A brief guide to the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security records

Development of the recordkeeping system

Challenges

Royal commissions present a range of challenges for recordkeeping. They are set up quickly with specific reporting deadlines and often have only a small administrative staff. Their terms of reference set out general objectives, but as their inquiries develop, material can be generated on subjects scarcely envisaged at the outset.

This makes it almost inevitable that a royal commission’s recordkeeping system will require modification and expansion as inquiries proceed, so that it is sufficiently flexible to accommodate change while at the same time avoiding a descent into disorder.

The Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (RCIS) faced some specific recordkeeping challenges.

Sensitive nature of material

Firstly there was the extreme sensitivity of much of the material with which the Royal Commission dealt. It examined the management, operations and culture of the four intelligence agencies (ASIO, ASIS, JIO and DSD), bringing together much information previously known only to people immediately involved with those agencies. Even the existence of ASIS was not officially acknowledged until 1977.

The RCIS also gathered highly sensitive information about the relationships between the Australian security and intelligence agencies and other Australian and overseas agencies. This meant that individual documents had to be managed with great care and many Royal Commission record items contain only a single main document.

Volume and scope of the material

Secondly there was the sheer volume and scope of material accumulated. In addition to material provided by the four intelligence agencies, individual witnesses gave extensive oral and written testimony, in many cases prompting the RCIS to seek additional information from the agencies.

The Royal Commission itself also researched the history, administration and legislative basis of security and intelligence agencies in Australia and overseas.

The RCIS created and accumulated over 2000 records. The records were largely paper files and documents, however they also include audio recordings and published reference material.

The RCIS began work around August 1974 with only two series of records: one for administrative matters and one for general correspondence. Record items in both series were controlled by single numbers.

During 1975 the administrative series was converted to a more structured system of multiple number series (now CRS [Commonwealth Records Series] A12386). The general correspondence series was firstly split into separate series for dealings with Commonwealth agencies (CRS A12381) and individuals (CRS A12385).

Later in 1975, the agencies series was split into four series to align with the intention to produce separate final reports on each agency. The series that became CRS A12381 was maintained for correspondence with departments of state and JIO and DSD, while the series that became CRS A12382 to CRS A12384 was created for dealings with other agencies.

The RCIS also gradually created additional record series to house specific materials such as exhibits, documents provided by the various agencies, briefings for overseas visits, published reference material, transcripts and draft reports. These series are introduced below under their CRS numbers.

Managing the records

Justice Hope took a keen interest in the records accumulated by the RCIS. He was concerned not only that they should be managed securely and effectively, but also that they should be retained for official use and ‘in the very long term’ for public use by historians.

Hope envisaged that the records might be released publicly after 30 years, although he conceded that a longer period of closure might be required for very sensitive records. Hope’s views on the future management of the records are set out in detail in the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Report 8.

In June 1976 Colin Smith, an archivist on the staff of the Australian Archives (now the National Archives of Australia), was seconded to the RCIS and later to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to analyse and list the records.

The RCIS recordkeeping system had already reached its final form when Smith began his work. Smith analysed how the various groups (series) of records had been accumulated and managed, and he gave each series a two-letter classification. If there was more than one series with the same classification he added a number.

The first letter of the Smith classification is H for Hope. The second letter indicates the type of records included in the series:

  • A – submissions
  • B – tapes and transcripts
  • C – exhibits
  • D – documents received from agencies and reference material
  • E – historical material
  • F – correspondence files
  • I – indexes
  • M – movement records for classified documents
  • P – working papers for reports
  • R – reports
  • T – miscellaneous list and minor registers
  • X – RCIS documents of authority
  • Z – RCIS archivist’s inventory of records

Smith also compiled a very detailed inventory listing the records at series, file (item) and individual document level. This inventory is contained in National Archives record series CRS A12396.

Transfer of records to the National Archives

After the RCIS completed its work in 1977 the records were transferred in their existing cabinets to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In 2001 they were transferred to security-classified storage at the National Archives.

The National Archives undertook further descriptive and preservation work on the records and registered them in the CRS system under the Commonwealth Agency number CA 1907.

Series registrations generally follow the system imposed by Smith, although in some cases several Smith series have been included in a single CRS. Smith’s series numbers are given below in brackets after the CRS number.

In 2006 the National Archives commenced a detailed examination of the records in consultation with relevant agencies to identify material suitable for public release after the records reached the age of 30 years. On 27 May 2008 the National Archives released the records under the Archives Act 1983.

Reports published in 1977 and 1978

Some of the reports of the RCIS were published at the conclusion of the Royal Commission in 1977 and 1978, including:

  • Report 1: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security First Report [re Procedural Matters] (Copy No. 9)
  • Report 2A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Second Report [re Security Vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] (Copy No. 11)
  • Report 3B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Third Report on Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery – Abridged Findings and Recommendations, dated 1 December 1976
  • Report 4A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] Volume 1 (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 4B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] – Volume 2 [Appendices 4A to 4L]

Hope recommended that Report 7A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Seventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume I (Copy No. 25) be publicly released. A copy of this report was transferred to the National Archives in 1992 for immediate public access.

