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What is intelligence?

Intelligence is covertly obtained information. That is, it is obtained without the authority of the government, group or person that "owns" the information. We think of intelligence as falling into one of three broad categories:

  • human intelligence (humint) that is obtained through interaction with people
  • signals intelligence (sigint) that results from the interception of electronic communications, such as telephones and e-mail, and
  • geospatial intelligence (geoint) that comes from the imaging of satellites and other sources.

These types of intelligence are known as "raw" or "unassessed" intelligence. Intelligence analysis or assessment takes this raw intelligence as well as information from other sources - such as the media, Internet and diplomatic reporting - to form a picture of a particular issue.

Why is intelligence important?

Intelligence has always assisted the Government about issues affecting Australia's national security and international interests. We are situated in a potentially volatile region and we are a regional power with global interests. The Government needs to be able to anticipate emerging threats, and with wide ranging foreign and defence policies, it also needs to be well informed about the intentions of regional and global players.

Intelligence has always been intended to assist the Government as it formulates policy, but over the last decade it has also played an increasingly important role in supporting our defence forces and other government agencies deployed on operations and protecting us from the threat of terrorism.

Does ONA operate overseas?

ONA has liaison officers posted at the Australian Embassy in Washington and the Australian High Commission in London.

Do the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act apply to ONA?

ONA is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 1982, but is subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 as they relate to the protection of personal information which is collected and disseminated by ONA. For more information on privacy, please refer to our privacy statement.

Can a member of the public access ONA records?

ONA is an exempt agency under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, but is subject to release of its records under the Archives Act 1983 which allows for the public access to all Commonwealth records over 30 years old.

Requests to access ONA records that are at least 30 years old and not already publicly released can be made at the National Archives of Australia (NAA).

The NAA passes the application to ONA where relevant records are located and assessed. ONA determines whether any information should be exempt from public release on national security grounds, balancing between public access and the need to protect sensitive information. In most cases, the information is released and is available for public access.