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Where it all began – the AIC

Australia's intelligence effort started in the lead-up to the First World War, devoted primarily to counter-espionage. During the Second World War, the first parts of what was to become today's Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) were formed to support US and Australian forces in the Pacific through the provision of signals intelligence (SIGINT). The Defence Signals Bureau (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate — ASD) formally came into existence in 1947.

Following the Second World War, the SIGINT focus shifted to focus on Soviet communications. At the same time, growing concerns about Australia's security led to the establishment of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 1949. Its immediate purpose was to pursue Russian spies.

The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) was formed in 1952, falling within the Department of Defence portfolio. It was modelled on its British counterpart (MI6) and focused on collecting human intelligence (HUMINT). In 1954, Ministerial authority for ASIS shifted to what we now call the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and in 1977, ASIS's existence was publicly acknowledged for the first time.

During the Second World War, the Department of Defence's intelligence assessment functions were shared between the three Australian Defence Force services (Army, Navy and Air Force) plus the department's intelligence assessment arm — the Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB). In 1970, the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) was formed through a merger of JIB with most of the foreign assessment elements of the three armed services. Following a 1989 review of Defence intelligence, the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) was established from JIO as Defence's sole strategic-level all-source intelligence assessment agency.

The second of the two intelligence assessment agencies that comprised the AIC, the Office of National Assessments (ONA), was established as an independent agency in 1978 following the Government's passage of the Office of National Assessments Act 1977. This was in line with the recommendations of the first Hope Royal Commission (further detail below).

The final organisation to join the AIC was the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO). Australia's imagery intelligence analysis capability had existed since 1964, but until 1998 it was an integrated part of DIO. In 2000, the various imagery analysis functions in the Australian Government were formally combined under a new organisation — the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) — which later changed its name to AGO.