“Keeping Secrets/Disclosing Secrets” – with Spy Chief turned DG of Australia’s National Archives David Fricker
Dr Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to SpyCast. I'm your host Dr Andrew Hammond, historian curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. SpyCast's sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, for engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors, to explore the stories and secrets, trade craft and technology of the secret world. We are SpyCast.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Dr Andrew Hammond: David Fricker has spent his career at the crossroads of information, from programmer to entrepreneur, to CIO of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization or ASIO, before going on to become its Deputy Director General. At present he is the Director General of the National Archives of Australia. There's an interesting dynamic between the impulse to keep secrets and to disclose them. To hear how this plays out for David and his career, you'll need to listen to the show. Along the way, David and I discuss ASIO, the Australian intelligence landscape in the region, major allies and partners including the US, and the Five Eyes alliance, the digital age, knowledge society and the role that archives and intel agencies play, and David's journey from a great COBOL programmer born in Sydney, to a life spent in public service in Canberra.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me [LAUGHS] this evening my time, this morning your time, David. One of the things that I was thinking about when I was preparing for this episode was, you used to be the Deputy Director General for ASIO and now you're the Director for the National Archives of Australia [LAUGHS]. It seems to me that there's a poacher-gamekeeper kind of thing going on. How do you, how do you overcome your habitual intelligence officer desire to hold onto secrets in your current job?
David Fricker: I know, it's-- yes, I often talk about this that I switched overnight from keeping secrets to doing everything I could to give them away. No, I know, it has been a very interesting transition, but, look, you know, it's funny, I do see it as a, as a continuum in my career at, at ASIO. I was very interested, always very interested in intelligence and the, the power of information, you know, what information can do to make the world a better place. And in ASIO, of course, a lot of that is about using information in covert ways, in secret ways, but a lot of my time there was about, well, how do you make that security intelligence public? You know, how, how are we going to use this intelligence product to make Australia a safer place because you're never valued really for the secrets you keep. You're always valued for the knowledge you can share.
David Fricker: And, also, at ASIO, a large part of my responsibility was in fact the public release aspect, the declassification side of the, the business as well. So, so in many ways it was a-- it's a continuum for me and about, well, we collected all this information, what good is it going to do for people? And I had that perspective at ASIO and then going to the Archives, of course, it was the other-- you know, the, the distant end of that, that chain, if you like, as, okay, now we've got to make as much of this poss-- public as possible.
David Fricker: So, yeah, no, it is, but it was quite a, quite an interesting switch there from the, the keeper of the secrets to the, you know, the big blab-- the biggest blabbermouth in the country [LAUGHS].
Dr Andrew Hammond: [LAUGHS] What, what piece of advice, or what insight have you learned in your current position that you would like to share to any intelligence officers or intelligence directors, chiefs that are listening?
David Fricker: You know, for me the responsible-- the more we can, in the intelligence community, and I say we, it was ten years ago for me now, but, but the more that we can in the intelligence community tell the public about what we're doing, about the service we're providing, and the way that we're all working very hard to keep our people safer. Of course, we're all-- day to day, in the intelligence community, everyone is very bound up in, in the urgency of what's in front of them and the need, the, the genuine need for secrecy to protect sources, to protect methods, protect operations, etcetera, intelligence agencies need the public's trust. And, you know, the way you keep the public's trust is to-- is the responsible measured sharing of that information.
David Fricker: And, and, look, by and large, in democracies around the world, by and large, I think the intelligence community does a, a good job at that. But, you know, I think, you know, things like Wikileaks, and, and Ed Snowdenand those sorts of things, they spring up and it, it creates, it creates misinformation, disinformation and mistrust. And so the, the to-- the antidote to that is for us all to be as, as open and transparent as we can. You know, without, without undermining security, how, how much can we keep the public on side, informed and maintain that public trust?
Dr Andrew Hammond: Yeah, I can see that, you know, looking at your career. In some ways, it's-- yeah, the common thread is managing information and it seemed like the first part of your career was, you know, making sure that only certain people got the information and now you're saying here, as information that, you know, more people deserve to have. So that's, that's quite interesting that you see that thread running throughout your experience.
David Fricker: Yeah. It's-- You know, that-- I, I joined, I joined ASIO in, in 2002 and, and, look, I might say for visitors as well, it's, it's unusual for ASIO even former officers to talk about their career. Under Australian law, it's, it's illegal to publish, you know, the identity of a former ASIO officer unless specifically authorized by the Director General. So, Andrew, relax, I have been authorized to have my [LAUGHS] identity known. So, I am already a published former officer of ASIO. But the reason, one of the reasons that that occurred was because, you know, of course joining ASIO in 2002, very, very soon after the, after the awful events of September 11, and, you know, the big pivot worldwide from focus on espionage to counter-terrorism and that's, that's where this information sharing came in.
David Fricker: This is when all of us across the intelligence community started to understand, yes, there is the need to know policy, you know, where you, you keep information close to yourself, strictly controlled on a need to know basis. But then the heads of the intelligence agencies started to say, yes, but there's also a responsibility to share, because what we learned-- one of the lessons from September 11 was, you know, the big global discussion about connecting the dots, you know, and why, why were we not able to connect the dots prior to those, those events of September 11 and subsequently for Australians, the events of, of Bali, etcetera? And that became responsibility to share which of course brought information management very much to the fore.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Just to walk back a little bit, can you tell us how you came into this world of intelligence and espionage? Because your, your back story's quite interesting, you studied computer science, you worked in the customs service of Australia and then you, you were in the private sector for a while. You were, you know, doing startups and so forth [LAUGHS], so you've got quite an interesting background. How did you end up in ASIO?
