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Report on Performance

Introductory statement

I, as Director-General of Security and the accountable authority of ASIO, present the 2017–18 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.

Duncan Lewis
Director-General of Security

25 September 2018

ASIO’s purpose

ASIO’s purpose is to protect Australia, 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 industry. In 2017–18 we pursued this purpose through four key activities:

  • Key activity 1: counter terrorism;
  • Key activity 2: counter espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders;
  • Key activity 3: counter serious threats to Australia’s border integrity; and
  • Key activity 4: provide protective security advice to government and industry.

Results for 2017–18

ASIO’s corporate plan 2017–18 outlines measures we use to assess our performance in achieving our purpose. The following statements describe our results against the performance measures for each key activity.

In developing these statements we have drawn on internal performance reporting and an independent survey of 74 of our senior government and industry stakeholders conducted between April and June 2018.

The results address the performance criterion contained in ASIO’s Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS): effective advice, reporting and services that assist the Australian Government and ASIO’s partners to manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security.

Key activity 1: counter terrorism

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

Our advice influences the Australian Government’s policy development and responses to terrorism

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Support for Australian Government counter-terrorism policies and strategies

In 2017–18 we provided relevant and timely advice that informed Australian Government policies and strategies in response to terrorism. This included contributions to the development of:

  • responses to the July 2017 disruption of a plot to use an improvised explosive device against an Etihad flight departing Sydney and a potential plot to use toxic gas in a terrorist attack (Operation Silves);
  • policy advice on returning foreign fighters;
  • Australia’s strategy for protecting crowded places from terrorism; and
  • strategies to counter violent extremism.

We contributed to the development of legislative responses to terrorism, including by providing assessments leading to the proscription of Islamic State—East Asia, Jemaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD), and Jama’at Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) as well as the relisting of multiple terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code. Our advice supported the relisting of Mosul as a declared area and the revocation of al-Raqqa’s designation as a declared area.

Our counter-terrorism assessments provided the basis for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to temporarily suspend, cancel or refuse passports for extremists who would otherwise have travelled to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq.

We also continued to provide the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with timely National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC) assessments of the evolving terrorist threat environment, which resulted in a significant number of updates to the Australian Government’s Smartraveller travel advice during the reporting period.

Outreach and assessments to strengthen policymakers’ understanding of terrorism threats

Our advice and assessments informed policymakers’ understanding of local and international terrorist threats. We produced 1154 intelligence and security reports and provided a significant number of briefings to stakeholders on a range of terrorism-related topics, including threats to aviation and mass passenger transportation, and pathways to radicalisation. The NTAC also provided 31 briefing sessions for federal and state government agencies on terrorism indicators, and extended these briefings to a range of foreign security and intelligence partners.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders in our annual stakeholder survey said our advice informing counter-terrorism policy and responses was well considered, balanced, practical and of high quality. Our advice to federal and state governments, law enforcement agencies and the aviation sector after the July 2017 Operation Silves disruption was acknowledged as having played a pivotal role in shaping policy responses, including on aviation, air cargo and international mail security.

Our assessments and NTAC threat reporting were also seen by policy and security agencies as being influential in informing both policy development and responses to terrorism. Our analysis of terrorism motivations, influences and trends in Australia was highly regarded, as were our biannual threat assessments of terrorism and violent protest and reports on right- and left-wing extremism. Stakeholders particularly mentioned the value of our international liaison arrangements and our capacity to draw on our partners’ threat warnings and assessments.

Key activity 1: counter terrorism

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

National security partner agencies use our advice to disrupt and defend against terrorism

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Counter-terrorism disruptions

We continued to work closely with law enforcement and security agencies to protect Australians and Australia’s interests from terrorism.

In 2017–18 we resolved or investigated 14 227 incoming leads. A number of these we referred within ASIO for further investigation, and some resulted in a joint investigation with law enforcement partners. Advice that we provided to federal and state law enforcement agencies contributed directly to the disruption of two planned terrorist attacks, including a major disruption in July 2017 of a terrorist attack plan against Australian aviation (Operation Silves). We also worked with international partners to support their disruption of terrorism-related threats, including by sharing advice and threat assessments informed by Operation Silves investigations.

