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Intelligence

Report of the Inquiry into  Australian Intelligence Agencies  

Chapter 7 - Resourcing and effectiveness of the agencies


[Table of Contents]

 

Cross Community Issues

Cross Community Issues
Recruitment and Training
Intelligence Relationships
The Public Presentation of Intelligence
Information Technology Connectivity among the Agencies
Distribution of Intelligence Reporting

Cross Community Issues

Each of Australia's foreign intelligence agencies faces its own set of challenges. There are, however, a number of factors underpinning the quality of Australian intelligence which apply across the community. These are related most particularly to the quality of the people in the AIC, distribution of intelligence material, management of Australia's external intelligence relationships and agency interaction with the public. Every agency needs high-quality, well-trained and motivated staff. All agencies need to make the most of Australia's foreign intelligence partnerships and think creatively about how new partnerships might be shaped. And increasingly, each agency needs to have mechanisms in place to respond to growing levels of public interest in intelligence and the occasional wish of governments to put intelligence-based information in the public domain. The following section deals with these cross-cutting issues and identifies a number of areas amenable to a community-wide approach.

Recruitment and Training

The essential ingredient for high-quality intelligence is a cadre of top-class professionals with access to the information they need to identify significant events and trends and the conceptual framework to judge what these developments might mean for Australia now and in the future.

As Australia's foreign intelligence community has expanded over recent years and expectations placed on intelligence agencies have grown, recruitment and training challenges have assumed greater significance. Now more than ever, each agency needs an active recruitment strategy that identifies the skills and expertise required and seeks out the talent they will need to sustain them into the future. Increasingly, agency recruitment needs to pay particular attention to identifying emerging issues and technologies and seeking out skills to match these.

There are difficult issues here. A key limiting factor in the Australian context is the restricted pool of professional talent available. The number of people with the skills, training, interest and experience to be top-class intelligence collectors and assessors is relatively small. Intelligence agencies are competing for talent with the attractions of the private sector and with alternative professions, academia and policy departments. Inevitably in some areas, the agencies are competing also amongst each other. The recent expansion of the intelligence agencies has exacerbated the supply shortages - a number of the agencies are having difficulties finding the people to fill the new positions provided to them by government in recent years.

In these circumstances, special effort is and will continue to be needed over an extended period to broaden the traditional pool of recruits to the AIC, including to target specialist knowledge currently in short supply within the community.

The Australian intelligence community also needs to be skilled at sharing expertise among agencies and borrowing it from elsewhere. It makes sense for the community as a whole to develop centres of excellence; defence-related technical expertise on issues like WMD, for example, is likely to reside in DIO. And given the small size of the community, agencies need to be able to reach beyond their boundaries and the AIC for expertise and new perspectives. This is particularly important in the case of the assessment agencies. Managers and staff in ONA and DIO should continue working to build links with government departments, think tanks and other repositories of analytical strength. Some selective development of career management across the intelligence community, including possibly a programme of secondments between agencies, should also be explored.

But even with the best recruitment strategies and the most prudent sharing of talent, early training and ongoing professional development will remain crucial. Intelligence agencies need to invest in their staff, both through formal training and by providing them with opportunities to expand and update their knowledge, perspectives and tradecraft, in Australia and overseas. Increasingly also, Australia's intelligence professionals require dedicated training to build the special set of skills needed to collect against and assess non-traditional security threats such as terrorism.

There is no single expenditure figure for community-wide training and related activities. The figures range widely, agency to agency, reflecting in large part the different training requirements associated with different intelligence disciplines and the various approaches taken to staff recruitment.

There is currently little commonality across the community in approaches to staff training and professional development. While a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet all the needs of all staff and all agencies, cross-community understanding and interaction could benefit from some greater use of community-wide training initiatives. A common approach in key areas might also offer a number of administrative efficiencies.

The proposed Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee (FICC) should play a role in identifying and developing strategies to address cross-cutting training needs, building on discussions already under way among agency heads. Common training would help provide a foundation for whole-of-government approaches to intelligence needs and improve employment mobility around the community.

In particular, consideration should be given to:

  • An AIC-wide orientation training course to provide new starters with a general intelligence knowledge base and to build a sense of community among agency staff. This should be followed by a refresher course for middle-level AIC officers focused on cross-community issues and challenges. Some supplementary funding may be required for this
  • A common training course for analysts in DIO and ONA to develop and hone skills in analytical tradecraft and professional intelligence writing. Such a course could also address topics such as the cultural dimensions of analysis and interaction with policy-makers as well as analytical approaches to non-traditional security threats. There may be opportunities for Australia to learn from analyst training approaches used overseas and in other analytical agencies of government and
  • A programme of strategic seminars for AIC senior leaders to consider AIC-wide and intelligence capability issues.