David Fricker: So, yes, as, as you say, I, I graduated back in 1979, you know, when mainframes were the, were the go and I was, I was a great COBOL programmer. You know, it's not, not a sought after skill these days but I was fantastic at it. Yeah, joined the Customs Service as a programmer, so, you know, with the border, border security focus obviously on, on-- in customs. Then left, as many computer programmers did, left to join the private sector, the corporate sector and then sort of had a career in consultancy and that, that took me to-- and I've always worked, by the way, in Canberra in the, the capital of Australia, so working a lot with federal government.
David Fricker: So, my work as a consultant took me to, you know, defense, and to the intelligence community and to the immigration department, again with that focus on border management. Yeah, so it was, it was that sort of working in those sort of areas of a lot to do with border management, border security, managing personal identities, using-- you know, before we were talking about big data, but using the large scale data collections of governments to understand the risks and the threats in terms of managing things like customs, importation of goods, traffi-- the movement of people across the borders, etcetera.
David Fricker: And I ended up doing some consultancy at ASIO, so my first encounter with that agency was as a consultant and then just to, to cut a long story short, the position of the CIO at ASIO came up, and I, I applied for that because by that stage I'd become very very engaged, and, and very, very fascinated, if you like, very dedicated to the work that was going on there at ASIO. So, I was very fortunate to have secured that position as Chief Information Officer at ASIO and then for the next almost ten years, continued my career there.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Just for our listeners that are from north America or Europe, just to give your story a little bit more grounding and to situate you in a particular place, like, where, where were you born and raised? I have a, I have a, [LAUGHS] I have a very good friend in Perth and I have another friend I met in Queensland, so there's two completely opposite sides of Australia that I've always wanted to go to and never been. Were you-- Where in between both of those [LAUGHS] coasts were you, were you born and raised?
David Fricker: So, no, I was, originally I was born in Sydney but most of my life I've grown up in, in Canberra which is, you know, a little, a little distance from Sydney, bit inland, but, yeah, so, the, the capital of Australia here in, in Canberra. So, yeah, so born, born in Sydney but left, left Sydney with my family as a, as a young boy in the 1960s and have grown up in, in Canberra. And Canberra, perhaps a bit like Washington, perhaps more so than Washington, Canberra is really a city that has grown up around the federal bureaucracy, very much focused on supporting the, the operations of our federal government. And, yes, and this is, this is where I've, I've spent my, my working life. A long, a long way away from Perth, I might say [LAUGHS], Andrew.
Dr Andrew Hammond: [LAUGHS] And, yeah, one thing I was going to ask as well, just really briefly, for our listeners that, again, that aren't familiar with the Australian intelligence landscape, could you just tell us a little bit more about ASIO and about how that fits in within other agencies? ASIO's akin to MI5 and is it somewhat of FBI? Like, help us understand the landscape.
David Fricker: Yeah, no, no, it's a, it's a good question to ask. And, so, yes, it is very similar to MI5. I think it was very much-- in its formation, it was, it was formed in 1948 and it was based on MI5. As many Australian institutions are, in fact, you know, modeled on, on the British, you know, under the Westminster scheme, many of our agencies are modeled on British institutions. So, ASIO is-- it's often characterized as the domestic security agency but in fact it's, it's not really strictly domestic. ASIO is the organization that's focused on threats to Australia's security. And, so, that, that means threats wherever they may come from, so there is an international role for ASIO but ASIO is not a foreign intelligence agency, that doesn't collect foreign intelligence, it collects intelligence relevant to-- well, it collects intelligence within Australia but also its focus is on any threats to Australians or Australian interests wherever they are in the world.
David Fricker: So they're-- this so called heads of security means that it focuses on politically motivated violence, focuses on communal violence where one part of the population may be incited to commit violence against another, attacks on, on Australia's defense systems, sabotage, espionage, foreign interference, and more recently serious threats to Australia's territorial integrity. So, these are, these are called the heads of security and they strictly define the limits of what ASIO can do. It's not law enforcement, it's purely an intelligence collection and analysis agency. In Australia, we-- we, I say we-- In Australia, ASIO, you know, works closely with the Australian federal police and, and police of all other state and territory jurisdictions, but the federal police is the law enforcement agency in, in Australia which, you know, deals in a federal level with counterterrorism and other, other serious crimes.
David Fricker: And, so, yes, like the FBI is probably-- you could almost think of the FBI in, in the US as a combination of what ASIO does, and the Australian federal police does. So, ASIO intelligence officers don't carry guns, they don't have a power of arrest. There are some detention powers, but, you know, it's, it's not law enforcement, it's intelligence. And this, this was an interesting relationship that we dealt with actually as, with the rise of counterterrorism as an activity, it did produce quite a change in the way that ASIO and the police did work together during those, during those years after September 11.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And could you tell us a little bit more about that? Because I find that fascinating, you know, the Chief Information Officer and you come in in 2002 and, like you say, there's a pivot away from, you know, traditional counterespionage, counterintelligence, towards counterterrorism. Tell us about the, the ASIO that you encountered when you joined, or tell us about some of the, the main challenges that you faced in your own position.
David Fricker: Yeah, so, it was-- we, we can all remember back to that, that time and, you know, what a shock it, it was around the world, and how everything had to be, you know, questioned and re-examined. Everybody had to redouble their efforts to try and get ahead of this, this, this problem, you know, this issue that, that was confronting. Now, it wasn't-- I, I should say, you know, September 11 of course was a major shock, it wasn't completely unknown. You know, we, we already had some of the key players were on the radar, but, but, as I think we're all well aware in the 20 years, you know, that have followed, what we needed to do was to, as I said earlier, connect those dots.
