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Report on Performance

Part 4 reports on ASIO’s performance in meeting our purpose. In line with the requirements of PGPA Rule 2014 subsection 17AD(c), it includes a copy of ASIO’s annual performance statements for 2016–17 and a report on our financial performance.

In addition to these statements, a performance narrative is included which provides additional background information to support our performance claims.

Introductory statement

I, as Director-General of Security and the accountable authority of ASIO, present the 2016–17 annual performance statements for ASIO, as required under subsection 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, these statements accurately present the performance of ASIO in achieving its purpose and comply with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

In accordance with determinations made by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Finance under section 105D of the PGPA Act, classified material has been removed from the performance statements provided in the annual report tabled in Parliament to avoid prejudicing ASIO’s activities.

Full annual performance statements are provided in our classified annual report to the Attorney-General, which is also received by the Minister for Finance, other national security ministers, relevant senior national security officials and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). The classified annual report is accessible to the Australian National Audit Office.

Duncan Lewis
Director-General of Security

3 October 2017

ASIO’s purpose

ASIO’s purpose is to protect the nation, its people and its interests from threats to security through intelligence collection and assessment, and the provision of advice to the Australian Government, government agencies and business. In 2016–17, we pursued this purpose through five activities:

  • countering terrorism and the promotion of communal violence;
  • countering espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders;
  • countering serious threats to Australia’s border integrity;
  • providing protective security advice to government and business; and
  • collecting foreign intelligence in Australia.

Results for 2016-17

Our corporate plan for 2016–17 established the measures and targets we have used to assess our performance in meeting our purpose. The following tables provide our high-level statements of performance in relation to the measures and targets established for the five activities described above. The tables also address our performance against additional performance measures from our corporate plan that apply across all of our activities.

In developing these statements we have drawn on internal performance-related reporting and an independent survey of our senior government and industry stakeholders conducted during May and June 2017.

1

Activity 1: countering terrorism and the promotion of communal violence

Measure

Results against targets

Refer

Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 16)

Target achieved: new security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued

Page 48

Our intelligence discovery and investigative efforts during 2016–17 contributed directly to law enforcement partners disrupting three planned terrorist attacks targeting people in Australia. We also identified a range of terrorism-related linkages between Australia and the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

During 2016–17, we received over 12 000 lead referrals and resolved or investigated approximately 15 000 leads.

The volume and tempo of our counter-terrorism investigations remained high, requiring rigorous prioritisation and a focus on the most significant threats. There was a high level of risk in our investigative caseload, which has continued beyond this reporting period. In particular, low-capability attacks by lone actors or small groups of like-minded individuals present a significant risk. These attacks can occur with little or no forewarning and we cannot guarantee preparations for such attacks will be detected.

In our 2017 stakeholder survey, stakeholders said our work in relation to the identification and investigation of terrorism-related security threats was highly regarded. They said our investigations provided an integral and vital service for their organisations and cited recent disruption operations as examples of our counter-terrorism successes.

Target achieved: security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia Page 49
Target achieved: national security partners use our advice to disrupt travel of Australians or locally based support for terrorism overseas  

During this reporting period, we issued security assessments that provided the basis for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to temporarily suspend passports and cancel or refuse passports for extremists who would otherwise have travelled to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq.

We also issued adverse security assessments in relation to visas for individuals on the basis of terrorism concerns, which assisted DIBP to manage security risks in those cases (refer Activity 3: countering serious threats to Australia’s border integrity).

Stakeholders said we had made a significant contribution to the disruption of individuals wishing to travel to the Middle East to join proscribed terrorist groups.

Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 16);
 

Portfolio Budget Statement

Target achieved: the Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice Page 50

We provided comprehensive advice to support Australian Government counter-terrorism policies and responses, including in relation to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, the potential return of Australian foreign fighters to Australia, the government’s citizenship loss policy, the Australia – New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee’s (ANZCTC) National Strategy for Crowded Places, countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, as well as security planning for major national and sporting events.

We provided assessments to the Australian Government and partner agencies on emerging threats and trends impacting on the Australian and global security environment. We also delivered 76 briefings to government and industry partners on indicators of mobilisation to violence, building a greater collective awareness and understanding among stakeholders of terrorist behaviour.

In addition to advice on counter-terrorism matters, we coordinated intelligence advice to support the Australian Government’s responses to Australians who had been kidnapped overseas.

Stakeholders said our intelligence and assessments were credible, influential and respected. The work of ASIO’s NTAC was noted as being both influential and essential in assisting stakeholders to manage terrorism-related security risks. There was a desire from stakeholders for us to produce more ‘preliminary assessments’ in the immediate wake of domestic and international terrorist incidents. To address this feedback, NTAC developed a new line of reporting that captures information available primarily through media, provides preliminary assessments and outlines the work being undertaken by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in response to the incident.

Target achieved: law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks Page 51

During this reporting period, we provided advice to law enforcement partners that contributed directly to the disruption of three planned terrorist attacks as well as assisting with the disruption of other terrorist-related activities in Australia. We provided evidence to support counter-terrorism prosecutions in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

We also provided intelligence to international partners to disrupt attack planning in their countries.

Our law enforcement stakeholders said our advice was effective and that recent counter-terrorism successes had been achieved as a result of our close collaboration with law enforcement.

Target achieved: business and industry adopt our security advice and are satisfied with their engagement Page 39
Results for this target are reported against ‘Activity 4: providing protective security advice to government and business’.

Effective work with partners to generate tangible counter-terrorism effects for Australia and partner countries


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 16)

Target achieved: partners can readily access our intelligence Page 52

In 2016–17 we published 1433 intelligence reports for Australian partner agencies covering a range of terrorism, espionage, foreign interference and border security issues. Reporting was distributed to more than 130 federal, state and territory government organisations. We also shared reporting with over 130 foreign liaison partner agencies in 60 countries, with 643 intelligence reports released to one or more partner agencies.

To support stakeholders and broaden the reach of our advice, where possible we produced versions of our highly classified reports at lower classification levels, including versions for industry stakeholders to inform their security arrangements.

Stakeholders said our intelligence reports were accessible, with the exception of some reporting produced out-of-hours that was not as readily accessible to some stakeholders. Stakeholders acknowledged work was underway to address this issue.

Target achieved: partners view joint operations with us as an effective way to achieve shared outcomes Page 52

Our partners said we were an effective and valuable counter-terrorism partner.

In addition to working effectively with our law enforcement partners–especially through JCTTs and the AFP-led National Disruption Group (NDG)–we supported the work of our intelligence partners by leading the prioritisation of the Australian Government’s counter-terrorism intelligence activities. In recognition of the significant terrorist threat to Australian interests in South-East Asia, a particular focus for us during this reporting period was developing prioritisation and intelligence collection requirement documents to assist partners to prioritise their resources in South-East Asia.

Internationally, we continued to work jointly with foreign partners on counter-terrorism operations, the exchange of intelligence and knowledge of terrorist threats and behaviours, and the development of technical and other capabilities to identify and counter threats.

2

Activity 2: countering espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Measure

Results against targets

Refer

Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 17)

Target achieved: new security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued Page 54

During this reporting period, we continued to identify and investigate harmful espionage and foreign interference directed against Australia. Due to the scale of the activities directed at Australia, we could not investigate all activities of potential concern. We rigorously prioritised our efforts, pursuing activities that represented the greatest potential harm to Australian interests.

Our analysis of reports received through the whole-of-government Contact Reporting Scheme (CRS) generated new leads into potential foreign intelligence activity.

Target partially achieved: security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia Page 54

Our personnel security assessments played a critical role in supporting the integrity of Australian Government business by providing advice to vetting agencies on the security implications of individuals being granted a security clearance. In 2016–17, we completed 27 182 assessments.