ASIO intelligence contributed to the prosecution of individuals in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland on terrorism offences. Our support included the initial identification of activities of concern, the provision of unique insights and assessments, and the use of intelligence as evidence. Working with our law enforcement partners and prosecuting authorities, our evidentiary contribution included telecommunications intercepts, physical surveillance, and listening and tracking devices. Sensitive capabilities were protected from disclosure through legal mechanisms such as public immunity claims and suppression orders.

We supported security arrangements for special events, including the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC18), through the provision of security planning and accreditation-related advice to partners (see also performance measure 3b).

We continued to play a leading role within the National Intelligence Community in intelligence prioritisation and evaluation. This included the:

  • production of broad national-level counter-terrorism intelligence priorities;
  • development of information requirements and priorities in relation to terrorism in South-East Asia;
  • provision of advice to law enforcement agencies on high-priority terrorism investigation targets; and
  • management of a collaborative counter-terrorism intelligence evaluation process.

In addition to providing counter-terrorism advice, we coordinated intelligence advice to support the Australian Government’s responses to the kidnapping of Australians overseas.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders in federal and state governments and law enforcement regarded our counter-terrorism advice as timely, of high quality and very influential in informing their efforts to disrupt and defend against terrorism. Many pointed to Operation Silves as a demonstration of our effective collaboration with partners and provision of actionable operational intelligence. The federal and state Joint Counter Terrorism Teams (JCTT) valued our partnership highly and saw ASIO as an engaged and innovative partner continuously striving for improvements.

Stakeholders said we had worked effectively with security and law enforcement agencies to ensure the success of protective security aspects of GC18, and viewed the GC18 effort as being characterised by close cooperation and unprecedented information-sharing. Security and law enforcement partners also cited our contribution to pre-GC18 training and exercises as being highly valuable.

Government and industry stakeholders said our reporting and assessments disseminated by the Business and Government Liaison Unit (BGLU) and sectoral briefing days were valuable, influential and essential in informing the measures they implement to defend against terrorism.

Case study: proscribing Islamic State—East Asia

In December 2015, Islamic State—East Asia (IS-EA) publicly pledged its bay’ah (allegiance) to proscribed terrorist organisation the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and in May 2017 it conducted a large-scale attack and held parts of Marawi City, Philippines, for five months. IS-EA’s primary objective is to establish an Islamic state under sharia law in the Philippines. To achieve its objectives, IS-EA continues to conduct terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets in the Philippines. While Australia has not been explicitly named as a target, attacks by IS-EA may include Australian interests in the Philippines. IS-EA’s attacks and propaganda could inspire or attract Australians to conduct activities of security concern.

Proscribing IS-EA as a terrorist organisation signals publicly that the Australian Government considers the group a terrorist organisation, and that Australians supporting IS-EA may be subject to criminal charges. One of our functions is to provide threat advice to inform government responses. Accordingly, the proscription of IS-EA was based on advice from ASIO, in consultation with other Australian Government departments including the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

On 8 September 2017, IS-EA was listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code Act 1995. The proscription of IS-EA criminalises a range of activities that provide support to the group, and enables the prosecution of Australians undertaking activities on behalf, or in support, of the organisation. Under division 102 of the Criminal Code, it is an offence to do things such as direct the activities of, be a member of, recruit for, provide training to, receive training from or participate in training with, provide funds to or receive funds from, or provide support to a terrorist organisation. It is also an offence to associate with a member of a listed terrorist organisation in certain circumstances where such an association intentionally provides support to that organisation.

Proscription assists with whole-of-government responses to Islamist extremist groups in South-East Asia, including the travel of foreign fighters to the region, encompassing those who are leaving Iraq and Syria.

Case study: counter-terrorism Operation Silves

Politically motivated violence remains a threat to Australia. Since September 2014 there have been 14 major disruption operations against imminent attack planning and six terrorist attacks targeting people in Australia. The primary terrorist threat in Australia comes from a small number of Islamist extremists who are committed to violence as part of their ideology. Although significant uncertainty exists about the future shape of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the future of the foreign fighters who joined it, we expect the legacy of ISIL and the networks they have built, in person or online, will continue to adversely affect both the global and Australian security environment for years to come.