David Fricker: And so everybody was saying, alright, if, you know, this piece of information was known over here, by this agency, if the police had already been aware of that, if the aviation industry had already picked up this pattern of travel of these individuals, if we had a threat assessment from six months ago that said this could emerge as an issue, why was it that we were unable to, to bring all that together? And, you know, to, to a great deal, it was that, you know, we just simply weren't communicating across all of those organs of the international intelligence community. That level of communication wasn't happening. Our processes and procedures around our need-to-know models, around our intelligence priority settings, around those sort of multilateral groups that had been established, didn't promote that sort of level of communication or that sort of level of, of thinking, of creative thinking, imagination.
David Fricker: And also as my role as the CIO, the systems, you know, our, our IT systems, back in 2002 were also very siloed. They, they were quite partitioned around specific issues, to collect data, to collect intelligence, to, to provide a, a platform for intelligence analysis, but on a particular theme, on a particular target or around a specific operation. The, the more strategic intelligence wasn't bleeding out of those silos to, to, to go into a pool, a greater pool of, of data which would allow us to then anticipate the next threat. You know, to anticipate the next, you know, issue or, or act of terrorism that was going to emerge or to, to identify-- you know, what was quite new back in those days, was social network analysis, you know, to, to rather than sort of follow particular events or, or meetings, but to, to think about identities and to try and assess the connections between identities, and really delve into what's the intent and capability.
David Fricker: You know, that-- those bases of intelligence. You know, we've, we've got an actor here, either a person or a group or even a state actor, who may have some sort of hostile intentions towards the security of Australia, so what's the intent? And what's the capability? And so that, as a CIO coming into the intelligence community in those days, that was clearly the biggest challenge. And so it was really about, you know, finding those connections across the community, to make sure that we were being much more open and with a, with a, a default position of sharing intelligence, and also, you know, it then meant working across-- outside the intelligence community as well which, which I found really, really very-- a very stimulating part of the job and a very, again, fascinating part of what we were going through in those days, was how do you work with industry?
David Fricker: Because, you know, for example, of course aviation security was a major focus, following September 11. So you, you can't really get on top of that issue unless you work with the aviation industry. Okay, well, how do you do that? How can you share intelligence with multinational private corporations? And, so, we had to, we had to establish those sorts of systems and those sorts of procedures and protocols to make sure that security intelligence was being, if you like, you know, producing a streamlined security intelligence threat assessment, that could be shared with some sort of trusted relationship with industry, without undermining, you know, the sources and methods, without undermining our relationships with foreign partners who had contributed to that. You know, it was a very careful navigation to protect sources, to protect intelligence, but to make sure that the security intelligence was being used for the purposes of protecting, in our case primarily Australians, but in fact, you know, people of the world.
David Fricker: And so this, this was, you know, as a CIO, very long answer, Andrew, to your question, but as a CIO, if you're the, the Chief Information Officer, and you're thinking, well, what's this information for, you know, how-- yes, it has all these constraints around it, but how are we going to use it to deliver that public good? And it was, it was a big, a big effort, big effort internationally, I might say. That, for me is what defined that period of those, those early years. And, you know, not forgetting-- I, I keep talking about September 11, but, of course, in 2002, in October of 2002, there was a terrorist attack in Bali with 88 Australians who died. And, so, this-- you know, that those-- In quick succession, we had-- and there were other terrorist attacks, of course, but we had major, major bloody attacks on, on our people. And the, the urgency was just so strong that it just really, really motivated people to do extraordinary things in a, in a very short period of time.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And you've mentioned some of the challenges that were there, that transcended any kind of national borders and, and also spoke a little bit about partnerships. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? A little bit more about the Five Eyes partnership, some of the main people that you've worked with, you know, the, the-- [LAUGHS] obviously from 2002 until you become Deputy Director General in 2007, the Iraq War happens and, you know, there's a whole, there's a whole variety of things going on there. So, tell us, tell us a little bit more about that transition from 2002 to 2007, as, as you live, live through it as CIO.
David Fricker: Yeah. It was such a-- especially within the Five Eyes community, it was, it was such a, a strong, you know, commitment to collegial working and collaboration. You know, it was, you know, it was, it was really so gratifying, I think, to see so many across that community with such preparedness to, to share technology, to share, you know, algorithms, methods and, and processes to get things done, and, of course, you know, sharing knowledge and, and information. You know, we're still within the, the last 20 years Andrew, so I'll be circumspect about, you know, some of the capability, but I'll, I'll certainly around, you know, the big data, you know, big data analytics, social network analysis, as I was saying, those sorts of technologies were being, you know, really advanced very very quickly and applied across the, the issue of, you know, interoperability of information, of course.
David Fricker: We were working a lot with, you know, standing up fusion centers, like the, the National Threat Assessment Center, Counter-Terrorism Coordination Center which were units set up within our agencies, where we could have representatives from, you know, both foreign and, and national institutions with connections to their own systems, who could very quickly dive into their own information resources and sort of bring that information together into a fusion center. So, it was a comb-- a beautiful combination of technology and people, people with access to their own technology, with their own security clearances and accesses, but just, you know, together, you know, in, in this sort of fusion center idea to make sure that you could have daily, twice daily, five times a day meetings and just put it all on the table. And as I was saying earlier, use your imagination, you know, what's going on here? What's happening next?
David Fricker: And so, those people to people links were, were, you know, really, you know, quite fascinating and, you know, you know, I had the pleasure, you know, to, you know, this was in the days of Robert Muellerand General Hayden, and these, you know, these folks in the-- those agencies, and Eliza Manningham-Buller was running MI5 at the time, and so they, they were-- these identities became more and more prominent in Australia, you know, as we all sort of started to get much more familiar with, with those other agencies around the, the Five Eyes especially. And, and just a camaraderie that was growing up.
