Open-source and contextual information
Not all information we use is classified. Information generated by ‘open sources’ such as social media, publications and the media can provide anything from leads for new investigations to useful context for ASIO investigators and analysts.
Through our extensive partnerships, we also have access to a range of contextual data that can aid our investigations by helping to identify persons of interest, adding context to other data, or filling in gaps in our knowledge.
Using these open-source and contextual data sets enables ASIO to conduct inquiries with as little intrusion into individual privacy as is reasonably required, while still fulfilling our function of protecting Australians and their interests from serious threats to their security.
Our partners’ information
Much of the information we use to protect Australians and their interests comes from our strong network of national and global partners in government, industry, and civil society. ASIO can’t be everywhere, so we rely upon our partners to share information with us to allow us to fulfil our duties.
In Australia, information provided by the Australian Government and state and territory governments helps us to identify potential threats within our own community. Our relationships with other members of the Australian Intelligence Community and the broader National Security Community give us access to sophisticated capabilities and unique information that helps us do our job.
Overseas, our partners provide us with information that would otherwise be beyond our reach, allowing us to identify threats and protect Australians and their interests globally.
The people of Australia are one of our most important partners. The daily information and assistance we receive from the community is vital to our ability to protect all Australians.
All of our information-sharing arrangements, nationally and globally, are governed by strict rules and oversight mechanisms to protect the privacy of Australians and their information.
Our unique global partnerships
Australia’s interests stretch to every corner of the globe. So do our unique partnerships.
For nearly seven decades, we have been working with cooperating intelligence and security services all over the world to protect Australians and their interests. We opened our first liaison office in London in 1956, and today we have relationships with over 350 intelligence services in more than 130 countries. ASIO is a trusted, professional partner for these intelligence services. These relationships provide us with access to unique lines of intelligence that help us protect Australians. They also allow us to share capabilities and training to ensure our skills remain world-class.
ASIO also has strong and enduring partnerships with agencies of the Australian Government and state and territory governments. We work closely with members of the Australian Intelligence Community, the broader Australian National Security Community, and law enforcement agencies in all Australian jurisdictions.
Our unique collection capabilities
We collect much of the intelligence we need using our own collection capabilities.
Our intelligence officers conduct thousands of interviews each year with members of the Australian public. These interviews help us understand the impact of global security issues on Australian communities. As ASIO is a human intelligence (HUMINT) agency, our intelligence officers also recruit and manage the human sources that provide unique insights into the activities of our adversaries.
We also use technically collected communications and other data to understand the activities of our adversaries, and mitigate the threats they pose. Where required, our technical collection activities are conducted under warrant, authorised by the Commonwealth Attorney-General.
Anticipate, predict, discover, investigate
ASIO exists to protect our nation and its people from serious threats to their security. To do this, we must be able to both investigate threats that already exist and anticipate threats that are likely to develop.
Our anticipatory role requires us to be able to discover potential threats from the information sources available to us, and then to predict what might happen in order to provide advice to mitigate these threats. To do this, we need to be able to access and exploit the right kinds of data at the right time. Our analysts also need to have highly advanced skills in analytical methods and investigative techniques to separate security threats from the background noise of their data.
We rely on five key capabilities to do our job:
- a data ‘backbone’ that allows us to manage the volume, velocity, and variety of data we need;
- our expertise in security intelligence;
- our ability to synthesise, collate and amalgamate data from many sources to reveal serious threats to security;
- our ability to place our investigations into a broader context; and
- our rigorous analytical skills.
Our data ‘backbone’
In an increasingly digitised world, everyday activities produce large volumes of data. Our adversaries seek to hide among this volume, velocity, and variety of data. To find our adversaries, and to identify and mitigate the threats they pose, we need to be able to manage the collection, ingestion and exploitation of this ever-growing flow of data. Our data ‘backbone’ is the means by which we do this.
Our data ‘backbone’ allows us to identify, collect, ingest, manage, exploit, and analyse complex and large data sets, so that our analysts can separate data that points to serious security threats from the background noise.
We are very aware of public concerns about individual privacy in a data age. ASIO manages all of its data collection activities under the privacy principles, and applies a proportionate approach to the use of the data we hold—we use the least intrusive investigative method necessary, proportionate to the threat we are attempting to mitigate.