We did not meet key performance indicators agreed with the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) as a result of the significant growth (129 per cent increase) in assessment demand for Top Secret positive vetting (PV) clearances. PV clearances are the most resource intensive for security assessment because of the need to provide a high level of assurance in relation to individuals accessing highly classified information and capabilities.

We worked closely with AGSVA during this reporting period to improve the efficiency of the security assessment process while maintaining an appropriate level of assurance in relation to vetting candidates. However, with further increases in vetting demand expected, additional resourcing will be required to provide the necessary assessment capacity.

This view was shared by our stakeholders, who considered our personnel security assessment work to be effective but in need of greater resourcing to meet demand.

Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 17);

Portfolio Budget Statement

Target achieved: the Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice Page 56
Target achieved: law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks  

We published analytical reports, threat assessments and intelligence reports during this reporting period to assist the Australian Government and national security partner agencies to manage risks related to espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders.

We supported the Australian Government’s foreign investment policy framework in 2016–17 by providing 265 assessments, through the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) process, on the potential for a foreign power to conduct espionage, foreign interference or sabotage through its involvement in specific investments. We engaged extensively with federal, state and territory governments and industry on foreign investment issues, conducting 53 briefings during this reporting period.

We also supported Australian Government decision-making on proposed policy and legislative reforms to counter the espionage and foreign interference threat to Australia, and the government’s response to threats to Australia’s defence industry.

Australian Government and partner agency stakeholders said our advice on espionage, foreign interference and malicious insider threats was of a high quality. However, some felt that more resources should be devoted to the task, especially when compared with resources currently devoted to countering the terrorist threat. In relation to FIRB processes, stakeholders said our engagement and support to the FIRB was much improved, with better tailored and more nuanced assessments and effective support for FIRB members.

Target achieved: business and industry adopt our security advice and are satisfied with their engagement Page 39
Results for this target are reported against ‘Activity 4: providing protective security advice to government and business’.

Effective work with partners to counter clandestine foreign activity

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 17)

Target achieved: partners can readily access our intelligence Page 57

In 2016–17, we published a total of 1433 intelligence reports for Australian partner agencies covering a range of terrorism, espionage, foreign interference and border security issues. Reporting was distributed to more than 130 federal, state and territory government organisations. We also shared reporting with over 130 foreign liaison partner agencies in 60 countries, with 643 intelligence reports released to one or more partner agencies.

Target achieved: partners view joint operations with us as an effective way to achieve shared outcomes Page 57
We continued in 2016–17 to cooperate closely with national and international security partners, improving our shared knowledge of hostile foreign intelligence service activities and our capabilities to counter the threat.

3

Activity 3: countering serious threats to Australia’s border integrity

Measure

Results against targets

Refer

Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 18)

Target achieved: new security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued Page 59

We supported the identification of threats to Australia’s border integrity by contributing intelligence on persons of security concern, who may seek to travel to or remain in Australia, to the travel alert systems managed by DIBP and the Australian Border Force (ABF).

We commenced projects with DIBP to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of travel alert processes, including through automation of aspects of the alert listing, management and notification process.

Our border security stakeholders said we were a valued and capable partner that is effective in identifying and assessing threats to Australia’s border integrity. Collaboration on counter-terrorism–related border threats was perceived as being at an all-time high. They said shared investment in ICT systems had facilitated more effective engagement between us but considered more work was needed to address other shortfalls in ICT connectivity. Work to address these issues was continuing at the end of this reporting period.

Target achieved: security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia Page 59

We conducted visa, citizenship and other border-related security assessments to inform the management of security risks by DIBP, AusCheck, AFP and other agencies in relation to the granting or retention of a visa, the granting of citizenship, and access to security-controlled areas and substances. During this reporting period we completed:

  • 14 358 visa security assessments;
  • 132 088 access security assessments relating to border security, most of which related to applicants for Aviation Security Identification Cards (ASIC) or Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSIC); and
  • 9696 access security assessments relating to sensitive chemicals, biological agents or nuclear sites.

Stakeholders said we had been effective in the provision of security assessments.

Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 18);

Portfolio Budget Statement

Target achieved: the Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice Page 61
Target achieved: law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks  

We provided advice and assessments to support the Australian Government’s border security policies, including in relation to the intake of an additional 12 000 refugees from Syria and Iraq and the agreement between the Australian and United States governments to resettle detainees from Manus Island and Nauru facilities.

We also continued to support national security partner agencies through our contribution to OSB by identifying individuals involved in maritime people-smuggling networks and supporting disruption activities.

Stakeholders said we had been effective in providing advice on border security–related policy and legislative issues.

We support DIBP to meet its migration program and refugee and humanitarian resettlement goals

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 18)

Target achieved: security advice to DIBP is timely and meets the agreed service level agreements and is responsive to DIBP’s other priorities Page 62

We worked closely with DIBP to successfully meet the terms of our service level agreement and its migration program priorities. As part of this work, we reformed our visa security assessment business processes and implemented a new case management system which reduced a large number of cases by the end of this reporting period. DIBP welcomed our effective implementation of these reforms.

4

Activity 4: providing protective security advice to government and business

Measure

Results against targets

Refer

We provide effective protective security advice, reporting and services that inform security by design by government, business, and industry

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 19)

Target achieved: our expertise and advice informs security policies and approaches within government agencies, business and industry Page 63
Target achieved: business and industry adopt our security advice and are satisfied with their engagement  
Target achieved: protective security resources are directed at protecting the assets, infrastructure and systems judged by us to be most at risk  

We continued, through our BGLU, to provide risk management decision-makers in government and industry with the most current intelligence on security threats and protective security advice. BGLU’s secure website made intelligence-backed reporting available to over 2000 subscribers, with an almost equal subscription by government and industry. Sixty-four reports were published on the website during this reporting period.

BGLU also coordinated nine industry briefings on security threats to aviation, places of mass gathering, defence industry, energy and resources, mass passenger transport, communications, and banking and finance. We consulted closely with stakeholders to ensure briefings met the requirements of attendees and responded to their highest priority issues.

ASIO–T4 protective security advice remained in high demand, and a new intelligence-led prioritisation model was adopted to ensure our advice supported the assets, infrastructure and systems most at risk from terrorism, espionage and foreign interference–related threats.

ASIO–T4 provided a range of advice during this reporting period including 179 security product evaluations, 80 Zone 5 (Top Secret) facility inspections, technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) inspections, four protective security training courses and a range of protective security publications which were posted on the Govdex and BGLU websites.

Stakeholders said our protective security advice, reporting and services were highly regarded. In particular, the BGLU, NTAC and ASIO–T4 were recognised as sources of authoritative protective security advice. Briefings by senior ASIO officers were highly sought after and their presentations were viewed as being appropriate, balanced, informative and often very influential. Our industry briefing days were highly valued by stakeholders.

Target achieved: the annual program of physical security certifications is achieved Page 65

We met all Zone 5 physical security certification inspection requests during this reporting period. Eighty inspections were conducted, with 39 certifications issued and advice provided in other cases on measures needed to meet certification requirements.

5

Activity 5: collecting foreign intelligence in Australia

Measure

Results against targets

Refer

We provide intelligence that is useful to progress Australia’s national security, foreign relations, or economic wellbeing

Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 20)

Target achieved: we are responsive to the requirements of our clients Page 67

The details of our performance in relation to this activity are classified and reported separately in our classified annual report.

Measures across all activities

Measure

Results against targets

Refer
 

Measures across all activities

The safety of our staff is maintained


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 14)

Target achieved: our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct which promote officer safety Page 68

During this reporting period, we appointed our Deputy Director-General for Counter-Terrorism as ASIO’s Senior Safety Officer to provide improved leadership and coordination of staff safety programs within ASIO.

