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Aussie Lawmakers ‘Attractive Targets’ for Foreign Spies, ASIO Boss Warns

The head of Australia’s domestic spy agency has warned a Senate estimates committee hearing that politicians at all levels of government were attractive targets for espionage and foreign interference.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess said every sector of Australian society was a potential target for foreign interference.

“We see evidence of intelligence services deceptively cultivating politicians at all levels of government (to) advance the interests of the foreign government,” he told the hearing in Canberra on Oct. 20.

“In the coming weeks, I will write to all Commonwealth parliamentarians to warn they are attractive targets for those trying to steal our secrets and manipulate our decision making,” he continued.

Under questioning from independent Senator Rex Patrick, Burgess said the attempts to curry favour with politicians were coming from multiple countries. He said foreign intelligence services were adept at knowing at what stage people had been cultivated.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Director-General of ASIO Mike Burgess speaks during a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security hearing at Parliament House in Canberra, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

“Sometimes they’ll think they can chance their arm and do something more sinister and harmful,” the ASIO boss said.

“Other times they recognise this individual won’t be subject to that and they won’t ask them,” he continued.

Senator Patrick asked if foreign intelligence were trying to exploit politicians’ infidelities, sexual preferences, greed, or debt. Burgess said this was occurring but was not the main focus.

Social media was also a rich source of information, but not the only way foreign states found out about Australian politicians.

ASIO’s annual report revealed the agency recently identified and disrupted a plot to infiltrate Australia’s intelligence community.

“An Australia-based foreign national was working with a team of foreign intelligence officers, who were trying to recruit multiple Australian security clearance holders,” the report (pdf) stated.

Australian Parliament
Australian Parliament
Tourists walk around the forecourt of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Oct. 16, 2017. (Reuters/David Gray/File Photo)

“The agents wanted sensitive information about the intelligence community’s operations, particularly those directed against their home country,” it continued.

Burgess also warned Australia’s culturally diverse communities were being harassed, particularly for expressing views at odds with foreign governments or authorities.

“It is unacceptable that people in Australia are being intimidated simply for advocating for democratic reforms or criticising human rights abuses,” he said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said foreign interference was rife across the world and was adapting to new technologies to target individuals.

“The threat is as high or higher than it has ever been before,” she told 2GB radio on Oct. 21. “It’s been a priority for us for some time now and I think it’s a timely warning to parliamentary members.”

ASIO was also concerned about Islamic-linked terrorism and said it remained the nation’s greatest threat with Sydney and Melbourne the major centres of activity.

“We know groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda continue to call on their supporters to conduct terrorist attacks, in some instances with Australia specifically identified as a target,” Burgess said.

ASIO warned that any future terrorist attack carried out on Australian soil was likely to be carried out by a single individual or small group using basic weapons, improvised explosives, or firearms, according to its annual report.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Floral tributes can be seen outside Melbourne’s Pellegrini’s Cafe for Sisto Malaspina, the day after he was stabbed to death in an attack police have called an act of terrorism, in central Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 10, 2018. (AAP/James Ross/via Reuters)

Burgess said about 80 Australians who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight or support Islamic State were still in the Middle East.

“Some may bring back extremist ideology and enhanced battlefield capability back to Australia,” he said. Burgess also said multiple jailed terrorists inRead More – Source