On 26 July 2017, ASIO received lead information on a possible threat to Australian aviation. We assessed the information to be both serious and credible and commenced a security intelligence investigation. In response to the threat, we provided the lead intelligence to law enforcement partners, as well as results of an initial ASIO investigation that identified a key individual involved in the plot. This information enabled the commencement of a criminal investigation (Operation Silves) that paralleled the continued intelligence investigation. We continued to provide unique intelligence and investigative insights to law enforcement agencies in the lead-up to, and following, police activity to disrupt the plot.

Additionally, our security intelligence investigations informed advice produced by ASIO’s National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC). The NTAC produced threat assessments to provide threat advice to senior Australian Government and state and territory stakeholders as the investigation developed, and communicated the assessments through appropriate distribution channels and systems. These threat assessments aimed to address the needs of the policy and regulatory community and to help inform the responses of national security partners—including regulators, policymakers and industry, such as airport operators.

In response to our advice to regulatory bodies, stakeholders increased protective security measures including enhanced airport check-in and screening procedures for passengers, baggage and cargo. Operation Silves resulted in law enforcement–led disruption of Australia-based individuals inspired and directed by ISIL to attack aviation, and potentially other forms of mass transit in Australia, by both improvised explosive device and chemical dispersal weapon. On 29 July 2017, law enforcement action resulted in the arrest and subsequent charging of individuals for a range of offences, including acts in preparation for, or planning of, a terrorist act (section 101.6, Criminal Code Act 1995). Our assessment and advice played a pivotal role in shaping policy responses, including on aviation, air cargo and international mail security.

Key activity 2: counter espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

Our advice influences the Australian Government’s policy development and responses to espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Support for Australian Government counter-espionage and foreign interference policies and strategies

In 2017–18 we provided the Australian Government and its policy agencies with extensive operational briefings, advice and assessments on the espionage and foreign interference threat to Australia. We published 286 intelligence and security products on counter-espionage and foreign interference to inform policymakers’ decisions. Key analytical products released during this period include assessments of the harm from espionage and a strategic overview of foreign interference.

A focus for us during this reporting period was supporting the development of a suite of policy and legislative measures to counter the espionage and foreign interference threat to Australia. We provided advice and assessments that:

  • highlighted potential weaknesses in the Criminal Code which were limiting law enforcement agencies’ ability to charge and prosecute espionage and foreign interference–related activities under the current code;
  • assisted the Attorney-General’s Department to develop proposed legislation to respond to the threat; and
  • informed the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s (PJCIS) review of the proposed legislative amendments.

We also provided advice to support the Department of Home Affairs’ (Home Affairs) response to the foreign interference threat, including the establishment of the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator (NCFIC). We continue to provide advice, assessments, practical support and staff to support the NCFIC’s work.

In June 2018 the Australian Parliament passed the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) and Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bills. This was a significant development that criminalised acts of foreign interference for the first time in Australia.

During this reporting period, our advice also supported the Australian Government’s response to the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, and the associated decision to expel two undeclared Russian intelligence officers from Australia.

Support for Australian Government foreign investment and critical infrastructure protection policies

Our foreign investment assessment advice to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and government agencies such as the Treasury continued to raise Australian Government awareness of security risks associated with specific foreign investment proposals, as well as awareness of other issues of wider policy concern such as foreign powers’ use of investment as a vector for espionage, foreign interference or sabotage; aggregated risks across investment sectors; and data centre protection.

  • During 2017–18 we completed 245 foreign investment assessments, which provided advice on the potential for a foreign power to conduct espionage, foreign interference or sabotage through its involvement in specific investments.
  • Our advice on the lack of ownership diversity within certain infrastructure sectors supported the Australian Government’s announcement in February 2018 that ownership diversity should be considered a key requirement for future sales, and the introduction of new foreign investment conditions for the electricity sector.
  • We identified security concerns about the implementation of the Business Exemption Certificate regime, in particular that applications did not include adequate details on the asset or company to be purchased and/or the location of the investment. We worked with Treasury to ensure that national security concerns would be appropriately addressed under the exemption certification process.
  • We also provided advice to the Australian Government on the national security implications of amendments to the Credit Reporting Scheme, highlighting discrepancies between the credit reporting bureaus and the banking sector in their regulation, oversight and security practices. Our advice contributed to legislative changes to require higher levels of data security assurance under the scheme.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders said that our advice informing policy development and responses to espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders was trusted and respected. They noted, in particular, that our advice had been influential in informing the Australian Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning.