You can also see a listing of the reports available for public access, with links to digital copies, under 'The records' on the main Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security page.

Archival series relating to the RCIS

Details of each series of records are described below.

The reference number in brackets in the table headings, eg '[previously HF3]', is the old series number imposed by the RCIS archivist.

Reports of the RCIS – A8908 [previously HR]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesReports of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, numerical series1976–77A8908

You can also see a listing of the reports available for public access, with links to digital copies, under 'The records' on the main Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security page.

  • Report 1: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security First Report [re Procedural Matters] (Copy No. 9)
  • Report 2A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Second Report [re Security Vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] (Copy No. 11)
  • Report 2B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Supplement to the Second Report [re Security Vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] (Copy No. 3). This was produced as an annex to Report 2A. Hope considered the subject matter to be highly sensitive and it received very limited circulation. It was not transferred to the National Archives in 2001, but a portion of it is now released.
  • Report 3A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Third Report [re Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery] (Copy No. 24 – Commission Working Copy)
  • Report 3B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Third Report on Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery – Abridged Findings and Recommendations, dated 1 December 1976
  • Report 4A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] Volume 1 (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 4B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] – Volume 2 [Appendices 4A to 4L]
  • Report 4C: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] – Volume 3 [Appendices 4M to 4R] 
  • Report 4D: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Supplement to Fourth Report [re Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] – Copy No. 2 Pages 1–34. A supplementary report on ASIO. Hope considered the subject matter to be highly sensitive and it received very limited circulation. It was not transferred to the National Archives in 2001, but it is now released subject to certain exemptions. 
  • Report 5A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fifth Report [re Australian Secret Intelligence Service] – Volume I (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 5B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Fifth Report [re Australian Secret Intelligence Service] – Volume 2 – Appendices (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 6A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD) Volume I (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 6B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD) Volume 2 – Appendices 6A to 6K
  • Report 6C: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD) Volume 3 – Appendices 6S, 6T and 6U
  • Report 7A: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Seventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume I (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 7B: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Seventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume 2 (Copy No. 25)
  • Report 8: Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security Eighth Report [re Disposal and Subsequent Use of RCIS Records]

Records of evidence given at formal hearings – A8913 [previously HB1 to HB9]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRecords of evidence given at formal hearings1975–76A8913

133 items. Transcripts (including some cassette tapes) of verbal evidence given at formal RCIS hearings. They cover both public and in camera or otherwise restricted access hearings.

Various correspondence, research papers, submissions and transcipts of hearings – A11712 [previously unseralised accession]

3 items. Cassette tapes that have not yet been transcribed by the National Archives.

Correspondence files – Government departments series – A12381 [previously HF2, including pre April 1975 records from the former HF1]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files, multiple number system (Government departments series)1975–77A12381
143 items. Correspondence files with primary and secondary numbers (for example, 20/1), some being subdivided into parts, attachments or annexes. The series mainly concerns the RCIS relations with Commonwealth agencies, but some items relate to contact with individual politicians and state governments. It includes responses to the questionnaire that the Royal Commission sent to most agencies. There are only three primary numbers: 4 relates to JIO, 5 to DSD and 20 to other Commonwealth agencies, including the Defence Department, and to states and individuals.

Correspondence files – Security and intelligence agencies series – A12382 [previously HF3]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files, two-part alpha system (Security and intelligence agencies series)1975–77A12382
15 items. Correspondence and conversations with ASIO (primary letter A), ASIS (B), the Commonwealth Police (C) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (F). The second part of the item number indicates the subject matter. For example, 'A/HQ' indicates correspondence with ASIO Headquarters and 'B/R of C' indicates records of conversation with ASIS.

Correspondence files – Australian agencies series – A12383 [previously HF4]

116 items. Information provided to the RCIS by the security and intelligence agencies and the departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs. They are mainly concerned with how these organisations were managed and operated.

They also include the results of the Royal Commission research and investigation, particularly into ASIO records (items in groups A/8 and A/16). Item A/1/2 and its attachments contain material relating to the early history of security services in Australia.

Item numbers consist of a primary letter in the range 'A' to 'F', followed by up to three numerical subdivisions. The primary letters indicate:

  • A – ASIO
  • B – ASIS
  • C – Commonwealth Police
  • D – DSD/Defence
  • E – JIO
  • F – Foreign Affairs

The number immediately following the primary letter indicates the general subject that the item deals with. For example, '1' denotes history, '9' finance and '13' intelligence collection.

