The infiltration of foreign “dormant” agents and a growing threat of right-wing extremism are among the biggest threats the nation faces today, the head of the Australian domestic espionage agency warned.
ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess delivered his annual threat assessment Monday evening, stating that the level of terrorist threat in Australia remains “likely” with violent Islamic extremism, the agency’s main concern.
However, the agency also noted a worrying increase in the “extreme intolerance based on race, gender and identity and the extreme political views that intolerance inspires”, which said it is increasing across the western world.
“Right-wing extremism has been in the eyes of ASIO for some time, but obviously this threat has been focused sharply and terribly in New Zealand last year,” he said.
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“In Australia, the extreme threat from the right wing is real and growing. In the suburbs of Australia, small cells meet regularly to greet the Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology. “
“These groups are more organized and security conscious than in previous years.
“We continue to see some Australian extremists trying to connect with like-minded people in other parts of the world, sometimes in person. They are not simply trying to share ideology and tactics. “
Earlier this year, ASIO stopped an Australian leaving to fight with a right wing group.
“While these are limited in number at the moment compared to what we have seen with foreign fighters headed for the Middle East, any development like this is very worrying,” he said.
Meanwhile, far-right online forums such as The Base proliferate on the Internet and attract international members, including Australians. These online forums share and promote right-wing extremist ideologies and encourage and justify acts of extreme violence. “
COLD WAR THRILLER
The ASIO chief also said that Australia remains the target of espionage and foreign interference from other countries, which is now a more active field than the Cold War.
“We have seen visiting scientists and academics ingratiate themselves with university life with the aim of conducting clandestine information collection,” he said.
Burgess claimed one particular case read as the pages of a “cold war thriller”.
“I can reveal that a foreign intelligence service has sent a” dormant “agent to Australia. The agent has been inactive for many years, silently building communities and commercial ties, secretly maintaining contact with his offshore managers.
“The agent began to provide his spymasters with information about expatriate dissidents based in Australia, which led directly to the harassment of dissidents in Australia and their relatives abroad.
“In exchange for significant cash payments, the agent also provided field logistical support to spies who traveled to Australia to conduct intelligence activities.”
Burgess also said that Australia will focus on ensuring that those who have been released from prison do not return to take on an extremist cause after terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom by those who were recently released from prison.
He said that 13-year-olds are also targeted by recruiters and that the treatment of terror should remain a feature of the global security landscape.
“As an organization we have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that we are able to meet the challenges of technology and data that are affecting our operations.”
“But I am confident that with the thoughtful and innovative plans we have already put in place, we will be able to bring together the right technology and the right people to solve these problems,” he said.