffrey Richelson, Allen & Unwin, 1985

A Suitable Piece of Real Estate, Desmond Ball, Hale & Iremonger 1980

Terror Laws: ASIO, Counter-Terrorism & the Threat To Democracy, Jenny Hocking, UNSW Press, 2003

ANZ Intelligence Agencies, Caslon Analytics Note

Useful and well-organised review by agency.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Wikipedia

Substantial historical and structural account.

Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Wikipedia

Useful historical account.

Office of National Assessments, Wikipedia

Post-2001 intelligence

Australian foreign policy and the management of intelligence post-September 11, James Cotton, Discussion Paper 06-03, Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government, Australian National University, 2006

The Weapons Detective, Rod Barton, Black Inc, 2006

Dark Victory, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, Allen and Unwin 2005

Axis of Deceit, Andrew Wilkie, Black Inc., 2004

Sexing it up: Iraq, Intelligence and Australia, UNSW Press, 2003

See also