Report on Performance

Annual performance statement 2019-20

Introductory statement

I, as Director-General of Security and the accountable authority of ASIO, present the 2019–20 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.

Mike Burgess
Director-General of Security

ASIO’s purpose

ASIO protects Australia and Australians from threats to their security. Our purpose, as defined in ASIO’s Corporate Plan 2019–20, is to protect Australia from violent, clandestine and deceptive efforts to harm its people and undermine its sovereignty. In 2019–20, ASIO achieved this purpose by focusing on three strategic objectives—Counter, Shape and Build—in four ‘key mission’ areas:

  • counter-terrorism;
  • counter–espionage and foreign interference;
  • border integrity, including people smuggling; and
  • protective security advice.

Results for 2019–20

The results in this report address the performance criteria contained in ASIO’s Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS): ‘advice that assists the Australian Government, government agencies and industry to manage security risks and disrupt activities that threaten Australia’s security’.

The measures used to assess our performance against the strategic objectives are outlined in ASIO’s Corporate Plan 2019–20.

As in recent years, in 2019–20 we commenced a comprehensive survey of external stakeholders to complement other performance assessment and reporting inputs. In March 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, ASIO decided not to proceed with the survey for 2019–20 because of health and safety considerations. Instead, we adapted our assessment and reporting methods to those most practicable and appropriate for this annual performance report.

Key mission 1: counter-terrorism

 

Performance Objective
We identify and mitigate violent, clandestine or deveptive efforts to harm Australians and compromise Australian sovereignty, economic wellbeing and national security
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

Identifying and disrupting terrorism-related threats to Australians and Australian interests

In 2019–20, ASIO intelligence made a direct contribution to identifying and disrupting terrorism-related threats to Australians and Australian interests. Notable disruptions informed by ASIO investigations included the following.

  • On 4 December 2019, an individual was arrested in Sydney and subsequently charged with ‘other acts done in preparation for, or planning, terrorist acts’ and other terrorism offences.
  • On 14 March 2020, an individual was arrested, on the New South Wales south coast, who was subsequently charged with ‘other acts done in preparation for, or planning, terrorist acts’.

ASIO’s support to the Joint Counter-Terrorism Teams (JCTT) (Joint Counter-Terrorism Teams (JCTT) are multi-agency bodies made up of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), ASIO and state-based police agencies, supported by other Commonwealth and state-based agencies such as Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and state Justice Departments. JCTTs operate in all Australian jurisdictions. They were established to conduct counter-terrorism operations, with the intention of disrupting terrorism and/or bringing criminal prosecutions for breaches of terrorism legislation. Each JCTT is a critical tool for managing the investigation, disruption and prosecution of terrorist activity in Australia.) assisted with the prosecution and sentencing of the following individuals for terrorism and related offences.

  • On 21 May 2020, Melbourne-based Ali Khalif Shire Ali was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after pleading guilty to a charge of an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act. Ali had enquired about gaining access to a firearm and ammunition in preparation for an attack planned to take place in Federation Square, Melbourne, in late 2017.
  • On 7 April 2020, an individual was found guilty at retrial of acts in preparation for a terrorist act. This concluded a JCTT investigation that commenced in Sydney in 2016 with the arrest of two 16-year-olds who were detected carrying knives in a public place and later charged with terrorism offences.
  • On 5 December 2019, Melbourne-based Philip Galea was found guilty of ‘acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act’, and attempting to make a document likely to facilitate a terrorist act. These offences related to a plot to attack various sites linked to left-wing causes in Melbourne. This marked the first time that an individual with an extreme right-wing ideology had been convicted under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws.
  • On 29 November 2019, three individuals, who had been convicted of engaging in a terrorist act after conducting an arson attack on a Shia mosque, received lengthy sentences. In consideration of additional terrorism offences for a separate plot to conduct an attack on or around Christmas Day 2016 in Melbourne’s central business district, Ahmed Mohamed and Abdullah Chaarani were each sentenced to 38 years in prison and Hamza Abbas was sentenced to 22 years. A fourth individual, Ibrahim Abbas, who pled guilty for his involvement in the Christmas Day plot, was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment.

