Threat from espionage is bigger than terrorism, says Australia’s spy chief

Duncan LewisThe director of Australia’s main national security agency has warned in a public speech that the threat from espionage —including cyber espionage— is greater than terrorism, and poses an “existential” danger to established states. Duncan Lewis was appointed director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 2014, having already served for more than four decades in the Australian military and civilian government sectors. On Wednesday, Lewis gave a rare public address at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, ahead of his retirement from government service later this month.

The ASIO director said in his speech that terrorism poses “a terrible risk” and should be seen as “a very serious matter”. On the other hand, “terrorism has never been an existential threat to established states”, said Lewis. Additionally the risk from the current wave of Salafi-Jihadist terrorism has “plateaued” and should not be expected to increase drastically, he noted. On the other hand, the threat of foreign espionage “is ultimately an existential threat to the state, or it can be an existential threat to the state”, added Lewis. The ASIO director described espionage and foreign-influence activities as “typically quiet, insidious and with a long tail”. Thus, “unlike the immediacy of terrorism incidents”, the harmful effects of espionage may not appear for many years or even decades after the initial activity has been carried out, he said.

Additionally, said Lewis, Australia’s “middle power status” and close alliances with Western countries make it a major target for state-sponsored human and cyber espionage attacks. Adversary nations see Australia as “a rich target”, he said, and launched espionage operations against it daily. As a result, foreign intelligence operations against Australia are “on a growth path” and are taking place on an “unprecedented” scale and scope, according to Lewis. Such operations include “covert attempts to influence and shape the views of the [Australian] public, media, government and diaspora communities, both within Australia and overseas”, said Lewis, adding that they take place “every day”.

The espionage threat to Australia does not come from “one particular nation”, said the AFIO director, although some nations tend to display more “intent, sophistication and commitment” than others. Australia is obligated to resist against these threats by continuing to develop its counter-espionage capabilities and finding innovative and effective ways to detect and defend against foreign interference, Lewis said at the conclusion of his talk.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 September 2019 | Permalink

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Spies are known to use journalistic cover, claims Australian intelligence agency

ASIO AustraliaForeign spies are known to pose as journalists, which is why journalists should not be exempted from national security investigations, according to testimony by a senior Australian counterintelligence official. The testimony was given on Wednesday at a public hearing held in the Australian parliament to address a series of raids of journalists’ homes and offices by Australian Federal Police in June. The raids were carried out to assist in the investigation of a leak of classified documents in April of last year. According to the leaked documents, Australian government officials have been considering the possibility of authorizing the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to collect information on Australians for the first time in the country’s history. The ASD is Australia’s signals intelligence agency, and is equivalent to the Government Communications Headquarters in Britain and the National Security Agency in the United States. It is currently not allowed to collect information on Australian citizens.

At the parliamentary inquiry that started on Monday, members of the media have argued that journalists should have the right to scrutinize the government’s actions and that journalism in the public interest is not harmful to the national security of Australia. But this argument was refuted yesterday by Heather Cook, deputy director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australia’s primary counterintelligence agency. Cook warned that if Australia exempted journalists from national security investigations, hostile foreign powers would exploit journalism to spy on the country. She added that the journalistic profession was being “used nefariously” by foreign intelligence agencies to spy on Australia. “In Australia today, journalism is being used as a cover by foreign intelligence actors”, said Cook, and went on to note that “there is a long history of this worldwide”. She said that journalism offers a convenient cover for spies because it provides “access to senior people and sensitive information” held by those in power.

Journalistic covers are therefore used by “foreign intelligence actors” who seek to “exploit vulnerabilities” and harm the security of Australia, said Cook. She went on to claim that members of foreign intelligence agencies regularly attempt to recruit Australian journalists for purposes of espionage. “In light of this”, said Cook, “ASIO has concern about the concept of exemptions for particular classes of people in the community, such as journalists. Broad exemptions for the media and journalists would invite exploitation by foreign intelligence actors and may increase the intelligence threat faced by Australian journalists”, she concluded. Also on Wednesday, the Australian Federal Police said that it would not rule out further raids on journalists’ offices and homes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2019 | Permalink

Espionage threat is greater now than in Cold War, Australian agency warns

ASIO AustraliaForeign intelligence collection and espionage threats against Australia are greater today than at any time during the Cold War, according to a senior Australian intelligence official. The claim was made on Wednesday by Peter Vickery, deputy director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s primary counterintelligence agency. He was speaking before a parliamentary committee that is considering aspects of a proposed bill, which aims to combat foreign influence on Australian political and economic life. If enacted, the bill would require anyone who is professionally advocating or campaigning in favor of “foreign entities” to register with the government. Several opposition parties and groups, including the Catholic Church, have expressed concern, saying that the bill is too broad and could curtail the political and religious freedoms of Australians.