Staff safety initiatives pursued by our Senior Safety Officer and other senior leaders included the reviewing and updating of a range of safety-related policies and procedures, the establishment of an officer safety portal on our intranet (a one-stop shop for officer safety information) and the launch of a counter-terrorism innovation hub to support new ideas for improving processes in ASIO, including in relation to officer safety.

Target achieved: we maintain high levels of work health and safety capacity, and provide ongoing training of staff Page 68

We maintained a high level of work health and safety (WHS) capacity through a comprehensive suite of WHS-related training programs, staff health and wellbeing programs and our health and safety representative network.

An internal audit of our rehabilitation management system, processes and outcomes confirmed our compliance with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and Comcare’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation Authorities 2012. No areas of non-compliance were identified.

Legality and propriety of our activities and effectiveness of our engagement with oversight and accountability bodies


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 14)

Target achieved: our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct that are legal, ethical, and respectful of human rights Page 70

Our senior leaders continued to convey their expectations of staff conduct that is legal, ethical and respectful of human rights, including reinforcing this expectation during their direct involvement in training programs, and through their support for the involvement of the IGIS and ASIO Ombudsman in staff training.

Our senior leaders also conducted an annual review of the human rights performance of our foreign security and intelligence service counterparts, to ensure we take due regard of human rights in our cooperation with foreign partners.

Target achieved: we proactively engage with oversight and accountability bodies and provide as much information as possible for use in the public domain Page 71

We engaged extensively with a range of oversight and accountability bodies, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, IGIS, Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), and Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments.

We provided classified and unclassified submissions and appeared publicly and in private hearings to support the work of these bodies (outlined further in the ‘External scrutiny’ section of our annual report).

The security of our activities


Source: ASIO corporate plan 2016–17 (p. 14)

Target achieved: our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct which embody security Page 71

Our senior leaders continued to drive a culture of security, in particular through our Security Committee which oversaw our security policies and practices and ensured security risk management best practice was incorporated into all aspects of our business.

Target achieved: we continue to meet the requirements of the Australian Government’s Protective Security Policy Framework Page 71

We continued to manage the security of our people, information and assets in line with the requirements of the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF).

Analysis of performance

Overall, we performed effectively in 2016–17 across all key activities that contribute to our purpose: to protect the nation and its interests from threats to security through intelligence collection and assessment, and to provide advice to the Australian Government, government agencies and business. This assessment was supported by our 2017 stakeholder survey—conducted by an independent person with extensive national security experience.

The survey comprised 66 interviews with stakeholders from 64 federal, state and territory government and industry organisations. It concluded that without exception, ASIO is regarded as an effective, capable and reliable partner offering high-quality and largely unique services.

Our close engagement and integration of effort with national and international security partners contributed directly to counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and border security successes during this reporting period, which included:

  • the disruption of three planned terrorist attacks targeting people in Australia and other terrorist-related activities, including attempted travel by Australian extremists to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq; and
  • the identification and degradation of harmful espionage and foreign interference directed against Australia, and an increase in government, industry and public awareness of these activities.

Ongoing work within government to prioritise intelligence and operational efforts across Australia’s national security agencies improved the effectiveness and efficiency of the national response. We contributed to this work by coordinating the prioritisation of Australia’s counter-terrorism intelligence efforts. We also worked within ASIO to streamline our business practices and adopted a rigorous ‘intelligence-led’ approach across all activities to ensure our efforts were focused on areas of most significant security risk, as well as to assist us to meet the terms of service-level agreements such as those relating to visa security assessments.

Despite these successes there remained considerable risk across our investigative caseload and significant resourcing pressures in some areas of our business. These pressures had an impact on our performance during 2016–17 and will continue to do so in 2017–18.

Counter-terrorism

During this reporting period, we managed a counter-terrorism caseload which was significantly higher than our historical average, with a large number of cases involving high levels of risk, including planning for attacks in Australia. The nature of the threat and operating environment exacerbated the challenge presented by the volume of work.

  • Easily accessible Islamist extremist English-language propaganda calling for and justifying terrorist attacks in Western countries—including Australia—continued to widen the potential number of individuals and groups that are inspired by it.
  • Low-capability lone-actor attacks require little preparation and can move from concept to execution very quickly. It is therefore not always possible for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect attack preparations or respond in time to prevent attacks.
  • While low-capability attacks have become more common, more complex attacks also remained a significant threat—as demonstrated by the disrupted December 2016 attack plan in Melbourne and the July 2017 attempt to place an improvised explosive device on a plane leaving Australia.
  • Rapid technological development and the increasing use of encrypted communications devices by individuals planning attacks impacted on intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ efforts to detect their activities.

We routinely prioritised our efforts and allocated resources to address the areas of most significant security risk. However, this provided us limited scope to address a range of other known or emerging risks.

We will need to further develop our counter-terrorism capabilities to ensure we continue to achieve our purpose in the years ahead and to meet stakeholder expectations.

Counter-espionage and foreign interference

While we had a number of successes in identifying and degrading the harmful effects of espionage and foreign interference, the scale of the threat to Australia and its interests is unprecedented.

The heightened terrorist threat this past decade, which has been further elevated in Australia since 2014, has limited our scope to redirect resources towards counter-espionage and foreign interference. At the end of this reporting period, we were no longer meeting key performance indicators for personnel security assessments as agreed to with AGSVA. Stakeholders commented that more resources should be devoted not only to personnel security assessments in particular, but also to our broader counter-espionage and foreign interference efforts more generally. This will be a major focus for ASIO in the coming years.

While close collaboration with national and international partners, stronger prioritisation of effort and improvements to business processes have improved the effectiveness of our current counter-espionage responses, an overall increase in the scale of our response is required to better address the threat to Australia’s interests.

Increasing costs of doing business

Changes in the security and operating environments drove up the costs of doing business during this reporting period, affecting the conduct of our operations and resourcing available for operational activities. In the current heightened threat environment, intelligence and law enforcement personnel are terrorist targets. We redirected resources to ensure the safety of our operational activities, enhance our building security and provide safety training for staff.

Rapid changes in technology and the widespread adoption of encrypted communication devices by our targets also affected our resourcing and operations. Developments in technology will continue to affect our performance.

Increasing demand for advice and services

While our stakeholders said we were an effective partner that provided high-quality advice, many across both government and industry were seeking even higher levels of tailored engagement and collaboration. This is driven by the heightened threat environment in Australia, the range of security threats now affecting the work of our stakeholders, and a desire for their responses to these threats to be informed by our security intelligence advice and expertise.

During this reporting period we prioritised our advice and services for stakeholders by consulting them on their priorities and focusing on the areas of greatest security risk. We will need to continue this approach and manage expectations of what is possible with our current resourcing, which will remain overextended responding to the significant threats to Australia’s national security.

Report on financial performance

In 2016–17, we effectively managed our expenditure in a challenging operating environment, with unprecedented levels of security threat, high investigative workloads and stakeholder demands, and increasing business costs placing considerable pressure on ASIO’s resources and financial sustainability.

We achieved a small surplus of $2.5 million (excluding depreciation), which represents 0.6 per cent of our budget. This result would have broken even except for favourable interest rate movements that had a positive impact on the accounting required under Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) standard AASB119 in relation to employee leave provisions. Interest rate movements also had a significant impact on the previous financial year’s result, which was an operating loss of $5.4 million ($4.4 million due to interest rate movement).

