10 January 2023

ASIO boss says openness is key to the spy agency doing its job

| Ian Bushnell
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ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess

Director-General Mike Burgess: “People won’t work for an agency if they don’t know what it does and what it values.” Photo: ASIO.

For the boss of a secretive organisation, Mike Burgess is surprisingly big on transparency.

The ASIO Director-General spelled this out in his annual threat assessment statement. He stressed the importance of telling the public what his staff achieves and the values that guide them as he pitched for new talent to join the agency.

Mr Burgess said transparency was a powerful recruitment tool.

“People won’t work for an agency if they don’t know what it does and what it values; they can’t apply for jobs they don’t know exist,” he said.

“I want more people to choose ASIO, and I want ASIO to be able to choose more people from more diverse backgrounds. This is a challenge intelligence agencies around the world are grappling with.”

Mr Burgess said the organisation should reflect the community it protects and admitted that ASIO needs to do better on this front.

Mr Burgess said while there was plenty that ASIO could not reveal to the public, there was much it could and should.

“We don’t talk about our operations, but we can reveal their outcomes,” he said.

“We must be secretive about our capabilities, but we can be open about our values.

“We cannot identify our undeclared staff, but we can celebrate the difference they make.”

Most people may think cloaks and daggers when it comes to ASIO, and while the organisation is hiring surveillance officers at present, Mr Burgess said there were many other roles it needs to fill.

“Many of the jobs we are advertising, or are about to advertise, are not usually associated with spy agencies, but are integral to our success,” he said.

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These include trades professionals; technology graduates who can design, build and deliver systems; access data and help analysts make sense of data; business analysts and project managers to grow capability; intelligence officers and analysts to collect and connect the dots; and legal graduates to ensure covert operations are conducted lawfully, and to work on litigation and corporate matters.

“There is no ASIO type,” Mr Burgess said. “ASIO needs people from all walks of life.”

Mr Burgess said ASIO needed to be as open as possible about what it did and why it did it.

“Our ability to deliver our mission requires us to maintain the confidence and trust of our stakeholders, including the Australian people,” he said.

“A vibrant liberal democracy requires a Security Service that is transparent and trusted.

“It’s why I was one of the first intelligence leaders anywhere in the world to have a personal, identifiable Twitter account; why I give speeches and do occasional media interviews; why ASIO is on social media; and why I’ve declassified operations and case studies to give a clearer picture of the threats we face.

“Transparency matters. Transparency is a precursor for trust.”

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So if openness is the key to getting people on board, why is he disguised as Peter Dutton, or are all the leadership associated with law enforcement meant to look the same (cue Michael Pezzullo). Sorry Mike Burgess we still respect you, only kidding. I expect a knock on the door soon about this.

“ASIO needs people from all walks of life.” As long as you have a degree. Those with life experience need not apply

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