But ASIO has come out strongly in favor of the proposed bill. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Vickery warned that Australia is today facing more threats from espionage than during the Cold War. “Whilst [the Cold War] was obviously a very busy time” for ASIO, said Vickery, his agency’s assessment is that Cold War espionage was “not on the scale we are experiencing today” in Australia. During the Cold War, ASIO was cognizant and aware of the major adversaries, he added. But today, the espionage landscape features “a raft of unknown players”, many of whom operate on behalf of non-state actors, said Vickery. The phenomenon of globalization further-complicates counterintelligence efforts, he added, because foreign espionage can be conducted from afar with little effort. Vickery noted that espionage and foreign influence in Australia “is not something that we think might happen, or possibly could happen. It is happening now against Australian interests in Australia and Australian interests abroad”. He also warned that the public knows little about the extent of espionage and foreign-influence operations taking place “at a local, state and federal level” throughout the country.

Earlier this week, the Catholic Church of Australia came out in opposition to the proposed legislation, which it sees as too broad. The religious denomination, which represents approximately 20 percent of the country’s population, said that the bill was too broad and could force Australian Catholics to register as agents of a foreign power. Technically, the Catholic Church is headquartered at the Vatican, which would make the organization a foreign entity under the proposed bill, the Church said in a statement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2018 | Permalink

Australian spy agency says it is facing ‘unprecedented’ espionage threat

ASIO AustraliaThe primary intelligence agency of Australia says its resources are overextended as the country faces “espionage and foreign interference [of an] unprecedented” scale. In its annual report to the Australian houses of parliament, which was produced on Tuesday, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) says it lacks resources to counter “harmful espionage” and “malicious activity” against the country. The unclassified report is published every year as a summary of a much longer classified report, which is shared with senior government officials and senior civil servants. It is endorsed by ASIO Director Duncan Lewis, who serves as Australia’s Director-General of Security.

In its report for 2016-2017, the ASIO said its officers identified “a number of states and other actors” that were “conducting espionage and foreign interference against Australia”. Many of these were “foreign intelligence services”, which used a variety of intelligence-collection methods of seeking “access to privileged and/or classified information on Australia’s alliances and partnerships”. Foreign intelligence services also spied for information on Canberra’s position on various economic, diplomatic and military issues, and sought information on the country’s energy policy and the volume of its energy and mineral resources. Additionally, espionage was detected against Australian scientific and technical research centers, says the report.

The report goes on to describe the ASIO’s counterterrorism investigations and operations as being of “high volume and tempo”, and states that its services were sought “in higher levels” than ever by “many across both government and industry”. Combined with the “unprecedented scale” of espionage and foreign interference against Australia that it is called to combat, these demands meant that ASIO’s resources would “remain overextended” in the new year, according to the report.

In the past year, the agency says it was able to identify “foreign powers” that secretly sought to influence Australian public opinion, and shape the views of Australian media professionals, industry and government officials, and others, on matters that advanced the interests of other countries, says the report. There was also espionage by foreign powers against members of ethnic communities in Australia, as well as harassment and other covert influence operations that sought to minimize criticism of foreign governments by members of those ethic communities.

The unclassified ASIO report does not identify the “foreign powers” that allegedly sponsored espionage operations against Australia, nor does it specify whether any foreign agents were apprehended, jailed or expelled from the country for carrying out espionage.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 October 2017 | Permalink

Soviet mole penetrated Australian intelligence, says former officer

ASIO AustraliaA Soviet double spy was able to penetrate the senior echelons of Australia’s intelligence agency during the Cold War, according to a retired Australian intelligence officer who has spoken out for the first time. Molly Sasson, was born in Britain, but worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from 1969 until her retirement in 1983. A fluent German speaker, Sasson was first recruited during World War II by the Royal Air Force, where she worked as an intelligence officer before transferring to the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. At the onset of the Cold War, Sasson helped facilitate the defection to Britain of Colonel Grigori Tokaty, an influential rocket scientist who later became a professor of aeronautics in London. But in the late 1960s, Sasson moved with her husband to Australia, where she took up a job with ASIO, following a personal invitation by its Director, Sir Charles Spry. Upon her arrival in Canberra, Sasson took a post with ASIO’s Soviet counterintelligence desk, which monitored Soviet espionage activity on Australian soil.