Stakeholders also commented favourably on our reports and assessments, noting the increasing quality and range of reports. FIRB representatives noted the high quality and continuing improvement of our advice and briefings on the foreign investment threat.

Key activity 2: counter espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Performance measure

SUBSTANTIALLY ACHIEVED 2

National security partner agencies use our advice to disrupt and defend against harmful espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Defence industry security assurance

A major focus for us continued to be working in partnership with the Department of Defence to implement the recommendations of the Australian Defence Industry Security Assurance Review. During this reporting period, we:

  • augmented our counter-espionage and countering foreign interference resourcing and, jointly with Defence, began implementing a program to increase security assurance for the significant government investment in defence capability;
  • provided high-level advice in support of Defence security policy and acquisition programs; provided intelligence on potential threats; and engaged regularly with the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force on high-priority capability projects, including the Future Submarines, Off-Shore Patrol Vessels and F-35 projects; and
  • together with the Department of Defence and the Royal Australian Navy, engaged with French services to plan and prioritise security responses to the building of Future Submarines and to share threat reporting.

We continue to develop analytic and investigative effort focused on threats to defence industry and acquisition programs to prevent harm and maintain Australia’s military advantage.

Raising awareness of the espionage, foreign interference and malicious insider threat

We continued our program of briefings and outreach to improve understanding, among federal and state governments and industry, of techniques employed by foreign intelligence services, manifestations of espionage and foreign interference, and the associated risks of this interference, to protect our national institutions of government from foreign influence.

We provided 28 foreign intelligence service threat briefings for federal and state parliamentarians, ministerial staff and high-office holders travelling overseas, which included advice on mitigation strategies to minimise possible threats. Our outreach team provided frequent security briefings (5–10 per week) to raise government agencies’ awareness of espionage, foreign interference and malicious insider threats. These briefings also offered the opportunity to reiterate security clearance holder obligations, including responsibilities under the Contact Reporting Scheme (CRS). The CRS continued to be a valuable tool in defending against harm from espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders. Approximately 15 per cent of CRS reports produced security intelligence leads that would not otherwise have been identified.

Preserving the integrity of government business: personnel security assessments

ASIO provides security assessments to Australian Government agencies on an individual’s suitability for access to national security–classified information and/or areas. This process is critical to protecting the national interest from espionage and foreign interference. We also contribute to whole-of-government development and reform of personnel security policy.

In 2017–18 we completed 32 153 personnel security assessments—an increase of more than 18 per cent from the previous financial year. We continued responding to requests for Negative Vetting 1 and 2 personnel security clearances in line with agreed time frames with the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA). However, we did not meet agreed time frames for Top Secret Positive Vetting (TS(PV)) clearances, as a result of the continuing significant growth in assessment demand for PV clearances. We received more than 3000 requests for PV clearances during 2017–18—an increase of 43 per cent from the previous financial year.

We continue to work closely with AGSVA to improve the efficiency of the security assessment process while maintaining an appropriate level of assurance for vetting candidates. The Independent Intelligence Review of June 2017 identified significant delays in processing times for TS(PV) security clearances. The review noted that, although it is vital to shorten vetting time frames, the clearance process must also remain robust. In line with the review recommendations, ASIO has seconded staff to AGSVA to build on existing cooperation between our two agencies and to better integrate ASIO’s security expertise in the vetting work stream.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders said the quality of our briefings for politicians, senior office holders and officials was of a very high standard. Our tailored briefings on foreign states of concern and the management of electronic devices during travel were particularly sought after and highly regarded by those about to travel. While acknowledging that our personnel security assessments are only one part of the vetting process, many stakeholders reiterated their concerns about the time taken to issue them.

Key activity 2: counter espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Performance measure

PARTIALLY ACHIEVED3

We collect foreign intelligence in Australia that advances Australia’s national security interests

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Under the ASIO Act 1979, we are responsible for collecting foreign intelligence in Australia on matters relating to Australia’s national security, foreign relations or economic wellbeing. The specific details of outcomes achieved in this area are classified.

