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Director-General of ASIS in His First Ever Interview

26 Dec 2019
By Paul Symon AO, Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
Paul Symon AO, director-general of ASIS. Source: Wikimedia commons

In this episode of the Australia In The World Podcast, Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Darren Lim present an exclusive interview with Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) Paul Symon AO. As Australia’s “top spook,” Paul is the only ASIS member who can legally be identified.

This article was originally published on Australian Outlook on 25 July 2019.

Indeed, the existence of ASIS was not publicly acknowledged until 1977 and not brought under formal legislation until 2001.

This is a great privilege for us because this is the first time Paul has ever given a public interview.

Bearing in mind “the inevitable paradox inherent in publicising the achievements of an organisation whose activities are, by design, secret,” Allan commences the interview by asking Paul to describe what ASIS does — in a general sense — why Australia needs it, and to describe some of its achievements. Paul then speaks to the vital question of how the Australian public can be confident that ASIS is acting in ways consistent with our law and values given it operates in secret. Other questions include how ASIS decides what information to collect, how it manages technology in the 21st century, how it conducts risk assessments, and its work with both the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Five Eyes Partnership. Darren asks a personal question about the intersection of publicly available information and secret information in the context of public policy debates. The discussion finishes on the topic of recruitment – how can Australians come to work for ASIS and what kind of people are sought?

Paul’s answers are fascinating and really offer remarkable insight into a unique — and normally very secretive — organisation.

Paul Symon AO is director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS. He graduated from the Royal Military College Duntroon in 1982. A career in the military, spanning 35 years and culminating in the rank of Major General, followed. From 2011–14, Paul was director of the Defence Intelligence Organisation and, prior to that, served as the deputy chief of the Australian Army from late 2008 until 2011.

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

Our thanks go to AIIA intern Charlie Henshall for his help with audio editing, Rory Stenning for composing our theme music, and Martyn Pearce for technical assistance in studio.

Relevant links

Paul Symon’s  biography:

ASIS homepage:

“The most interesting job in the world”: