Mike Burgess, Director-General of Security

Welcome to the Ben Chifley Building. Welcome to ASIO. And welcome to our 75th year.

I’d like to recognise our partners and colleagues represented here tonight – Excellencies, elected representatives, Directors-General, Inspector-General, INSLM, Secretaries, CDF, Military Chiefs, Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen.

Threat Assessments usually examine the present and chart the future, but tonight, given it’s our anniversary, I’d like to begin by reflecting on our past.

Over the 75 years, two things stand out to me. One is the amount of change in the security environment. Terrorists and spies don’t do business as usual; there are constant shifts in threat, intent, tactics, capabilities and technologies.

And if terrorists and spies don’t do BAU, a security service cannot either. Australians do not just expect us to respond to new threats, they expect us to anticipate them. That’s the second standout – the enduring agility and ingenuity of ASIO’s people. They have always been our most important capability, and ASIO’s story is best told through their stories.

Of course, our people cannot talk about their successes, and are very rarely publicly recognised for them. In fact, the more audacious and exceptional their work gets, the less they can say – even though they have so much to say!

As Ben Chifley told Parliament after establishing ASIO 75 years ago, quote:

“It is not usual to discuss the detailed activities of a security service. Much of the value of such a service lies in the fact that it works quietly. Members of the organisation should not be unduly prominent at cocktail parties, but should devote themselves to the tasks allotted to them.”

I’m a little more permissive than our former Prime Minister – given the work my people do, I would never begrudge them the odd cocktail party now and then!

When Ben Chifley addressed Parliament, the Cold War was heating up. Espionage and sabotage were Australia’s principal security concerns. The United States and United Kingdom were so concerned about Soviet penetrations they turned off the intelligence tap. Chifley responded to the challenge by setting up ASIO – and I think it’s a testament to our success that three quarters of a century later those two countries are now sharing their most sensitive secrets with Australia through AUKUS.

The Petrov defection in 1954 was an early indication that ASIO could deliver – the culmination of years of planning and cultivation.

Many brilliant ASIO officers directly and indirectly contributed to the defection. One person whose efforts have never been publicly disclosed was a woman I will call Hilda Brooks.

Hilda was working for a media organisation when she received one of those mysterious taps on the shoulder you read about in spy stories and she moved to ASIO.

Hilda flourished and before too long was working with human sources across the country.

One of them was another woman, Freda Bennet, also known as Anne Neil. Anne was one of our most prolific and audacious operatives. She became the first allied agent to venture behind the iron curtain when she was invited to visit Moscow, and later Peking. Hilda’s debriefing of Anne after that trip lasted an entire week!

In 1953, Anne got herself invited to a party at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra. She caught Petrov’s eye, giving Hilda and ASIO invaluable insights into the Embassy’s layout and inner workings. Petrov defected less than six months later.

It was not an easy time to be a woman in ASIO. For one thing, if a woman married, she was required to resign. Hilda routinely briefed men who knew half of what she did but the public service rules paid the blokes twice as much.

We’ve come a long way – and while we can always do better, I’m pleased we now have roughly equal numbers of women and men in ASIO’s senior executive ranks.

In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the security environment shifted. Conflicts far away reached into this country with deadly intent. Countering the threat of terrorism demanded more and more of ASIO’s focus.

There were 16 bomb attacks against Yugoslav interests, Ananda Marga attacks targeting representatives and symbols of the Indian government, bombings of the Sydney Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah club and the bombing of the Turkish Consulate in Melbourne.

Threats weren’t the only thing changing, and ASIO’s workplaces are not immune to wider shifts in beliefs and attitudes.

I’m proud of the role Jack Griffiths played in one of those.

