From code-breaking and cyber security to counter-terrorism: ASD boss picked to lead ASIO

By Stephen Easton

Thursday August 8, 2019

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Mike Burgess will take over as head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on September 15 after the retirement of Duncan Lewis, leaving a new vacancy to fill at the top of the Australian Signals Directorate.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton jointly announced the appointment of the next director-general of security on Thursday after it was made official by the Governor-General, but did not say who would replace Burgess as leader of ASD.

The statement explained the role of ASD covered the collection of foreign intelligence, cybersecurity and “offensive operations” supporting the government and the Australian Defence Force.

“Mr Burgess has significant experience across intelligence and cybersecurity, having previously served as a member of the Federal Government’s Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Board, Deputy Director for Cyber and Information Security at the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and as Chief Information Security Officer at Telstra.

Mike Burgess

“He brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding of Australia’s national information, intelligence and security landscape gained through many years of experience spanning public service and private industry.”

The opposition also likes Mike.

“Mr Burgess is a respected Commonwealth intelligence official, with highly relevant national security experience both in the public service and the private sector,” said federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who also thanked Lewis for his career serving the nation.

“This is also a position which requires fine judgement in balancing the individual rights and way of life of Australians with those security imperatives. We have every confidence that Mr Burgess will discharge those obligations with distinction.”

As head of ASD, Burgess has made a series of public speeches and statements about the evolving and expanding role of the agency, which was once part of the Defence Force focused on securing sensitive communications and getting around efforts by other nations and international actors to do the same.

“In 1995, the Defence Signals Directorate, as it was known then, was a highly secretive organisation,” Burgess said in a speech last October. “My own family didn’t really know what I did. In fact, at that point in time, few people had even heard of the directorate.”

He stayed at that secretive office for “a very rewarding 18 years” before going into consulting and taking on some of the other roles listed by the PM, then returned in 2018 to “a completely different place” as director-general of the ASD.

“It was emerging from the shadows and cyber was central to that. ASD’s role in cybersecurity was well known and the government had chosen to be more transparent about sensitive aspects of ASD’s capabilities — things like offensive cyber, which had never been discussed before.”

Morrison and Dutton said ASIO was more about “protecting Australians from security threats, including foreign interference and terrorism” although the two agencies obviously have complementary roles in the national intelligence community.

“We congratulate Mr Burgess on his appointment to this vital role at a time when Australia faces an unprecedented level of complex emerging threats at home and abroad,” they added.

Along with a new director-general, the ASD has vacancies for several other senior roles at the moment.

Another vacancy has also opened up at the main central agency of the national intelligence community, the Office of National Intelligence, with deputy director-general Andrew Shearer replacing Peter Conran as the government’s new cabinet secretary.

Morrison and Dutton extended thanks and congratulations to Duncan Lewis on his career at the sharp end of Australia’s national interests.

“In addition to his leadership at ASIO, Mr Lewis has served in senior military and civilian roles, including commanding Australian Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Secretary of the Department of Defence and as Australia’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, The European Union and NATO. … We wish Mr Lewis and his family every success in their future endeavours.”

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