Intelligence officers have discovered a large spy ring in Australia with foreign agents working undercover as scientists and academics.
Australia’s domestic intelligence service, ASIO, says the threat of foreign espionage on its own soil is now greater than during the Cold War.
A ‘sleeper’ agent turned out to send information to foreign officials about expatriates who had fled their home countries and governments.
The expats and their families were subsequently harassed after the information was passed on to the spymasters.
The foreign threat to Australia’s national security was outlined during the annual threat analysis in Canberra on Monday evening.
Intelligence officials say that the threat of foreign espionage in Australia is now greater than during the Cold War (stock image)
The head of ASIO, Mike Burgess, said the country is “the target of advanced and sustained espionage and foreign interference activities” – without naming specific countries.
“ASIO has discovered cases where foreign spies have traveled to Australia with the intention of setting up advanced hacking infrastructure focused on computers with sensitive and classified information,” he said.
“We have seen visiting scientists and academics who have integrated into university life for the purpose of carrying out clandestine intelligence gathering.”
Burgess revealed that ASIO had recommended visa write-offs to stop foreign agents who wanted to travel to Australia, and had intercepted foreign agents when they arrived.
Australia’s national intelligence service is particularly concerned about the threat posed by the internet and new technologies to Australia’s national security (stock image)
‘The level of threat that we are confronted with by foreign espionage and interference activities is currently unprecedented. It is now higher than at the height of the Cold War, “said Mr. Burgess.
However, new laws regarding foreign interference had “caused inconvenience and possible pain for foreign intelligence services.”
The address also revealed that terrorism continues to pose a threat to Australian intelligence officials.
Children from the age of 13 become the target of extremist recruiters, because the number of terrorists investigated has doubled in the past year.
“As a father, I find it really disturbing to see cases where extremists are actively trying to recruit children who have just started high school and are only 13 or 14,” said Mr Burgess.
“Our opinion is that the threat of terrorism will remain a constant feature of the global security environment in 2020 and that the threat to the interests of Australia and Australia will continue to exist.
“The number of starting points for terrorism that we are now investigating has doubled since this time last year.”
The Director General of Security said that while message apps and greater global connectivity had been a “force for good,” they also had a shadow side in nine of the ten priority cases of counter-terrorism (stock image)
Burgess said that Australia’s threat of terrorism remains “likely” and would remain unacceptably high in the near future.
“The unfortunate reality is that terrorists are still making plans to harm Australians right now,” he said.
The use of the internet and new technologies was of great importance.
The Director General of Security said that while message apps and greater global connectivity had been a “force for good,” they also had a shadow side in nine of the 10 priority cases of counter-terrorism.
“Technology cannot go beyond the rule of law,” he said, praising laws that came into force a year ago.
‘I can confirm that ASIO used the Assistance and Access Act to protect Australians against serious damage.
Australia’s head of internal intelligence, ASIO, Mike Burgess, (photo) said the country is “the target of advanced and sustained espionage and foreign interference activities”
“We had to use the new powers within ten days of the entry into force of the legislation – a clear indication of its importance for our mission. And I am happy to report that this has not broken the internet.
“The bottom line is that these new forces have helped ASIO prevent a real risk of injury for Australians.”
The laws increase the obligations of communications services to assist agencies, establish new ‘computer access warrants’ for law enforcement and strengthen the existing search and seizure powers of agencies to access non-encrypted data on computers and mobile phones.
Burgess said right-wing extremism was real and growing, citing an example of ASIO advice that led to an Australian leaving the country to fight with an extreme right-wing group on a foreign battlefield.
“Although we expect that every extreme right-wing inspired attack in Australia has a low capacity – that is, a knife, gun or vehicle attack – more advanced attacks are possible,” he said.
The foreign threat to Australia’s national security was outlined during the annual threat analysis in Canberra on Monday evening (stock image)