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This Day in History

Australian History

Wednesday, March 16, 1949. :   The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is established.

     The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO, is the national security service of Australia. Its main role is to gather information and produce intelligence in order to safeguard national security, which the organisation defines as "the protection of Australia's territorial and border integrity from serious threats, and the protection of Australia and its people from espionage, sabotage, politically motivated violence, the promotion of communal violence, attacks on Australia's defence system, and acts of foreign interference."

ASIO was originally established in response to perceived threats to Australia's national security following World War II. During the post-war period, it was revealed that sensitive British and Australian government data was being leaked through Soviet diplomatic channels. Investigations tracked the leak to a spy ring which was operating from the Soviet Embassy in Canberra. As a result, then-Prime minister Ben Chifley issued a Directive for the "Establishment and Maintenance of a Security Service" on 16 March 1949. This later became the 'Australian Security Intelligence Organization', the name of which was amended in 1999 to 'Australian Security Intelligence Organisation' in line with Australian standard spelling.

The first Director-General of Security was South Australian Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Reed, and it was he who gave the organisation its name. ASIO was modelled on MI5, the Security Service of the UK, and an MI5 liaison team was attached to ASIO during the early 1950s to guide and advise the development of ASIO's duties and operations. By 2008, ASIO had established liaison relationships with 311 authorities in 120 countries. It remains integral to Australia's national security, fulfilling the role for which it was established.

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