Date of Speech: 9 July 2019
One of Australia’s most experienced and respected military historians will tell the top secret story of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), chronicling its evolution into a world-leading intelligence and cyber security agency.
Dr John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University (ANU), has been selected to write the history after a rigorous tender process.
“John Blaxland is ideally and uniquely placed to lead this exciting project,” Mike Burgess, the ASD Director-General, said. “John has an in-depth, front-line understanding of Australia’s intelligence community.”
Professor Blaxland was one of the lead authors of the three volume history of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
“The experience in writing from classified sources for an unclassified ASIO publication certainly helped prepare me for the challenge of writing about ASD. This is a remarkably significant but little known or understood national capability. I look forward to writing about this high tech institution in a manner accessible to the non-technical but interested reader.”
The history will be published to coincide with ASD’s 75th anniversary in 2022.
“ASD’s motto is ‘Reveal their secrets. Protect our own.’ but on our 75th anniversary we will reveal some of our secrets,” Mr Burgess said. “I want the book to tell the stories of our dedicated, brilliant staff. Our history is their history – stories of ingenuity, success and sacrifice.”
The history will chronicle ASD’s origins in the Second World War, when Australian Navy, Army and Air Force personnel were brought together to support General MacArthur’s South-West Pacific campaign by intercepting and decoding Japanese radio signals. It will cover events up until 2001.
“Signals intelligence is known to have played an important role during the Second World War”, Professor Blaxland said, “and the successes during that war laid the foundation for the post war antecedents of today’s ASD. Yet what exactly has ASD and its antecedents done to warrant being designated a statutory agency? This project will explain how and why ASD emerged as it did following the Second World War. It will explore the significance of ties with allies, examine the impact of evolving technology, and demonstrate how the directorate responded to changes in government priorities, in legislation and strategic circumstances. I think it will change the way we understand how Australia responded to its defence and international security challenges.”
ASD is the oldest Australian intelligence agency, yet very little is known about it. Indeed, until 1977, the government refused to even confirm ASD existed.
“It might seem incongruous for an intelligence agency to be telling stories and revealing secrets,” Mr Burgess said. “Traditionally, we’ve been listeners rather than talkers. But I want the public to understand how we protect Australia from global threats and operate within the spirit and the letter of the law.”
The project, being led by Professor Blaxland, includes Emeritus Professor David Horner as a consulting historian, along with a team of research assistants with expertise in various facets of ASD’s functions. Professor Blaxland has stepped down as head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU to focus his efforts on this important national project.