A former senior public servant is the first woman to be appointed to lead Australia’s foreign spy agency. Kerri Hartland will become the director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in February.
Hartland has recently been overseeing the reform of the workplace culture in Australia’s federal parliament following a string of scandals and allegations of sexual assault.
She is an experienced public servant and a former journalist.
She is the first woman chosen to run ASIS. Hartland does not have the traditional armed forces or foreign affairs background as her predecessors, but Hartland was the deputy director-general of the domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, between 2011 and 2017.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement earlier this month that she would bring “excellent strategic, operational and people leadership” skills to her new role.
William Stoltz, the policy director at the National Security College at the Australian National University, told VOA Monday that Hartland has been appointed to oversee fundamental change at ASIS.
“The operational environment necessitates that the work of ASIS has to change,” Stoltz said. “I mean, we have come off about 20-years of ASIS working quite closely with British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) and the American CIA with a predominant focus on counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East.”
Stoltz added that Australia’s foreign spy agency now has shifted its attention to China.
Stoltz told VOA that “We are very firmly shifted to an operating environment where ASIS’s work needs to be much closer to home focusing on preventing and understanding, I suppose, the great power competition that is happening between China and the United States and so that means it is a very different intelligence collection target set.”
The Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate, another official intelligence agency, is also a woman. Rachel Noble is the first woman to hold that position and was appointed in 2020.
Other women have been appointed to senior intelligence roles in other countries.
Avril Haines was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2021 as first female national intelligence chief. Last year, Italy also appointed the first woman — a former ambassador, Elisabetta Belloni — to lead its secret services.