David Fricker: Now, as a CIO and then with my subsequent career path as Deputy Director General, yeah, it was, it was great. You know, we became very-- working very closely. One of my, my highlights of my career, in fact, was, was a visit to Washington and I just ended up watching a game of hockey with Mike Morrelland I-- This is ice hockey. You know, what we would call in, you know, ice hockey in Australia, I think you might call field hockey, the hockey we're familiar with. But, yeah, it was just-- it was that sort of, yeah, sitting there with Mr Morrell there watching a game of hockey, and I thought, jeez, you know, I never thought I'd be doing this as a little boy, you know, [LAUGHS] growing up in Canberra.
David Fricker: And, look, and the other thing I'd say, Andrew, as well is across-- outside the Five Eyes, you know, there was also a terrorism-- you know, the, the shift away from, if you like, a focus on espionage and towards other bigger issues like counterterrorism, and then subsequently, you know, issues around foreign interference, means that the partnerships grow, you know? So we, we were never just limited to the Five Eyes. There's a special relationship obviously within the Five Eyes, but counterterrorism is a global issue and every, I think, every country in the world just about was a partner in the, in the battle against terrorism.
David Fricker: You know, ASIO, as I said, you know, we-- I keep saying we all the time, but ASIO is an organization that is focused on defending Australia's interests, but it does that through, you know, relations with, with other countries so it has formally recognized, authorized by the Attorney General, relationships with well over 100 other countries, and these are acknowledged, if you like, declared intelligence sharing relationships with those, with those countries, with the intelligence agencies in those countries. And this was the other thing that was growing during that time was the-- a much more sort of collegiate and stronger, you know, focused effort on making sure that we are sharing with partners, all around the world, non traditional partners. Any, anybody that was feeling that threat of terrorism, was keen to get involved, and find a way to work together and that was just, that was just fascinating as well.
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Dr Andrew Hammond: When you said that one of the highlights was coming to Washington, I thought you were going to say, and coming to the International Spy Museum [LAUGHS]. I mean, watching--
David Fricker: That was, that was--
Dr Andrew Hammond: It wasn't so bad. [LAUGHS]
David Fricker: Good. No, that was, that was a highlight day, visiting the Spy Museum definitely was a highlight as well. And, and many of us did as, as a sort of a little side trip to our, our official visit to Washington, we'd make sure we'd, you know, walk down the road there and, and have a visit. Yeah [LAUGHS].
Dr Andrew Hammond: Well, you need to come back to our new location. We've got a great new building over near the river, but let us know when you're coming [LAUGHS] and we'll, we'll make sure--
David Fricker: Oh, no, I certainly will. I certainly will. I should put in a plug. You know, at the National Archives here we've, we've had a very successful exhibit on the history of espionage in Australia and it's-- you know, look, I-- you know, just splitting off for a second, I think what the Spy Museum does and what I hope we do at the National Archives in Australia gets back to that public. The more, the more the public know about this stuff-- I mean, some of it can be quite entertaining. It can be quite engaging and fun. But the work we do has got a serious message as well, and I think it's to make sure the public-- in a liberal democracy, the public should know what espionage, what spy craft is all about and I think you guys do a fantastic job in doing that because the more of that you do, the more public trust we build. And I think, so there's a very, very serious aspect to the work that, that museums, archives and other memory institutions do. But anyway, that's enough about you. We'll talk about me again [LAUGHS].
Dr Andrew Hammond: Yeah [LAUGHS]. We'll come back to your time as ASIO in a second, but I know that you've been considering the idea of setting up a, a international intelligence espionage museum in Australia. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about that?
David Fricker: The back of our espionage exhibition that we've done here, which is, right as I speak to you today, is touring around Australia, I think it has shown to me the intense interest that is in the Australian community to understand more about, you know, the truth, you know, to, to really see the truth behind why a, a liberal democracy that, you know, upholds freedoms and civil liberties, would need a security service or would need a covert intelligence capability. Because this is a debate that just continues and continues and continues. You know, why? You know, how much covert surveillance do we need to protect my civil liberties? And, you know, when, when does it start to interfere with my liberties? And, you know, why should the government keep secrets from me, you know, a democratically elected government?
David Fricker: And so the-- this exhibition, really, for us, is a way of, of explaining that to people and letting, letting people join in that conversation and express a view. It is something that I'm quite interested in doing. I, I think it's a long term project for me here because, you know, it requires investment, and it requires serious curatorial work and serious design work, so wonderfully exemplified by, by, may I say so, by your institution. But I, but I really do think it's, it's-- it has an educative value. It, it does have an en-- an entertainment value as well, I mean, everyone loves a good spy story. But, but that just makes it engaging and interesting and it makes people want to visit, young people and old people.
David Fricker: But for me as a former officer of ASIO and now as a Director General of the National Archives, I just think it's, it's a part of-- it's a pillar of democracy, because I do get-- I get worried, you know, when we have major breaches like the, the Snowden, you know, episode, if I can call it that, you know, and even the, the Wikileaks, you know, that, that whole thing about where, suddenly, a whole load of that information is just, you know, dumped into the public domain, without proper thought, without any consideration for why it's being done, just for the sake of, of breaching. It disrupts our trust in, in these institutions and it disrupts the operations of those institutions. It makes it harder for everybody to do their work properly. It makes it harder for people who want to assist, who want to do something for their country, it makes it harder for them to start, you know, become an agent or to work, to work with security services and the other intelligence communities.
David Fricker: So, I sound like I'm on a bit of a soap box here, Andrew. I'm, I'm probably getting a bit too ideological about it, but I just think it's so important that people in, in democracies should, should understand and appreciate and, and have a say in the way that our security services, our intelligence agencies are run. And that way the legislation we make is better. That way our, our public discourse is more informed. That way when, when agencies reach out to the community to assist in, in, you know, countering espionage, countering foreign interference, countering terrorism, the public is far more likely to make some sort of informed decision to support that activity, knowing that it's going to do good.