Advice informs national mitigation measures

Throughout the reporting period, our intelligence and advice informed national measures and whole-of-government efforts to mitigate the terrorist threat to Australians and Australian interests. Notable examples include providing:

  • security advice which informed decisions to impose Temporary Exclusion Orders on a small number of Australians of counter-terrorism interest located overseas, enabling a more controlled return of these individuals to Australia;
  • assessments which informed decisions to cancel Australian passports of individuals linked to extremist groups in the Syria/Iraq conflict and right-wing extremist groups offshore. The passports were cancelled either to prevent travel to conflict regions or to limit the ability of individuals already offshore to travel to a third country;
  • intelligence reporting informing the listing of IS-Somalia and the relisting of al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa‘ida in the Indian Subcontinent, IS-Libya, and IS-Sinai Province as terrorist organisations under Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code;
  • assessments on global terrorist threats that informed Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) public travel advisories and measures to protect Australian interests overseas;
  • threat assessments that informed threat mitigation strategies for crowded public places, and measures to protect Australian critical infrastructure—including aviation, maritime and government facilities;
  • threat assessments, including on terrorist weapons and tactics and the ongoing threat posed by ISIL and al-Qa‘ida, to inform federal, state and territory security responses; and
  • assessments to AusCheck to enable it to mitigate the threat associated with individuals of security concern gaining access to security-controlled places.

During the reporting period, we provided:

  • 136 268 access security assessments to AusCheck, including for individuals seeking Aviation Security Identification Cards (ASICs) and Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSICs);
  • 7344 assessments for T20 Cricket World Cup Special Event accreditation; and
  • 12 192 access security assessments of individuals seeking access to security-sensitive chemicals or nuclear sites.

 

Mitigating the extremist threat

A former Australia-based individual travelled overseas in December 2014. ASIO subsequently received reporting indicating that by early 2015 the individual had entered Syria and joined ISIL, received militant training, and engaged in fighting on behalf of the group. It is likely he remains in Syria.

Our investigations revealed that this individual may also be involved in financial facilitation on behalf of ISIL. We further determined that he remained in contact with his Australia-based family and associates and, through them, might have sought to raise further funds to finance ISIL activity.

In July 2019, the JCTT Canberra conducted overt enter-and-search operations under ASIO warrant relating to this individual’s Australia-based family and associates and their financial support for ISIL. Separately, ASIO shared intelligence on the individual’s activities and intentions with other Commonwealth agencies, who drew on this advice to develop mitigation activities. As a result of our—and others’—mitigation activities, this individual’s ability to raise further funds for ISIL is now limited, and their appeal to others in the community who are seeking to provide support to extremist groups overseas has been reduced.

 

Performance Objective
We provide Australian governments, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making in relation to security responses, policies and priorities, including warning of emerging and imminent threats.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

We achieved our objective to enable better decision-making through the provision of intelligence and advice during the reporting period, with our assessments on the terrorism threat environment continuing to be in high demand from our Commonwealth, state and territory policy, security and law enforcement partners. During the reporting period, we published 898 intelligence and security reports on a wide range of local and international terrorism-related matters, with the following being of particular note.

  • We provided support to the High Risk Terrorist Offenders (HRTO) scheme, established in response to the substantial number of terrorism offenders scheduled for release from Australian prisons over the next five years. Our advice contributed to whole-of-government considerations under the HRTO scheme to ensure the threat posed by recent (and upcoming) releases of convicted terrorist offenders is appropriately understood and managed.
  • Our assessments on the increasing prevalence of extreme right-wing groups in Australia and overseas—including on the promulgation of online propaganda, associated indicators and international context—enabled law enforcement stakeholders to develop mitigation strategies.
  • We provided advice on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian security environment. This product received positive feedback from stakeholders, and was used by the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) to inform its evaluation processes.
  • We adapted product distribution processes to ensure customers could continue to access advice, including key partner agencies which had adopted work-from-home arrangements as a consequence of COVID-19.

