Celebrating 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate

Members of WRANS tapping out messages on the WT keys (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)
Members of WRANS tapping out messages on the WT keys (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

The 1st of April 2022 marks a significant milestone for the Australian Signals Directorate – our 75th anniversary. Since its establishment in 1947, ASD has been hidden in plain sight, protecting Australia’s national security through signals analysis, uplifting our cyber defences, and building cutting-edge cyber and technological capabilities. Throughout its history, ASD has risen above and beyond, overcoming any challenges, persevering and adapting, innovating and collaborating, to keep Australians safe and secure.

ASD’s roots

ASD’s roots lie in WWII, with the establishment of two signals operations in Australia: the Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne (FRUMEL) and Central Bureau. From 1941 until the end of the war, FRUMEL and CB intercepted and decoded Japanese radio signals. These early signals intelligence agencies also hired a considerable number of women, including the ‘Garage Girls’, a part of Central Bureau, who worked to decipher vital intelligence signals.

Following WWII, ASD provided technical training and assistance to 547 Signal Troop deployed to Vietnam in 1966. 547 Signal Troop was credited with providing early warning of a planned attack on Australian, US and Thai forces, an act that saved hundreds of lives.

In 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser formally acknowledged the organisation’s existence, and we emerged from the shadows.

ASD over the last decade

The last decade has seen considerable changes to ASD’s business. In 2014, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) was established, consisting of staff from ASD’s original Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), as well as the Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Australia.

In July 2018, we became a statutory agency, and in 2020, Rachel Noble commenced her appointment as Director-General, becoming the first woman to lead ASD. Our rich history has led us to where we are today.

Expanding for the future

In order to meet changes in our strategic environment, ASD must continue to evolve its capabilities. We must be able to deal with increasingly complex strategic circumstances, respond to developments in technology and provide our people with the best possible tools to enable our mission, maintain our capability edge and improve our resilience.

REDSPICE (Resilience, Effects, Defence, SPace, Intelligence, Cyber, Enablers) is designed to respond to these challenges. It is the most significant single investment in ASD’s 75-year history and will help ASD anticipate and deter a crisis, block sophisticated cyber attacks against our critical infrastructure, strike back if and when needed, and ensure Australia’s cyber and intelligence capabilities are best prepared to respond to our strategic environment.

Events

To commemorate 75 years of remarkable history, a number of events have been organised to reflect on our history and highlight our future. These are just a few, with many more to come.

  • From 31 March to 1 April, the National Carillon was illuminated in ASD colours to commemorate our anniversary.
  • From 1 April to 24 July, the National Museum of Australia will be showing DECODED: 75 Years of the Australian Signals Directorate, an exhibition showcasing ASD’s people, our stories, and artefacts including an Enigma machine.
  • On 1 April, the Australian War Memorial’s daily Last Post Ceremony shared the story of Lieutenant Alan Fairlie Kyle DSC, who served in 4th Divisional Signal Company in WWI and Coastwatch in WWII.

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