ASIO always operates in a resource-constrained environment, and we manage priorities within that constraint. During this reporting period we provided limited support to partners. Where we did plan and execute foreign intelligence collection operations with partners, our foreign intelligence partners said we were effective. Joint operations were considered to have been successful and to have provided valuable, and in some cases unique, foreign intelligence.

Case study: Skripal expulsions

In March 2018, former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia Skripal, and a responding police officer became critically ill as a result of exposure to a military-grade nerve agent on British soil. United Kingdom authorities assessed it was highly likely that the Russian Federation was responsible for this attack. A hostile act like this, carried out on the soil of a close ally, carries implications for Australian interests.

As part of our role to advise the Australian Government on policy development and responses to espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders, we provided advice to the government on Russian intelligence activity in Australia. The Australian Government took a decision consistent with many international partners, and as part of a global response to the Russian state’s offensive use of a chemical weapon, to remove the diplomatic accreditation of two Russians based at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canberra.

Our advice on matters of espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders is critical to the government’s ability to protect Australia, Australians and Australian interests, including on matters affecting close allies and partners.

Case study: qualified NV1 security assessment

On 2 March 2018, we furnished a qualified security assessment to an Australian Government department on their sponsorship of an application for a Negative Vetting 1 (NV1) security clearance for an Australian citizen working overseas as a locally engaged staff member for the department.

Our assessment found the staff member was at serious threat of attempts by foreign intelligence services in his country of residence to exploit his access to information that would enable espionage, acts of foreign interference or other actions contrary to security requirements. This was due to the nature of the staff member’s access to privileged information; the likelihood that the relevant foreign intelligence services would be aware of his access; and his vulnerability to attempts to exploit his access due to his significant ongoing links to the country, including having a foreign spouse and family resident in-country, and his reliance on the foreign government for visa-related issues.

We did not recommend against the staff member being granted an NV1 security clearance but recommended a personal security strategy that would allow the individual and the department to better understand and manage the risk of exploitation by foreign intelligence services. The personal security strategy required the department to provide additional protective security briefings and a designated point of contact for the staff member to discuss any personal security issues on a more frequent basis.

Key activity 3: counter serious threats to Australia’s border integrity

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

Our advice influences the Australian Government’s policy development and responses to serious threats to Australia’s border integrity

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Our advice and assessments for Operation Silves, and its implications for Australia’s aviation and border security arrangements, directly informed the Australian Government’s protective security responses to the disrupted plot. The Office of Transport Security, now the Aviation and Maritime Security Division within Home Affairs, drew on our assessments to help implement heightened security measures across the Australian aviation sector.

Stakeholder evaluation

Home Affairs said our contribution to border security policy development during the year—as well as our security assessments and intelligence assessments on people-smuggling and our advice on emerging potential threats—had been influential. They said our extensive reporting and assessments on aviation security threats, in particular, had made an important contribution to their development of new measures to further strengthen security at Australia’s ports of entry. Our ability to draw on our extensive range of international liaison partners, who often provide unique perspectives on border security issues, was also considered valuable.

Key activity 3: counter serious threats to Australia’s border integrity

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

National security partner agencies use our advice to disrupt and defend against serious threats to Australia’s border integrity

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

Supporting visa, citizenship and security access decision-making

We continued to produce security assessments to assist Home Affairs and other agencies to manage security risks relating to visas and citizenship applications; access to security controlled places, such as sensitive air or maritime port areas; special events accreditation; and access to security-sensitive chemicals, biological agents and nuclear sites.

In 2017–18 we completed 5454[4] visa security assessments. We met all service-level agreements with Home Affairs on visa security assessments.

Table 1: Visa security assessments, 2017–18

Type of entry

2017–18

Temporary visas

1746

Permanent residence and citizenship

294

Onshore protection (air)

66

Offshore refugee/humanitarian

919

Illegal maritime arrivals

95

Other referred caseloads

2334

TOTAL

5454*

*Excludes assessments undertaken to resolve potential matches to national security border alerts

We also completed 144 629 access security assessments for border security, most of which involved providing advice to AusCheck within the Attorney-General’s Department on applications for Aviation Security Identity Cards or Maritime Security Identity Cards; and completed a further 9963 access assessments on security-sensitive chemicals, biological agents or nuclear sites.

Providing accreditation-related advice to partners in support of security arrangements for major events was a significant focus during this reporting period. We completed 71 254 events accreditation assessments in support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia Special Summit and the 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC18).