Such joint courses would supplement, rather than replace, training developed by individual members of the AIC to meet agency-specific requirements (and, in the case of the Defence agencies, common training on Defence-specific needs and issues). In developing and presenting common training, the agencies would be able to draw on considerable Australian expertise available in the form of seasoned professionals who have spent careers in intelligence collection and assessment.

The FICC should also examine likely resource needs associated with developing and running common training courses. A system of cost recovery from participating agencies should be explored. The FICC should develop for government consideration a proposal for some additional funding to establish a two-person secretariat within one of the agencies to manage cross-AIC training on behalf of the broader community. The FICC might also consider the utility of engaging a professional training consultant to develop a framework for cross-community training.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should develop community-wide training initiatives, including consideration of a general induction programme, a mid-level refresher course, some joint training in the discipline of intelligence assessment, common language training and a programme of senior leadership strategic seminars.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should consider options for career management across the intelligence community, including a programme of secondments across agencies.

Language proficiency represents another core competency for the AIC. Many of the agencies lack depth in this area, a weakness that reflects generally poor levels of formal foreign language training in Australia. Most of the agencies have in place some kind of system for remunerating staff with relevant language skills, with remuneration levels reflecting not only linguistic ability but also, crucially, the importance of the language in terms of national intelligence priorities. All of the agencies need to be active in identifying and reviewing language shortfalls and building a profile of staff with necessary language skills, paying particular attention to emerging issues and ensuring the agencies have the language skills to match developing needs.

The needs will be different for each organisation. High-level skills in key languages are an essential asset for the collection agencies (apart from DIGO), fundamental to their ability to operate effectively.

Recognising this, both DSD and ASIS place high priority on recruiting for and training in target languages. DSD's language skills are reasonably strong, but the situation in ASIS - a growing organisation - is more problematic. The Inquiry recommends elsewhere in this report some additional funding for ASIS to bolster its strength and ensure its language training keeps pace with increased staff numbers. Both ASIS and DSD should continue working to build their language bases.

While the need is most obvious for collectors, language skills are also important for the assessment agencies. Knowledge of vernacular languages can be crucial to an analyst's understanding of the context of an issue and to the checking of intelligence sources and other basic professional practices which are fundamental to high-quality intelligence assessment. About 40 per cent of ONA's analysts have language skills at a workable level of fluency. In DIO's case, only four per cent of analysts are currently accredited with relevant language skills.

An expansion of ONA's staffing numbers along the lines recommended elsewhere in this report should provide the organisation with an opportunity to supplement its stock of key language skills. The organisation should take up this opportunity. The recommended transfer of the Open Source Unit from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ONA will also help bolster ONA's language base. DIO similarly should continue to target language skills in its recruitment strategies, facilitate language skills retention, remunerate staff for relevant high-level language proficiency and to ensure best use is made across the organisation of the language skills represented in its staff. All AIC agencies should have policies in place to help staff consolidate and enhance existing skills in key languages. The approach taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to language training and skills retention might provide a useful model for the AIC.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Australian intelligence agencies should be active in building a profile of staff with necessary language skills, paying particular attention to emerging issues and ensuring the agencies have the language skills, including in Arabic, and other expertise to match emerging needs.

RECOMMENDATION:

ASIS should be provided with additional funding to bolster the key language capabilities of its staff. ONA also should make use of additional staff resources recommended by this Inquiry to supplement its stock of key linguistic skills.

Intelligence Relationships

Australia's set of relationships with foreign intelligence counterparts represents a valuable national asset. Our ties are strongest, and have yielded the greatest return, with the United States and the United Kingdom. The value of Australia's partnership with the United States in particular provides considerable additional potency to Australia's foreign intelligence capability.

Further reinforcing Australia's key intelligence relationships, every AIC agency maintains a network of out posted liaison officers stationed in key partner capitals. These networks are generally working well and represent a worthwhile investment of agency resources.

