Organisational history/progression – from a Bureau in Melbourne to a Directorate in Canberra

Photo of staff from the Defence Signals Bureau (as we were first named) from around 1953, around five years after the organisation was formed.
DSB staff at Albert Park Barracks circa 1953

The Australian Signals Directorate’s history began with the creation of the Defence Signals Bureau (DSB) in April 1947. Formed as a peacetime signals intelligence organisation in Albert Park, Melbourne, DSB was born from the remnants of two wartime signals intelligence units, Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne (FRUMEL) and Central Bureau. An organisation primarily comprised of analysts and technologists, DSB’s purpose was to exploit foreign communications and protect communications security in the armed services and government departments. 

For the first thirty years of its existence, the organisation was shrouded in secrecy, relatively unknown to the greater Australian public. This would change in 1977, however, when Justice Robert Marsden Hope handed down his recommendations in the first Royal Commission into Intelligence and Security. Acting upon these recommendations, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser formally declared the existence of the newly renamed Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) in Parliament 1977, marking the first time that the existence of the organisation had been officially acknowledged by an Australian government.

Seventy-five years have passed since the Defence Signals Bureau was formed in Albert Park Barracks, Victoria, and history has seen the organisation grow in size, stature and significance to become the statutory agency it is today, noting we are stationed across Australia. The organisation has been renamed four times in the years between then and now, restyled as the Defence Signals Branch (DSB) in 1949, the Defence Signals Division (DSD) in 1964 and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) in 1977, before finally becoming the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) in 2013. 

The name changes reflect the way in which the organisation’s mission, mandate and responsibility have grown within the hierarchy of government; the inclusion of ‘Australian’ within the organisation’s name in 2013 reflected ASD’s whole-of-government role in support of Australia’s national security. 

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