Richardson Review: Chronology of Australia’s national intelligence community

In December 2020 the Australian government finally released the report of the the Comprehensive review of the legal framework of the National Intelligence Community, which was actually completed a year earlier. It includes this very handy chronology of the development of Australia’s national intelligence community.

This is the so-called Richardson Review, named for the person who conducted the review, former diplomat, public servant, and one-time ASIO chief Dennis Richardson. I wrote a little about it for ZDNet today, Australia’s tangle of electronic surveillance laws needs unravelling.

This table is a direct copy-paste from volume 4 of the report, pages 163–171. Some formatting still needs to be fixed.

January 1916Commonwealth Branch of the Imperial Counter-Espionage Bureau founded. The Branch was the first civilian intelligence agency in Australia. It was also known as the Special Intelligence Bureau.
December 1917Commonwealth Police Force established, in part because Prime Minister Billy Hughes had an egg thrown at him at a public rally and the Queensland Police refused to arrest the offenders.
August 1919Commonwealth Investigation Branch established in Melbourne by merger of Special Intelligence Bureau and Commonwealth Police Force.
March 1941Security Service established under joint control of the Chiefs of Staff, for operational matters, and the Attorney-General’s Department, for administration. The new organisation investigated hostile and subversive organisations.
July 1942The Allied Intelligence Bureau established to coordinate existing secret organisations from Allied nations to produce intelligence and conduct operations behind enemy lines.
February 1943US Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, the precursor to the US National Security Agency, commences Operation VENONA against Soviet communications. This revealed widespread Soviet espionage networks in Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. 
February 1944Commonwealth Security Service cut off from allied signals intelligence including VENONA information.
July 1946Commonwealth Investigation Service (CIS) was set up within the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. CIS took over the counter espionage and subversive organisations functions of the Commonwealth Security Service and remained responsible for internal security until 1949.
May 1947Joint Intelligence Bureau established. It was responsible for geographic, infrastructure and economic intelligence, principally in Australia’s region.
November 1947Defence Signals Bureau established. Its role was to exploit foreign communications and be responsible for communications security for the armed forces and Government.
February 1948MI5 Chief briefed Prime Minister Chifley about serious leaks to the Soviets believed to have come from Australia’s Department of External Affairs in or from 1945.
August 1948Australian Government learns that the US has decided to withhold all classified military information from Australia until further notice. No official reason is provided, but informal reporting links it to the alleged leaks from Australia.
March 1949Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) established by executive charter. ASIO was to undertake intelligence activities for the protection of the Commonwealth against espionage, sabotage and subversion.
October 1949Defence Signals Bureau renamed Defence Signals Branch.
July 1950ASIO Charter revised. Access to Prime Minister by the Director-General of Security was limited and the Charter set out more details about ASIO’s finances and liaison activities. ASIO headquarters relocated to Melbourne to be close to other major government departments such as Defence.
October 1950Government attempted to ban the Communist Party of Australia by enacting the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950.
March 1951The High Court finds the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 to be unconstitutional. The Court finds that the Act had declared the Communist Party and its members guilty of subversion instead of allowing this to be determined through the judicial system.
September 1951Government holds a referendum to amend the Constitution to permit it to ban the Communist Party. The referendum is defeated.
May 1952Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) established by executive charter but not publicly disclosed. Its role was to obtain and distribute secret intelligence and to plan for and conduct special operations.
April 1954Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov defect to Australia. They provide evidence of Soviet intelligence activities in Australia.
1954 to 1955Royal Commission on Espionage established to inquire into and report on Soviet Espionage in Australia. Principal findings were that the Petrovs had provided accurate information, the Soviet Embassy had conducted espionage in Australia and the only Australians who knowingly assisted were Communists.
December 1954Revised ASIS Charter moved the agency from the responsibility of the Minister of Defence to the Minister of External Affairs.
November 1956ASIO put on statutory footing through the enactment of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1956. The Act set out ASIO’s functions, the role of the Director-General and other administrative matters. 
December 1957Commonwealth Police Act 1957 enacted establishing the Commonwealth Police from a merger of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and Peace Officer Guard.
May 1960Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act 1960 enacted. The Act put telephone interception powers on a statutory footing for the first time. Powers were limited to ASIO. Law enforcement agencies were not permitted to intercept telephone communications.
January 1964Defence Signals Branch renamed Defence Signals Division.
February 1970In a reorganisation of the Department of Defence, the Joint Intelligence Bureau is merged with three Armed Services Directorates of Intelligence and renamed the Joint Intelligence Organisation. Its role was to prepare intelligence assessments on military, economic, scientific and technical matters concerning Australia’s defence.