It should be possible over time to make better use of the agencies' liaison officer network to ensure liaison officers have the seniority, support and resources to maximise the potential of our key relationships. With this in mind, the Inquiry recommends that the AIC (through the FICC) develop a community-wide strategy on liaison relationships to maximize the value Australia draws from our foreign intelligence alliances with the US and UK. The issue of intelligence relationships is considered more fully in the classified report.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should develop a community-wide strategy on liaison relationships to ensure maximum value from traditional alliances with the US and UK.

Beyond the US and UK, there is a case for building a wider range of liaison relationships with targeted foreign intelligence organisations in our region and beyond. AIC agencies have been working for many years to develop mutually beneficial ties of varying kinds with European and Asia-Pacific counterparts. These efforts should continue. Flexibility is also important: while there will be some constants, the range and focus of intelligence exchanges and dialogue should continue to be responsive to particular events and trends, including increasingly important security issues like terrorism.

Offering best prospects in terms of expansion of intelligence relations are the more effective intelligence services in our region. Further afield, European countries' intelligence services offer prospects for increased cooperation; there may be ways to build on the interaction already in place between our assessment agencies in key European capitals. Further, ties with a range of Middle Eastern intelligence communities in addition to the basic links already in place may also offer some value. Indeed, in an age of increasing globalisation, intelligence gathered in distant places can have direct and crucial relevance to Australia's interests and to the security of Australians at home and abroad.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should develop recommendations to Ministers to extend the range and utility of intelligence partnerships.

The Public Presentation of Intelligence

Debate surrounding the handling by governments of intelligence relating to Iraq's WMD programmes has brought to prominence the issue of public presentation of intelligence. The question of whether, when and how governments should use intelligence in support of policy is one that has attracted public attention and causes some discomfort within intelligence agencies around the world.

The issue is not an easy one. Public disclosure of intelligence assessments carries real risks. There are legitimate and important issues surrounding the protection of sources and methods and the identities of Australian intelligence staff. These need to be handled very carefully. More broadly too, public disclosure can complicate and distort the assessment process and make analysts risk-averse, wary of exercising judgment precisely where users of the material most need it. While the community has a right to know how well our intelligence agencies are performing, accountability should be found through mechanisms other than the public exposure of individual assessments.

Nevertheless, there will be circumstances in which the public's right to know and the government's wish to explain the context of important policy decisions require some public presentation of intelligence-based material.

It is legitimate, under certain circumstances, for governments to commission assessment agencies to prepare material for public release and to release publicly other intelligence-based material. There is, however, no legitimate place for policy-makers or advisers to seek to influence the substance of any assessments so commissioned or to release intelligence material without appropriate clearance.

A set of guidelines might help agencies and policy-makers navigate the issues involved in a way that protects the integrity of the intelligence process. Such guidelines should formalise the process for government to commission or clear foreign intelligence-based product for public release. Any request should be directed from the Prime Minister to the Director-General of ONA. In the case of a commissioned assessment, the Director-General should act as final arbiter of the assessment's contents. Among other things, the Director-General should ensure that the content does not compromise sources, breach intelligence-sharing arrangements or reveal sensitive national security information. Most importantly, the guidelines should state explicitly that there should be no influence from ministers and their offices or from policy departments on the conclusions of any product so commissioned.

In the case of other foreign intelligence material proposed for release, including intelligence reports from the collection agencies, the Director-General of ONA, in consultation with the relevant agency head, should ensure that any proposed release does not compromise sources, breach intelligence-sharing arrangements or reveal sensitive national security information. The following box suggests a set of guidelines for the public presentation of intelligence material.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet should prepare for Government consideration guidelines, as outlined in the attached text box, for the public presentation of foreign intelligence material.

COMMISSIONING OF INTELLIGENCE-BASED MATERIAL FOR PUBLIC RELEASE: SUGGESTED GUIDELINES

COMMISSIONING OF INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENTS FOR PUBLIC RELEASE
A request to prepare an intelligence-based assessment for public release should be made in writing by the Prime Minister to the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) following consultation with the Director-General.

The request should set out the issues which the Prime Minister would like to be addressed in the assessment.

There should be no influence from ministers and their offices or from policy departments on the conclusions of any commissioned assessment.

The assessment should be approved by the Director-General of ONA who would retain complete responsibility for its contents.

The Director-General of ONA must ensure that the content of any assessment does not compromise sources, breach intelligence-sharing arrangements or reveal sensitive national security information. This may mean that some issues cannot be covered in a useful way.

The independence of the Director-General in producing an assessment for public release would be the same as that applying to ONA assessments under the ONA Act.

