Russian spies are keener than ever for Australia’s secrets and are keeping our national security agency busier than ever before.
The country’s support for Ukraine and rise on the global stage due to arrangements such as AUKUS are behind the growing target on its back, according to former American intelligence chief Mike Rogers.
And it’s a threat that has skyrocketed in the past five years, he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Rogers warned the nuclear-powered submarine technology Australia is due to get from the US and UK under its mighty military marriage will increase the risk that Russian spies would be watching.
The current threat stood in contrast to five-to-10 years ago when Mr Rogers’ Australian counterparts told him Russia’s local espionage and foreign interference work was not a concern like it was in the US.
“I would normally hear … that we just don’t see much Russian activity in the southern hemisphere,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“That has really changed. The Russians see an Australia that is much more globally involved from a national security perspective”.
Next month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to reveal more details of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program. Mr Rogers said it was crucial for Australia to boost its cyber defence and intelligence-gathering capacity.
Also contributing to the honey pot was Australia’s military support for Ukraine, Mr Rogers said, with the government recently promising $33 million worth of drones.
“The Russians see that, and I think they say to themselves, ‘we’ve got to become more aware of Australia’s capabilities, their intent’, and so you’re seeing them increase their level of focus on Australia as a target,” he said.
“I would argue the Chinese have long been focused on Australia as a target, Russians perhaps not as much, but that dynamic is changing, clearly.”
The expressed concern comes four days after the ASIO boss warned Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference more than ever before.
Giving the agency’s fourth annual threat assessment speech on Tuesday night, director-general Mike Burgess said ASIO had broken up a “bigger and more dangerous” spy network than any other in its 74-year history.
He said Journalists, military veterans and judicial figures are being targeted by foreign espionage agencies at “unprecedented” levels.
“From where I sit, it feels like hand to hand combat,” Mr Burgess said.
“This means ASIO is busier than ever before”.
He said in the past 12 months, ASIO had detected and disrupted a major spy network he called ‘the hive’.
“I’ve previously revealed how we removed a ‘nest’ of spies. I’ll refer to this latest case as the ‘hive’ of spies because it was bigger and more dangerous than the nest,” he said.
Mr Rogers did not name a specific country in his speech.
Similarly, education Minister Jason Clare told Channel 7 the speech was a “wake-up call” but did not confirm what country was responsible for the “hive” of spies.
However, the SMH revealed the “hive” consisted of Russian spies posing as diplomats, which had operated in Australia for a year and a half before ASIO dismantled it.
It reported that the Australian intelligence agency spent months tracking the Russian spy ring working from within several places while the Morrison government was in power, including the Russian embassy in Canberra.
Its goal was to recruit Australians with confidential information, steal data and communicate secretly.
Several diplomats have warned the exposure of such serious and widespread breaches will worsen an already strained relationship between Australia and Russia.
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