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UNSW Press UNSW Press

Revealing Secrets

An unofficial history of Australian Signals intelligence & the advent of cyber

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For a long time, the Australian Signals intelligence (or Sigint) story has been kept secret. Until now…

Why does Australia have a national signals intelligence agency? What does it do and why is it controversial? And how significant are its ties with key partners, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, to this arrangement?

Revealing Secrets is a compelling account of Australian Signals intelligence, its efforts at revealing the secrets of other nations, and keeping ours safe. It brings to light those clever Australians whose efforts were for so long entirely unknown or overlooked. Blaxland and Birgin traverse the royal commissions and reviews that shaped Australia’s intelligence community in the 20th century and consider the advent and the impact of cyber. In unearthing this integral, if hidden and little understood, part of Australian statecraft, this book increases our understanding of the past, present and what lies ahead.

‘George Orwell famously wrote during World War Two, “we sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm”. Reading this superb history by John Blaxland and Clare Birgin on Australia’s involvement with Sigint and cyber we can contemplate a new formula. We sleep safer because 24/7 intelligent, technologically competent patriotic men and women who work for our agencies, develop and work our electronic defence and offence capacities at worldclass standard. This in a world now in which we are constantly under attack. The work so secret it is proving impossible to produce an official history. This is the closest we can get and it is very good. If you are seriously interested in our defence and survival, or you would just like a good read, this belongs on your bookshelf.’ — Kim Beazley, former Defence Minister

‘A meticulous compilation of the largely unsung past achievements of our most consistently productive intelligence source. And a thoughtful analysis of how to approach the extraordinary challenges posed by the new cyber universe. Blaxland and Birgin make an important contribution to our understanding of issues needing much more open debate than our own and allied governments have traditionally allowed or encouraged.’ — Gareth Evans, Former Australian Foreign Minister

‘Australia has been part of sigint since the practice began, which has shaped its history in ways that Australians know little about. Their government likes to keep things that way. Revealing Secrets overcomes efforts to keep Australians ignorant about their sigint history, by discussing everything that can be said about it without access to secret records. Anyone interested in the past and future of Australia has much to learn from this book.’ — John Ferris, author of Behind the Enigma, The Authorised History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber Intelligence Agency

‘The most comprehensive and best-informed account we have had of the history of signals intelligence in Australia. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand not just our country’s past, but Australia’s strategic future as well.’ — Allan Gyngell, author of Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942

‘Revealing Secrets tell the remarkable but little-known story of how a small, back-room military office grew into a major Australian government agency. Deeply researched, authoritative and accessible, it is a valuable and timely contribution to understanding issues that have never been more important to national security.’ — Emeritus Professor David Horner, author of The Spy Catchers

‘Packed with facts and figures, charts and diagrams, and measured, unsensational judgements.’ — Mark Dapin, The Australian

'A gripping read.' — Miriam Cosic, The Saturday Paper

'Blaxland and Bergin have produced a high quality and clear-eyed piece of scholarship, offering a sweeping authoritative historical perspective on one of the most secret branches of Australian intelligence.' — Daniel Baldino, The Conversation

'Certainly, as the authors point out, this is an area which has not received the attention it should have in the history of the defence of Australia.' Anthony Llewellyn-Evans, Good Reading Magazine

'Anyone interested in such issues, as well as the history that underpins them, would do well to read this work and judge for themselves.' — Paul Skrebels, Sabretache