Jack was a 49er, an original ASIO officer. After a series of operational roles, including one where he was nearly caught installing a microphone in a Russian family’s Canberra flat, Jack was given a role he did not want. He became known as quote “the homosexual interviewer”. In the 1960s, the government would not give homosexuals access to highly sensitive information. Jack had to compile and update a list of – and again I quote – “sexual deviates” working in the public service. Jack hated the job and loathed the policy. In the early 70s, he wrote a memo arguing that a person’s sexuality did not make them a security risk. His argument convinced his Director-General, who then lobbied the Government, eventually leading to a change in policy.

Jack left a lasting legacy. ASIO strives to reflect the society we protect – we do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation or cultural or ethnic origins.

In the 1990s and 2000s, we began tracking a concerning trend where radicalised Australians were travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train with terrorist groups. Of the 25 who returned to Australia, 19 were actively involved in extremist activity and 8 were convicted of terrorism.

In the early 2000s, ASIO’s focus was almost exclusively on religiously motivated violent extremism, with sickening mass casualty attacks overseas, including the Bali Bombings that killed 202 people, 88 of them Australians.

ASIO officers and their sources took some extraordinary risks to keep Australia safe. I recently met and honoured one of our human sources, who I will call GUARDIAN. GUARDIAN adopted the persona of an extremist and successfully penetrated a terrorist cell. No one outside ASIO, other than GUARDIAN himself, knew he worked for us and that his extremist beliefs were a facade. The risks were simply too great. So while GUARDIAN’s work delivered significant intelligence dividends, his family and friends criticised and ostracised him. Several years after GUARDIAN retired as a human source, his suppressed stress bubbled to the surface. He tried to explain his role to his estranged family but they did not believe him, so he reached out to ASIO.

We arranged on-going psychological support and brought his family into this building to explain that GUARDIAN was a courageous patriot, not a dangerous extremist. GUARDIAN described that visit as one of the happiest days of his life.

And it was one of my proudest as Director-General.

In 2024, threats to our way of life have surpassed terrorism as Australia’s principal security concern.

We have come full circle. While the terrorism threat level is POSSIBLE, if we had a threat level for espionage and foreign interference it would be at CERTAIN – the highest level on the scale.

When we see more Australians being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before, we have a responsibility to call it out. Australians need to know that the threat is real. The threat is now. And the threat is deeper and broader than you might think.

Ask the Australian business owners who have been bankrupted or nearly bankrupted because spies stole their intellectual property. Ask the Australians who have been tracked, harassed and intimidated for daring to criticise a foreign regime. Or ask the thousands of Australians who have received online friend requests from spies in disguise.

Right now there is a particular team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a particular focus on Australia – we are its priority target. Many of the people here tonight are almost certainly high value targets. The team is aggressive and experienced; its tradecraft is good – but not good enough. ASIO and our partners have been able to map out its activities and identify its members.

We call them ‘the A-team’ – the Australia team.

The A-team members trawl professional networking sites looking for Australians with access to privileged information, and then use false, anglicised personas to approach their targets.

Some of the names they adopt include Sophy, Amy, Ben and Eric. But the team can and does use others.

The spies pose as consultants, head-hunters, local government officials, academics and think tank researchers, claiming to be from fictional companies such as Data 31.

Most commonly, they offer their targets consulting opportunities, promising to pay thousands of dollars for reports on Australian trade, politics, economics, foreign policy, defence and security. Additional payments can be offered for ‘inside’ or ‘exclusive’ information.

This might suggest the A-team’s priority is classified material, but its appetites are wider than that. We have seen it try to recruit students, academics, politicians, businesspeople, researchers, law enforcement officials and public servants at all levels of government.

While they usually contact their targets on professional networking sites, team members sometimes reach out through email, social media and messaging platforms. They’ve also used previously cultivated and recruited Australians to contact other Australians on their behalf.

If a target takes the bait, the spies try to move the conversation onto an encrypted messaging app. A further step might involve the offer of an overseas trip to meet in person.

This is what an actual approach looks like.