16 September 1972Bombing of the Yugoslav General Trade and Tourist Agency, Sydney injures 16 people.
March 1973Attorney-General Lionel Murphy ‘raids’ ASIO headquarters in Melbourne to seek information on Croatian extremist activities in Australia, which he believed was being withheld from him.
August 1974Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (RCIS) established with Justice Robert Marsden Hope as Royal Commissioner. The Terms of Reference required the Royal Commission to ‘make recommendations on the intelligence and security services which the nation should have available to it and on the way in which the relevant organizations can most efficiently and effectively serve the interests of the Australian people and Government’. 
August 1975Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) established to review administrative decisions.
March 1976 to April 1977Eight RCIS Reports produced for Government: The First and Second Reports dealt with procedural issues and ASIO’s role in the security checking of Commonwealth employees and proposed the establishment of the Security Appeals Tribunal. The Third Report discussed the need for objectivity in intelligence assessments and recommended the creation of a separate assessment agency to sit at the centre of the government’s intelligence system to coordinate the intelligence community and carry out assessments of strategic, political and economic matters of significance to Australia. The Fourth Report on ASIO recommended thorough reform of ASIO and stressed the need for adherence to the law, improving its culture and ensuring bipartisanship and political neutrality in intelligence and security matters. The Fifth Report on ASIS recommended that ASIS be publicly acknowledged and be given statutory authority. It also recommended that ASIS should have a limited covert operations capability. The Sixth Report on DSD recommended that DSD should become a national intelligence agency and should have its own signals intelligence collection capability. The Seventh Report comprised a history of the Australian Intelligence Community to 1950. The Eighth Report recommended how the records of the RCIS should be handled after the Royal Commission was over.
December 1976Commonwealth Ombudsman established. The Ombudsman was given powers to investigate complaints about administrative actions of officials and to make recommendations for remedial action.
October 1977Office of National Assessments (ONA) established. Its functions were to assemble and correlate information, to assess international developments of significance to Australia, and to coordinate and evaluate Australia’s foreign intelligence activities.
October 1977Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser acknowledges the existence of ASIS and the intelligence role of DSD.
13 February 1978Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing. Three people were killed when a bomb exploded outside the site of the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. The Government commissions separate reviews of protective security and the organisation of Commonwealth police resources.
April 1978Report to the Minister for Administrative Services on the Organisation of Police Resources in the Commonwealth Area and Other Related Matters presented to Government. Sir Richard Mark recommends creating the Australian Federal Police.
March 1979Protective Security Review Report completed by Justice Hope. The Report recommended clarifying the responsibilities, and improving the working, of Australian intelligence and policing agencies.
June 1979Australian Federal Police established with the merger of the Commonwealth Police and the Australian Capital Territory Police.
October 1979Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979 enacted. It introduced fundamental and wide-ranging reforms to ASIO, redefining its functions, setting out its powers in legislation and providing an authorisation framework for their use. It also enacted a new framework for ASIO security assessments and established the Security Appeals Tribunal to review security assessments.
October 1979Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 enacted. The Act extended the powers of ASIO to intercept material travelling over all telecommunications systems, including telegrams. It also provided limited powers for law enforcement to intercept communications to investigate narcotics offences. 
March 1982Freedom of Information Act 1982 enacted. The Act provided members of the public with access to information held by government agencies and Ministers, subject to exemptions for national interests such as security and defence.
April 1983ASIO briefs Prime Minister Bob Hawke that diplomat Valeriy Ivanov is a Soviet intelligence officer and that Ivanov is apparently cultivating David Combe — a lobbyist with close links to the Government. 
April 1983Valeriy Ivanov expelled from Australia.
May 1983Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies (RCASIA) established to investigate these agencies’ activities including into the progress they had made in implementing reforms since RCIS, issues of coordination, oversight and accountability, ASIO’s compliance with the law, and the expulsion of Ivanov.
November 1983Archives Act 1983 enacted. The Act established the Australian Archives on a statutory footing. Special exceptions were enacted for the records of intelligence agencies.
30 November 1983Sheraton Hotel incident. ASIS undertook a training exercise in which trainees carried real weapons, intimidated staff and broke down a door. The exercise was inadequately planned and supervised and ASIS had not informed hotel staff or the Victorian Police. The RCASIA Terms of Reference were updated to include investigation of this incident.
December 1983RCASIA published its Report on Terms of Reference covering the CombeIvanov affair. It concluded that there had been no intelligence breaches or threats to security.
February 1984RCASIA published its Report on the Sheraton Hotel Incident. It concluded that the incident was an aberration but recommended that ASIS’s covert operations function should be removed.
June 1984National Crime Authority (NCA) established. Its functions were to collect, analyse and disseminate criminal information relating to certain organised criminal activities, investigate matters relating to those criminal activities, establish Commonwealth, state or joint task forces where appropriate to investigate matters relating to those criminal activities, and coordinate investigations by task forces.