The 2016–17 financial year was the third year of the new policy proposal, Enhancing security intelligence capabilities to counter the Islamist terrorism threat. During 2016–17, we received $45.3 million in operating funding and an equity injection of $14.1 million for capital activities. Ongoing annual funding from 2017–18 of $52.0 million in operating and $13.5 million in capital is expected for this measure. Additionally, during the 2016–17 reporting period, we received final operating funding of $0.6 million relating to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crises new policy proposal. This additional funding made an important contribution to our efforts to identify and investigate counter-terrorism threats during this reporting period.

However, there are significant resourcing pressures in other areas of our work (refer ‘Annual performance statements’) that will be exacerbated by changes to our budget over the forward estimates.

We will continue to contribute to Australian Government savings measures, including the efficiency dividend, which will have a significant impact on ASIO’s Departmental Capital Budget (DCB), 2017–18 operating budget, and across the forward estimates ($65.5 million).

Our DCB will remain under particular pressure as we work to replace assets that provide the capability needed to operate effectively in a rapidly changing security and technological environment. These rapid changes contributed to an increase in our capital expenditure in 2016–17, a trend that we expect to continue over the forward estimates. While our DCB will increase from $28.1 million in 2016–17 to $68.6 million next financial year as a result of the previous year’s appropriation re-phasing, from 2019–20 it will stabilise at a lower figure of approximately $44 million annually, which includes $13.5 million from the Enhancing security intelligence capabilities to counter the Islamist terrorism threat new policy proposal.

We will continue to identify and implement efficiencies and rigorously prioritise our activities to ensure we operate within future budget allocations. However, further consideration will be given during 2017–18 to the sustainability of our current operations in light of our projected DCB and operating budget, and our anticipated future operating environment.

A table summarising ASIO’s total resources for 2016–17 is provided at Appendix A. Our total payments for this reporting period are at Appendix B.

Performance narrative

1 Activity 1: countering terrorism and the promotion of communal violence
Measure Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security
Target New security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued

Identification of leads

Our intelligence discovery efforts over this reporting period contributed to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks in Australia and identified terrorism-related linkages between Australia and the Syria–Iraq conflict area. During 2016–17, we received over 12 000 leads 1 and resolved or investigated approximately 15 000 lead referrals.

The discovery of lead intelligence–through the continuous review of incoming all-source intelligence reporting and information to identify non-obvious connections, patterns, trends and anomalies as well as new investigative and operational opportunities–is more critical than ever in the current security environment, where the timeline for an individual to mobilise towards conducting a terrorist attack can be very short.

During this reporting period, we commenced lead discovery projects to proactively identify unknown individuals who may pose a terrorism-related threat.

To provide greater consistency in the way lead referrals are processed between ASIO and federal, state and territory law enforcement partners, we published our counter-terrorism leads triage and assessment framework. The framework uses terminology that aligns with the ANZCTC operational threat assessment guidelines, and the counter-terrorism person of interest prioritisation tool guidelines.

Counter-terrorism investigations

The volume and tempo of our counter-terrorism investigations and operations remained high during 2016–17, at a rate significantly higher than the historical average.

This high tempo is expected to continue, with no significant reduction in the current terrorist threat to Australia and Australian interests expected in the coming years. As a result, we continued work during this reporting period to refine our prioritisation process to ensure investigative resources remained focused on the most significant threats.

Although our investigations contributed to three successful disruptions, there remained a high level of risk in our investigative caseload which has continued beyond this reporting period.

  • Lone actors or small groups of like-minded individuals can mount low-capability attacks with little or no forewarning.
  • The use of encrypted communication devices and other secure communications practices can obscure the activities of group members.

We are continuing to work with our national and international counter-terrorism partners to mitigate these risks. However, given the nature of the current threat and operating environment, the risks cannot be completely eliminated.

Targets Security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia
National security partners use our advice to disrupt travel of Australians or locally based support for terrorism overseas

In 2016–17, our security assessments supported the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) recommendations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to temporarily suspend passports and cancel or refuse passports for extremists who otherwise would have travelled to engage in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. We also issued adverse security assessments in relation to visas for individuals on the basis of terrorism concerns, which assisted DIBP to manage security risks in those cases (refer Activity 3: countering serious threats to Australia’s border integrity).

Measure Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security
Target The Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice

During this reporting period we provided advice to support the Australian Government’s counter-terrorism policies and responses. This included:

  • providing advice to support policy development in relation to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, the government’s response to the use of encrypted communication devices by individuals of security concern, national counter-terrorism response arrangements, national security legislative amendments, and Australia’s counter-terrorism engagement in South-East Asia;
  • providing advice to support implementation of the Australian Government’s citizenship loss policy under the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Act 2015;
  • supporting the Australian Government’s planning in relation to Australian foreign fighters who may return to Australia, including by providing threat assessments on returnees that determine the level of government response to their return;
  • contributing to the development of the ANZCTC National Strategy for Crowded Places, including through the production of a specific threat assessment on crowded places in March 2017;
  • supporting Australian Government security planning for Anzac Day commemorations and major sporting events such as the Rio Olympics, international cricket, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games; and
  • supporting the Australian Government’s CVE policies by providing tailored intelligence assessments to help build and support CVE programs and capabilities.

In addition to supporting the Australian Government’s responses to terrorism-related issues, we played a coordination role in relation to the provision of intelligence on Australians who had been kidnapped overseas. We regularly convened multi-agency intelligence working groups to collate relevant intelligence, share assessments and set information collection requirements for agencies.

Our advice and published intelligence assessments also informed the Australian Government’s broader understanding of local and international terrorist threats and potential implications for Australian interests globally. We provided assessments on emerging threats and trends impacting on the Australian and global security environment, including:

  • emerging terrorist methodologies observed in offshore attacks with the potential to motivate similar attacks in Australia and overseas;
  • foreign fighters returning from the Syria–Iraq conflict to Australia and our region;
  • mental health factors in counter-terrorism; and
  • linkages between crime and terrorism (joint assessments with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission).

We delivered 76 briefings to Australian Government and industry partners on indicators of mobilisation to violence, to build a collective understanding of terrorist behaviour. These briefings directly supported whole-of-government counter-terrorism efforts and we received strong, positive feedback from across government and industry on their value and utility.

Throughout this reporting period we implemented new, innovative ways to deliver influential advice, including through the use of information graphics to communicate complex advice and data. We received positive feedback from Australian Government partners on these initiatives and on the value and relevance of our reporting.

Target Law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks

In 2016–17, our intelligence and threat advice directly supported our law enforcement partners in disrupting three planned terrorist attacks in Australia. These disruptions included the arrest of:

  • four individuals in Melbourne on 22 December 2016, who were charged with acts in preparation for, or planning of, a terrorist attack;
  • two 16-year-olds in Sydney on 12 October 2016, who were charged with acts done in preparation for, or planning of, a terrorist act, and membership of a terrorist organisation; and
  • an extreme right-wing identity on 6 August 2016, who was charged with acts done in preparation for, or planning of, a terrorist act and membership of a terrorist organisation.

We worked closely with law enforcement partners to disrupt or contain other terrorism-related threats in Australia.

In addition to supporting the disruption of attack planning in Australia, we provided intelligence to international partners to disrupt attack planning in their countries.

We also had an ongoing role in assisting counter-terrorism prosecution in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, including providing evidence on telecommunications intercepts, physical surveillance, listening and tracking devices whilst protecting our capabilities from public disclosure.

Measure Effective work with partners to generate tangible counter-terrorism effects for Australia and partner countries
Target Partners can readily access our intelligence

In 2016–17, we published a total of 1433 intelligence reports for Australian partner agencies covering a range of terrorism, espionage, foreign interference and border security issues. Reporting was distributed to more than 130 federal, state and territory government organisations. We also shared reporting with over 130 foreign liaison partner agencies in 60 countries, with 643 intelligence reports released to one or more partner agencies.