DG Threat Assessment Phone Conversation

Last year, an Australian I will call Ian received an unsolicited direct message from someone claiming to be Sophy from Data 31. Sophy offered a part-time consulting role, and asked for insights into foreign policy, trade and risk.

Ian replied and expressed interest in the opportunity, asking how it would work and what sort of information Sophy needed.

Sophy’s reply contained multiple red flags… she requested information that is not available online, asked if Ian had contacts in government and suggested he not mention who he’s working for.

Eventually Ian asked, “How much do you pay?”

Sophy hinted that the rewards would be greater for inside information, promised the payments would be very competitive and tried to set up a meeting outside Australia, all expenses paid.

So that’s a real exchange – and I’m sorry to say it did not end well for Ian.

Fortunately ASIO became aware of the cultivation and intervened before any secrets were disclosed or any harm was done.

But you cannot rely on ASIO stopping every attempt.

This form of espionage is low-cost, low-risk, low-effort – and can be conducted at scale. Hundreds of friend requests can be sent each day.

At the same time, though, the cut and paste approach, the out-of-the-blue friend requests and the offers that are too good to be true should all raise red flags with recipients. The ‘A-Team’ doesn’t always bring its ‘A-game’.

Unfortunately, too many Australians miss the warning signs or make the A-team’s work too easy. On just one professional networking site, there are 14,000 Australians publicly boasting about having a security clearance or working in the intelligence community. Some even out themselves as intelligence officers – even while proving they’re not particularly good ones!

There are plenty of cases where individuals involved in important defence projects use professional networking sites to identify the team they are working in, the program they are working on and the critical technologies they are working with.

I appreciate that people need to market themselves but please be smart and be discreet – don’t make yourself an easy target.

Australian government employees are required to report approaches of the kind I’ve described tonight. But no matter who you are, I encourage you to report any suspicious engagement to your security manager or through ASIO’s contact reporting scheme.

Failure to act can lead to serious consequences for Australia’s economy, sovereignty and democracy.

Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.

In one of them, leading Australian academics and political figures were invited to a conference in an overseas country, with the organisers covering all expenses including airfares.

When the attendees arrived at the conference they were met by individuals claiming to be bureaucrats. In reality, they were spies in disguise, members of the A-team.

They used the conference to build relationships with the Australians and aggressively target them for recruitment, openly asking who had access to government documents.

A few weeks after the conference wrapped up, one of the academics started giving the A-team information about Australia’s national security and defence priorities.

Another Australian, an aspiring politician, provided insights into the factional dynamics of his party, analysis of a recent election and the names of up-and-comers – presumably so the A-team could target them too.

ASIO disrupted this scheme and confronted the Australians involved. While some were unwitting, others knew they were working for a foreign intelligence service. We helped the unaware ones extract themselves, and severed the links between the others and the foreign intelligence service. Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective.

ASIO did not stop there. We confronted the A-team directly. Late last year, the team leader thought he was grooming another Australian online. Little did he know he was actually speaking with an ASIO officer – the spy was being spied on, the player was being played. You can imagine his horror when my officer revealed himself and declared, “we know who you are. We know what you are doing. Stop it or there will be further consequences.”

Like other public servants, spies are required to tell their security teams about suspicious approaches so I sure hope the team leader lodged a contact report!

Now, you may be wondering why I’m giving you this amount of detail. I’ve declassified the case for two reasons.

First – awareness. Australians need to understand what the threat looks like so they can avoid it and report it.

The second reason is more complicated. We decided to confront the A-team and then speak about it publicly as part of a real-world, real-time disruption. We want the A-team to know its cover is blown. We want the A-team’s bosses to know its cover is blown. If the team leader failed to report our conversation to his spymasters, he will now have to explain why he didn’t, along with how ASIO knows so much about his team’s operations and identities.

I want the A-team and its masters to understand if they target Australia, ASIO will target them; we will make their jobs as difficult, costly and painful as possible.

