Intelligence and the Function of Government


Daniel Baldino and Rhys Crowley (Eds)

Melbourne University Press Academic   2018

Paperback   295pp   RRP $49.99


Reviewer:  Tim Cook, June 2019

In March 2018, Baldino and Crawley’s compendium was released at a time when espionage as a theme was under intense scrutiny. Just weeks prior, Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by Russian intelligence operatives in the UK.

Improbable as it was grotesque, the Skripal affair seemed to hark to an older, more familiar state-centric paradigm. However, this four-part,12-chapter collection leaves the reader under no illusion as to the breadth of the security spectrum now inhabited by intelligence organisations in the modern era. The state is still key of course, but terrorism, organised crime proliferation, and the illicit movement of drugs, weapons and people are as much within the purview of the modern intelligence analyst. Technologies of the 21st century breed 21st century intelligence conundrums. Regarding this - and to start at the end - Part IV examines cyber security, cyber warfare and the role of metadata in the modern intelligence era.

Nevill’s contribution, Cyber Warfare: Threats and Opportunities, cites that between January and June 2016, Australia’s Cyber Emergency Response Team responded to 14,804 serious cyber incidents. Nevill ultimately concludes that the primacy of conventional force, however, means the chief utility of cyber warfare is defensive and lies in countering an opponent’s offensive cyber capabilities. Ellsmore’s Cyber Security analyses this defensive posture. In an internet-of-things future, the opportunities to test society’s “cyber resilience” are multitudinous. Elsmore concludes that collaboration between private and public sector is recognised by practitioners as the key to developing a robust cyber security capability.

It does not take much lateral thinking to recognise that collaboration between government and business in the name of security poses uncomfortable questions that we must become comfortable answering. In Chapter 10, Henschke examines the relationship between proportionality and the collation of metadata by governments, asking simply, “is it worth it?”. Only in the most serious of cases, the author concludes, while stressing the absolute necessity for governments to establish robust limits, frameworks and processes to hedge the risks such measures entail.

Part III edges into this moral maze through examining the reputational risks of intelligence undertaking, the need to collaborate with unsavoury allies and the circular partnership between developing capability and developing leadership in intelligence organisations. In Secret Friends, Martin and Ungerer argue that globalisation and the atomisation of goods, peoples, ideas and threats has necessitated forging more transactional relationships. They ultimately conclude, however, that the value of intelligence relationships can never exceed the degree to which strategic alignment exists between participating parties.

Naturally, surveillance of the public or collaborating with invidious regimes, persons and organisations comes with risks, not least reputational. Brunatti examines the management of reputation in Chapter 9 through the prism of the Snowden affair. If the public are to accept that some capabilities must necessarily remain secret, Brunatti posits, the intelligence community must maintain trust among the public. Reputational management is therefore a key part of good governance.

As in all organisations, good governance is the result of good leadership. As Wardlaw in his contribution, development and maintenance of leadership in the intelligence community requires constant evolution if intelligence efforts are to match the challenges posed by the modern era. This is less an exploration of leadership as a concept, but rather how it can be practicably developed institutionally and employed to drive institutional and personal capability.

Part II precedes the more conceptual second half of the book with an examination of the workings of the intelligence cycle itself. Baldino and Milligan identify at the outset that open-source intelligence is underused. This might seem paradoxical in the information age, where such information is abundant and rich. The authors identify, however, a sort of “wood for the trees” dynamic and the fact that intelligence agencies are not yet equipped to fully take advantage of the explosion of digital information.

Michael Wesley discusses the incompatible pressures of the information age, arguing that the pace and instantaneousness of information result in demands for instant advice and analysis. In examining the dissemination of the intelligence product, the author notes that intelligence organisations must constantly refine how they are communicating against the requirements of the audience, many of whom are time poor and not necessarily security experts themselves.

These two chapters concern issues of capability in a rapidly evolving technological landscape. Likewise, in Chapter 4 Robinson looks at the growing domain of financial intelligence, the necessity of specialist agencies equipped to work in this field, and how such an organisation should sit in the structure of government and the intelligence community. In particular the author discusses the complications of instituting new organisations in the ageing structure of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC), particularly with a view to oversight and governance.

The growth of financial intelligence is again reflective of the changing, globalised, interconnected nature of the world in which the AIC must operate. As Maclean and Vandepeer note in their chapter, Military Intelligence: Expectations and Challenges, the two words most commonly ascribed to the international environment are “complex” and “uncertain”. They emphasise the need to integrate the Australian Defence Force’s capabilities in a way that optimises not just the military’s ability to see the battlefield, but to perceive and assess the correct courses of action. This is situational understanding, not just awareness, and represents the difference between collecting information and making it useful. In essence, making the “complex” understandable, and the “uncertain” more predictable.

Ultimately, for the AIC to do this, Crawley and Ford argue in The State of Intelligence Studies that the academic study of intelligence needs developing in Australia, particularly considering the comprehensive list of international equivalents. The authors suggest this could be achieved via three initiatives: a thorough assessment addressing educational and training needs in response to the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, a bespoke objective quality assessment to measure Intelligence Studies education, and the establishment of a dedicated Australian Centre for Intelligence Studies.

This would be high-time. The world-class AIC has drawn upon American and British institutional experience, but this influence has resulted in a framework and character unique to Australia. As Blaxland and Crawley discuss in A History of the Australian Intelligence Community, since 1901 Australia has been conducting intelligence collection. They chart the AIC’s development from its colonial beginnings as accessory to an imperial intelligence structure, through the years of expansion in the crucible of World War 2, to its consolidation as an essential actor during the Cold War.


In the post-Cold War era this book is an essential reader for anyone seeking a better understanding of Intelligence in Australia and the challenges the future holds.

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