David Fricker: And also if it's going too far the wrong way, you know, if, if there are-- if the legislation is a bit too overdone, you know, if, if the civil liberties are being restricted, well, that's how it's corrected. You know, it's corrected by informing the public and having discussions like this. So I, I just think it'll be wonderful if we one day could set something like that up here in Australia. I mean, personally I'd love the Archives to be involved in it. I think it's a job for the National Archives to do. And I, I'd be delighted to plagiarize as much as I can from you [LAUGHS], and, and from your institution. And who knows? One day we might have a-- you know, it'd be great to see a relationship between the two institutions. I'm, I'm really interested in the work you do and would like to see something like that here in Australia.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Yeah, absolutely, that would be great. I mean, like, your career and your trajectory makes perfect sense to me. Information governance, whether it be ASIO or whether it be, you know, at the National Archives, but, you know, what would you say to someone out there that was, like, oh, come on, you know, you've got, you've got, like, a former intelligence chief who's now at the National Archives. I mean, this is just going to be another, you know, information operation, or it's just going to be, you know, another way to pull the wool over the eyes of the public or something? Yeah, how would, how would you come back at someone that was skeptical [LAUGHS] down in the pub?
David Fricker: Look, I think, you know, this is-- and this is why we need more public information. You know, the-- in Australia, we've-- you know, I mentioned that, you know, when counterterrorism came along, it became-- it, it really brought ASIO, I think, out of the shadows to some extent and into the, into the courtroom, okay? So, really the-- Because the difference between espionage and terrorism is that espionage usually ends by someone quietly being kicked out of the country. That's how it normally ends. I mean, there are criminal offenses, of course, but generally speaking it's disrupted, and, and people disappear and nobody ever hears about it. Sorry, disappear, they actually get deported [LAUGHS].
David Fricker: But, but terrorism is a very very different thing. Terrorism requires not only gathering intelligence, but gathering evidence, going to court, and prosecuting and imprisoning. And, and so what I, what I'd say, if there is a level of skepticism out there, think about how many, certainly in the Australian case, how many prosecutions there have been for terrorism offenses, and how many terrorist acts have been disrupted, you know, and had they not been disrupted how many hundreds of people would now be-- would be dead, you know? On a-- and again, I'm speaking as an Australia, on Australian soil, how many Australians would be dead? Let's not forget the 88 that did die in, in the Bali attack, you know. It's-- And, and the hundreds that have died around the world, you know, from terrorism.
David Fricker: So it, it is much more than just, you know, rhetoric and grandstanding and, you know, sort of grab for more information or more money or more secrecy, this is very public work in, in that respect. You know, the, the outcomes are very very public. You know, post 2002, you know, we-- initially we might have thought the threats were coming from outside Australia but very quickly realized that it was homegrown terrorism that's a threat, that people within Australia, inspired by events overseas, were, you know, Australian citizens, either born here or grew up in Australia. That threat of terrorism continues, you know, it's, it's still to this day quite real and, so, yeah, it's much more than a, you know, a, a word game or a, a game of rhetoric or sort of imaginary outcomes. There are people serving time in prison today who would otherwise have been undertaking mass casualty attacks at sporting events or airports or whatever.
David Fricker: So, look, it's real and, you know, today, you know, as, as well as terrorism, we're of course live to cyber, cyber espionage, of course, is a very, very real threat. It's being discussed now very openly and I think people would be well aware of, of the-- you know, in the private sector as well, with ransomware attacks, etcetera. We are seeing, it's, it's real, and if we know that's happening in the business community, well, it's certainly happening across the, the, the secrets being held across government as well. And of course foreign interference is the other one. You know, we have to be live to our democracies around the world. You know, we should never be complacent about democracy. We've seen how democracy can be threatened, and, and foreign interference is real. So, yeah, it's, again, a very long answer. Andrew, but it's-- yeah, you just have to point to real world examples which are on the front pages of our newspapers to say, no, no, this is, this is not just pulling the wool over anyone's eyes. This is a real business.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I was attempting to give you just a little bit of a fast ball but I feel like I completely fluffed it [LAUGHS] and threw the ball in the wrong direction. What, what I meant was, you know, you, you were the former deputy at ASIO and then you become the director at the National Archives. So, it was more the transition from intelligence chief to national archives chief, you know, people that maybe saw some kind of skepticism about, okay, well, we're trying to make the government more accountable, well, who do you put in charge of it all? Well, we're going to put in a former intelligence officer. Sorry that--
David Fricker: Oh, okay I could,but-- [LAUGHS]. Obviously my skin is too thick, I can't, I can't see these things coming my way. Yeah, and, you know, I can appreciate that. But I suppose the, the-- all I do is, you know, point to the, the statistics, I suppose, the-- you know, at the archives I've been-- Well, in, in ASIO, you know, I was publicly declared, so I was the first, I was the first Deputy Director General to be publicly declared. Up until then, it was only the Director General whose name was publicly known. Everyone else was kept out of the public eye. I, with, with the, you know, full support of the Director General, you know, made that decision to become more public, so that we could speak more publicly about the work of ASIO.
David Fricker: So, I, I started appearing before the Parliament, you know, those parliamentary committee hearings. You know, I would go along with the Director General to give account of the work that we were doing. I was going out, while I was at ASIO, speaking in public events, to industry conferences and things like this. We published-- ASIO, you know, we published the most informative annual report, you know, publicly available annual report of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization where we laid out in great detail, you know, what we were doing and the challenges we were facing.
David Fricker: My commitment to that public awareness and openness, I think, I'm well and truly on record at ASIO, you know, doing that, and it wasn't just me. I mean, it was-- you know, the whole agency was, was thinking this way and the government as well. And so in that way, yeah, as ironic as it seems, you know, that transition then to go to the Archives, for me, was, you know, quite a, a natural progression. You know, at the Archives-- Because in, in the Australian system, there's freedom of information legislation, applies to almost every government agency. So any, any member of the public can apply under freedom of information legislation to get a government record released. But ASIO and the other intelligence agencies are exempt from that legislation. I, I believe that would be the same in the US as well? And for good reason.
