Created in March 1949 under the leadership of Sir Geoffrey Reed to act on counterintelligence information supplied by MI5, ASIO was given statutory authority in November 1979. In 1986 it became the subject of parliamentary oversight.
During the Cold War, ASIO was responsible for exploiting the evidence of Soviet espionage contained in the Canberra VENONA traffic, which served to identify members of the rezidentura at the local embassy and a network of agents recruited largely from the Australian Communist party. ASIO also skillfully maneuvered an agent, Dr. Michael Bialoguski, into a position close to the rezident, Vladimir Petrov. In 1954 Petrov was persuaded to defect when recalled to Moscow. Quickly followed by his wife, Evdokia, who was also an experienced intelligence officer, Petrov supplied valuable information about Soviet operations and tactics in Australia and provided a convenient pretext for the issue to be explored by a royal commission, which took the opportunity to exploit VENONA material while attributing it to Petrov.
ASIO scored another significant success in February 1963 with the expulsion of a KGB officer, Ivan Skripov, who had worked under diplomatic cover and had been cultivated by a British-born agent provocateur, Kay Marshall. Information disclosed by Vasili Mitrokhin in 1992 revealed that ASIO had been penetrated by a senior analyst who volunteered to sell ASIO’s secrets to the Soviets, but he was never caught. Although he was identified long after his retirement, no admissible evidence was ever found to launch a prosecution.
The present ASIO director is Dennis Richardson, who replaced David Sadhleir in October 1999.