On 25 October 1977, then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser declared the existence of ASIS and its functions following a recommendation by the first of the Hope Royal Commissions (see below).
In 1992 two reports were prepared on ASIS by officers within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Office of National Assessments for te Secretaries Committee on Intelligence and Security (SCIS) and the Senate Security Committee (SCOC). The Richardson Report in June examined the roles and relationships of the collection agencies (ASIO, ASIS and DSD) in the post cold war era. The Hollway Report in December examined shortfalls in Australia's foreign intelligence collection. Both reports endorsed the structure and roles of the organisations and commended the performance of ASIS.
On 13 May 1952, in a meeting of the Executive Council, Prime Minister Robert Menzies established ASIS by the executive power of the Commonwealth under s 61 of the Constitution, appointing Alfred Deakin Brookesas head. The existence of ASIS remained secret even within the Government for a period of twenty years.
Its Charter described ASIS's role as "to obtain and distribute secret intelligence, and to plan for and conduct special operations as may be required". ASIS was expressly required to "operate outside SCM territory." A Ministerial Directive of 15 August 1958 indicated that its special operations role included conducting "special political action.It also indicated that the organisation would come under the control and supervision of the Minister for External Affairs rather than the Minister for Defence. At the time, ASIS was substantially modeled on the United Kingdom Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. ASIS was at one time referred to as MO9.
On 1 November 1972, ASIS was sensationally exposed by The Daily Telegraph which ran an exposé regarding recruitment of ASIS agents from Australian universities for espionage activities in Asia. Soon after The Australian Financial Review published a more in-depth piece on the Australian Intelligence Community (ASIO, ASIS, the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) [now the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO)], the Defence Signals Division (SD) [formerly the Defence Signals Directorate, now the Australian Signals Directorate] and the Office of Empire Assessments (ONA)). It stated that "[t]he ASIS role is to collect and disseminate facts only. It is not supposed to be in the analytical or policy advising business though this is clearly difficult to avoid at times."The Ministerial Statement of 1977 stated that the "main function" of ASIS was to "obtain, by such means and subject to such conditions as are prescribed by the Government, foreign intelligence for the purpose of the protection or promotion of Australia or its interests."