This is what we call an intelligence-led disruption. While ASIO’s main game is gathering and communicating security intelligence, our actions often have a disruptive effect. This is one reason why I get frustrated by suggestions that convictions are the only weapon in our collective arsenal or the only measure of our success – leaving aside the fact that ASIO cannot arrest or charge anyone.

Yes, prosecutions are important – and I applaud the Australian Federal Police for securing the first foreign interference conviction late last year – but there are other ways to efficiently and effectively reduce harm, particularly from espionage and foreign interference.

We can force clandestine agents to leave Australia by working with our partners to cancel visas.

We can conduct overt interviews, putting the agents on notice that we know what they are up to – and that they will not have free rein here.

We can, as we have done with the A-team, issue a notice across the Australian Public service to warn about a particular threat.

Often I speak directly to my overseas counterparts telling them to stop their activities – and they usually do.

And sometimes we use public statements, such as my speech today, to shine a disinfecting light on the tactics our adversaries use, so potential targets are better able to identify and resist overtures.

It is not our job to study problems – our job is to stop them. We use all these weapons and others, often concurrently, to disrupt Australia’s adversaries. And 99% per cent of the time, we do it without publicity.

The Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce is particularly adept at using intelligence-led disruptions to stop attempts to monitor and harass members of Australia’s diaspora communities.

The Taskforce is based in ASIO and led by an ASIO officer but it brings together the capabilities of a range of partners including the AFP.

Since it was stood up in mid-2020, the Taskforce has conducted more than 120 operations to mitigate threats against our communities, political systems and classified information, including the work that led to the prosecution I mentioned earlier. In a sign of how the threat has grown, successful disruptions have increased by 265 per cent, and continue to increase exponentially. And of course the Taskforce caseload is a subset of ASIO’s even bigger investigative effort.

Last year, for example, the Taskforce uncovered and disrupted an individual working on behalf of a foreign government who wanted to physically harm an Australia-based critic of the regime.

The individual tried to identify his target’s home address and bank details, hired a subcontractor to take photos of the house and even asked how much money would be required to get the subcontractor to quote “take severe action” against the dissident.

Even more recently, a foreign intelligence service tried to find an Australian who would be willing to make a different dissident quote “disappear”.

These cases are typical of many tackled by the Taskforce. They are blunt examples for anyone wondering ‘what’s the harm?’ from foreign interference.

The Taskforce does brilliant and important work. Like ASIO, it protects Australia’s people. It defends our democracy. It safeguards our sovereignty and economy. But it needs your help – your information and your tip-offs. Security is a shared responsibility.

I’ll circle back to this in a moment, but before I do I want to address another emerging threat.

I noted earlier that when Ben Chifley established ASIO, sabotage was one of Australia’s principal security concerns.

The sabotage threat has receded in recent decades but I worry it could re-emerge, particularly in relation to critical infrastructure.

There aren’t a lot of things that terrorists and spies have in common, but sabotage is one of them. ASIO is seeing both cohorts talking about sabotage, researching sabotage, sometimes conducting reconnaissance for sabotage – but, I stress, not planning to conduct sabotage at this time.

The most immediate, low cost and potentially high-impact vector for sabotage is cyber. Our critical infrastructure networks are interconnected and interdependent, which increases the vulnerabilities and potential access points.

ASIO is aware of one nation state conducting multiple attempts to scan critical infrastructure in Australia and other countries, targeting water, transport and energy networks.

The reconnaissance is highly sophisticated, using top-notch tradecraft to map networks, test for vulnerabilities, knock on digital doors and check the digital locks.

We assess this government is not actively planning sabotage, but is trying to gain persistent undetected access that could allow it to conduct sabotage in the future.

I’m not sure the potential harm is widely understood.

Last year, in an event unrelated to sabotage, one telecommunications network went down for less than one day. The cascading effects were more significant and widespread than most people would have expected. There were social impacts when families could not communicate, medical impacts when the sick could not call triple-0, financial impacts when businesses could not process transactions and transport impacts when a vehicle charging system went down. Services that people take for granted proved uncomfortably fragile.