In our role as Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Mission lead, in late 2019 we launched an updated counter-terrorism prioritisation and evaluation framework, providing clear direction on Australian counter-terrorism priorities to the National Intelligence Community (NIC). The framework aims to ensure all counter-terrorism capabilities are directed at the highest intelligence priorities. It also provides a means by which to measure and evaluate counter-terrorism effort, ensure maximum agility and responsiveness in a rapidly changing security environment, and guide resource allocation and capability development across the NIC. The intelligence priorities, which are formally reviewed and evaluated quarterly, are developed with multi-agency input. Stakeholders, including Australian intelligence and law enforcement partners, provided positive feedback on the launch of the updated framework.

 

Performance Objective
We work with our Australian and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

Throughout 2019–20, our counter-terrorism activities informed international and domestic partner capability, including government, security and industry partners. Our achievement of this objective is demonstrated by the following.

  • ASIO contributed to the ongoing review of national guidelines and strategies within the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) framework, including the 2019 review of the National counter-terrorism handbook and the 2020 review of the National Counter-Terrorism Strategy. We also continued to inform and build the ANZCTC’s decision-making and capability development through the following activities.
    • We provided subject matter experts to present at security and counter-terrorism training courses, including ANZCTC Skills Enhancement Courses and training courses conducted by law enforcement and partner agencies.
    • We developed scenarios, exercise products and other supporting materials to help law enforcement and defence partners to plan and conduct counter-terrorism exercises. We also actively participated in exercises with partners to enhance interoperability and information flows.
  • Like many other agencies, ASIO experienced challenges in the operating environment posed by COVID-19 and the subsequent physical distancing requirements. In response to restrictions in the operating environment, our operational teams developed and applied innovative techniques to ensure their activities could continue, while maintaining the security of our operations and ensuring the health and safety of our officers and human sources. We shared details of these techniques with Australian partners, and jointly developed additional capability to be shared with one of our law enforcement partners.
  • We provided vulnerability assessment security reviews and security zone briefings to government agencies and critical national infrastructure clients, including defence industry. Our advice also contributed to Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) certification of Gateway Service Provider facilities in Australia, which certifies the physical security of ICT equipment, systems and facilities.

Key mission 2:counter–espionage and foreign interference

 

Performance Objective
We identify and mitigate violent, clandestine or deceptive efforts to harm Australian and compromise Australian sovereignty, economic wellbeing and national security.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

ASIO successfully identified new high-harm espionage and foreign interference (EFI) activities, and directly supported disruption activities and other mitigations. We leveraged our expertise on foreign intelligence activities in Australia, and used our extensive suite of investigative tools, to work with partners in countering EFI threats against Australian interests.

Our efforts towards achieving this measure included:

  • conducting discovery work leading to the identification of previously undeclared FIS personnel and activities in Australia. This has enhanced our understanding of the current EFI threat, allowing for more targeted investigative and operational activity and informing mitigation and disruption planning;
  • identifying cyber espionage activities directed against Australian interests, enabling responses and countermeasures to be put in place by the appropriate Australian Government authorities;
  • working closely with key partners, taking proactive and direct action to disrupt harmful EFI threats to Australian interests, against the backdrop of the global uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included responding to threats to the integrity of Australia’s political democratic systems, institutions and processes; Australia’s tertiary sector; and social cohesion across Australian communities; and
  • providing targeted, actionable advice which enhanced the Australian Government’s defensive posture and preparedness, helping to protect against emerging EFI threats.

The ASIO-led, multi-agency Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFITF) has built its capacity to identify and respond to possible acts of foreign interference and espionage. Established in early 2020, the CFITF works to disrupt and deter hostile actors attempting to undermine Australia’s national interests through foreign interference and espionage.

Personnel security assessments

Our personnel security assessments continued to play a pivotal role in assisting the Australian Government to identify and mitigate violent, clandestine or deceptive efforts to compromise Australia’s national security.

