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About the Australian intelligence agencies

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)

ASIO's main role is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities that might endanger Australia's national security.

The Organisation's functions are set out in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act). ASIO is also bound by guidelines issued by the Attorney-General under the ASIO Act. These guidelines include requirements for the collection and handling of personal information. They also set out principles that govern ASIO's work; provide guidance on when information obtained during an investigation is relevant to security and when ASIO can communicate certain other information; and incorporate the current definition of politically motivated violence.

Security is defined in the ASIO Act as the protection of the Commonwealth and the States and Territories and the people in them from:

  • espionage
  • sabotage
  • politically motivated violence
  • the promotion of communal violence
  • attacks on Australia's defence system
  • acts of foreign interference

and fulfilling Australia's responsibilities to any foreign country in relation to any of these matters.

Security under the ASIO Act also encompasses the protection of Australia's territorial and border integrity from serious threats.

ASIO collects information using a variety of intelligence methods including the use of human sources, special powers authorised by warrant, authorised liaison relationships, and open sources.

The Attorney-General is responsible for ASIO.

Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS)

ASIS's primary function is to obtain and communicate intelligence not readily available by other means, about the capabilities, intentions and activities of individuals or organisations outside Australia. Further functions set out in the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA) include communicating secret intelligence in accordance with government requirements, conducting counter-intelligence activities and liaising with foreign intelligence or security services.

ASIS's collection of relevant foreign intelligence generally relies on human sources. This intelligence information is transformed into intelligence reports and related products which are made available to key policy makers and select government agencies with a clear and established need to know.

Under the ISA, ASIS's activities are regulated by a series of ministerial directions, ministerial authorisations and privacy rules.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible for ASIS.

Office of National Assessments (ONA)

ONA is established by the Office of National Assessments Act 1977 (ONA Act) and provides 'all source' assessments on international political, strategic and economic developments to the Prime Minister and the Government. ONA uses information collected by other intelligence and government agencies, diplomatic reporting and open sources, including the media, to support its analysis.

Under its Act, ONA is responsible for coordinating and reviewing Australia's foreign intelligence activities and issues of common interest in Australia's foreign intelligence community, and the adequacy of resourcing provided to Australia's foreign intelligence effort.

The Prime Minister is responsible for ONA.

Defence intelligence agencies

Three of the six intelligence agencies are within the Department of Defence (Defence): the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), and the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). The functions of ASD and AGO are set out in the ISA and their activities are regulated by a series of ministerial directions, ministerial authorisations and privacy rules.

The Minister for Defence is responsible for these Defence agencies.

Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO)

DIO is Defence's all source intelligence assessment agency. Its role is to provide independent intelligence assessment, advice and services in support of: the planning and conduct of ADF operations; Defence strategic policy and wider government planning and decision making on defence and national security issues; and the development and sustainment of Defence capability.

Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO)

AGO is Australia's national geospatial intelligence agency. AGO's geospatial intelligence, derived from the fusion of analysis of imagery and geospatial data, supports Australian Government decision making and assists with the planning and conduct of Australian Defence Force operations. AGO also directly assists Commonwealth and state bodies responding to security threats and natural disasters.

Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)

ASD is Australia's national authority on signals intelligence and information security. ASD collects foreign signals intelligence, and its reports on this intelligence are provided to key policy makers and select government agencies with a clear and established need to know the information.