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Ep. 35: Ex-ASIO Head Duncan Lewis (Part 1): On His Military & Govt Career, And The Challenge of Terrorism

19 Dec 2019
By Dr Darren Lim and Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA
Australian Secretary of Defense Duncan Lewis listens as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter meets with him at the Pentagon July 13, 2012. Photo By Glenn Fawcett, US Department of Defence Source:

In a first for the podcast, we present our first double episode, an exclusive interview with Duncan Lewis AO, DSC, CSC who until recently was Australia’s Director General of Security, leading ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

In this first part, Allan and Darren discuss Duncan’s remarkable career, which as Allan notes is unique in terms of his experience in senior national security positions. Much of Duncan’s career has been focused on the challenge of terrorism, and this is the main policy focus of Part 1 of this interview.

Duncan joined the Australian army in 1975, rising to become a Major General and head of Special Operations Command, before making the transition to a civilian role in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he quickly became a Deputy Secretary focusing on national security issues, before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appointed him as Australia’s first National Security Adviser. From there he become Secretary of the Department of Defence, then Ambassador to the EU, NATO, Belgium and Luxembourg, before returning to Australia in 2014 to run ASIO.

Much of the conversation revolves around the unique circumstances of Duncan’s career. He provides his perspective on the 9/11 attacks and the (still ongoing) war in Afghanistan, his transition from the military to the Australian Public Service, what it meant to take the top civilian job running the Department of Defence as an ex-military officer, and being present in Europe at the time UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the Brexit referendum. This first part of the interview then concludes specifically on the topic of terrorism, especially through the lens of Duncan’s role leading ASIO, Australia’s domestic intelligence agency, and how the organisation has adapted to the challenge of terrorism on home soil. Duncan also reflects on some of the controversies he’s been caught up in, and how senior officials must navigate politically sensitive issues in an era when facts themselves are seen as partisan.

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

We want to thank AIIA intern Isabel Hancock for research and audio editing, XC Chong and James Hayne for research support, Rory Stenning for composing our theme music and also Julia Ahrens for technical support in studio.

Relevant links

Duncan’s Wikipedia page:

“An address by ASIO Director General Duncan Lewis”, Lowy Institute, 4 September 2019:

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.