Decoded: 75 years of Australian Signals Directorate

Decrypting the work of Australia’s cyber intelligence front line at the National Museum of Australia

An unprecedented glimpse at the history, techniques and future of Australia’s enigmatic signals intelligence and cyber defence agency is the focus of a new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Decoded: 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate explores the exploits and achievements of ASD, and the critical work of the organisation in collecting intelligence about foreign adversaries, while keeping Australians and our most critical secrets safe.

Formed following World War Two to tackle code breaking, ASD has grown and evolved over the subsequent 75 years, being responsible today for foreign signals intelligence, and protective and disruptive cyber operations.

ASD’s mission statement, ‘Reveal their secrets – protect our own’, has inspired its people to master and pioneer new uses of technology to defeat and deter threats to Australia. ASD proudly operates in the slim area between the difficult and the impossible, recruiting the best and brightest Australian women and men.

The anniversary exhibition explores the history of the organisation from the wartime 1940s to the present day, including early cipher, codes and encryption; the Cold War; the evolution of the Five Eyes international intelligence partnership; key military operations; technological evolution; the post-9/11 confrontation against terrorism and contemporary cybercrime challenges.

The exhibition features the early technology used for codebreaking and explores the evolution of cyber challenges in the ever-evolving online age.

The exhibition also offers an interactive game for visitors to work as a team to defeat the cyber criminals, and a central experience that showcases the never-before-heard stories of the diverse and skilled staff who work behind the front line to keep Australia safe.

ASD Director-General Rachel Noble PSM said, ‘It brings all of us great joy to share the history of ASD. So many of our former and current staff have never been able to tell anyone much about the work they have done. The exhibition is a celebration of their amazing work over 75 years and I’m sure for more than 75 years to come.’

National Museum Director Dr Mathew Trinca said, ‘The history of the Australian Signals Directorate mirrors that of the maturing and growth of the Australian nation in so many ways.

‘We hope all Australians who are able to visit the exhibition will leave with an appreciation of the role of this crucial, but often unrecognised, work by the men and women at the cyber security frontline.’

Leaders in immersive exhibition design and technology, Art Processors have created an interactive experience driven by true stories.

Art Processors Project Director Jamie Houge said, ‘This exhibition is a chance to meet the real people of ASD and discover these true stories, characters and incidents that are part of their critical work and experiences.

‘As visitors explore the exhibition, they can trigger hidden moments or scan code words to “intercept a signal” and reveal an added layer of storytelling.’

Decoded: 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate is at the National Museum of Australia from 1 April until 24 July 2022.

/Public Release. View in full here.