His Excellency Ambassador Dennis Richardson, Embassy of Australia


As part of the Ambassador Roundtable Series on International Collaboration to Combat Terrorism and Insurgencies, The Homeland Security Policy Institute and the International Center for Terrorism Studies co-hosted Australian Ambassador Dennis Richardson on May 8.

“Australia is a strong global leader in fighting terrorist threats. Ambassador Richardson, in particular has been a strong leader in this area…it is rare to find someone with such experience as part of the diplomatic corps,” according to Frank Cilluffo, Director of The Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) at The George Washington University.

Co-host Yonah Alexander, co-chair of the Ambassador Roundtable series and Director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, commended the collaboration of Australia, which goes back to the 1970s, with the Washington academic community.

Encompassing Australia’s recent history with terrorism, Ambassador Richardson’s remarks painted a picture of the challenges Australia has faced within its own borders, the region, and throughout the world since the 1970s. His remarks focused on regional and international counterterrorism cooperation as well as public diplomacy. Today many of the threats Australia faces, such as bombings, are linked to or inspired by events and ideology in South Asia and the Middle East. Collaboration with authorities in Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere throughout Southeast Asia has not only strengthened ties among the countries but proved to be an aggressive and effective front against terrorism in the region.

According to Ambassador Richardson, “The challenges Australia faces are not unusual,” observing that since 9/11 more resources have gone into counterterrorism efforts and most importantly, intelligence and law enforcement communities have begun to think about their work differently, increasing their efforts towards public diplomacy by engaging citizens through support of interfaith dialogues and outreach to various immigrant communities. The key to working with these communities is to be careful about the extent to which we put these relationships within a rigid structure. The country also supports similar programs throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, Australia has also undertaken an internal legislative review. With bi-partisan support, the country enacted laws that refined the tools used fight the terrorist threat.

Collaboration with Indonesia has been a model for regional counterterrorism cooperation. Significant to those efforts are the education programs that have decreased the amount of public support given to those that claim violence as a legitimate means of defending people of the same faith in Indonesia and other parts of the world. Other efforts in diplomacy, such as encouraging ambassadors around the world to consider counterterrorism as a core responsibility of their mission, continue to make progress.

Despite discovering and thwarting some terrorist plans, many of the successes remain unidentifiable due to the nature of the foe. Ambassador Richardson acknowledges that defining success of counterterrorism efforts is complex. However, the aggressive response to threats and influx of resources into the fight is certainly at least partly responsible for the successes that can be identified. Fully addressing the root causes of terrorism in order to end it requires a multifaceted approach, including not only foreign policy grievances and socioeconomic factors, but an understanding of the “positive” forces that drive terrorists to act.

Other topics covered in the discussion included Sri Lanka’s experience with its insurgency and the resulting global implications on the evolving tactics of terrorist groups, shutting down terrorists’ accessibility to funding and weapons in traditional and non-traditional finance infrastructure worldwide, and assisting developing democracies in disrupting terrorist networks while allowing their constitutional laws to govern and bring terrorists to justice.

Frank Cilluffo, director of HSPI, appreciates the collaboration with Australians on the issue of counterterrorism, stating that, “Ambassador Richardson also stood out as a collaborator in a special task force on the future of terrorism, which reported to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” HSPI looks forward to continuing the relationship.

Ambassador Dennis Richardson

Dennis Richardson was appointed as Ambassador of Australia to the United States in June 2005. He has been a career public servant since 1969 when he joined Australia’s foreign service. He has served in Nairobi, Port Moresby and Jakarta. From October 1996 until his appointment to Washington he served as Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Prior to that he was Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (1993-1996). Mr Richardson has served in various senior public service roles in the Departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Immigration. He was Head of the Review of the Intelligence Community post Cold War in 1992 and Principal Adviser to the Prime Minister from 1990 to 1991. Mr Richardson was born in Kempsey, NSW, in 1947 and he holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from Sydney University. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2003. He is married to Betty and has one son and one daughter.

The Ambassadors Roundtable Series is designed to provide Ambassadors to the United States and their key diplomatic staff with a forum to discuss current and future counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts on a regional or country-specific basis. In an effort to draw upon various insights and experiences, the Ambassadors Roundtable Series builds upon and institutionalizes efforts over the past two years to engage in a dialogue with members of the international community, policy makers, and practitioners.