December 1984RCASIA presented the Government with its General ReportReport on the ONA and JIO and individual reports on ASIO, DSD and ASIS. The Commission found that the intelligence community had made significant efforts to reform since RCIS. The Commission recommended reforms to improve accountability of agencies.
April 1986Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Telephone Interceptions (the Stewart Royal Commission) published. Justice Donald Stewart investigated the conduct of telephone interception by state police forces and recommended extending interception powers to police to cover serious offences.
October 1986Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) established. The IGIS was founded to maintain a close scrutiny of intelligence agencies to give assurance to Parliament and the public that they act with propriety and within the law. IGIS was granted wide-ranging powers that were in many ways equivalent to a standing royal commission.
November 1986Joint Select Committee on Telecommunications Interception reviews Telecommunications Interception Amendment Bill 1986 and the Stewart Royal Commission recommendations on extending police interception powers. The Committee proposed that police interception powers should cover serious offences and that a separate statutory authority should conduct interception on behalf of state agencies.
December 1986Australian Security Intelligence Organization Amendment Act 1986 enacted establishing the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Its purpose was to review aspects of the activities of ASIO that were referred to it by the Minister or Parliament.
December 1986ASIO Central Office opened in Canberra.
June 1987Telecommunications Interception (Amendment) Act 1987 is enacted to extend interception powers to state and territory law enforcement agencies and increase the number of offences that could be investigated.
June 1988Cash Transaction Reports Agency (CTRA) is established to monitor the movement of currency and detect fraudulent transactions.
December 1988Privacy Act 1988 enacted to promote and protect individual privacy and regulate how government agencies handle personal information.
July 1990Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) established as an all-source provider of defence strategic intelligence replacing the Joint Intelligence Organisation.
December 1991Cash Transactions Amendment Act 1991 enacted replacing the CTRA with the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). Its role was to implement the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering which included collecting and analysing financial transaction data.
March 1995Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Security Intelligence Service, conducted by Justice Gordon Samuels AC QC and Michael Codd AC, published its Report on the Australian Security Intelligence Service. The Commission was set up to investigate whether any changes were required of ASIS’s arrangements for control and accountability, organisation and management, protection of intelligence sources and resolving complaints and grievances. It recommended establishing ASIS on a statutory basis.
December 1995Security Appeals Division established within the AAT. This replaced the Security Appeals Tribunal.
December 1999Computer access warrants for ASIO introduced into the ASIO Act.
June 2000‘Named person warrants’ introduced into the TIA Act in response to the increasing use of mobile phones.
November 2000Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) created by a Cabinet directive from the amalgamation of the Australian Imagery Organisation, the Directorate of Strategic Military Geographic Information, and the Defence Topographic Agency. Its function is to obtain and report geospatial and imagery intelligence.
11 September 2001Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City, US and the Pentagon in Washington DC, US.
October 2001Intelligence Services Act 2001 enacted, putting ASIS and DSD on a statutory footing for the first time. The Act also expanded the remit of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO to include oversight of ASIS and DSD. It becomes the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD (PJCAAD).
July 2002Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002 enacted. It amended the Criminal Code to include offences to deal with terrorism and membership of a terrorist organisation. The Act also included a regime for the AttorneyGeneral to proscribe an organisation as a terrorist organisation.
12 October 2002Suicide bombings kill 202 people, including 88 Australians, in attacks in Bali. The bombings were carried out by members of the extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
December 2002Australian Crime Commission (ACC) established. It replaced the National Crime Authority in order to provide a greater level of national coordination on criminal intelligence.
May 2003Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003 enacted. The Act added Part 5.3 to the Criminal Code to deal with terrorism offences. This Part was enacted on a referral of constitutional power from the States.
July 2003Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003 enacted. It provided ASIO with new powers to investigate terrorism offences, including questioning warrants, which require a person to appear, or questioning and detention warrants, in which the police take a person into custody and detain them for questioning. 
July 2004Philip Flood AO released his report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies (the Flood Review) which looked into the effectiveness of oversight and accountability mechanisms, the division of effort between agencies, the intelligence assessment process and the adequacy of resourcing for relevant agencies. The report recommended: parliamentary oversight should be extended to all intelligence agencies; DIGO should be included in the IS Act; DIO’s mandate should be revised; and the intelligence community should be subject to periodic external reviews.
2004 to 2006Operation Pendennis commenced in July 2004. It was Australia’s longest running terrorism investigation leading to the arrest between November 2005 and March 2006 of two militant Islamic cells operating in Sydney and Melbourne. The final trials took place in October 2009 and the final sentences were handed down in 2010.
