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The Defence Intelligence Organisation is at the forefront of world-altering events – as they happen and, sometimes, before they happen. The Director, Major General Paul Symon, recently spoke to Defence about how his people transform information from a range of sources around Australia and the world into reliable insights that help defend Australia and protect its national interests.

Rather than following the usual interview technique, Director of the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), Major General Paul Symon, turned a number of questions back onto Defence.

"I’m going to start by asking you to ponder a few simple questions … easy ones, such as:

How has succession affected the North Korean regime’s engagement with the outside world?

What are the implications of this for the regime’s nuclear and missile programs?

And how would this translate into capabilities they could bring to bear in a war on the Korean Peninsula? What would be the risks to Australia, the ADF and allied forces in this situation?

"Having sorted out those questions, let’s go somewhere where politics is a little bit more stable – Australia," Major General Symon continues.

"Australia is going to acquire new submarines between now and 2030. Submarines take a long time to materialise. So if we deliver our submarines in 2030 we’ll want to make sure they give Australia a capability edge in 2030. So we ask ourselves the question – what will anti-submarine warfare capability be like in our region in 2030? What research and development is being initiated in this field now that might be facing our subs in that timeframe? Not a simple question – but we need to come up with an answer."

These are the kinds of questions faced by DIO analysts every day. And there are many more.

To answer these questions analysts use their subject matter expertise and their research and analytical skills.

Major General Symon says analysts draw on the opinions of their colleagues in DIO, around the intelligence community, from academia and partners overseas.

"They look at open-source material and classified intelligence," he says. "They write their assessments, publish them, and deliver them in oral briefings, and travel overseas to share them with international partners.

"Their assessments are used to inform policy, planning and decision making in Defence. They contribute to the development and sustainment of Defence capability. They support whole of government initiatives in areas like counter terrorism and counter proliferation and, most importantly, they support ADF operations overseas, contributing to their success and, ultimately, saving lives."

Major General Symon says that, as a result, DIO analysts love their work.

"It’s a vibrant, exciting and challenging place to be, with opportunities for continuous learning, travel and even deployment to operational theatres with the ADF. (See page 50.)

"We need intelligence analysts and scientific and technical analysts who can turn their minds to the kinds of questions I just outlined. And for most roles you don’t need to be a subject matter expert.

"It’s not rocket science – actually some of it is rocket science, and we do actually have rocket scientists – but in most cases all you need is an analytical and enquiring mind. We have everything from English literature majors to nuclear physicists. But, more than anything, we have a really creative and intelligent workforce – and rank doesn’t matter in intelligence, it’s who has the most knowledge on a critical subject."

The Director has started an internal blog called ‘The Inquisitor’. Sometimes he posts on issues relating to emerging threat capabilities. Sometimes he shares information relating to development of a new strategic plan. And, sometimes, he uses it to gauge morale. A recent post on work-life balance was particularly instructive.

"Because we have a highly integrated APS/ADF workforce, it was important to find out if we were singing from the same song sheet on work-life balance or, as one respondent stated, ‘work-rest’ balance," Major General Symon says.

"I was pleased to see that, while we have a really good work ethic, our supervisors understand and respect the fact that life is a balancing act between work and private responsibilities. The staff posted many examples where a substantive effort is being made to appreciate this central feature of modern life. It was clear that people understand there are both organisational and personal responsibilities at play when considering contentment in the workplace."

Because of the classified nature of much of DIO’s work, Major General Symon is slightly less forthcoming in discussing how DIO is preparing for the future. But it is clear the work is well under way, underscored by some very important off-site leadership meetings chaired by him in the past three months.

"We have discussed and agreed a range of initiatives for DIO – all of them underpinned by a need for good communication, good administration and respect in the workplace," he says.

"The five areas of development are: DIO’s structure, supporting our people, improving as an adaptive organisation (especially during global crises), refining our leadership and mentoring skills at all levels, and enhancing our reputation."

It’s on this last point that Major General Symon envisages some tremendous opportunities. He has in mind a far more forward leaning role for DIO in engaging think tanks, politicians, media and in developing public/private partnerships.

"My message to DIO people and Defence more broadly is that an assessment organisation like DIO exists so the ADF can hedge against security risks that press against our national interest. There are some constant risks and strategic surprises – our aim is to keep these in check. It’s a great role and we take our responsibilities extremely seriously. But we also have some great fun along the way."