Correspondence files – A12384 [previously HF5]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files, multiple number system withn alpha primary sequence in range J to K1975–77A12384
71 items. Item numbers consist of the primary letter 'J' or 'K', followed by up to three numerical subdivisions. The three items with the primary letter 'J' relate to protective security arrangements within Commonwealth agencies. The remainder (primary letter 'K') deal mainly with foreign intelligence services and a range of legal and administrative issues relating to Australian agencies.

Correspondence files – Individual submission files – A12385 [previously HF6, including pre April 1975 records from the former HF1]

302 items. These files record RCIS contact with individuals who provided submissions or other written or oral information. The individuals included past and present Commonwealth employees and politicians in either a private or official capacity, people with a professional or personal interest in the field and people with personal or ideological concerns about the security services.

The item numbers consist of one or two letters to indicate the state or territory of origin, plus the letter 'I' for individual. For example, files relating to Canberra submissions are prefixed 'AI'. There are also seven files with an 'O' (other) prefix. Files are numbered from 1 upwards in each letter group, in approximately the order that contact was made.

The files generally include original submissions, but if these are too bulky they are controlled as an attachment. Some files record only an initial contact (initiated by either the RCIS or an individual) that produced no substantive information.

Item K/26 in A12384 is a register of private submissions received and notes the A12385 file on which the submission was placed.

Administrative files with 'EO' (Executive Officer) prefix – A12386 [previously HF7, including pre February 1975 records from the former HF8]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesAdministrative files, multiple number system with 'EO' (Executive Officer) prefix1975–77A12386

121 items. This is the main RCIS administrative record series. All items have an 'EO' (Executive Officer) prefix, which is followed by primary numbers:

  • 1 – general administration and arrangements for hearings
  • 2 – RCIS staff or
  • 3 – RCIS visits within Australia and overseas, including records of conversation and other substantive material

Copies of submissions – A12387 [previously HA1]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesFolders of copies of submissions1975A12387
4 items. Folders of copies of written submissions from private people and organisations, up to Submission 50 only. The full set of submissions is contained in A12385.

Exhibits received at official hearings – A12388 [previously HC1 and HC2]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesExhibits received at official hearings1975–76A12388

144 items. These consist of material tendered at the RCIS public and in camera hearings, which were registered as exhibits. They include documents, names on pieces of paper and some submissions. The submissions registered as exhibits in this series were also registered as submissions in the register of private submissions (see file K/26 of series A12384).

Some items have an 'A' suffix, indicating that item was not to be published. They are numbered from 1 to 140A and A to C.

Documents received from Australian security and intelligence agencies – A12389 [previously HD1]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesDocuments received from Australian security and intelligence agencies1974–77A12389

319 items. Documents received from the Australian security and intelligence agencies. They are generally submissions or briefings, which were either requested by the RCIS or volunteered by the agencies. They also include reports, guides, handbooks and organisation charts illustrating the structure and operations of the agencies.

Items have a single number with a letter prefix denoting ASIO (A), ASIS (B), Commonwealth Police (C), Defence (D) and Foreign Affairs (F). Numbers start from 1 for each letter prefix.

AA and BB prefixes were used for documents so sensitive that they were shown to the RCIS, but remained in the custody of ASIO or ASIS. These documents are still held by the relevant agencies, but their current public access status has been determined and copies of any items that are wholly or partially releasable have been included in A12389.

This series includes most official submissions, but it normally contains only the documents themselves. Related correspondence is generally found in A12382 to A12384. However, in the case of correspondence from ASIS (B series), each letter is registered as a document in A12389. If more than one copy of a document was received, one copy was placed in A12389 and the second copy on the relevant file in A12382 to A12384.

Material relating to overseas security and intelligence organisations – A12390 [previously HD5]

50 items. Briefing and reference material concerning overseas security and intelligence organisations prepared for, or gathered in the course of, overseas visits by the Commissioner. Items carry the title of the relevant country. If there is more than one file for a particular country they are numbered from Part 1 upwards.

Published reference material accumulated by the RCIS – A12391 [previously HD6]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPublished reports accumulated as reference material, numerical series with 'R' prefix1975–77A12391
134 items. Published material accumulated by the RCIS for reference use. It includes some material published for internal agency use only. Items are arranged in a single number series with 'R' prefix.

Material relating to the history of Australian security and intelligence organisations – A12392 [previously HE1 and HE2]

4 items. The series includes three binders compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs concerning the history of JIO, DSD and ASIS between 1945 and 1958 (HE1). These consist of a brief narrative plus copies of relevant documents. The fourth binder (HE2) consists of copies of documents concerning the Joint Intelligence Bureau, the Joint Intelligence Committee and ASIS between 1953 and 1969.

