Australian intelligence chief warns of unprecedented espionage in the country

Australian intelligence chief warns of unprecedented espionage in the country

Spies at unprecedented levels in Australia/Shutterstock Images

22 February 2023, Australia: Director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has said in his annual threat assessment that more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever in the country’s history.

Mike Burgess said late on Tuesday, “More hostile foreign intelligence services, more spies, more targeting, more harm, more ASIO investigations, more ASIO disruptions. From where I sit, it feels like hand-to-hand combat.”

Judicial figures, military veterans and journalists are being targeted by foreign espionage agencies at significantly increased levels. Burgess said a “hive of spies” was removed from Australia in the past year.

Burgess said we are witnessing a “great power competition” between China and the United States in the region, while a “thirst” for secret intelligence has driven espionage and foreign interference operations targeting Australia.

Mr Burgess said spies were working undercover, sometimes put in place for years. “It was obvious to us that the spies were highly trained because they used sophisticated tradecraft to try to disguise their activities. They were good – but ASIO was better.”

Mr Burgess said security agencies had detected “repeated attempts to hack into scores of Australian media outlets – so many, it appears to be a concerted campaign”.

The ASIO head also revealed he has been directly pressured to “ease up” on ASIO’s operations by public servants, academics and business identities.

“Individuals in business, academia and the bureaucracy have told me ASIO should ease up its operational responses to avoid upsetting foreign regimes,” Mr Burgess said.

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