That’s one phone network not working for one day. Imagine the implications if a nation state took down all the networks? Or turned off the power during a heatwave? I assure you, these are not hypotheticals – foreign governments have crack cyber teams investigating these possibilities right now, although they are only likely to materialise during a conflict or near conflict.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve also seen an uptick in the number of nationalist and racist violent extremists advocating sabotage in private conversations, both here and overseas.

It’s particularly pronounced among ‘accelerationists’ – extremists who want to trigger a so-called ‘race war’.

We have seen them endorsing attacks on power networks, electrical substations and railway networks.

While it is largely big talk, ASIO remains concerned about a lone actor moving from talk to action without warning.

That’s been the experience in the United States, where extremist attacks on critical infrastructure are growing in number, sophistication and impact.

It’s a sobering reminder that terrorism remains a threat – a real threat, a pervasive threat – even with a lower national threat level.

I’m sometimes asked what keeps me up at night. Security agencies such as ASIO face a potentially deadly dilemma: the threat environment demands we dedicate more resources to countering espionage and foreign interference, but we must simultaneously maintain a robust counter-terrorism capability. Lives depend on it. And while Australia’s terrorist threats have reduced in scale, they have increased in complexity. As just one example of that – we have seen ideologically motivated extremists switching between ideologies and merging components from different ones to create new, hybrid beliefs; a perverse ‘choose your own adventure’ approach to radicalisation.

The quick history of ASIO I ran through earlier might suggest we only have to deal with one threat at a time. Nothing could be further from the truth – particularly now, where threats are both emerging and merging. Sabotage is just one example.

A complex, challenging and changing security environment means a difficult, demanding and dynamic operating environment, particularly in a necessarily constrained fiscal environment. The cost of doing business continues to climb and our most aggressive adversaries are effectively unconstrained by budgets, laws, ethical considerations or oversight.

Maintaining an appropriately calibrated and balanced response is not easy, and I know my counterparts in other Five Eyes security services struggle with the same dilemma.

The terrible events in the Middle East are a case in point.

Since the October 7 atrocities by Hamas the conflict has expanded with attacks carried out by a range of terrorists, particularly those aligned with Iran. We have seen attempts by ISIL and al-Qa’ida to use the conflict to motivate attacks globally and affiliates of both groups are active in Afghanistan, Africa, South-East Asia and Europe.

While the conflict is a long way away from Australia, it is resonating here and ASIO is carefully monitoring the implications for domestic security.

We have seen heightened community tensions that have translated into some incidents of violence connected to protest activity. We have also observed an increase in rhetoric encouraging violence in response to the conflict. Hateful rhetoric has targeted Israel and the Jewish community, as well as Muslim and Palestinian communities.

Sunni violent extremism poses the greatest religiously motivated violent extremist threat in Australia. But we are not seeing Australians travelling to join the terrorists in the Middle East as we did for the ISIL Caliphate. And thankfully have not seen the lone actor attacks that have occurred elsewhere and were inspired by that conflict.

ASIO remains concerned about lone actors, though – the potential for an individual or small group under the radar of authorities to use readily available weapons to carry out an act of terrorism. And this is a concern across the spectrum of motivations – religious and ideological.

The threat from nationalist and racist violent extremism persists. We assess white nationalist groups are primarily focussed on recruitment and radicalisation—their recent attempts to gain public attention are a good example.

I am concerned about the accelerationist beliefs I mentioned earlier, though. And we are also still seeing individuals who are driven by anti-government and anti-authority ideologies, often inspired by conspiracy theories.

All this means there is the realistic possibility of a terrorist attack or attack planning in the next twelve months. POSSIBLE does not mean negligible. ASIO is currently investigating multiple individuals who have discussed conducting terrorism in Australia. If you believe a person you know is going down a dark extremist path please talk to someone about it and consider calling the National Security Hotline.

