Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Mike Burgess
Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Mike Burgess (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

The late John le Carré once noted that the spy game was over when MI6 moved into its headquarters on the Thames -- a vast pile, done in a self-parodic postmodern style with spikes and castellations, a building straight out of a Superman comic.

When the Cold War was live, he said, the agencies worked out of nondescript buildings scattered across London. The whole point was not to be seen.

The same sense of mission confusion attends the head of ASIO Mike Burgess' announcement this week that it would drop specific labels of actual and potential violent acts as "Islamist" or "right-wing" or "left-wing", and use instead the general descriptors of "religious" or "ideological" terrorism for the very few incidents that threaten happening Australian soil.