David Fricker: However, no-- nobody is exempt from the Archives legislation. So, after 20 years, every record by default should be made publicly available, to be declassified. Now, the role of a National Archive is to make sure that that is done properly, and I think this parallels the work of national archives and records administration in America where there is a declassification function, but our, our job is to, is to reveal what was previously secret, for the good of the public, you know, create that public good, to create trust, accountability, transparency and integrity of government.
David Fricker: You know, we published, while I was still at ASIO, we-- and Paul O'Sullivan was the Director General, was quite keen to have a history of ASIO published. So I had the pleasure of overseeing that project. We engaged a historian, we gave that historian a top secret security clearance, so the historian could, could see all of the records, redacted, unfiltered, but before publication. You know, so the selection and the, the historical research could be done inside the tent, and then before publication the, you know, the security issues could then be overlaid on that, and, you know, we could decide what to publish. But that act of bringing the historian inside the organization, with a security clearance and saying, "You, you do the research, you know, we're not going to influence how you write the history of ASIO." That shows a commitment to openness and transparency.
David Fricker: So, so, I would just point to these things, I guess, that-- and, and what I've said about 100 times during our chat today, that the success of an intelligence agency is, is, of course, on, you know, the degree to which it can keep secrets, but I think it's equally how it can work with the public. You know, how it can engage and maintain the public trust. And that, that's a balance, you know, that you always have to strike in a, in a liberal democracy that respects civil liberties, and is dedicated to protecting freedoms, you need to have that balance. And that-- so I would, I would simply say, we started that well and truly during my career at ASIO and I'm very pleased to be continuing that at the National Archives.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And just to come at it at a slightly different way, is there-- like, with your current position, do you ever think to yourself, you know, my goodness, what are we doing here? Why are we, why are we releasing this [LAUGHS] information? Why are we making, why are we making the job of enemy intelligence officers easier? Especially when they may come from more authoritarian countries where information isn't shared. Like, what, what the heck are we doing? We're, you know, we're basically setting it up for people to just knock it out of the park.
David Fricker: Look, I don't-- Because we have-- You know, we're very careful about it. So, just, just very briefly, the way it works here in Australia is, if, if someone wants to see an ASIO file, and I'll keep using ASIO as an example, but it could be ASISor AST, the other intelligence agencies. Somebody wants to see a file. If it's more than 20 years old, then we will have a look at that file. But we won't-- We also request advice from the agency that, that created the file. So today's officers of, let's say, ASIO, would also examine that file, in fact they examine it first, and they, they make sure that there are, there are no sensitivities in that file relevant to present day foreign relationships, you know, intelligence sharing relationships, national security issues, sources, methods, because if there's anything in there that in any way would threaten or disrupt our current day relationships, operations, sources, then that information will be redacted.
David Fricker: So, we, we're very, very careful to make sure that we protect our, our relationships with our, our intelligence partners around the world, as well as privacy issues, as well as, you know, making sure no individuals are going to come into harm's way, you know, if their name is suddenly produced in a file, even if it's 20, 30 or 40 years old, you know, you just never, you never release the name of a source, ever. And so these, these sort of protections are built into the legislation. That's why when, when files are released, there will always be some level of redaction, you know, some of that-- the text will be blacked out prior to its public release.
David Fricker: But, but what is released then, the rest of the text, then shows-- you know, it talks about, well, why, why was this operation being run? You know, what, what was the threat? Was the threat real? Etcetera. And that's, that's the bit I think, which is good for people to see because otherwise it's just-- if, if nothing is released, then we're all just living on mythology and, and folklore and other people will come up with some disinformation to fill that vacuum and, and Australia will be living on a lie, you know? So it's-- Truth is always better than, than a lie. So, we'll find the bit we can release and release that. And, look, often it's, it's people, you know, who were activists, you know, back in the day and they want to see their ASIO file. You know, they're sort of sedate, benign, you know, old men now but they're just a bit interested in what ASIO had on them back in the day. And, and that's released. And we put that up online. If, if anyone wants to visit naa.gov.au and have a look at some of the files that we have released, you can see those ASIO files that have been released.
David Fricker: So we, we're protecting, you know, the people that need to be protected. We're protecting Australia's national interests. We're protecting our-- you know, the interests of our, our partners, you know, our friends that provided-- you know, we don't-- we never betray those confidences. In particular, ASIO that spies on Australian citizens, I think those Australian citizens have got a right to see what, what the work of ASIO does, and that's, that's what we do. So again, as I keep coming back to, this is how, how I think a liberal democracy should work, and this is how we do uphold national security while protecting civil liberties. And that, that's that, that social contract which is so, so very important that we maintain.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And just then digging into your time, so you're the CIO from 2002 until 2007 and then you become Deputy Director General of ASIO and ever-- [LAUGHS] everybody knows that it's the Dir-- it's the Deputy that does most of the work [LAUGHS].
David Fricker: Absolutely. Absolutely it is. Well, not at the Archives, no, at the Archives, it's the Director General does all the work, sorry. [LAUGHS]
Dr Andrew Hammond: So [LAUGHS], tell us a little bit more about being Deputy Director General of ASIO.