Other support for Home Affairs

Alongside our security assessment work, we continued to collaborate with Home Affairs and other national security partner agencies on Operation Sovereign Borders’ disruption-related work and, where appropriate, provided intelligence to assist in the multi-agency taskforce’s efforts to disrupt people-smuggling ventures.

We provided advice on security indicators to help Home Affairs identify foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. We also worked with Home Affairs on process improvements and proposed system changes, to ensure that visa decision-making is underpinned by the best available information. This included providing training to Home Affairs visa processing officers.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders said our work had directly contributed to disrupting serious threats to Australia’s border security. Home Affairs said our work in identifying and assessing border security–related threats was highly regarded, noting in particular the valuable contribution our foreign fighter profiles had made to border security arrangements as well as our effective collaboration with the department on adverse and qualified visa security assessments. Stakeholders also said that our contribution to planning and implementing GC18, including our support for accreditation, had been valuable and effective.

Case study: border security

Australia remains an attractive target for terrorist groups, and Australia’s border integrity and security form a critical part of Australia’s defences against the terrorist threat. The collapse of ISIL’s caliphate has created an increased movement of potential terrorists across the globe.

In 2017–18, ASIO continued to mitigate these threats to Australia’s security by ensuring individuals posing a security risk were denied entry to Australia. An example occurred in early 2018, when for a second time ASIO took action against an offshore foreign national. In 2016–17, ASIO investigated the foreign national, who at that time held an Australian visa. ASIO assessed the individual displayed support for a violent, extremist ideology and potentially planned to travel on to Syria to engage in politically motivated violence. ASIO assessed the individual presented an avoidable risk to Australia’s security, and issued an adverse security assessment in early 2017 resulting in the cancellation of the visa. In 2018 this individual sought further travel to Australia, which was refused on the basis of a further ASIO security assessment.

This individual’s travel was prevented on two occasions, thereby enabling ASIO to help keep Australia safe and to assist the global effort in identifying individuals with an intent to commit politically motivated violence.

Key activity 4: provide protective security advice to government and industry

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

Our protective security advice and services assist national security partner agencies to manage security risks

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

 

 

Performance measure

ACHIEVED

Our engagement with at-risk industry sectors assists them to manage national security risks effectively

Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2017–18; addresses ASIO PBS 2017–18

In 2017–18 we provided protective security advice and services to federal, state and territory governments and industry to enhance their understanding and responses to security threats.

Our Business and Government Liaison Unit (BGLU) continued to facilitate contact between ASIO and our government and industry stakeholders.

  • In 2017–18, BGLU facilitated 10 industry briefings, including three interstate briefings to increase our visibility to stakeholders in more states and territories. The diverse topics covered included defence industry, the energy and resources sector, and the terrorist threat to crowded places. Feedback surveys were conducted after eight of the 10 briefing days, and 92 per cent of survey respondents said the briefing sessions met their expectations.
  • The BGLU secure website also continued to provide a valued repository of information for industry and government stakeholders. In 2017–18 the website hosted 55 ASIO reports, and subscribers grew by nearly 60 per cent—from 2046 to 3262—during this reporting period.

During this reporting period, we began an academic outreach program. We established engagement with 18 universities, three key university committees, and several other research institutes and university internet connectivity suppliers. Our briefings provided advice on threats to university students, staff, intellectual property, IT networks and reputations; and supported university efforts to protect and commercialise innovative research.

We also contributed briefings to the Centre for Defence Industry Capability roadshow for small and medium enterprises engaged in defence supply chain programs, and engaged with defence industry ‘primes’ such as BAE, Northrop Grumman, and Thales.

Physical protective security advice and services

Throughout 2017–18, ASIO’s T4 Protective Security Directorate (ASIO-T4) continued to provide expert protective security advice and services to the Australian Government and other entities, including state and territory governments, commercial companies, and owners and operators of critical infrastructure.

