Australia Threat from foreign spies to surpass terrorism, ASIO warns

07:10  20 october  2021
07:10  20 october  2021 Source:   9news.com.au

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ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess has warned that foreign agents are daily making “sophisticated and far-reaching” attempts to interfere in the country’s affairs, aided by the use of technology, while COVID-19 restrictions have been in place. In comments included in ASIO ’s annual report presented to the federal parliament on Tuesday, Burgess said it was not just a country targeting Australia, believing that espionage would surpass the threat of terrorism in the coming years. “ Foreign spies are trying to gather classified information about Australia’s trade, defense and intelligence capabilities,” he said.

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Australia's domestic intelligence agency is warning foreign spies are behind "sophisticated and wide-ranging" attempts to interfere with the country's affairs.

Agents from multiple rival powers are harnessing technology in their espionage, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said in a report presented to Federal Parliament yesterday.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess says in the document spying cases would surpass terrorist threats in the coming years.

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ASIO director-general Mike Burgess is highlighting the threat of foreign spies from multiple powers. © AAP ASIO director-general Mike Burgess is highlighting the threat of foreign spies from multiple powers.

"Foreign spies are attempting to obtain classified information about Australia's trade relationships, defence and intelligence capabilities," he said.

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Australian Security Intelligence Organisation says professional networking sites also a risk. Social media and professional networking sites are “fertile hunting grounds” for foreign spies trying to identify, groom and recruit Australians with access to sensitive information, the spy agency Asio has warned . The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation generally conducts its work behind the scenes but is set to launch its first ever public campaign on Tuesday, alerting people to the risk of spies approaching them under false identities online.

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"They are seeking to develop targeted relationships with current and former politicians, and current and former security clearance holders."

And foreign agents are targeting migrant communities in Australia, and in some cases physically threatening them.

Risk of sabotage

Video: Australians ‘need to be alert’ to terrorism threats (Sky News Australia)

Mr Burgess also said foreign agents could be preparing to "sabotage" the country's critical infrastructure.

"I remain concerned about the potential for Australia's adversaries to pre-position malicious code in critical infrastructure, particularly in areas such as telecommunications and energy," he said.

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Asio has warned politicians that foreign -driven spying activities continue to threaten Australia, ‘and they are not conducted solely by citizens of other nations’. In the letter, Mike Burgess, the head of Asio , said hostile intelligence activity “continues to pose a real threat to Australia, our sovereignty and the integrity of our national institutions”. Burgess said there was a difference between foreign influence, which included attempts to influence deliberations in an open, lawful and transparent manner, and foreign interference, which involved “clandestine, deceptive or threatening activities” that undermined

Asio credited the media for “exposing espionage and acts of foreign interference in Australia” and for self-reporting approaches from foreign spies , but said there is “a risk that not all approaches will be rejected or reported to appropriate authorities”. Asio warned that journalists are unable to assess whether Asio said the issue of warrants and use of special powers are already subject to “robust accountability and oversight mechanisms”, citing the fact journalist information warrants are needed to access metadata. On Tuesday the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security heard

Foreign agents could be preparing to sabotage key infrastructure through cyber crime, ASIO warns. © AAP Foreign agents could be preparing to sabotage key infrastructure through cyber crime, ASIO warns.

"Such cyber-enabled activities could be used to damage critical networks in the future."

The Federal Government will today introduce amendments to its controversial critical infrastructure bill.

Operators of critical infrastructure would have to report cyber attacks within 72 hours of being hacked under the proposed legislation.

Terrorism threat remains

Mr Burgess stressed he did not want to "downplay the threat of terrorism".

"Twenty four convicted terrorism offenders are eligible for release over the next 10 years, and some battle-hardened foreign fighters may yet return to Australia," he said.

"During 2020-21, these investigations approached 50 per cent of our onshore priority counterterrorism caseload."

Mr Burgess says he is particularly concerned about the continuing radicalisation of young men in Australia.

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