We engaged continuously with our stakeholders during this reporting period to ensure we delivered the right products to the right people, in the right way and at the right time. To support stakeholders and broaden the reach of our advice, we produced versions of highly classified reports at lower classification levels when possible. This included producing ‘For Official Use Only’ reports for industry stakeholders to inform their security posture. We also tailored our report delivery arrangements to ensure our reporting was received by stakeholders in the most timely and efficient manner.

Target Partners view joint operations with us as an effective way to achieve shared outcomes

Our national and international partners continued during this reporting period to regard us as a valuable counter-terrorism partner.

Counter-terrorism intelligence coordination

As part of the Australian Government’s counter-terrorism governance arrangements, we lead the counter-terrorism intelligence mission. In 2016–17, this role included developing a number of prioritisation and collection requirements mechanisms that were used by other agencies to prioritise their resources against terrorist threats that could affect Australian interests. Our joint work with partners on prioritisation strengthened our efforts to achieve shared counter-terrorism outcomes.

A particular area of focus during this reporting period has been the terrorist threat within South-East Asia. We coordinated the development of biannual information requirements and strategic disruption priorities, which were used to prioritise partners’ resources in South-East Asia.

National partners

We worked closely with the AFP and state and territory police in JCTTs to ensure a coordinated approach to combating terrorism in Australia. Our intelligence was used to inform, support and drive JCTT operational activities, including the disruption of planned terrorist attacks in Australia during this reporting period (refer ‘Law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks’ target).

We also contributed to the AFP-led NDG. During this reporting period, our intelligence contributed to the establishment of a significant NDG investigation and subsequent disruption.

International partners

Our international counterparts also continued to perceive us as a valuable partner. In 2016–17, we were authorised by the Attorney-General to cooperate with over 350 agencies in 130 countries. During this reporting period we:

  • cooperated closely with partners to improve our shared understanding of terrorist behaviour, including by exchanging information on specific terrorist incidents and different methodologies used to study terrorist behaviour; and
  • were invited to participate in, and contributed to, international forums on horizon scanning for future terrorist threats.

Technical partnerships

As the lead Australian Government agency for telecommunications interception technical advice, we worked with and on behalf of our partners to ensure data derived from legal interception activities in Australia was consistent and reliable.

To strengthen our shared response to terrorism threats, we continued to work closely with national and international partners on the development of technical collection capabilities and the sharing of data on threats.

Activity 1: stakeholder views on performance

Stakeholders said that we were highly regarded in relation to the identification and investigation of terrorism-related security threats. Our investigations and threat assessments form an integral and vital service for many of the stakeholders interviewed. Senior officials, including police officers, were strong in their praise for the effectiveness of our work, citing a number of recent operations as examples of our counter-terrorism successes. Many of the successes were achieved through our close collaboration with partner agencies.

Favourable mention was made of our significant contribution to the disruption of those wishing to travel to the Middle East to join proscribed terrorist groups.

Stakeholders said our intelligence and assessments were credible, influential and respected. The work of NTAC was noted as being both influential and essential in assisting stakeholders to manage counter-terrorism–related security risks. The reporting we distribute from our overseas counterparts is also highly regarded.

Our intelligence reports were considered to be accessible, with the exception of some reporting produced out of hours that was not as readily accessible to all stakeholders. Stakeholders acknowledged this issue was being addressed.

There was a desire from stakeholders for an increase in preliminary assessments in the immediate wake of domestic and international terrorist events, to fill a void that is otherwise covered by mainstream and social media. This desire reflected stakeholders’ needs to have confidence that threat levels for Australia and Australian interests overseas were appropriate and being reviewed. Stakeholders who sought this additional reporting recognised the practical difficulties of producing such assessments soon after an event, when facts were still being established and investigations only just commencing.

2 Activity 2: countering espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders
Measure Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security
Target New security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued

During 2016–17, we continued to identify and investigate espionage and foreign interference activity directed against Australia. These activities included:

  • espionage focused on accessing classified or privileged information about Australia’s alliances; partnerships; positions on international diplomatic, economic and military issues; energy and mineral resources; and innovations in science and technology; and
  • attempts to clandestinely influence public and official opinions and decision-making, including by interfering in migrant communities within Australia.

We could not respond to all espionage and foreign interference—the scale of hostile intelligence activity being directed against Australia is unprecedented. Therefore, we continued during this reporting period to rigorously prioritise our efforts by focusing on the activities assessed to represent the most harm to the nation’s interests.

Contact reporting scheme

The whole-of-government CRS, managed by ASIO, continued in 2016–17 to provide leads into potential espionage and hostile foreign intelligence activity directed against Australia, including attempts to cultivate or recruit Australian Government employees.

The contact reports contained unique leads relevant to national security that would not otherwise have been identified, which were subject to further investigation.

Target Security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia

We finalised 27 182 security assessments during 2016–17 in relation to Australian Government personnel, and others who require access to nationally classified, sensitive and privileged government information and areas. The security clearance regime plays a critical role in protecting the integrity of Australian Government business, providing a defence against a range of security threats including espionage, foreign interference, malicious insiders and terrorism.

The demand for security assessments increased five per cent overall during this reporting period. However, within that caseload there was a 129 per cent increase in requests for assessments for Top Secret PV clearances—from 975 in 2015–16 to 2234 in 2016–17. These PV assessments were considerably more resource intensive than other assessments, given the requirement to provide a higher level of assurance to the government regarding the protection of the most highly classified national security information and capabilities.

We implemented a range of efficiency initiatives, informed by risk assessments, to manage the high PV caseload. This allowed us to complete 57 per cent more PV cases in 2016–17 than were completed during the previous reporting period. However, due to the volume and complexity of the caseload, there was an overall 13 per cent decrease in security assessment completions across all categories, year on year. As a result, we were unable to meet key performance indicators agreed with AGSVA.

During this reporting period we worked closely with AGSVA on initiatives to improve the efficiency of the security assessment process while maintaining an appropriate level of assurance in relation to vetting candidates. We:

  • contributed, at the planning stage, to the Defence Vetting Transformation Program, a major project that will deliver improvements and efficiencies for personnel security vetting;
  • integrated an AGSVA secondee within ASIO’s personnel security assessment team to help identify efficiencies;
  • allocated additional resources to triage security assessment referrals and to finalise less complex cases; and
  • introduced a new ‘personnel security assessments’ case type within our case management system to further improve oversight of our assessments caseload.

These measures have enhanced the efficiency of the personnel security assessment process. However, an overall increase in our assessments capacity will be required to meet projected further increases in demand for assessments arising from implementation of policies that will require an increase in the number of individuals requiring higher level security clearances. These policies include growth in Defence and defence industry associated with the implementation of the Defence integrated investment plan; and implementation of measures from the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review.

In addition to the provision of personnel security assessments, we raised awareness across the Australian Government of techniques employed by foreign intelligence services, manifestations of espionage and foreign interference, and the associated risks as they relate to personnel security. We also increased the number of our defensive security briefings to clearance holders with personal factors that potentially heighten their susceptibility to foreign intelligence service exploitation. These briefings improved their security awareness and understanding of threats and reiterated clearance holder obligations, including responsibilities under the CRS.

Measure Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security
Targets The Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice
Law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks

We published analytical reports, threat assessments and intelligence reports during this reporting period to provide advice to the Australian Government and partners on the threat posed by espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders.

In particular, we published the report Global threat from foreign intelligence services in September 2016. This assessment provides a foundational understanding for all government departments about the threat posed by hostile foreign intelligence services.