Aged 92 today, Sasson spoke publicly for the first time on Australia’s ABC News television network about her life and times. She told the reporter that she had “no doubt at all” that ASIO had been infiltrated by at least one Soviet-handled double spy in the 1970s. “If we put on an operation, it failed”, she said, adding that the Soviets “always seemed to be a step ahead of us. There must have been a tip-off. It can’t have been otherwise”, said Sasson. The 92-year-old former intelligence officer recounted one specific operation involving a Russian diplomat named Vladimir Dobrogorsky, who was believed by ASIO to be an intelligence operative. According to Sasson, ASIO counterintelligence officers were monitoring Dobrogorsky and knew the precise time and place that he was scheduled to meet with an Australian informant in downtown Canberra. However, not only did the meeting not occur, but Dobrogorsky left the Soviet embassy in the Australian capital that morning, never to return.

“I am convinced that someone within ASIO tipped him off”, said Sasson. Not only that, but when she and other ASIO officers expressed their concerns about the possible existence of a mole inside ASIO, senior agency officials dismissed them. At one point she was told to “not open this can of worms”, she told ABC News. The former ASIO officer added that the chief of the United States Central Intelligence Agency station in Canberra shared similar concerns with the ASIO’s leadership, but that they too were dismissed. Soviet intelligence operatives were notably active in Australia and New Zealand during the Cold War, as it was believed that intelligence agencies in the two Pacific Rim countries offered an easier path toward accessing British and American government secrets, due to the so-called Five Eyes agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

KGB officer who handled Aussie double spy is now Putin crony

Lev KoshlyakovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A KGB intelligence officer, who handled an Australian double spy during the closing stages of the Cold War, now holds several prestigious corporate posts in Moscow and is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lev Koshlyakov, 69, is director of corporate communications for two Russian airline companies, including the state carrier, Aeroflot, and a member of the prestigious Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. But from 1977 until 1984, Koshlyakov served as the press and information officer for the Russian embassy in Australian capital Canberra. Intelligence sources, however, told The Weekend Australian last week that Koshlyakov’s diplomatic status was in fact a cover for his real job, which was station chief for the Soviet KGB. During his stint in Canberra, Koshlyakov is believed to have handled an especially damaging mole inside the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), who was allegedly recruited by his predecessor, KGB station chief Geronty Lazovik. Canberra was alerted to the existence of the mole in 1992, when the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with Britain’s’ Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), briefed Australian officials on information acquired from Russian defectors. Soon afterwards, a government-commissioned report produced by Australian former diplomat Michael Cook described Koshlyakov as “one of the most dangerous KGB officers ever posted” to Australia. Eventually, Koshlyakov was assigned to a desk job by the KGB, after his cover was blown in Norway, where he was also serving as KGB chief of station. The Norwegians expelled Koshlyakov in 1991 after accusing him of espionage activities that were incompatible with his official diplomatic status. Since his retirement, however, Koshlyakov has done well for himself, having been appointed to senior corporate positions —some say with the personal backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. As for the ASIO mole he allegedly handled in the 1980s, The Australian reports that he was forced to retire in 1992, after he was identified by the CIA and MI6. There was insufficient evidence to try him, however, so he “lived out his retirement in Australia” looking nervously over his shoulder, says the paper.

KGB ‘ran two Australian politicians as agents’ in 1970s: document

Geronty Lazovik (left) in 1971By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Soviet intelligence recruited and ran at least two Australian elected politicians as agents for the USSR in the 1970s, according to a confidential account authored by an Australian counterintelligence officer. The report’s author is allegedly an unnamed former employee of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is tasked with counterespionage. Australia’s Fairfax Media, which claimed yesterday to have accessed the report, described it as “an unusually candid document”. It allegedly describes Soviet intelligence activities on Australian soil during the last two decades of the Cold War and names known Soviet intelligence officers operating in Australia at the time. Among those named is Vladimir Yevgenyevich Tulayev, described in the confidential report as “a hard-eyed, well-dressed thug” who was “aggressively involved in intelligence operations in Australia”. The document also names Geronty Lazovik, considered by AFIO as a “definite agent runner”. Australian counterintelligence described Lazovik as a far more refined operative than Tulayev and kept tabs on him as he developed and cultivated “a wide range of contacts” across Australia’s Federal Parliament. The report suggest that Australian Labor Party politicians, aides and lobbyists were among Lazovik’s “contacts” in Australia, though it does not explicitly name them as agents of the Soviet KGB. Arguably the most important allegation made in the report is that another KGB operative in Australia, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Aleksyev, was able to recruit and run “two Australian politicians as agents” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The document states that Aleksyev was able to handle the two alleged recruits “using tradecraft of a fairly high order”, suggesting that he was perhaps one of the KGB’s most successful known case officers in Australia. The confidential report alleges that the ASIO leadership approached the Australian government with information about the operations of the KGB officers. Read more of this post