In 2019–20, we completed 34 035 personnel security assessments, comprising 30 383 assessments for Baseline, Negative Vetting (NV) 1 and 2 clearances and 3652 Positive Vetting (PV) clearances. This is an increase of over 1140 completed assessments compared with the previous year. Feedback from key stakeholders acknowledged our responsiveness, our level of engagement, and the relevance of advice provided. The Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) continued to provide favourable feedback, and stated that—with ASIO’s assistance—its progress towards the key performance benchmark set by government was a significant achievement.

We also completed a number of adverse and qualified personnel security assessments, containing information and recommendations about an individual’s suitability to be granted or continue to hold a clearance. Key stakeholder feedback noted that, as a result of these assessments, agencies were able to issue security clearances to staff in a timely manner and, where needed, mitigate security risks.

 

Countering espionage

Our investigative and operational efforts continue to mitigate the espionage threat from hostile foreign intelligence services (FIS) targeting Australia. Most notable was our disruption of an Australia-based foreign national who was assisting a team of foreign intelligence officers.

These officers were operating to penetrate the Australian Government and the National Intelligence Community (NIC) by seeking to recruit a number of Australian security clearance holders who could provide them with access to classified Australian Government information.

Their primary goal to covertly acquire classified information about the NIC’s current operations and capabilities, especially those directed against their nation state, would potentially have granted their government significant strategic advantage over Australia. We conducted overt activity against the Australia-based foreign national and the officer network, which thwarted the foreign intelligence operation and prevented the passage of classified information to the FIS.

 

Performance Objective
We provide Australian governments, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making in relation to security responses, policies and priorities, including warning of emerging and imminent threats
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

Our intelligence advice continued to be instrumental in enhancing the Australian Government’s security awareness of EFI threats. This has informed security-related policy and risk mitigation, resulting in a more resilient Australia. We produced 51 assessments, containing intelligence analysis on known threats and threat actions, including in areas of specific government focus.

  • We provided advice to Australian Government stakeholders, which informed the development and consideration of new legislative and regulatory measures designed to increase transparency and combat foreign interference in Australiaʼs democratic institutions and processes, and across key economic sectors.
  • We informed the Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) considerations by providing assessments on the threats posed to Australia’s national security from a number of proposed foreign investments.
  • We translated insights derived from our investigations into practical security advice and worked closely with key partners—in particular, the Office of the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator within the Department of Home Affairs—to build resilience against EFI across key economic sectors.
  • We identified opportunities to improve processes for identifying and assessing risks to infrastructure sectors, and worked with the Department of Treasury and other agencies to develop more effective whole-of-government arrangements.
  • We also collaborated with the Australian Cyber Security Centre within ASD, on the identification of—and responses to—emerging cyber threats, drawing on our knowledge of the threats posed by those seeking to undertake EFI activities against Australia through cyber or technical capabilities.

Further, we provided highly valued advice to government on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the EFI and malicious insider threat landscape. This included practical steps that agencies could take to mitigate risks associated with modified working arrangements. This advice received positive feedback, particularly from the departments of Home Affairs and Defence.

Personnel security assessments

We contributed significant security advice which shaped ongoing whole-of-government personnel security policy reforms throughout 2019–20. The reform program this year focused on issues concerning the eligibility, and ongoing suitability, of clearance holders. Our advice enabled government to make intelligence-led decisions on these matters to mitigate insider threat risks.

 

The impact of legislative reform

The passage of espionage and foreign interference (EFI) legislation has proven a valuable tool to ASIO and partners in preventing threats posed by foreign intelligence services (FIS) and their proxies. The legislation, coupled with operational work, caused some intelligence services to reassess the risks associated with conducting clandestine foreign intelligence operations in or against Australia, and—in some cases—they ceased activities.

We assess that the legislation also contributed to some FIS more openly declaring their intelligence presence and activities in Australia. This informed our assessments, and improved our understanding of the EFI threat in Australia, enabling us to direct our efforts towards mitigating highest harm activities.

 

Performance Objective
We work with our Australian and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

During the reporting period, we intensified efforts with domestic and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities and support the development of counter–foreign interference capability across government.

