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An inflection point for Australian intelligence_banner

An inflection point for Australian intelligence: revisiting the 2004 Flood Report

By Chris Taylor

The 2003 Iraq war, and more particularly intelligence failure in relation to Iraqi WMD, led to a broad-ranging inquiry into Australian intelligence conducted by Philip Flood AO. Flood’s July 2004 report has proven an inflection point between the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) of the immediate post–Cold War period and today’s National Intelligence Community (NIC).

Flood laid out an ambitious vision for Australian intelligence and forcefully advocated for sovereign intelligence capability. The scope of his review extended beyond more than ‘recent intelligence lessons’ – that is, Iraq’s WMD, the 2002 Bali bombings and the unrest that led to 2003’s Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands - to the effectiveness of oversight and accountability within the AIC (including priority setting), ‘division of labour’ between AIC agencies and their communications with each other, maintenance of contestability in intelligence assessments, and adequacy of resourcing (especially for the Office of National Assessments - ONA).

It was in addressing these matters that Flood laid the foundation for the future NIC, upon which would be constructed the reforms instituted by the L’Estrange-Merchant review of 2017.

Importantly, Flood’s recommendations significantly enhanced ONA’s capabilities—not just analytical resources but also the resources (and tasking) needed to address the more effective coordination and evaluation of foreign intelligence across the AIC. This was a critical step towards the more structured and institutionalised (if sometimes bureaucratic) NIC of 2023 and an enhanced community leadership role for, ultimately, ONI.

In addition, the Flood Report identified issues that remain pertinent and challenging today – including the vexed issue of the public presentation of intelligence for policy purposes, the central importance of the intelligence community’s people (including training, career management, recruitment and language proficiency), intelligence distribution (including avoiding overloading time-poor customers), the need to maximise collaborative opportunities between agencies, and how best to leverage intelligence relationships (including broadening relations beyond traditional allied partners).