The Vietnam War was one of the first major military operations supported by the Defence Signals Division, as ASD was known in the 1960s. In 1966, Prime Minister Harold Holt announced an increase in Australia’s contribution to the defence of South Vietnam. As part of Australia’s contribution to the United States intelligence network, DSD liaison officers were deployed to Vietnam alongside a signals intelligence support unit known as 547 Signal Troop.
ASD works with government and industry to detect and respond to threats to critical infrastructure. When a government agency asks for cyber support, or when a business entity or a member of the public reports a cyber-incident, ASD responds. This is ASD’s ‘licence to operate’.
During the Second World War, the Allies’ power was drawn from the strength of its partnerships. In 1946, the post-war signals intelligence relationship between the US and the UK was captured in the British-US Communication Intelligence Agreement (BRUSA), now known as the UKUSA Agreement. Although the agreement was between the UK and USA, the UK sponsored the entry of Australia, New Zealand and Canada
ASD can trace its origins back to the Second World War, when Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force personnel were brought together to support General MacArthur’s South-West Pacific campaign by intercepting and decoding Japanese radio signals. 1942 saw the formation of two key organisations: Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne (FRUMEL) and Central Bureau.
At the rear of Nyrambla, Central Bureau’s headquarters, there was a garage from which personnel from the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) operated. Nicknamed the ‘Garage Girls’ for the location of their operations, these women used TypeX machines, British cipher machines that were adapted from the German Enigma machines, to send and receive encrypted communications between Allied forces.
The Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) entered into the realm of signals intelligence in 1941, thanks to the efforts of Australia’s first female electrical engineer, Florence Violet McKenzie OBE, otherwise known as Mrs Mac. She formed the voluntary civilian Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) in 1939, aiming to train female wireless telegraphists that would not only replace men in civilian roles but could ultimately serve in the forces. As these women rose through the ranks of WESC, the scope of the school expanded and the women began to train prospective Australian servicemen.