  • We delivered capability development programs for law enforcement partners and other affiliated agencies, to enhance our joint capacity to identify and actively disrupt harm from foreign interference.
  • We enhanced our ability to identify and counter foreign interference through significantly improved cooperation and collaboration with NIC and foreign partners. This collaboration included the placement of several NIC agency staff in the newly established CFITF.
  • We provided highly regarded protective security and defensive counter–espionage and interference advice to NIC and defence partners. Recipients informed us our advice helped shape organisational defensive counter-interference posture and programs, and enhanced collaboration with ASIO on security and insider threat matters.
  • We extended capability-building activities across our technical, analytical and HUMINT platforms to key NIC partners including ASD, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and AFP.

ASIO also helped build resilience against FIS targeting.

  • We provided protective security advice to government, and several industry and innovation sectors. This included personalised security advice for officials and representatives travelling overseas.
  • We produced intelligence assessments and advice supporting the development of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce guidelines, and provided support to universities to implement the guidelines.
  • We enhanced our information technology platform to increase the value of contact reports and case studies to our outreach and investigative programs.

Throughout 2019–20, we deepened relationships within the defence industry, and provided tailored advice and support to help partners secure their staff, information and facilities. In particular, this included working with them to identify supply chain risks and determine mitigation strategies. We are also developing additional information technology solutions to improve connectivity between Defence and ASIO, to amplify understanding of security threats and lead to better security outcomes.

Personnel security assessments

We improved Australian Government efforts on vetting and personnel security matters by enhancing our engagement with partner agencies and providing clear, practical security advice. This included:

  • helping government stakeholders to translate into practice lessons learned from international partners on global best practice for clearance maintenance and technology-derived efficiencies; and
  • working closely with AGSVA and DFAT on projects to improve assessment times through electronic data transfer.

We also briefed AGSVA staff across Australia, which deepened their awareness of EFI threats and helped mitigate the trusted insider threat. After these briefings, which received positive feedback, we saw an increase in subscribers to our Outreach portal from Defence security staff and external vetting providers. Further, significant interest was expressed in our published product on personnel security matters, with key stakeholders advising it had been used to develop several agency security measures including communication campaigns.

To build on this, we collaborated with partners on a strategy to guide the focus of future engagement, which will ensure that we continue to build our partners’ security and intelligence capabilities and continue to provide useful, actionable assessments and advice.

Key mission 3: border integrity, including people smuggling

 

Performance Objective
We identify and mitigate violent, clandestine or deceptive efforts to harm Australian and compromise Australian sovereignty, economic wellbeing and national security.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

We achieved this objective by improving our prioritisation and assessment of lead information and referrals, by providing robust visa security assessments and security access assessments, and by giving actionable advice to external partners, including Home Affairs, DFAT and the AFP, as follows.

  • We identified and mitigated national security risks by referencing our data holdings and producing security assessment of visa applicants referred to us by Home Affairs and DFAT. We also collaborated with stakeholders to enhance Australia’s visa-screening processes and, in turn, to identify security issues and provide security advice to inform responses.
  • We issued a number of adverse and qualified assessments, informing stakeholders’ decision-making on the issuing or cancelling of visas, or the refusal of citizenship, to mitigate a range of national security risks.
  • We assisted whole-of-government responses to threats to Australia’s border integrity, providing a number of security assessments on whether Australian visa holders posed a security risk, including in relation to activities associated with people smuggling.

Table 1: Completed visa assessments

Type of entry 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20*
Temporary visas 1746 1219 589
Permanent residence and citizenship 294 155 49
Onshore protection (air) 66 32 8
Offshore refugee/humanitarian 919 747 115
Illegal maritime arrivals 95 40 14
Other referred caseloads 2334 2121 1740
Resolution of national security border alerts 7353 7385 8530
Total 12 807 11 699 11 045

*In 2019–20 ASIO received fewer referrals for temporary visa assessments compared with previous years, resulting in fewer completed assessments.

 

Performance Objective
We provide Australian governments, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making in relation to security responses, policies and priorities, including warning of emerging and imminent threats.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

We provided constructive support to government decision-making on border security during the reporting period through our contributions to stakeholders’ policy processes, and our advice that enhanced stakeholder decision-making on matters relevant to national security. Our engagement with stakeholders helped increase their understanding of our security assessment processes, which promoted collaboration on visa security assessment issues of mutual interest.