David Fricker: Look, it was-- So, my-- So, I, I-- and I think I've, I've explained, I was never an operational-- Another, another thing that made it easy for me to become publicly known, is I was never an intelligence officer. So I was never engaged in any sort of covert operations. And so as, as the Deputy Director General, I had-- There were two of us, two Deputies, when I was Deputy there, and so, you know, my role was around-- it was sort of called, you know, the corporate and strategy side of the house. So it was on the strategic, strategic intelligence, so, you know, not the collection and the analysis, but then what, what we did with the intelligence product after that. So, you know, the sharing with the business, we had a business liaison unit where we would-- as I was saying earlier, for example, the aviation industry or the mining industry, the university sector, you know, all of these sectors of the economy that needed to understand what were the, the threats, and needed that to be explained to them in some, in some way. So I had, I had that responsibility.
David Fricker: I also had, on, on the corporate side, responsibility for our new building, so it was a fantastic project to build a new national headquarters for ASIO here in Canberra, which was-- and, you know, that's, that's a whole other part, you know. That comes back to protective security. How do you build a, a building, engaging, of course, contractors and industry in a very public way on a very public site, in the middle of the, the nation's capital, how do you build a top secret protected, protected building? And that was, that was a fantastic project to be involved in. It was finished after I left. That was really good.
David Fricker: And also, I, I should also add the, the workforce. You know, post, post September 11, post Bali, we-- there was a, a major review undertaken of the resourcing of ASIO and so we had to grow, in a very short period of time, from a staff of about 350 to a staff of about 1,800, I think it was at the time. And so this-- I, I also had the, the challenge, but the privilege, to, to oversee a growth in ASIO's workforce. And, you know, recruiting to an intelligence organization is, is a very particular recruitment program, you know, to, to oversee. So how do you then grow an intelligence, a security service, in a multicultural country like Australia? How do you grow the workforce? You know, what sort of a workforce does the security service want to have? It should be, you know, it should be a, a representative Australian society. So, of course, gender equality, multicultural, you know, representatives from all of the ethnic communities represented in Australia. And each of those with its challenges.
David Fricker: You know, how do you reach out to the public, persuade bright, you know, graduates to join an organization like ASIO? You know, this is of course in those-- those days social media was, you know, everywhere. By that time every, you know, undergraduate was already on Facebook and, you know, Twitter and whatever else. If Twitter was around then, I can't remember, but certainly Facebook. And it was, it was quite tough to sort of say, yeah, look, leave all that behind, you know, become a secret, you know, employee here. You know, so your parents won't be able to talk to anyone about what their kid does, you know, anymore. You'll have to give up your Facebook, you know, activity, but, you know, this is, this is the cause you'll be working for.
David Fricker: And so that was, that was quite a challenge, you know, to, to recruit and grow the organization. And to, and to achieve that, that multicultural representation. So there were, there were just-- you know, as Deputy Director General, they were the things that I, I just knew that there was a particular moment in history of the organization, as we grew in capability, as we really became much more sort of, much more on the front pages of the newspapers across Australia, for the things we were doing and the way we were working in very overt ways with the federal police, building this big new building, in Canberra, which, you know, people then started to think, oh, you know, what's going on here? There's more, more surveillance, you know. The, the security services are getting too strong, too powerful. Dealing with those sorts of issues. Growing the workforce, trying to ensure that we had a workforce that was representative, you know, properly skilled, etcetera.
David Fricker: And also at that time, because of the more overt activities of ASIO, because of the prosecutions that were going on, because of the more, more publicized counterterrorism raids that were going on, and the, the entry into premises of police and ASIO officers, we also had a-- quite a bit of work done on ethics, and, you know, what are the ethical frameworks around intelligence collection, intelligence analysis, and, and sharing of intelligence? And these, these were quite, you know, perplexing questions because on one hand you want to just do the best you can for the Australia's security interest, but on the other hand you don't want to do anything that either supports, encourages or participates in the use of torture.
David Fricker: And, you know, that's the extreme end of it, but then, you know, we had all sorts of other ethical questions that we really needed to bring to the surface so that we could lay down some sort of code of ethics, code of conduct, and then, once again, make it clear to the Australian people that that was what we were doing.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Tell me if I'm wrong on the-- on, on this, but I-- fro-- from what I can tell, like, mapping your career onto the history of ASIO, there were three different Director Generals that you worked for, either as the CIO or as the, the Deputy? You know, I don't expect you to [LAUGHS], you know, necessarily discuss the, the fine points of each of those relationships, but how important was that relationship or, yeah, just help us understand that a little bit more.
David Fricker: Look, yeah, very, clearly very, very important. As you said before, the Deputies did all the work, you know, that's exactly right. No, so, yeah, there were three. When I first joined, Dennis Richardson was the Director General, and then Paul O'Sullivan and David Irvinewere the, the three that I served under. Yeah, no, very important because the-- you know, as I say, up until I became publicly declared, the Director General was the only public face, you know, the only voice, the only face of the organization. And, and a lot of responsibility therefore falls upon the Director General to, to explain, sometimes in excruciating levels of detail, to explain what the agency's doing, either in a public forum, or in front of a parliamentary inquiry, you know, what we call in Australia the Senate Estimates, might be like a congressional hearing or, you know, some-- something, but, you know, you go to the parliament and you have to give account of what the agency is doing.
David Fricker: You know, there were other sort of closed room oversight. You know, we have an Inspector General of Intelligence Security that, you know, is, is sort of, if you like, at a more-- not at a public level but at a more secret level, who can inspect, as the name suggests, and make sure that the agency's operating with propriety and, and lawfulness. But there are those public fora that the Director General has to participate in. And so the Director General is very, you know, is always flat out, both looking into the organization to make sure that the operations and the, the strategies are in place, but also looking out across the public and, and to government to make sure that everybody that should be aware of what the agency's doing, you know, is, is made aware.
David Fricker: And in, in Australia and the Australian system, as well, there's a, there's a legal obligation upon the Director General of Security, so the head of ASIO, to regularly not only inform the government about security matters, he or she is also obliged to inform the leader of the opposition, so the, the other side of parliament, what's going on as well. And this is designed into our legislation here to make sure that the security service never becomes politicized. You know, it must always remain apolitical, and serve only in the interests of Australia's security.
