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OUTPUT 1.2: Secure government communications and security of overseas missions

Reporting against effectiveness indicators

On this page: Overview :: Information management and secure communications :: Security of overseas missions :: Physical security :: Technical security :: Security awareness and practice :: Staff training :: Security clearances :: IT security


The increased threat of global terrorism, illustrated by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the October 2002 Bali bombings, posed greater challenges for the department in safeguarding the security of Australia's overseas diplomatic network and secure communications.

The security environment of our overseas missions was put to the test in 2002–03 with an unprecedented number of direct and indirect terrorist-related threats. We temporarily closed two posts as a result of specific and credible threats. In response to this more hostile environment, we:

Despite the difficult environment, the department extended the Government's global communications network to provide secure links between seven ministerial offices, 15 Australian Government agencies and 86 locations around the world. We accelerated the deployment of the Secure Australian Telecommunications and Information Network (SATIN) in the wake of the Bali crisis when the Government decided to extend the network to all overseas posts, recognising the needs of posts everywhere to have access to the full range of the department's information technology (IT) resources.

Some of the highlights included:

We continued to place a high priority on ensuring a high level of security awareness among all staff in the department, both in Australia and at posts, including in relation to IT security risks. We issued new security instructions and gave priority to ensuring that IT security risks were appropriately addressed in the rollout of SATIN.

Information management and secure communications

The rollout of SATIN has been a major focus of the department's information management and secure communications activities. Replacing the ageing Australian Diplomatic Communications Network (ADCNET) and non-national secure systems, the SATIN system delivers an enhanced information management and messaging system. SATIN has become an essential tool of trade for staff in their pursuit of the Government's foreign and trade policy objectives.

The department received $10 million in additional funding to extend SATIN to all our overseas missions. This reflected the importance of delivering the full range of our IT resources to all posts, including small posts. SATIN has been successfully rolled out to over half of Australia's missions around the world, as well as to the department's state offices and passport offices and to a number of other government organisations to facilitate their international communications. The deployment of SATIN to the remainder of Australia's diplomatic and consular missions abroad will continue over the next financial year.

Technical staff continued to monitor, test and refine the SATIN system. Taking advantage of its increased capabilities, a number of new corporate databases have been developed and deployed to users in Australia and overseas. One of the most significant of these is the Consular Management Information System (CMIS), which provides posts with a global consular case management capacity. This includes an online registration system that allows Australian travellers and residents overseas to provide their contact and travel information online.

Other important databases developed during the year were the Statistical Trade Analysis and Retrieval System (STARS) and Trade Negotiations Analysis System (TNAS). STARS provides core information for trade analysis and publications, while TNAS is a tariff and import database facilitating Australia's negotiations in trade forums. A range of smaller databases was also developed during the year, both for general deployment and for particular circumstances.

Improvement in the department's remote access computing capability, for both secure and non-secure communications, continued throughout the year. We deployed the mobile secure communications system or FlyAway unit to Manila when the Australian Embassy relocated, and to Baghdad, greatly facilitating the re-establishment there of an Australian diplomatic presence. In telecommunications, we expanded bandwidth capacity significantly. We were able to deliver improved satellite telecommunications to 18 posts with problematic terrestrial links.

Security of overseas missions

In response to the new threat environment, which is likely to persist over the long term, we undertook regular security risk assessments of terrorist and other threats to all Australia's overseas posts. Based on these assessments, we made physical security upgrades to higher-risk posts, predominantly in the Middle East and South-East Asia, while continuing a program of more modest improvements to our lower-risk posts.

Our ongoing security advice and assistance to posts included priority inspections of physical security arrangements at 15 posts. In response to specific credible terrorist threats, we closed posts in Dili and Manila temporarily in September and December 2002 respectively. We continued to observe strictly the principle of consistency between the advice we give to posts and the advice we give to the Australian public through consular travel advisories.

Physical security

Our efforts to improve physical security at missions received a major boost when the Government approved an additional $32 million for expenditure on physical security over five years at our high-risk posts. Of this total, $11 million was approved for expenditure in 2002–03, with the remainder to be spent in equal proportions over the following four years. Intensive assessment and consultations are ensuring that these funds are being most appropriately targeted and expended in a cost-effective and timely manner.

