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369 Brief on Security by Department of Defence

Report[April 1949][1],


[matter omitted]

16. The following is a summary of the more important recommendations of, or action taken by the Defence Department over a number of years to strengthen security in Australia with special reference to the security of Defence information and activities:-

[matter omitted][2]

(b) Decision to create new National Security Organization
On 2nd March, 1949, the Prime Minister announced the formation of a new Security Service under the direction of Mr. Justice Reed.[3] Its functions will be
(i) Investigation of subversive organizations.

(ii) Counter espionage.

(iii) Preventative security, which includes measures to protect secrets and the security checking of personnel who handle secrets.

(c) Long Range Weapons Board - Security Organization
Executive control of the Long Range Weapons Project in Australia is vested in the Long Range Weapons Board (Australia), administered by the Department of Supply and Development. A special security organization was set up in 1947 to cover the project. The general direction is vested in a Security Committee of which the three Service Directors of Intelligence and the Director of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch are members. Certain Service personnel, Peace Officers, and members of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch are seconded for special duty to this section which has its own Executive Officer. Copy of the security plan approved for the project, together with a recent report on its implementation, is separate. It is understood that at the present time some 20 operatives are employed full time on security duties in this organization. It has representatives at the various installations both governmental and commercial, concerned with various aspects of the project. A general measure of co-ordination with Defence is achieved by virtue of the fact that the Service Directors of Intelligence are members both of the Long Range Security Committee and the Joint Intelligence Committee, part of the Higher Defence Machinery under the Defence Department.

(d) Security checking of Officials
In June, 1948, the Defence Department recommended the security checking of all officers, Service or civilian, who handle classified Defence information, and, as opportunity offers, all members of the Services and all civilian officers of Service and associated Departments.

On 23rd December, 1948, the Prime Minister directed the Ministerial Heads of all Departments concerned in any way with the security of Defence information (i.e. the Commonwealth Treasurer, the Ministers for External Affairs, Supply and Development, Defence, Navy, Army and Air, the Minister-in-Charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) that action is to be taken 'to have all officers, Service or civilian, who handle Defence information and documents of secret and top secret information, security checked by the Commonwealth Investigation Service of the Attorney-General's Department. As opportunity offers, all members of the Services and all civilian officers of the Service and associated Departments should be checked'. Action is now proceeding.

Where persons of doubtful loyalty are discovered as a result of this check, they will be transferred to other work within the Department concerned where access to classified information is not possible, or, if necessary, they will be transferred to other Departments where there will be no security risk involved.

(e) Recommendations of Inter-Departmental Committee of 5th August, 1948
On this date a conference was held between the Defence Committee and senior officials representing Departments concerned with the security of Defence information. The following recommendations were made and were transmitted to the Ministers concerned by the Minister for Defence:-

(i) The security checking by the Commonwealth Investigation Service of all officers, Service or civilian, who handle Defence information or documents of secret or higher classification.

(ii) Each Department concerned to give consideration to its internal security measures for the security of information and important documents relating to Defence.

(iii) Consideration should be given to the security of buildings in which documents containing Defence information of secret and higher classification are kept.

(iv) Consideration should be given to the appointment of a full-time or part-time Security Officer, as the case may require, to ensure co-ordination and policing of security measures within Departments and to effect the necessary liaison of the Commonwealth Investigation Service.

Recommendation (i) is the subject of sub-paragraph (d) above. All Ministers concerned have agreed to accept and implement the remaining recommendations.

(f) Security Legislation
Since 1923, successive Governments have had before them the question of improved legislation relating to security. The existing legislation (see paragraph 9) is based on the British Official Secrets Act of 1911. This Act was brought up to date and considerably strengthened in the United Kingdom by the Official Secrets Act 1920, the adoption of which was desired in Australia. Though on several occasions legislation has been drafted and introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament, political difficulties have so far prevented the passage of legislation. With the lessons of the recent war in mind, a Defence Security Act has been drafted and submitted by this Department to the Council of Defence for approval.

The Bill is at present under consideration by a Cabinet Committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, and the Attorney-General.

(g) Security Instructions
A comprehensive instruction for use throughout Commonwealth Government Departments entitled 'Security of Official Documents and Information' was drafted by the Joint Intelligence Committee, and after examination and approval of an inter-departmental Committee, has been promulgated as an Instruction by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has added a foreword to the booklet drawing attention to the importance of the subject matter. This Instruction deals with the classification of official documents, custody, circulation and transmission of classified documents, and miscellaneous matters concerned with departmental security of documents and information (copy attached as Appendix 'E').

(h) Security of Victoria Barracks
Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, houses the Departments of Defence, Navy, Army and Air, and the Defence Division of the Treasury. The Headquarters of the three Services are also located in the area. On the recommendation of the Defence Committee, comprehensive measures have been approved by the Minister for the physical security of the Barracks Area, including re-introduction of a system of passes and supervision of visitors. Action is now being taken to implement these measures.

(i) Internal Security Measures, Department of Defence
Consequent upon the recommendations referred to in sub-paragraph (e) above, an officer of the rank of Lieutenant-Commander has been seconded by the Navy to the Department of Defence to act as Security Officer. His duties will include executive action in implementing the approved scheme for the security of Victoria Barracks Area (see sub-paragraph (h) above), and to make recommendations as to, and to co-ordinate and supervise security measures within the Department.

Consequent upon an external examination made early in 1948 as to the system for the control and custody of classified documents within the Department of Defence, a 'Central Distribution Section' has been set up in the Department, the purpose of which is to provide the maximum security for special documents including classified documents of overseas origin, by the central control of their receipt, circulation and custody.[4]

[1] The document is undated.

[2] The omitted material comprises a review of steps taken since 1938.

[3] By Government decision one line has been expunged here.

[4] The brief was supplemented by three progress reports which Shedden sent to Gray on, respectively, 30 June (see Document 374), 20 July and 6 September 1949.

[AA : A5954, 1677/2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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