Table 2: ASIO-T4 advice and services, 2017–18

Advice

Performance 2017–18

Physical security certification program

Zone 5 facilities

  • 89 site inspections and reports completed
  • 60 certifications issued

Lead agency gateway facilities

  • 1 site inspection and report completed
  • 3 certifications issued

Courier services

  • 1 site inspection and report completed
  • 0 endorsements issued

Security services and equipment evaluation

  • 71 security products evaluated

Protective security review reports

  • 1 protective security risk review completed

Communications

Publications

  • 6 protective security circulars posted on Govdex, for government
  • 10 security managers guides posted on the BGLU website, for industry and government
  • 4 security equipment guides posted on Govdex, for government

Training

  • 4 protective security training courses delivered
  • 2 safe maintenance courses delivered
  • 1 Security Construction and Equipment Committee (SCEC)–approved locksmith briefing delivered

Other

  • ASIO-T4 developed and delivered the ‘Introduction to counter-terrorism protective security’ training course for government security practitioners.

Alongside these services, ASIO-T4 continued a capacity-building program to help stakeholders self-manage security risks.

  • In 2017–18, ASIO-T4 produced practical guidance material to support industry and government, including those considered ‘at risk’. These documents distilled ASIO-T4 expertise into practical ‘how to’ guidance material which security practitioners can apply to their own facilities. The publications were distributed to stakeholders, including 10 ASIO-T4 reports published on the BGLU website.
  • ASIO-T4 also partnered with federal, state and territory government security practitioners to develop and deliver protective security training courses and tailored advice.

Stakeholder evaluation

Stakeholders said that our protective security advice and services had helped them manage security risks. Briefings by senior ASIO officers were highly sought after; and partners reported that our presentations were generally viewed as being balanced, informative and influential. Government and industry stakeholders said that sectoral briefings continued to be valuable, and assessed the quality of presentations as generally of a high standard.

Stakeholders said ASIO-T4’s expertise and contribution to national protective security arrangements during this reporting period was highly regarded. They noted the ASIO-T4 series of security manager and critical infrastructure guides as an impressive body of work. Stakeholders also noted ASIO-T4’s increasing focus on building partners’ protective security capabilities, and particularly highlighted its protective security and ‘train the trainer’ courses.

While stakeholders in defence industry and academia valued their engagement with ASIO, stakeholders recognised that considerably more work needs to be done to establish broader, more strategic partnerships in light of the assessed level of threat to Australia’s defence capabilities, and research and development. This will be a major focus for ASIO in the years ahead as we rebuild our counter-espionage capabilities and expand our outreach to industry and academia.

ASIO-T4 case study: enhanced information-sharing network

Australia’s state and territory law enforcement agencies share similar protective security challenges. Terrorist attacks in Australia, as elsewhere in the West, would probably involve weapons and tactics that are low-cost and relatively simple, including basic weapons such as everyday objects that do not require specialist skills.

To support the efforts of law enforcement agencies in providing protective security advice, ASIO-T4 established an information-sharing network with the protective security units in all state and territory policing agencies. Initially, ASIO-T4 engaged with individual jurisdictions—gauging requirements, current capabilities and challenges. We then gathered the entities together to co-develop the network. The network provides a platform for the agencies to share experience, capabilities, knowledge and information. It also provides direct access to ASIO-T4 expertise and, through ASIO-T4, reach into international partners. Through this collaborative partnership, ASIO-T4 and the national policing agencies can now deliver a more nationally consistent approach to protective security and specific technical protective security advice to stakeholders, including on crowded places.

ASIO-T4 case study: crowded places

The threat of terrorist attacks on crowded places has featured prominently in the public sphere over recent years, with the occurrence of a number of attacks on public crowded places, including in Nice, Berlin and London. Through the Australia–New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC), significant work has been done to address such threats.

In 2017–18, ASIO-T4 worked collaboratively with the protective security information-sharing network to develop a protective security training course focused on mitigating the risk of attack by hostile armed offenders, including the use of hostile vehicles, blasts and ballistics. ASIO-T4 engaged directly with law enforcement and Australian Government protective security professionals to develop the course outline and content. The course aims to provide a consistent level of understanding to support government security practitioners in meeting the current threat from hostile armed offenders. Personnel supporting the ANZCTC Crowded Places Advisory Group, within state and territory police and the Australian Federal Police, have been given priority attendance on the courses. Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants agreeing the course increased capability. We will deliver several additional training courses over the next 12 months.