PUBLIC RELEASE OF OTHER FORMS OF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE MATERIAL
Prior notice of an intention to release publicly any foreign intelligence material should be made in writing by the Prime Minister to the Director-General of ONA following consultation with the Director-General.

The Director-General of ONA, in consultation with the head of the relevant intelligence agency, must ensure that the content of any intelligence material proposed for release does not compromise sources, breach intelligence sharing arrangements or reveal sensitive national security information. This may mean that some material is not appropriate for release.

Similarly, in the age of the terrorist threat, intelligence-based assessment needs to find its way in some form into the travel advisories issued by the government, through DFAT, to guide Australians travelling abroad. Current arrangements, refined after the Bali bombings, as well as the coordination that should be achieved through the newly established National Threat Assessment Centre, represent a sensible way of managing this need. The approach is a balanced one which recognises and gives the highest priority to the safety of Australians abroad without compromising intelligence sources and methods. Crucially, the system is now geared to ensure that genuine threats to Australians can always be acted on.

Finally, while it is imperative for intelligence agencies and government generally to avoid disclosure of material that could prejudice the capabilities of the agencies to support the national interest, material that can be put in the public domain in relation to the agencies should be. Intelligence agencies should prepare for consideration by government an unclassified brochure on the working of the intelligence agencies, their place in government, and the accountability mechanisms that support them. A version of this should be made available on the internet and be kept up to date.

RECOMMENDATION:

ONA should, in consultation with the foreign intelligence agencies, produce an unclassified brochure on the role of the intelligence agencies, their place in government and the accountability mechanisms that support them.

Information Technology Connectivity among the Agencies

While the work of the agencies is increasingly integrated and interdependent, the IT system that supports cross-agency efforts is less than optimal. An AIC-wide system does exist but it has to date fallen short of providing an optimal level of communication among the intelligence agencies. Further, there are difficult issues in seeking to balance analysts' need for ready access to a wide range of information, and the demands of information security.

The cost of IT upgrades to meet these needs will almost certainly be high. Nevertheless, the impact on the effectiveness of the AIC is such that the further development of the IT system that allows cross-community linkages warrants consideration as a priority task of the FICC. The Inquiry recommends that the FICC develop a strategy for IT connectivity and collaborative intelligence production within the intelligence community (including ASIO), and IT connectivity with primary customers.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should develop a strategy for IT connectivity and collaborative intelligence production within the intelligence community, and a strategy for IT connectivity with primary customers.

Distribution of Intelligence Reporting

The degree of government focus on national security and the heightened need for intelligence have led to an increase in the amount of intelligence material available to Australian customers. While this increase in the quantity of intelligence reporting is welcome, it has given rise to problems with the capacity of clients of intelligence to absorb properly all of the information they receive.

Some customers, particularly in ministers' offices and policy departments, find it difficult to digest the large volumes of intelligence product that come to them. This gives rise to risk that material is not being fully utilised by decision-makers and those who support them.

To a large extent, intelligence customers need to adapt to the new intelligence environment. They need to accept that intelligence flows will necessarily be greater, and the effort that they expend to manage that flow will also need to expand.

Significant efforts have already been made to resolve this issue. The need for quick analysis of the large amounts of threat intelligence should now be met with the establishment of the National Threat Assessment Centre. However, there are further ways in which managing the volume of intelligence material can be addressed.

Communication between collection agencies and their customers is generally good, and the Inquiry noted the substantial effort that collection agencies make to meet the needs of assessment and policy agencies. But further effort could be made to ensure that the intelligence products produced by agencies properly match what customers need.

Intelligence agencies should be in close contact with individual readers of intelligence, and make strong efforts to tailor the distribution of products to actual needs. Collection agencies should not judge their efforts by how much material they make available to users, but by how useful it is in a practical way in assisting users with their work.

Collectors can also help by taking greater responsibility for identifying pieces of intelligence reporting that genuinely require attention at high levels and those which do not. For their part, policy agencies need to ensure that their internal distribution systems provide users of intelligence with the reports they need, without burdening them excessively.

The Inquiry recommends that the FICC take up the issue of the distribution of intelligence reporting, with the aim of ensuring that reports reaching senior readers in ministers' offices and policy agencies are well-targeted and do not excessively overload users.

RECOMMENDATION:

The Foreign Intelligence Coordination Committee should examine the flow of foreign intelligence product to senior users and identify means by which distribution can be more precisely tailored to requirements.

 

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