The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is responsible for protecting Australia’s national security. It defines its purpose as “to protect Australia from violent, clandestine and deceptive efforts to harm its people and undermine its sovereignty”.
In its 2019-20 Annual Report, the ASIO provides insight into its four “key mission” areas and the results achieved throughout the reporting period. The ASIO assesses that it has achieved its purpose through focusing on three strategic objectives across the key mission areas: Counter, Shape and Build.
Key mission 1: counter-terrorism
This objective focuses on identifying and disrupting terrorism-related threats to Australians and Australian interests.
ASIO investigations assisted in the arrest of multiple individuals for planning terrorist acts. In one case, the suspect had enquired about gaining access to a firearm and ammunition in preparation for an attack planned to take place in Federation Square, Melbourne.
In another case, three individuals were convicted of engaging in a terrorist act after conducting an arson attack on a mosque.
The ASIO also focused on providing advice to mitigate the terrorist threat. Notable examples in the reporting period include assessments:
- Which informed decisions to cancel Australian passports of individuals linked to extremist groups in the Syria/Iraq conflict and right-wing extremist groups offshore.
- On global terrorist threats that informed DFAT travel advice to protect Australians overseas.
- On the ongoing threat posed by ISIL and al-Qa‘ida to inform security responses.
This objective focuses on providing Australian government, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better responses to security threats.
During the reporting period, the ASIO published 898 intelligence and security reports on several terrorism-related matters, including:
- Supporting the High Risk Terrorist Offenders (HRTO) scheme to manage the threat posed by upcoming releases of convicted terrorists.
- Advising on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian security environment.
The ASIO also launched an updated framework which provides clear direction on Australian counter-terrorism priorities to the National Intelligence Community (NIC).
The ASIO works with Australian and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities. Key outcomes in the reporting period include:
- Contribution to the ongoing review of national guidelines and strategies within the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) framework.
- Conducting vulnerability assessments for government agencies and critical national infrastructure clients.
Key mission 2: counter–espionage and foreign interference
Throughout 2019-20 the ASIO focused on identifying espionage and foreign interference (EFI) threats and supporting disruption activities. Key outcomes included:
- Identifying hostile foreign intelligence services targeting Australia. In one notable case, an Australia-based foreign national was assisting a team of foreign intelligence officers seeking to recruit Australian security clearance holders who could provide them with access to classified information.
- Working with partners to combat EFI threats to Australian interests linked to global uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
- Providing advice which enabled the Australian government to become better prepared to protect against emerging EFI threats.
The ASIO also leads the multi-agency Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFITF) which helps to identify and respond to possible acts of foreign interference and espionage.
Personnel security assessments help to ensure that only suitable individuals hold security clearance, and are a key tool in upholding national security. In 2019–20, the ASIO completed over 34,000 personnel security assessments.
The ASIO’s advice enhanced the Australian government’s awareness of EFI threats, informing security-related policy and risk mitigation. This included practical steps that agencies could take to mitigate risks associated with modified working arrangements due to COVID-19.
The ASIO also collaborated with the Australian Cyber Security Centre to identify and respond to emerging cyber threats, drawing on knowledge of EFI activities against Australia through cyber or technical capabilities.
The ASIO worked with domestic and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities and support the development of counter–foreign interference capability across government. This included:
- Delivery of capability development programs for law enforcement partners and other agencies including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Australian Federal Police (AFP), and Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).
- Placement of several National Intelligence Community (NIC) agency staff in the newly established Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFITF).
Key mission 3: border integrity, including people smuggling
The ASIO achieved this objective during the reporting period by:
- Improving prioritisation and assessment of lead information and referrals.
- Providing visa security assessments. In one case a visa applicant was assessed to have previously facilitated people-smuggling activities, and was therefore denied a visa.
- Providing security access assessments.
- Advising partners including Home Affairs, DFAT and the AFP.
The ASIO provided advice to:
- Support government decision-making on border security.
- Improve stakeholder referrals by increasing awareness of the ASIO’s security assessment processes.
The ASIO worked with stakeholders to build their national security capabilities in visa assessment, with key outcomes including:
- Enhanced visa-screening arrangements.
- Continued collaboration with partners in Operation Sovereign Borders to investigate and counter serious threats to Australia’s territorial and border integrity.
- Providing security advice related to COVID-19.
Key mission 4: protective security advice
The ASIO provides Australian governments, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better response to security threats. Key outcomes during the reporting period include:
- Publishing practical advice in updated security managers guides and security equipment guides.
- Helping government and private sector stakeholders deal with physical security-related issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Providing Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) assistance and advice to government agencies.
The ASIO worked with national security partners throughout 2019–20 to build their protective security capabilities, including through:
- Holding a two-day briefing on the implementation of the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF).
- Helping government partners to securely deploy assets overseas.
The ASIO assesses that it has achieved its purpose in protecting Australia’s national security throughout 2019-20 by identifying and mitigating efforts to harm Australia, providing intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making, and building its partners’ security and intelligence capabilities.