Our advice also positively shaped stakeholder referral criteria through improved awareness of our emerging and priority areas of interest.

We provided additional advice to stakeholders on procedures for recording and processing visa applicants, with security-relevant reporting reducing unnecessary or repeat referrals for security assessment.

 

Performance Objective
We work with our Australian and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

We worked with stakeholders to build their national security capabilities in visa assessment, and to reduce pressure on these agencies when seeking ASIO guidance on security assessments, in the following ways.

  • We worked collaboratively with stakeholders to enhance visa-screening arrangements that were placing considerable pressure on ASIO and partner agencies. This has been a multi-year process to develop stakeholder capability, with agencies progressing towards a more efficient alternative process. In the interim, we have implemented a number of measures to reform the current process, including providing training and advice to stakeholders.
  • We continued our successful work with partners in Operation Sovereign Borders to investigate and counter serious threats to Australia’s territorial and border integrity. We advised on—and contributed to—Operation Sovereign Borders information requirements, including through our work with community partners.
  • Our reporting provided security advice on the impact of changes in government policy and the onset of COVID-19 on community sentiment about the prospects of irregular migration ventures.

Key stakeholder feedback highlighted their appreciation of our collaborative approach in engaging with them, and the relevance of our advice.

 

Disrupting people-smuggling activities

In 2019–20 we continued to mitigate serious threats to Australia’s territorial and border integrity by furnishing security assessments to Home Affairs. For example, we investigated an onshore visa applicant whom we assessed to have previously facilitated people-smuggling activities. We concluded that they were directly or indirectly a risk to Australia’s security, and that it would not be consistent with security requirements for them to hold an Australian visa. We subsequently furnished an adverse security assessment to Home Affairs recommending their visa cancellation.

 

Key mission 4: protective security advice

 

Performance Objective
We provide Australian Governments, law enforcement and industry with intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making in relation to security responses, policies and priorities, including warning of emerging and imminent threats.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

During the reporting period, our physical protective security advice and services continued to inform and shape the protective security approach of national security partners, government bodies and industry. We released another eight security managers guides on our Outreach website—a subscription-based portal disseminating unclassified reporting, and domestic and international security advice. We were also instrumental in helping government and private sector stakeholders deal with physical security–related issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. We provided practical advice in updated security managers guides and security equipment guides published on the Outreach website and the GovTEAMS website.

We also provided Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) assistance and advice to government agencies. This included TSCM inspections (commonly referred to as ‘sweeps’) of government facilities and other client premises to protect security-classified or sensitive discussions, information and activities from technical compromise. In addition, we provided TSCM assurance to multi-agency missions for new and existing overseas government facilities.

 

Performance Objective
We work with our Australian and international partners to build security and intelligence capabilities.
2019-20 result
Source: ASIO Corporate Plan 2019-20; addresses ASIO PBS 2019-20

 

We worked with national security partners throughout 2019–20 to build their protective security capabilities, including in the following ways.

  • We held a two-day security zones briefing* attended by 144 participants from Australian governments and defence industry. The briefing provided attendees with technical advice on constructing and managing security zones as detailed in the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF), which helped participants to better protect their people, information and assets.
  • We provided capability and advice to help government partners maintain their capability to securely deploy assets to overseas environments. Our assistance focused on environments with high or extreme threat levels, and assets which, if compromised, could cause damage to Australia and its national interests.
  • We also continued to conduct Zone 5** inspections, issuing a number of certifications for Australia-based facilities requiring TOP SECRET information and assets, thereby ensuring sustained access to critical information and systems.

*This briefing was held to capture the backlog of interested parties seeking to attend our five-day Security Zones course. The two-day briefing gave an overview of all concepts (in less detail) provided in the five-day course, and highlighted common pitfalls and important information. The briefing was a triage activity, not a replacement for the course.

