A Regrettable Necessity: The Future of Australian Covert Action

ANU National Security College

In this Occasional Paper, Dr William A. Stoltz deeply analyses the most unexamined component of Australia’s international statecraft, covert action. Such activity by intelligence agencies has become an increased focus of academic research internationally, and Dr Stoltz’s paper introduces an Australian perspective to the debate, in this the 70th anniversary year of the establishment of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The paper provides a resource to understand Australia’s approach to covert action historically, how it needs to change, and what policy measures could achieve this evolution. It comprises three parts:

  • Part One leverages recently declassified material to provide the most comprehensive explanation of Australia’s approach to covert action yet published. It also outlines the strengths and limitations of covert action as a tool of Australian power, with insights from recent British and American scholarship.
  • Part Two reflects on Australia’s approach to covert action in light of the great power competition defining Australia’s future strategic environment.
  • Part Three provides policy options for bolstering Australia’s relevant capability and instituting an approach to using covert action that is coherent with the government’s wider international objectives.

The NSC’s Occasional Papers comprise peer-reviewed research and analysis concerning national security issues at the forefront of academic and policy inquiry. They are designed to stimulate public discourse and inform policy solutions.

The NSC is independent in its activities, research and editorial judgment and does not take institutional positions on policy issues. Accordingly, the author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this publication, which should not be taken as reflecting the views of any government or organisation.

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Updated:  3 October 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of College, National Security College/Page Contact:  Web administrator