Our expertise in security intelligence
Security intelligence is a specialist business, and ASIO has been in this business for nearly 70 years. Our officers and analysts are expert in collecting and analysing information, and providing advice, on serious threats to the security of Australia and Australians. No other agency in Australia has the same depth of expertise.
As a result, our analysis is highly respected by government, our intelligence and law enforcement partners, and businesses in Australia and around the world.
Synthesising, collating and amalgamating data
Our analysts are expert at exploiting complex and large data sets collected from a wide range of sources, to isolate data that identifies serious threats to the security of Australians and their interests. This ability allows us to anticipate threats that are likely to develop so that we can provide advice to mitigate them. It also allows us to respond quickly to threats that are developing or have developed.
Our ability to place investigations into a broader context
Australia’s security environment is largely driven by trends in the complex and ever-changing global security environment. ASIO’s deep understanding of local and global trends, developed over nearly 70 years, provides context for our judgements in investigating existing threats and anticipating future ones. By providing this context to decision makers, ASIO helps them better understand complex security issues and make informed decisions about how to respond.
Our rigorous analytical skills
We expect a lot from our analysts. Their judgements inform important government decisions made by governments, our intelligence and law enforcement partners, and business. To ensure these judgements are sound, we immerse our analysts in a 12-month training program of sophisticated analytical techniques that includes work placements dealing with real security issues. ASIO analysts need to continually adapt and learn, so we regularly refresh our analytical training and continue to provide opportunities for experienced analysts to expand skills through formal and informal learning.
This training and development ensures our analysts are able to produce balanced, timely and accurate judgements to protect Australians and their interests from serious threats to their security.
Advice to government, partners and business
Many of our investigations and discovery activities are aimed at providing trusted and actionable advice to government, our partners, and business.
Each year, we produce thousands of threat assessments to help a wide range of customers in their protective security planning. For example, our threat assessments for major events, important people, and global security developments give our law enforcement partners the information they need to plan an appropriate security response. Often our intelligence helps cooperating foreign governments plan security responses in their own countries.
We produce hundreds of major analytical reports annually, drawing on our broad range of intelligence sources and predictive analytical skills. Our partners use these reports to understand or pre-empt developments in the security environment and plan policy responses.
We regularly brief the executive arm of the Australian Government on security developments to support decision-making. Since 1979, ASIO has regularly briefed the Leader of the Opposition on security matters to ensure bipartisan oversight of our activities.
Our Business and Government Liaison Unit (BGLU) provides tailored advice to business on threats to particular sectors, and briefings and updates to ensure industry security managers understand changes in the security environment that might affect their organisations.
Protective security advice
Our protective security advice helps government and business secure their valuable or sensitive assets, people and places from adversaries.
We conduct security assessments of people seeking access to classified information, sensitive or secure sites such as airports and seaports, or certain hazardous materials. We also provide security assessments for certain categories of visa applicants. These security assessments help requesting agencies better manage the risks of securing their information, assets or locations.
We provide protective security advice for physical assets through our T4 Protective Security unit. T4 advice helps set standards for physical security equipment, and helps government and business protect their sensitive sites from compromise by adversaries seeking to steal information. Many of the protective security measures at public and private buildings in Australia owe their origins to the work of ASIO’s T4 unit.
Advice to inform partners’ actions
We work closely with Australian and overseas partners to identify, investigate and mitigate serious threats to security.
We provide agencies in the Australian Intelligence Community and the broader National Security Community with advice and operational intelligence that enables them to take action to mitigate threats or inform an operational response. We have strong and enduring relationships with Commonwealth, State and Territory law enforcement agencies—our intelligence frequently provides these agencies with the information they need to take action to mitigate threats to our community. In recent years, ASIO intelligence provided to our law enforcement partners has directly led to the disruption of numerous terrorist plots in Australia.
We provide operational intelligence to our broad network of global partners that enables them to take action in their own countries to mitigate threats that we have identified. ASIO intelligence has been instrumental in helping foreign governments protect their own citizens from terrorist threats. In providing this information, we follow well-established policies to ensure we make carefully-balanced judgements about the privacy and safety of Australian citizens.
Sometimes ASIO takes action to mitigate serious threats to security. ASIO does not possess any executive powers (such as powers of arrest) but where a serious threat exists that cannot be mitigated by law enforcement activity, ASIO can and does act within the law to disrupt the threat from eventuating.