During this reporting period we conducted an extensive program of defensive briefings for stakeholders in government and industry to increase awareness of this threat. This included the provision of specific briefings for Australian Government and state politicians on foreign interference and risks while travelling overseas.

Our assessments and advice directly informed Australian Government decision-making during this reporting period, including in relation to a significant package of policy and legislative reforms to deal with the espionage and foreign interference threat to Australia.

This will increase the Australian Government’s ability to mitigate the current espionage and foreign interference threat by providing further deterrents to agents of foreign powers or those contemplating engaging in these activities.

National security implications of foreign investment

We supported the Australian Government’s foreign investment policy framework throughout 2016–17 by providing assessments–through the FIRB process–on the potential for a foreign power to conduct espionage, foreign interference or sabotage through its involvement in specific investments.

We completed 265 assessments of FIRB referrals during the review period. The proportion of assessments within this caseload considered complex–that is, involving investment proposals of a topical or sensitive nature–increased this reporting period.

We engaged extensively with federal, state and territory governments and industry on foreign investment issues, conducting 53 briefings during this reporting period.

We supported the work of the multi-agency Critical Infrastructure Centre, based within the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD), by seconding an ASIO officer to the centre and providing advice and tailored assessments to support the centre’s risk assessments and policy advice.

Telecommunications sector security

In 2016–17, we continued to work closely with telecommunications companies regarding the security risks associated with the use of certain companies in their supply chains and risks arising from foreign ownership arrangements. We provided sensitive briefings to the Australian Government and the telecommunications sector to outline the threat and, where possible, recommended appropriate mitigation measures.

Australian Defence Industry Security Assurance Review

During this reporting period, the Director-General of Security commissioned a review to identify security vulnerabilities within Australia’s defence industry and to make recommendations to mitigate identified risks. The review was conducted to support the Australian Government’s policy commitment to invest significantly in defence capabilities over the coming decade, with a view to providing greater assurance to the government in relation to its investment, and to the Australian Defence Force in relation to the integrity of its capabilities.

The joint ASIO – Department of Defence review found that the existing policies and frameworks in place to secure classified technologies within Defence and defence industry were strong and well established.

The review formed the basis of our advice to the Australian Government on the foreign intelligence services threat to Australia’s defence industry, the measures already in place to mitigate security risks, and additional measures to enhance the response to the threat.

Measure Effective work with partners to counter clandestine foreign activity
Target Partners can readily access our intelligence

In 2016–17, we published a total of 1433 intelligence reports for Australian partner agencies covering a range of terrorism, espionage, foreign interference and border security issues. Reporting was distributed to more than 130 federal, state and territory government organisations. We also shared reporting with over 130 foreign liaison partner agencies in 60 countries, with 643 intelligence reports released to one or more partner agencies.

Target Partners view joint operations with us as an effective way to achieve shared outcomes

We continued during this reporting period to cooperate closely with national and international security partners, improving our shared knowledge of hostile foreign intelligence service activities and capabilities to counter the threat.

We collaborated with a range of international security partners on the identification of foreign investments that raise potential security issues.

Activity 2: stakeholder views on performance

There was generally a high level of confidence among our stakeholders that counter-espionage and foreign interference–related leads are being identified and pursued. However, in contrast with our counter-terrorism efforts, stakeholders know little about our work in this area. Most stakeholders said they understood the sensitivity of our counter-espionage operations and the difference between the higher levels of sophistication of the state-based espionage threat when compared with potential homegrown terrorists.

Stakeholders commented on the high quality of our security advice for countering espionage, foreign interference and the threat from malicious insiders. Some felt, however, that more resources should be devoted to the task, especially when compared with the resources currently devoted to countering the terrorist threat.

Stakeholders noted that our engagement and support to the FIRB was much improved, with better tailored and more nuanced assessments and effective support for FIRB members, including through briefing programs conducted at our headquarters building.

Our security assessment work was perceived by stakeholders as being generally effective. However, among the security vetting community, there was the strongly held view that we need to increase resourcing for our security assessments work to meet personnel security vetting demands.

3 Activity 3: countering serious threats to Australia’s border integrity
Measure Effective identification and investigation of threats to Australia’s security
Target New security leads are identified and consistently prioritised and pursued

We continued to support the identification of threats to Australia’s border integrity by contributing intelligence on persons of security concern who may seek to travel to or remain in Australia, to the travel alert systems managed by DIBP and ABF. The alerts generated by these systems provided leads into activities of potential security concern, which we prioritised, assessed and, where appropriate, further investigated to determine the nature of the threat to Australia’s security.

We also pursued projects to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our travel alert–related activities, including:

  • the commencement of two projects with DIBP to automate aspects of the alert listing, management and notification process, which are scheduled for completion during 2017–18; and
  • the deployment of an enhanced case management system, which has improved work-flow management and oversight of our travel alert activities.
Target Security assessment regimes enable action by other agencies to prevent security risks to Australia

We undertook visa, citizenship and other border-related security assessments to inform the management of security risks by DIBP, DFAT and other agencies in relation to the granting or retention of a visa, the granting of citizenship, and access to security-controlled areas at airports and ports. Assessments were undertaken either in response to requests from those agencies or on the basis of indicators of security concern that we identified in the course of our other activities.

We issued adverse security assessments when we assessed an individual posed a direct or indirect threat to security. Qualified security assessments were issued in circumstances where we possessed information that was, or could be, prejudicial to the interests of a person in relation to an administrative action by another agency—such as the granting of a visa—but did not make a prejudicial recommendation.

Visa security assessments

In 2016–17, we furnished 14 358 visa security assessments (refer Table 1). A refinement of our visa security assessment processes contributed to a reduction in the number of visa applications referred to us for assessment, and enabled us to redirect resources to higher risk cases. This refinement process will continue throughout 2017–18.

The majority of border-related security assessments we conducted resulted in a non-prejudicial security assessment. In 2016–17, we furnished a small number of adverse and qualified border-related assessments, most of which were provided on the basis of concerns relating to politically motivated violence. A small number were furnished on the grounds of foreign interference concerns and people smuggling.

Type of entry Number of assessments completed 2016–172
Temporary visas 3782
Permanent residence and citizenship 2248
Onshore protection (air) 212
Offshore refugee/humanitarian 2265
Illegal maritime arrivals 546
Other referred visa caseloads 5305
TOTAL 14 358

Table 1: ASIO visa security assessments by type

Security assessments for access to security-controlled places and substances

Our access security assessments are focused on supporting decision-making by partner agencies in relation to providing individuals access to:

  • security-controlled places, such as sensitive air or maritime port areas or facilities or areas associated with special events–for example, the upcoming 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games; and
  • security-sensitive chemicals, biological agents or nuclear sites.

In 2016–17, we completed 132 088 access security assessments relating to border security, most of which involved providing advice to AusCheck, within AGD, on applicants for ASICs or MSICs.

We also completed 9696 access assessments in relation to security-sensitive chemicals, biological agents or nuclear sites. The majority of these assessments related to access to security-sensitive ammonium nitrate, which may be used in explosives or research activities or in the agriculture industry. We provided these assessments to the AFP to inform decision-making by states and territories under licensing arrangement principles agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments in 2005. A smaller number of assessments were issued on proposed access to security-sensitive biological agents under a regulatory scheme administered by the Department of Health under the National Security Health Act 2007, and on access to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation nuclear facility in Lucas Heights.

During this reporting period we commenced preparations to support accreditation arrangements for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, as well as the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the Rugby League World Cup events in 2018, which will involve provision of a significant number of access security assessments.