The range of additional physical security measures introduced included upgrading and hardening perimeter security and providing access control systems and metal and mail detection equipment. We significantly upgraded guarding services to meet the increase in threat levels as a temporary measure while longer-term solutions were implemented. We completed major physical security fit out work for relocated missions in Amman, Berlin and Moscow, and continued work on the new mission in Abuja. Specialist staff played a key role in the physical security upgrades that enabled the embassy in Manila to reopen in January 2003 once the immediate security threat had passed, and in the relocation of the chancery that took place in May 2003.

Technical security

As part of the department's responsibility to protect Australian missions against technical and electronic attack, we carried out physical and technical inspections at 17 posts, including four relocated missions. Inspections were also undertaken at three state offices. We provided technical security support on seven prime ministerial overseas visits. A program to install alarm systems at posts continued with systems being installed or upgraded at eight posts. A trial installation of a biometrics access control system found favour with users.

In May 2003, we hosted the 13th meeting of the defensive security areas of five partner foreign services. The forum was a key opportunity to exchange information on common and emerging security challenges and to examine new technological vulnerabilities, including in the IT area. The meeting also provided a valuable opportunity to consider the framework for security practice and policy among the five services in the new threat environment.

Protective equipment for chemical and biological weapons

As part of ongoing and prudent contingency arrangements, a small number of our posts in the Middle East have been supplied with protective equipment for chemical and biological weapons at various times since the 1991 Gulf War. As tensions rose over Iraq, we took the precaution of updating this equipment. The equipment consisted of protective suits, respirator units, air quality test kits and self-medication kits, sourced from commercial suppliers and the Australian Defence Forces. We also produced a training video to ensure that staff at posts could use the equipment correctly in any emergency.

Security awareness and practice

The department places the highest priority on ensuring appropriate standards of security awareness and practice in Australia and at overseas posts. To maintain these standards, we are undertaking a complete review of in-house security instructions. The first tranche of a new edition of instructions was published in November 2002. The review will be completed early in 2003–04.

The unauthorised disclosure of a ministerial record of conversation illustrated that there was still room for improvement in security professionalism and practice among some staff. The department responded to these concerns by reviewing the distribution of sensitive documents, improving document audit capacity and providing further training to staff on security procedures, responsibilities and professionalism. The investigation of the unauthorised disclosure was referred to the Australian Federal Police in February 2003.

Staff training

We provided mandatory overseas security awareness training to 219 staff from the department and 203 from other agencies before their overseas postings. We reviewed the course in 2002–03 to ensure it remained consistent with the changing overseas security environment. Early in 2002–03 a new format for the compulsory security awareness training was introduced for staff in Australia. We now offer introductory courses for new starters and refresher courses for other staff. A total of 180 staff attended the courses.

Security clearances

The department granted 297 initial security clearances for new starters and approved 391 security clearance re-evaluations for existing staff. Overseas posts processed a further 88 initial clearances and re-evaluations for locally engaged staff. In October 2002 a backlog of overdue clearance re-evaluations was cleared.

In accordance with requirements in the Commonwealth Protective Security Manual, we introduced the periodic revalidation of Top Secret security clearances in December 2002. By 30 June 2003, 87 security clearances had been revalidated. We recognised 78 security clearances issued by other agencies. All active departmental employees had current security clearances at 30 June 2003.

IT security

The department ensures that security risks are appropriately dealt with as part of the development and implementation of its information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) systems, in particular the rollout of SATIN. We made substantial progress in consolidating the policy and instructions relating to IT&T systems, and an acceptable-use policy has been promulgated for a number of IT&T facilities. We continue to place a high priority in providing IT&T security awareness training to staff, adopting an approach tailored to the needs of staff working in a foreign environment.

We conducted, on request, two special briefings for other agencies. We inspected aspects of secure communication systems at several overseas missions to ensure they continued to comply with government standards.


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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2002–2003
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