Part One: Overview
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Part One: Overview

The role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) is an independent statutory office established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (IGIS Act) which commenced on 1 February 1987. Dr Vivienne Thom was appointed as Inspector-General for a term of five years from 19 July 2010.

The Office of the IGIS (OIGIS) is situated within the Prime Minister's portfolio. As an independent statutory office holder, the IGIS is not subject to general direction from the Prime Minister, or other ministers, on how responsibilities under the IGIS Act should be carried out.

The role of the IGIS is set out in the IGIS Act and is, broadly, to assist ministers in overseeing and reviewing the legality and propriety of Australian intelligence agencies' activities, to assist ministers in ensuring that these activities are consistent with human rights, and to assist the Government in assuring the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies are open to scrutiny.

Regular inspections of the intelligence agencies are designed to identify issues, including with agencies' governance and control frameworks, before there is a requirement for major remedial action.

IGlS's inspection role is complemented by an inquiry function. In undertaking inquiries the IGIS has strong investigative powers, akin to those of a royal commission, including the power to compel persons to answer questions and produce documents, to take sworn evidence, and to enter agency premises.

The IGIS can investigate complaints, including complaints by members of the public or staff of an intelligence agency, about an action taken by an intelligence agency.

The IGIS also has a role under the Archives Act 1983 and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) to provide expert evidence to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Information Commissioner in relation to national security, defence, international relations and confidential foreign government communications exemptions. The role and functions of the IGIS are an important part of the overall accountability framework applied to the intelligence agencies.

The focus of the IGIS on intelligence agencies' operational activities complements Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and Australian National Audit Office oversight of other aspects of governance in those agencies.

The 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 subject to guidelines issued by the Attorney-General under the ASIO Act.

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

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 published 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 Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO), also known as the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), also known as the Australian Signals Directorate.1 These three agencies sit within the Intelligence and Security Group in Defence. The functions of DSD and DIGO are set out in the ISA and their activities are regulated by a series of ministerial directions, ministerial authorisations and privacy rules.

1 The 2013 Defence White Paper announced changes to the names of the Defence Signals Directorate and the Defence Imagery Geospatial Organisation to the Australian Signals Directorate and Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation respectively. Legislation to give effect to these changes was introduced shortly after the reporting period.

Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO)

DIO is Defence's strategic-level, 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.

Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO)

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

Defence Signals Directorate (DSD)

DSD is Australia's national authority on signals intelligence and information security. DSD 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.

The Minister for Defence is responsible for these Defence agencies.

Inspector-General's Review

a photograph of Dr Vivienne Thom,Inspector-General

Dr Vivienne Thom, Inspector-General

The year in review


The ongoing challenge for the office is to adapt to changes in the operations and powers of the intelligence agencies while maintaining effectiveness, credibility and transparency in our oversight role.

We have had to be flexible and innovative;

we have

During the year the office had a significant inquiry workload. Completed inquiries examined:

A major project for the office was the successful implementation of the Australian Government's Public Interest Disclosure scheme which began in January 2014.

Legislative changes

Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013(PID Act) commenced on 15 January 2014. The PID scheme is intended to promote integrity and accountability in the Commonwealth public sector by establishing a framework to facilitate reporting of suspected wrongdoing and ensure timely and effective investigation of these disclosures. Public officials who make disclosures under the scheme are protected from adverse consequences.

Key IGIS responsibilities include:

During the second half of 2013, my staff worked closely with the Commonwealth Ombudsman in developing cross-government guidance to assist the operation of the new scheme, particularly the Agency Guide to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013'published by the Ombudsman, which includes specific advice concerning the intelligence community. I also liaised closely with the intelligence agencies to ensure the PID scheme was implemented fully on 15 January 2014. All intelligence agencies as well as OIGIS had all necessary appointments and administrative arrangements in place to receive and handle disclosures —this was a higher level of compliance at commencement than for the rest of the Commonwealth Government sector. The intelligence agencies have also undertaken a range of awareness-raising and training activities concerning the operation of the scheme, some involving assistance from OIGIS staff.

Parliamentary oversight

I appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration on 18 November 2013 during the 2013-14 Supplementary Budget Estimates hearings, on 24 February 2014 during the 2013-14 Additional Budget Estimates hearings, and on 26 May 2014 during the 2014-15 Budget Estimates hearings.

Decisions by the judiciary, tribunals or the Information Commissioner

No judicial decisions or decisions of administrative tribunals or of the Information Commissioner made in 2013-14 had, or may have, a significant impact on the operations of the office.

Submissions to inquiries and reviews

On 13 February 2014, I gave an introductory briefing to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. On 20 February 2014, made a submission to the Committee for the Review of Administration and Expenditure No. 12 (2012-13) Australian Intelligence Agencies and appeared before this Committee at a private hearing on 15 May 2014.

On 26 February 2014, I made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for its Inquiry into comprehensive revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 and on 23 April 2014 appeared before the Committee for this Inquiry

Looking ahead

Shortly after the end of the reporting period the Government introduced the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 into Parliament. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is examining whether the Bill appropriately implements recommendations agreed by the Committee in 2013 and is assessing the balance of national security and safeguards proposed in the Bill. The Bill proposes new powers for ASIO and ASIS and other significant changes that would increase the scope and complexity of oversight arrangements and the workload of the OIGIS.

On 5 August 2014, the Prime Minister issued a media release about new counter-terrorism measures and noted:

These powers will be balanced with proper oversight to protect the individual rights of Australians, including their right to privacy. To ensure this the Government will increase the resources of the independent Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

The principal challenge in 2014-15 will thus be to ensure the office develops and maintains the technical capability to continue providing effective assurance about the legality and propriety of intelligence agencies' extended activities, while maintaining the capacity to respond to ministerial requests, initiate inquiries, and handle complaints as necessary.

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