Despite our work to identify and mitigate these threats, neither ASIO nor its partners can offer an absolute guarantee. We are not all-seeing and all-knowing. I for one would not want to live in a society where that was the case.

This is one reason why our partnerships are critical. Many of our most important domestic and international partners are represented here tonight and I thank you for the work you do – the work we do together – to protect Australia and Australians from threats to their security.

We must also maintain and nourish a broader partnership – a partnership with Australia’s people, governments, businesses and organisations. Security is a shared responsibility. If there is one key theme in many of the examples I have discussed this evening – particularly in the context of espionage – it is that everyone working with sensitive information needs to be security-aware.

The scale and sophistication of the threats facing Australia demands an equally scaled and sophisticated response. BAU just won’t do.

At the same time, there’s no place for what I call ‘security insecurity’. Please don’t think you are defenceless or resistance is futile. The threats facing our nation are serious, but not insurmountable. Our adversaries are sophisticated, but not unstoppable. Good security is achievable. Good security works. Even simple steps can make a major difference.

So what does good security look like? In my opinion, it needs to be three dimensional: vertical, horizontal and temporal.

The first dimension is vertical. Build security into the foundations of your enterprise – from the ground up, not merely added on at the end, like an antenna on a roof.

Ideally, good security starts before production does, which is why I quickly embedded ASIO officers in the nuclear submarine taskforce. The subs might be years away but the threat is not. Security is being built into every step of the supply chain, every part of the enterprise, and I acknowledge Defence’s great work on that.

That brings me to the second dimension – horizontal. Good security should reach across all elements of your organisation: people, places, technology, information.

You need a whole-of-enterprise approach. The world’s most high-tech fence won’t help if someone leaves the gate unlocked, forgets to update an operating system, uses PASSWORD as a password or gives away your intellectual property.

Security needs to be a shared responsibility, not a niche concern or something that’s ‘left to the specialists.’

The third dimension is temporal. Good security cannot be a point in time; it’s an enduring responsibility. As I’ve explained, threats, circumstances, technologies and people all change. We must constantly reconsider and recalibrate our defences. Ongoing education is critical. Use security incidents as teachable moments. Consider appointing security champions to mentor and coach staff. Encourage security awareness training that moves beyond standard inductions and refreshers to more tailored continuous learning.

The three dimensions of security reflect an organisation’s security culture.

Your security culture is ‘how you do security’ – the security-related values, mindsets and behaviours that are normalised within a workplace.

It’s how security is managed on a day‑to‑day basis, including when no one is looking.

It’s the glue that makes sound security judgement and behaviours stick.

I mentioned Hilda Brooks earlier, one of our former staff members. Back in 1953, Hilda arranged for her uncle to work at ASIO as a doorman. Like today, you needed an ASIO identity card to get into the building but one evening, Director-General Spry turned up unexpectedly.

I suspect you know where this is going. The DG did not bring his identity card.

Hilda’s uncle refused to let him in and DG Spry did not take it well. Hilda later recounted that her uncle was literally shaking in his boots, torn between enforcing the rules and pleasing his boss, wondering all the time if Spry was testing him and what the implications would be for ongoing employment.

This is a great example of a serious security culture – although I suspect Spry did not think so in the moment!

We all understand the impact and horror of terrorism – it is visible, physical, tangible.

Espionage and foreign interference is, by definition, clandestine. And its most severe impacts are cumulative. But just because you cannot always see it does not make it less real or less serious or less pervasive. Espionage and foreign interference corrodes our democracy, sovereignty, economy and community. It undermines our freedoms. It degrades our decision-making and strategic advantage. It truly is a threat to our way of life.

Having business as usual security measures in place is good, but not good enough for this threat environment. BAU just won’t do. Your defences will only be fully effective if they are three dimensional – people need to know about them, people need to use them and people need to update them.