Analysis of performance

In 2017–18, ASIO continued to protect Australia, its people and interests from threats to security by identifying and investigating threats; and providing advice to assist federal and state governments, law enforcement agencies, industry and academia to manage security risks and disrupt harmful activities. We achieved or substantially achieved all but one of the performance objectives set out in our 2017–18 corporate plan. This assessment of our performance was confirmed by stakeholder responses in our 2018 annual stakeholder survey, which was conducted by an independent senior reviewer with extensive national security experience. The senior reviewer conducted interviews with 74 senior stakeholders from 66 federal, state and territory government bodies; industry; and academia. He found that ASIO:

  • continues to be highly regarded as an effective partner offering high-quality and largely unique services; and
  • is viewed by its stakeholders as being a very credible organisation, with officers that are seen as customer-focused, well trained and professional.

The preceding performance statements provide further detail from the survey on our performance against each specific key activity.

We achieved these results in a challenging security and operating environment. Terrorism remains a persistent and serious threat, and foreign actors continue to conduct activities that undermine Australia’s sovereignty. These threats are occurring within a context of rapidly changing and diversifying technology, which provides additional challenges.

Factors that contributed positively to our performance in responding to these challenges during this reporting period included:

  • continuing close and effective working relationships with our national and international law enforcement, security and intelligence partners;
  • expanding relationships and engagement with business, industry and academia;
  • use and refinement of risk-led prioritisation frameworks that helped to focus our efforts on areas of highest potential harm, and areas that represented the most effective use of resources;
  • a strong organisational focus on innovation and the development of new and improved security intelligence capabilities; and
  • the Australian Government’s investment in ASIO capabilities.

The scale and seriousness of the terrorism, espionage and foreign interference threats facing Australia have, however, continued to put significant pressure on our work programs. The heightened espionage and insider threat has increased demand for assurance about staff with access to Australia’s most sensitive information and capabilities. This is reflected in the significant increase in demand for ASIO security assessments for PV clearance holders. Our assessment that we have substantially achieved our performance objectives for measure 2(b)—‘National security partner agencies use our advice to disrupt and defend against harmful espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders’—acknowledges that, while we have performed well in most of the activities that contribute to this measure, including in completing security assessments for non-PV clearances, there is more work to be done to meet agreed time frames for PV clearances.

Security intelligence demands have also limited the availability of resources to collect foreign intelligence in Australia—refer to performance measure 2(c). We assessed our performance against this measure as partially achieved to recognise that, while our stakeholders valued our contributions in this area, we could not meet all of their requests to collect foreign intelligence.

As part of our response to the challenges of the security and operation environment, in 2018 we commenced a major transformation project to ensure the Organisation remains fit for purpose. This will include a change to our business model to capitalise on the benefits of augmented decision-making and data science. The successful transformation of ASIO into an organisation with world-class digital capability will contribute significantly to our ability to achieve our future performance objectives.

Report on financial performance

In 2017–18 we managed our expenditure effectively in a challenging operating environment; with continued high levels of security threat, demanding investigative workloads and stakeholder requirements, and increasing business costs placing considerable pressure on ASIO’s resources and financial sustainability.

We achieved a small surplus of $0.972 million (excluding depreciation), which represents 0.2 per cent of the budget.

The 2017–18 financial year was the final year of the new policy proposal ‘Enhancing security intelligence capabilities to counter the Islamist terrorism threat’. For this measure, we received $52.0 million in operating funding and an equity injection of $13.5 million for capital activities. Additionally, during this reporting period, we received operating funding of $19.4 million and capital funding of $1.4 million relating to additional estimates measures.

There are significant resourcing pressures in other areas of our work (refer ‘Annual performance statements’).

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), on our 2018–19 operating budget, and across the forward estimates.

Our DCB will remain under 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 a capital expenditure increase in 2017–18, a trend that we expect to continue over the forward estimates. While our DCB will increase from $68.6 million in 2017–18 to $85.6 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 2018–19 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 2017–18 is provided at Appendix A. Our total payments for this reporting period are at Appendix B.

 

2 See ‘Analysis of performance’ for discussion of this result - Back to text

3 See ‘Analysis of performance’ for discussion of this result - Back to text

4 In 2016–17 we finalised 14 358 visa security assessments. The decrease in the number of finalisations this financial year is due to changes to the security assessment referral criteria, which resulted in a decrease in Home Affairs referrals to ASIO for assessment - Back to text