Internal review of adverse visa security assessments

We continued to review adverse visa security assessments issued to ‘eligible persons’ and to issue new assessments informed by updated information or changes in the security environment. Persons eligible for review are those who remain in immigration detention, having been found by DIBP to be owed protection obligations under international law but who are ineligible for a permanent protection visa or who have had their permanent protection visa cancelled because they are the subject of an adverse security assessment.

During this reporting period, our new assessments supported DIBP’s decision-making in relation to the immigration status of these persons.

The annual report of the Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments is provided at Appendix E of our annual report.

Measure Effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and our partners manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security
Targets The Australian Government is satisfied its security responses and policies are informed and supported by our expertise and advice
Law enforcement, border and other national security partners use our advice to manage and disrupt security risks

We continued to support the Australian Government’s counter–people-smuggling policies, in particular through our contribution to OSB. We conducted onshore intelligence collection and supported OSB partners’ disruption activities.

We provided advice to support Australian Government policy measures such as the intake of an additional 12 000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, and the agreement between the Australian and United States governments to resettle detainees from Manus Island and Nauru facilities. We also provided advice to border security agencies on Australia’s security environment and threats to maritime and aviation security, which informed policy and operational responses to these threats.

Measure We support DIBP to meet its migration program and refugee and humanitarian resettlement goals
Target Security advice to DIBP is timely and meets the agreed service level agreements and is responsive to DIBP’s other priorities

In 2016–17, we worked closely with DIBP to successfully meet the terms of our service level agreement and their migration program priorities. This work involved the prioritisation, triage and assessment of a large visa security assessment caseload (refer Table 1), and included security checking of illegal maritime arrivals currently residing in the Australian community, and responding to the additional priority of advice in relation to 12 000 Syrian/Iraqi refugees.

To assist in meeting our service level agreement, we reformed our visa security assessment business processes and implemented a new case management system that allowed large caseloads to be reduced by the end of this reporting period.

Activity 3: stakeholder views on performance

In our 2017 stakeholder survey, border security partners said that ASIO was a valued and capable partner. We are perceived as effective in identifying and assessing threats to Australia’s border integrity, providing security assessments, and providing advice on border security–related policy and legislative issues. Engagement between senior officers of our respective organisations was perceived as strong and continuing to improve.

Collaboration on counter-terrorism issues at the border was perceived as being effective and at an all-time high.

Stakeholders also said that shared investment in ICT systems had facilitated more effective engagement between us, but that more work was needed to address other shortfalls in ICT connectivity. This work is currently underway.

4 Activity 4: providing protective security advice to government and business
Measure We provide effective protective security advice, reporting and services that inform security by design by government, business, and industry
Targets Our expertise and advice informs security policies and approaches within government agencies, business, and industry
Business and industry adopt our security advice and are satisfied with their engagement
Protective security resources are directed at protecting the assets, infrastructure and systems judged to be most at risk

In 2016–17, BGLU continued to provide an interface between ASIO and stakeholders, providing risk management decision-makers in government and industry with the most current intelligence on security threats as well as protective security advice. The BGLU was previously known as the Business Liaison Unit but was renamed BGLU in 2017 in recognition of the unit’s outreach within government as well as industry.

During this reporting period, BGLU provided information to stakeholders through a subscriber-controlled website, ASIO-hosted briefings, face-to-face engagement and participation in joint government/industry forums.

The BGLU’s secure website hosted intelligence-backed reporting drawn from the full range of our information holdings and experts, including NTAC and ASIO–T4. It also included reports and products from other Australian Government agencies, such as the ACSC. Sixty-four reports were published during this reporting period. On 30 June 2017, the website had 2046 active subscribers with an almost equal subscription of government and industry.

We also reviewed the format of BGLU’s briefings on national security threats to key critical infrastructure sectors and other national security issues. To maximise their value and effect, we sharpened briefings and timed them to align with the AGD–led Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) sectoral meetings in Canberra. We also met with key stakeholders to ensure briefings met the requirements of attendees and responded to their highest priority issues.

BGLU coordinated nine sectoral briefings on security threats to aviation, places of mass gathering, Defence industry, energy and resources, mass passenger transport, communications, and banking and finance. The average number of attendees at briefings was around 100. Feedback from attendees reflected overwhelming satisfaction with the new briefing format; 100 per cent of respondents stated that ‘the session met my expectations’; 84 per cent of respondents stated that the length of the presentations was ‘just right’; and 99 per cent of respondents stated that the briefing ‘is relevant to my work’.

In early June 2017, the BGLU delivered its first jurisdiction-specific briefing in Western Australia in response to advice that local stakeholders faced difficulties in travelling to attend briefings in Canberra. BGLU arranged for a small team of ASIO subject matter experts to travel to Perth to brief around 70 government and industry representatives. Feedback from attendees showed a high level of satisfaction with the brief: 97 per cent of respondents stated that ‘the session met my expectations’; 84 per cent of respondents stated that the length of the presentations was ‘just right’; and 97 per cent of respondents stated that the briefing ‘is relevant to my work’.

During this reporting period, BGLU also contributed protective security advice to stakeholders through a range of government and industry forums including the ANZCTC Business Advisory Group, the TISN, and Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council meetings; and supported the Office of Transport Security and the Australian Airports Association and key aviation sector meetings such as Airport Security Committee meetings, the Aviation Security Advisory Forum and Regional Industry Consultative Meetings.

ASIO–T4 protective security

In 2016–17, ASIO–T4 adopted a revised prioritisation model to manage the high stakeholder demand for our protective security advice. The new model ensures ASIO–T4’s protective security work is ‘intelligence-led’ and directed at protecting the assets, infrastructure and systems we consider to be most at risk from terrorism, espionage and foreign interference–related threats.

During this reporting period, ASIO–T4 released protective security guidance documents on the BGLU and Govdex websites on:

  • hostile vehicle mitigations—redeployable vehicle security barriers;
  • vehicle security barriers—active and passive;
  • protective security assessment inspections;
  • perimeter intrusion detection systems;
  • the engagement of a security consultancy service—protective security reviews;
  • the facilitation of TSCM inspections; and
  • agency security adviser newsletters.

During this reporting period, ASIO–T4 continued to:

  • provide protective security training to government;
  • conduct security equipment testing and evaluation, the results of which were published in the Security equipment evaluated product list. One hundred and seventy-nine security products were evaluated in 2016–17; and
  • conduct TSCM inspections to provide a high level of assurance that security classified or sensitive discussions and information is not technically compromised.

A summary of ASIO–T4’s protective security advice is provided at Table 2.

Target The annual program of physical security certifications is achieved

The Australian Government PSPF’s physical security management protocol requires government agencies to obtain ASIO–T4 certification for Zone 5 (Top Secret) areas.

During this reporting period, ASIO–T4 met all agency requests for Zone 5 area inspections and either provided certification for those areas or advice to the relevant agency on further measures required to meet certification requirements. Eighty inspections were conducted and 39 certifications issued.

ASIO–T4 also provided a range of services to assist agencies gain Zone 5 certification, including the provision of guidelines, equipment catalogues and training for consultants.

Advice Results for 2016–17
Physical security certification program Zone 5 facilities:
80 site inspections and reports
39 certifications issued

Destruction services:
9 site inspections and reports
8 certifications issued

Lead agency gateway facilities:
3 site inspections and reports
2 certifications issued

Courier services:
3 site inspections and reports

Technical surveillance countermeasures Details of this activity are reported in our classified annual performance statement
Security services and equipment evaluation 179 security products evaluated
Protective security review reports 1 protective security risk review
Communications Publications:
6 protective security circulars posted on Govdex for government
5 security managers guides posted on the BGLU website for industry and government
2 technical note annexes posted on Govdex for government
1 security equipment guide posted on Govdex for government
Revised courier service criteria

Training:
4 protective security training courses
2 safe maintainer courses
1 Security Construction and Equipment Committee (SCEC)–approved locksmith briefing
1 SCEC-approved consultant briefing

Table 2: ASIO–T4 protective security advice

Activity 4: stakeholder views on performance

Stakeholders said that our protective security advice, reporting and services were highly regarded. In particular, the BGLU, NTAC and ASIO–T4 were recognised as sources of authoritative protective security advice.