David Fricker: And so that keeps the Director General very busy. And so the Direc-- the Deputies are leaned on, you know, very heavily, as they should be, you know, to make sure that, you know, the, the operations are running as they should, that the governance is strong, you know, that-- I remember Paul O'Sullivan saying this to me one day, saying, look, don't, you know, don't, don't make sure that all the questions I've asked you are being answered, it's also the questions that I never asked you, you know, make sure that you're answering those as well. So it's always imagining what might go wrong and making sure that that is being looked after, as well as making sure the things we have decided are being done.
David Fricker: And, and I think that really for my mind, thinking back, that, that was a big part of the role of the Deputies there, was just to-- in, in a business like, you know, in, in security intelligence, you've always got to be thinking, okay, we're doing everything we said we'd do, and we seem to be doing that in the right way, and, you know, getting the right outcomes, but what did we forget to do? You know, how, how are we addressing that? And they might be things like internal security, there might be things like imagined threats, you know, the slo-- so called Black Swan events that we should be thinking about. It is-- it's just, you know, some political awareness as well, with a small p, political awareness, what's going on in the Australian community internationally? Are we getting set for that? Are our strategies building our capability to deal with that threat when it comes?
David Fricker: And so I think, you know, that-- I, I think in, in an intelligence community, that really is the role of the Deputies, is to, is to, to make sure that things, the things that are happening, that should be happening are happening, the things we haven't thought about yet are also being, being dealt with as well. And, yeah, and supporting the public role, the very public role of the, the Director General.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And for those Director Generals of ASIO, are they typically career intelligence officers, or political appointees, or what, what would the analogy be in the, the UK or the US?
David Fricker: I don't think any of them-- in the history of ASIO, I don't think they have any-- ever been an appointment of a Director General from within the organization. And I don't think any of them, you would call a career intelligence officer. The first, the first Director General was Justice Reed, was a, a judge. The second Brigadier was a Brigadier Spry, Charles Spry from, from the army. And so since then, you know, they, they are-- well, they're ministerial appointments, so, you know, they are-- so you might say they're political appointments for that reason, but they're appointed by the minister, by the government essentially, and, you know, often they'll come out of foreign affairs, you know, with a, a foreign service background, so they have an understanding of international affairs, international relations.
Dr Andrew Hammond: They might come from a-- Well, actually, I suppose, having said that though, the current Director General of ASIO is Mike Burgess, who has got a, a very strong telecommunications background, but he had an intelligence background as well. So it's-- So, yeah, generally speaking they are, they are put there by government, not because they are a career intelligence officer but I think more, my, my view anyway, is more that they will come in with a fresh, fresh pair of eyes, that they will be able to receive the concerns of the government, you know, what the government of the day is concerned about, and they'll then be able to translate that into intelligence activity and they'll have the, the intellectual, you know, acumen to actually engage with the, the business of intelligence and be able to make sure that, that those resources are properly mobilized and properly run.
David Fricker: But, yeah, that, that's, that's just speculation on my part. I don't think there is any rulebook on, on how Directors General are selected. I think it comes back to that issue of, of someone that can, can engender, you know, the public trust, and, and have obviously sustained the government's trust as well, but, as I said earlier, they've also got to work with all sides of, of politics. They have to debrief the opposition as well.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And final question, what does the, what does the future hold for you, David, as the Director General of the National Archives or, or professionally? Like, where, where, where are you headed?
David Fricker: Look, I mean, I, I-- It's a good question to ask. I'm sort of starting to think about, you know, my retirement years as we speak, Andrew, so [LAUGHS] that's a very timely question. Perhaps there'll be another podcast you can run on career advice. You could help me [LAUGHS]. No, look, it's-- you know, my-- I think the theme through my career has been information, information management, and I've loved my time at the Archives because, you know, it is the end of the value chain. I always say this, for, for information, it's where, it's where all this information that's been accumulated by the Australian government is made available to enrich Australia's society. You know, it's, it's where, you know, the, the word we use is pluralized, you know, it's where all that government information connected for a specific purpose, becomes available for use and re-use and opens up new knowledge and new, new avenues of discovery for all Australians.
David Fricker: And so I'm hoping that my career continues in that regard. I love my work at, at the National Archives, and I just love seeing the way that the proper stewardship and the proper use of information can really enrich people's lives. You know, now, you know, of course, you see lots of shows on, on TV where people go into the archives to discover their own family tree or to, or to discover a bit about themselves. And, and I often say that, it's the, it's, you know, it's-- sometimes in archives there's stuff that makes you smile or, you know, opens your eyes with wonder, which you think, oh, what a great discovery. But for me, it's always been more powerful. The stuff that makes you cry in the archives is so powerful. People discover something about themselves, their family, their community that they never knew before and it just, it just adds so much to our lives to understand that.
David Fricker: So that, that's what keeps me going. And, you know, getting back to our theme today on, on the SpyCast, it, it really is, as I said at the outset of our, of our chat, it's, it's the ability for, for people to become more, more enfranchised with our society. You know, I think the more information we, we make available, the more of, the more of a knowledge society we become. And that's, that's really my, my ambition. I think, you know, democracies around the world, all societies around the world, should become knowledge societies because knowledge is the thing that makes you the most powerful in society and it gives you the most agency to make a difference in the world. So that's what I hope, that's where I hope the rest of my career will take me.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time, it's been really great to speak to you. I hope to meet you in person one day, [LAUGHS] David.
David Fricker: Oh, look, I hope so. I hope so, very soon. All the best. Thank you.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Go to our web page where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter, @INTLSpyCast, and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm your host, Dr Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter, @spyhistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's pre-eminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The SpyCast team includes Mike Mincey, and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.