In July 2017, the Australian Government agreed with the recommendation of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) become a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio, given its increased national responsibilities especially in relation to cyber security and the critical operational capabilities that ASD provides to the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The review also recommended that ASD’s legislative mandate be amended to explicitly recognise its national responsibilities for cyber security, including the provision of advice and assistance to businesses and the community and that it take formal responsibility for the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
On 1 July 2018, following the passage of the enabling legislation through Parliament on 28 March 2018, ASD became a statutory agency. This is the most significant change to the organisation, and its antecedents, since the Defence Signals Bureau was established 71 years ago, in the aftermath of the Second World War.
ASD’s functions today include:
- collect foreign signals intelligence
- communicate foreign signals intelligence
- prevent and disrupt offshore cyber-enabled crime
- provide cyber security advice and assistance to Australian governments, businesses and individuals
- support military operations
- protect the specialised tools ASD uses to fulfil its functions
- cooperate with and assist the national security community in the performance of their functions.
The focus of these new cyber security functions will not distract from ASD’s mission to support ADF operations globally and across the Indo-Pacific. The pace of technological change and the introduction of 5th-generation weapons systems in our region necessitate ASD’s support to military operations. This support is comprised of in-theatre operational effects, enhanced situational awareness and critical technical counter-measures.
The threat of terrorism will continue to present a major security threat globally and in our region. ASD will remain integral to Australia’s counter-terrorism response, delivering technological expertise and insight for the national security community to identify and disrupt terrorist threats – especially as they increasingly organise their activities on the internet.
Faced with such complex strategic threats, ASD will place a premium on nurturing strong partnerships with the Australian national security community, its overseas intelligence partners, academia and industry. While these partnerships have always been important to ASD, the strategic environment’s complexity and rate of change demand closer integration and collaboration. In line with this direction, ASD will actively assist the soon-to-be-formed Office of National Intelligence by collaborating on implementing the recommendations of the review for managing the National Intelligence Community as a genuinely national enterprise.
As recognised in the review, recruiting and retaining staff has become increasingly difficult primarily due to the private sector competing for the talent ASD needs. ASD will therefore use its transition to a statutory agency to design new career pathways and employment opportunities that better reflect the kind of work that ASD does, so that it can better recruit, retain, train and develop its specialist staff. By harnessing a uniquely skilled workforce, empowered by partner agencies and innovative technology, ASD is best placed to master technology and its application. This will allow ASD to efficiently deliver unique intelligence, leading cyber security advice and assistance, and effects at scale; in support of military operations, countering terrorism and offshore serious cyber-enabled crime.
With such an historic change occurring, ASD has a new opportunity to articulate our purpose and set a baseline for how we will measure success against that purpose.
I am committed to leading an ASD that performs effectively and meets the expectations the Australian Government, industry and community set for us. Meeting and exceeding those expectations is vital in assuring our stakeholders that their trust is not misplaced. ASD’s strengthened and new corporate functions, which are being introduced, will be integral to this reassurance. Our corporate functions will enable us to achieve the highest standards of governance, performance and accountability, and demonstrate those achievements to the Australian Government, industry and community.
As ASD’s inaugural Director-General, I look forward to leading ASD into this next chapter of its history. While there will remain challenges ahead, I am confident that ASD, working closely with our partners, will continue to defend Australia from global threats and advance Australia’s national interests.