Working papers relating to RCIS reports – A12393 [previously HP1 to HP8]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesWorking papers relating to preparation of the Royal Commission's reports, multiple number series1976–77A12393
359 items. Working papers associated with the drafting of the RCIS reports including notes, research material, drafts and amendments. The primary number of each item indicates the number of the report to which it relates.

Tape recordings by Ian Cunliffe in Singapore – A12394 [previously unregistered series]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesTape recordings by Ian Cunliffe of meetings in Singapore in March and April 19761976A12394
3 items. Tape recordings by Ian Cunliffe with members of Australian security and intelligence agencies in Singapore in March and April 1976.

Notes kept by Secretary – A12395 [previously HB10]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesNotes kept by Secretary G M Brownbill1975–77A12395
35 items. Books of informal notes kept by RCIS Secretary George Brownbill. They generally relate to conversations or to evidence given at hearings. They are arranged chronologically in a single numerical sequence.

Inventory of records – A12396 [previously HZ]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesInventory of records1977A12396
9 items. Folders containing the final printed version of the inventory of records created by the RCIS archivist Colin Smith in 1977. They include a history of the evolution of RCIS recordkeeping, details of the record series classification scheme introduced by Smith, lists of individual items and documents, and indexes.

Indexes to transcripts of hearings –A12397 [HI1]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesNominal and subject index to transcripts of public and in camera hearings on 5th and 25th March 19751975A12397
1 item. A handwritten card index of names and subjects mentioned in transcripts of the first two hearings on 5 and 25 March 1976.

Nominal index to correspondence files – A12398 [previously HI2]

2 items. Index cards of names and organisations mentioned in records in A12381 to A12386 and A12389.

Subject index for correspondence files – A12399 [previously HI3]

1 item. Subject index cards for records in A12381 to A12386 and A12389.

    Indexes to correspondence files – A12400 [previously HI4]

    2 items. Name and subject index cards for records in A12381 to A12386 and A12389. This was a new index replacing the indexes listed as A12398 and A12399 from December 1975.

    Subject index cards for 'A' prefix documents – A12401 [previously HI5]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesSubject index cards for 'A' prefix documents of series A12389, compiled by archivist C Smith1976A12401
    1 item. Subject index cards for documents A1–A112 in A12389.

    Biographical index of reference publications – A12402 [previously HI6]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesBibliographical index of reference publications1975–76A12402
    1 item. Bibliographical index to reference publications.

    Card index of source material in Australian Archives – A12403 [previously HI7 and HI8]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesCard index of source material in Australian Archives, compiled by consultant historian J Templeton1975–76A12403
    1 item. Dr Jacqueline Templeton’s card index to source material in the National Archives. Templeton was the RCIS historian who wrote Reports 7A and 7B.

    Miscellaneous lists – A12404 [previously HL1, 3, 12 to 15; HT1 and HT2]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesMiscellaneous lists1975A12404
    10 items. Informal lists, indexes and minor registers.

    Register of exhibits – A12405 [previously HL2]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesRegister of exhibits (in series A12388)1975–76A12405
    2 items. Register of exhibits contained in A12388.

    Register of documents from Australian security and intelligence agencies – A12406 [previously HL4]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesRegister of documents received from Australian security and intelligence agencies1975–76A12406
    1 item. Folder containing sheets listing documents received from the Australian security and intelligence agencies.

    Register of reports – A12407 [previously HL5]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesRegister of reports accumulated as reference material (series A12391)1975A12407
    1 item. Register of published material accumulated as reference material in A12391.

    File list – A12408 [previously HL6]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    Series'File list' : Register for series A12381, A12383, A12384, A12385 and A123861975A12408
    File list for A12381 and A12383 to A12386. This list was not received by the National Archives and it has not been located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

    Card index – A12409 [previously HL7 to HL9]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesCard index of files in series A12381, A12385 and A12386, as at April 19751975A12409
    1 item. Card index of files in A12381, A12385 and A12386. Lists all files as at April 1975, but new files were not added after that date.

    Register of files – A12410 [previously HL10]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesRegister of files in series A12382, A12383 and A123841975A12410
    1 item. Card index for registration of files in A12382, A12383 and A12384, which were created in the records reorganisation of September 1975.

    Card index of secret and top secret files – A12411 [previously HL11]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesCard index of secret and top secret files1975–76A12411
    1 item. Card index of all RCIS files classified secret and above.

    Documents of authority – A12412 [previously HX]

    1 item. Copies of RCIS letters patent, terms of reference, directions and precedents concerning practices and procedures.

    Correspondence registers – A12413 [previously HL16 and HL17]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesCorrespondence registers1975A12413
    2 items. Registers of RCIS inwards and outwards correspondence.

    Records controlling movement of classified documents – A12414 [previously HM1 to HM3]

     Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
    SeriesRecords controlling movement of classified documents1974–77A12414
    4 items. Receipts for items sent to/by the RCIS and signature book for outward despatches.
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