Most organisations have workplace health and safety policies that incorporate clear rules, continuing education and robust reporting mechanisms. Why should security be any different?

Later in the year, ASIO will publish a framework to help organisations build and maintain a robust security culture.

It will make it clear there is no fast track; a security culture must be intentionally prioritised and developed over time. 

It’s never too late to strengthen your security culture. There are many practical steps and actions you can take.

The most important is to take security more seriously.

If your organisation rarely reports security incidents or rarely disciplines someone because of security incidents, I suspect you have a poor security culture, not a strong one.

And if you have anything less than a strong security culture, I’d urge you to consider the potential harm – the harm to your organisation, the harm to your staff and the harm to the national interest.

Our defence industry is an obvious example.

Australia’s defence capabilities are a top intelligence collection priority for Australia’s adversaries – and even for some countries we consider friends.

We know that foreign intelligence services are targeting Australia’s military capabilities with an insatiable appetite to steal a wide range of advanced technology, as well as gain insight into our operational readiness and our tactics, techniques and procedures.

Our adversaries are willing to commit to complex, multi-year efforts to acquire our cutting-edge technologies, aggressively using espionage in all its forms – cyber, human intelligence, technical collection, exploiting public information. And yes, we have seen the A-team offering Australian defence industry employees money in return for reports on AUKUS, submarine technology, missile systems and many other sensitive topics.

My colleagues in Defence know all this; they are well aware of the scale and sophistication of the threat and are working with ASIO to calibrate their responses accordingly. They know BAU just won’t do.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that none of this is easy. You cannot simply ‘solve’ security. There are no short cuts, magic wands or silver bullets. Getting it right takes time, effort and resourcing. Threats are not simple; threats are not static. Our adversaries are proficient, persistent and patient.

But working together we can make a difference. We can throw sand in their gears, build cost into their business models and sow doubt in their minds. We can make Australia a less permissive environment. By all means prepare for threats – that’s important – but do not ignore measures that might prevent a threat in the first place.

The reduction in the terrorism threat level is a good example – it did not happen by accident, it did not happen overnight and it did not merely reflect offshore developments; it followed decades of effort, decision-making, resourcing and legislative change.

Espionage and foreign interference are a tougher challenge. But while we cannot be complacent, we should not be defeatist or adopt the ‘security insecurity’ mindset I referenced earlier.

The men and women who started working at ASIO three quarters of a century ago also faced a monumental espionage challenge and they rose to it.

It won’t surprise you to know that we’ve been reconnecting with the remaining 49ers ahead of our anniversary year.

At the outset of this address, I noted how the 75 years have been characterised by churn and change. Speaking to those who worked for us at the height of the cold war, I’m also struck by what is unchanged – ASIO’s mission and how connected our staff are to it.

Les Scott was one of the founding officers. He spent 38 years at ASIO. Whether conducting surveillance work during the Petrov defection or assisting the Royal Commission into Espionage, Les served his country with dedication and distinction. He sadly passed away last year, but spoke to my officers in 2021 about his ASIO career.

“I feel very satisfied to think that I’ve worked with and learned from such fine people.” Les said. “You can’t have anything more important than defending the Commonwealth.  The security defence of the Commonwealth and the protection of the rights of the individual are paramount.”

Those words apply as much today as they did in 1949. If they resonate with you, and you want a job that makes a difference, then take a look at our career opportunities. We have roles available across our mission, from intelligence analysts and technology specialists, to recruitment and finance officers.

If you do not want to work for us, please work with us. Take security more seriously. Move beyond BAU. Adopt three-dimensional security. Develop a robust security culture. Do not make yourself an easy target. Report suspicious approaches.

This is a national challenge that needs a national team to meet it. Every Australian can help keep Australia safe.

For our part, ASIO will continue to work 24/7 to protect Australia and Australians.

We will keep doing what we were founded to do.

Thank you.

Director-General's Annual Threat Assessment 2024(Opens in a new tab/window)

28 February 2024

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