Our stakeholder briefing days, particularly those conducted for law enforcement partners and industry sectors dealing with transport and crowded places, are valued and the quality of presentations are considered by stakeholders to be generally of a high standard. Where the quality of presenter or presentation has not met expectations, it has been the exception.

Stakeholders also said briefings by senior ASIO officers were highly sought after, and their presentations were viewed as being appropriate, balanced, informative and often very influential. Federal, state and territory senior officials expressed their gratitude for frank and focused briefings provided for federal ministers and state and territory premiers and ministers, especially on terrorism, espionage, foreign interference and cyber threats.

5 Activity 5: collecting foreign intelligence in Australia
Measure We provide intelligence that is useful to progress Australia’s national security, foreign relations, or economic wellbeing
Target We are responsive to the requirements of our clients

Under the ASIO Act, we are responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence in Australia on matters relating to Australia’s national security, foreign relations or economic wellbeing. The details of our performance in relation to this activity are classified and reported separately in our classified annual report.

Measures across all activities
Measure The safety of our staff is maintained
Target Our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct that promote officer safety

In February 2017 we appointed our Deputy Director-General for Counter-Terrorism as ASIO’s Senior Safety Officer, to improve leadership and coordination in relation to staff safety programs within ASIO.

The Senior Safety Officer’s top priorities during this reporting period, developed by our Operational Risk Steering Committee (ORSC), included updating safety-related policy and procedures, reviewing inter-agency cooperation and emergency response arrangements and enhancing personal safety, security and first aid training. The Senior Safety Officer also supported a number of new initiatives in relation to nationally consistent operational officer responsibilities and procedures, and official motor vehicle safety.

In April 2017, the Chair of the ORSC launched the Officer Safety Portal on ASIO’s Intranet, a ‘one-stop shop’ for officer safety information, capabilities and issues across the Organisation. In the same month the Deputy Director-General for Counter-Terrorism also launched the Counter-Terrorism Innovation Hub to encourage counter-terrorism group staff to submit innovation proposals for improving processes in ASIO, including processes relating to officer safety. These leadership initiatives fostered a strong focus on officer safety within ASIO during this reporting period and attracted a range of new proposals designed to enhance our staff safety arrangements.

Target We maintain high levels of work health and safety capacity and ongoing training of staff

We continued during this reporting period to enhance our WHS arrangements through a layered approach that begins at induction training for staff and is supplemented thereafter by a suite of courses and refresher training consistent with the nature of each officer’s work. In 2016–17, we delivered the following personal security and safety training courses:

Course Courses delivered Number of participants
ASIO situational awareness 22 217
General personal security 13 121
De-escalation training 9 108
Trauma first aid 3 37
Hostile environment awareness training 3 29

Additionally, where required, staff received training in ‘spontaneous protection’, functional first aid and driver training.

Work health and safety

During this reporting period we maintained a high level of WHS capacity, including through initiatives such as our health and safety representative network, first aid officers and health and wellbeing program, which continued during this reporting period to deliver cost-effective initiatives such as the annual influenza vaccination program and campaigns to raise awareness among staff about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

In 2016–17, we conducted a strategic review of our WHS performance. The review evaluated the appropriateness of our WHS governance, communication and coordination arrangements. The review found that WHS is integrated effectively into our day-to-day work activities and that the Organisation has a sound WHS culture.

The effectiveness of our approach to WHS continues to be reflected in a Comcare premium rate that remains well below that of the overall premium rate for Australian Government agencies (refer Chart 4) and the outcomes of rehabilitation audits. In 2016–17 an internal rehabilitation audit examined ASIO’s rehabilitation management system, processes and outcomes, and validated our compliance with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and Comcare’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation Authorities 2012. No areas of non-compliance were identified.

Chart 4: comparison of Comcare premium rates 2009–10 to 2017–18.

Note: ASIO’s Comcare premium rate has fallen from 0.79 per cent of payroll in 2016–17 to 0.69 per cent of payroll
in 2017–18. This premium rate compares favourably with the overall premium rate for Australian Government agencies in 2017–18, which is 1.23 per cent. The percentage of payroll for 2017–18 is indicative only.

In line with legislated notification obligations, ASIO reported eight incidents to Comcare in 2016–17. Comcare did not initiate any investigations into the notifiable incidents, nor were any notices issued to ASIO under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Measure Legality and propriety of our activities and effectiveness of our engagement with oversight and accountability bodies
Target Our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct that are legal, ethical, and respectful of human rights

In 2016–17, our senior leaders continued to support initiatives that convey to staff our expectations of individual conduct that is legal, ethical and respectful of human rights. This included contributing to our induction training programs, our Management and Leadership Strategy 2017–2020 programs, and presenting sessions on ethical decision-making in ASIO.

All staff, including our senior leaders, are required to complete various mandatory e-learning programs which:

  • promote our values and code of conduct requirements;
  • ensure employees are aware of the mechanisms to make disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013;
  • explain WHS obligations; and
  • identify and provide strategies for managing workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Furthermore, both the IGIS and ASIO’s Ombudsman were involved across the suite of our training programs in providing advice on ethical and accountable behaviour in the workplace.

During this reporting period our senior leaders also conducted a review of the human rights performance of the countries of our foreign security and intelligence service counterparts. This review is undertaken annually to ensure that we take due regard of human rights in our cooperation with foreign partners.

Target We proactively engage with oversight and accountability bodies and provide as much information as possible for use in the public domain

During this reporting period we engaged extensively with a range of oversight and accountability bodies, including the:

  • PJCIS;
  • Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee;
  • IGIS;
  • INSLM; and
  • Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments.

We provided classified and unclassified submissions and appeared publicly and in private hearings to support the work of these bodies. Further details on our engagement with these bodies is provided in the ‘External Scrutiny’ section of our annual report. A copy of the Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments’ annual report is provided at Appendix E.

Measure The security of our activities
Target Our senior leaders continue to be exemplars and drive a work culture, systems, and individual conduct that embody security

Our senior leaders continued to foster a positive protective security culture where security is considered in all decision-making and perceived as a shared responsibility. This included supporting ongoing security management and training and ensuring that ‘promoting a security culture’ is treated as a core capability requirement for all staff.

Our leaders also continued to drive a culture of security through the ASIO Security Committee, which is a senior-level committee that oversees our security policies and practices and ensures security risk management best practice is incorporated into all aspects of our business.

Target We continue to meet the requirements of the Australian Government’s Protective Security Policy Framework

Throughout this reporting period, we managed the security of our people, information and assets, in line with the requirements of the PSPF. We reviewed and updated our policies and procedures to reflect changes in broader government policy and our risk environment. We provided staff security awareness training at their commencement with ASIO, and required them to undertake refresher training at regular intervals. We conducted annual reviews of staff clearances and provided mechanisms for staff to report security incidents or concerns.

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1 Lead information refers to all information received that may contain security indicators relating to politically motivated violence and promotion of communal violence as defined in the ASIO Act. This includes referrals from the National Security Hotline, calls to ASIO’s public line, write-ins, information provided by ASIO’s human sources as well as government, private sector and foreign liaison reporting. Back to text

2 Excludes assessments undertaken to resolve potential matches to national security border alerts. Back to text

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