December 2004National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Act 2004 enacted to protect information from disclosure during criminal proceedings where the disclosure is likely to prejudice Australia’s national security. The Act was amended in 2005 to apply to certain civil proceedings as well.
December 2004Surveillance Devices Act 2004 enacted to introduce a legal framework for the use of surveillance devices to investigate Commonwealth offences. The Act was based on model surveillance device laws developed by the Joint Working Group on National Investigation Powers.
November 2005Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act 2005 enacted establishing the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS)in response to recommendations of the Flood Review. The new committee replaced PJCAAD and extended oversight to DIGO, DIO and ONA. The functions of DIGO were also added to the IS Act.
December 2005Anti-Terrorism Act (No 2) 2005 enacted. The Act introduced a control order framework into the Criminal Code which allows obligations, prohibitions and restrictions to be imposed on a person to protect the public from a terrorist act. It also introduced a preventative detention scheme which allows police to detain a person to prevent a terrorist act or obtain evidence relating to terrorism.
May 2006Telecommunications (Interception) Legislation Amendment Act 2006 enacted. The Act implemented recommendations of the Report on the Review of Regulation of Access of Telecommunications under the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 by Anthony Blunn AO (the Blunn Report) including to: introduce a ‘stored communications’ warrant framework to access communications — including emails, SMS and voicemail — held by carriers; enable interception of communications of persons known to associate with a person of interest (B-party warrant); and extend the named person warrant framework, to enable the intercept of communications to or from any device used by the named person.
December 2006Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 enacted to provide a framework to counter money laundering and terrorism financing in Australia. The Act implemented record keeping, reporting and compliance obligations for the financial and gambling sectors, bullion dealers and others providing financial services. It also extended the existing regulatory regime imposed by the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988.
September 2007Telecommunications (Interception) Legislation Amendment Act 2007 enacted to implement further recommendations of the Blunn Report. It introduced a framework to comprehensively regulate access to telecommunications data for national security and law enforcement purposes.
April 2010Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) establishedThis reform was in response to a recommendation from the Inquiry into the Case of Dr Mohamed Haneef conducted by the Hon John Clarke QC. The INSLM was given the role of independently reviewing the operation, effectiveness and implications of national security and counter-terrorism laws; and considering whether the laws contain appropriate protections for individual rights, remain proportionate to terrorism or national security threats, and remain necessary.
November 2011Report of the 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Communityconducted by Robert Cornall AO and Rufus Black published. This was the first of the periodic reviews of the Australian Intelligence Community recommended by the Flood Report.
July 2013Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 enacted to facilitate the making of disclosures of wrongdoing by public officials.
2014The declaration of a caliphate –– an independent Islamic State –– in Iraq and the Levant (Islamic State) and accompanying extremist Islamist propaganda, inspired several hundred Australians to travel to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State and fight for its cause.
October 2014The National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 enacted which: renamed the Defence Signals Directorate as the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation as the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO); introduced special intelligence operations into the ASIO Act which provided ASIO officers with limited protection from criminal and civil liability in authorised covert intelligence operations that involve otherwise unlawful conduct; and introduced identified person warrants into the ASIO Act which allowed ASIO to use multiple warrant powers against an identified person of security concern.
July 2016ACC and CrimTrac merge to form the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
June 2017Independent Intelligence Review (2017 IIR) report by Michael L’Estrange AO and Stephen Merchant PSM provided to Government. This was the second of the periodic reviews recommended by the Flood Report. Recommendations included: establishing a new Office of National Intelligence, making ASD a statutory agency, amending the IS Act ministerial authorisation regime, improving cooperation among agencies, and expanding PJCIS oversight to all ten agencies within the NIC.
April 2018Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Act 2018 enacted. It separated ASD from the Department of Defence and established it as an independent statutory agency under the control of the Director-General of ASD. It also allowed the Australian Cyber Security Centre to operate within ASD and cooperate with listed persons and bodies, and gave ASD a function to prevent and disrupt cybercrime and to protect the specialised technologies and capabilities acquired in the performance of its other functions.
May 2018Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Act 2018 enacted to make amendments to NIC legislation following the creation of the Home Affairs portfolio.
June 2018National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 enacted. It amended the Criminal Code to strengthen existing espionage offences, introduce new foreign interference offences, reform Commonwealth secrecy offences, reform offences against government, such as treason, and introduce new offences relating to sabotage, theft of trade secrets, and to maintain the integrity of security clearances.
December 2018Office of National Intelligence Act 2018 enacted replacing ONA with the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) following recommendations from the 2017 IIR. ONI was given broader assessment and open source functions and increased leadership and evaluation functions across the NIC. ONI was empowered to provide directions and issue guidelines to agencies within the community and provide advice to the Prime Minister.

Data and artwork © Commonwealth of Australia 2020. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence (CC BY 4.0).