**The Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework mandates that all Zone 5 facilities in Australia must be certified by ASIO before becoming operational. In some cases, ASIO inspection reports recommend that facility owners introduce additional measures to achieve certification. The difference between the number of inspection reports completed (42) and certifications issued (52) reflects that this work does not align with the same financial year, and that work undertaken by facility owners to implement report recommendations issued in previous years has enabled certification to be issued this financial year.

Table 2: ASIO physical protective security advice and services, 2019–20

  2017–18 2018–19 2019–20*
Physical security certification program
Zone 5 facilities Site inspections and reports 89 81 42
Certifications issued 60 40 52
Courier services Site inspections and reports 1 8 1
Endorsements issued 0 8 0
Security products evaluated
Security products evaluated 71 87 87
Protective security review
Protective security risk review reports 1 0 1
Communications
Publications Protective security circulars 6 1 2
Security managers guides 10 7 8
Security equipment guides 4 1 2
Technical note annexes 0 0 0
Training Protective security training courses 4 6 4
Safe maintainer courses 2 1 0
SCEC**-approved locksmith briefings 1 1 2
SCEC-approved consultant briefings 0 2 0

*The downturn in activities requiring travel, meetings and face-to-face interaction (for example, training) was due to physical distancing rules imposed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

**Security Construction and Equipment Committee

Analysis of performance

We achieved our purpose during the reporting period through the delivery of three key services: identifying and mitigating efforts to harm Australians and Australia; providing intelligence and advice to enable better decision-making; and building our partners’ security and intelligence capabilities.

Some activities were significantly constrained by two factors: the COVID-19 pandemic, and a challenging and rapidly changing technology environment.

COVID-19 required an immediate response by ASIO across the breadth of our work. We adapted operational practices to provide security advice to government on attempts to target Australia and its interests, including by individuals using the crisis to their advantage. Although some of our activities were significantly affected owing to the travel restrictions, we continued to analyse and identify potential threats.

We continue to be challenged by rapidly evolving technological advancements. These include the widespread adoption of new technology, including encryption and anonymising technologies, by those seeking to threaten Australia’s security. The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 has gone some way to address these challenges by contemporising our access to security-relevant data. We took advantage of these new powers within 10 days of the legislation coming into effect; a clear indication of its significance to our mission.

Separately, we assess that the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 has hardened Australia’s security environment, with our adversaries adjusting their behaviour in response to its introduction. We recognise we have been entrusted with significant powers under this and existing legislation; our application of these powers will continue to be lawful, ethical and proportionate to the security threat or matter at hand.

Finally, our partnerships have contributed significantly to the achievement of our purpose. Our ability to leverage existing and new partnerships with domestic, international and industry partners enabled access to new information sources and enhanced capability. Continuing to bolster our relationships will be critical to our future success.

Report on financial performance

Financial performance

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the delivery of ASIO’s activities for the 2019–20 financial year, resulting in less expenditure than initially planned. The financial result—excluding depreciation and amortisation—was a surplus of $17.1 million, which represents 3.4 per cent of budget. The previous financial year result was a deficit of $14.4 million after a significant adjustment for provisions and an overspend in supplier costs.

Included in ASIO’s 2019–20 operating budget was $29.9 million for ongoing planning and design work relating to enterprise transformation. Given the challenge of progressing with this program through the uncertain COVID-19 economic environment, a more modest program of reforms, based on similar organisational priorities, will start to be progressed in 2020–21. ASIO also received $28.6 million to sustain specific existing operations.

ASIO’s 2019–20 Departmental Capital Budget funding was $61.3 million, compared with $83.5 million the previous financial year. This funding has been applied to the necessary development, enhancement and replacement of assets to support ASIO’s operational effectiveness in the increasingly fluid security and technology environments. In 2019–20 ASIO received $10.9 million as an equity injection, compared with $5.4 million in 2018–19.

ASIO has continued to identify and implement efficiencies across its operations and contribute to Australian Government savings measures. Further consideration will be given during the 2020–21 financial year to the sustainability of ASIO’s operations, given the challenges and opportunities presented by the future operating environment.

A table summarising ASIO’s total resources for 2019–20 is provided at Appendix A. Our total expenses by outcome for this reporting period are at Appendix B.