A senior domestic intelligence official has warned that even university academics and local businessmen in Australia are vulnerable to threats of foreign espionage and interference.
On Monday, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess warned of an “unprecedented” rise in threats of foreign espionage and interference by several nations attempting to influence lawmakers, government officials, media figures, business leaders, and academics.
“The level of threat we face from foreign espionage and interference activities is currently unprecedented”, Burgess said in ASIO’s annual threat assessment. “It is higher now, than it was at the height of the Cold War”.
The official reportedly did not name a particular country, but analysts assumed that the finger was being pointed at China.
“It’s very reasonable to assume that China was the country in question”, said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, as cited by Reuters.
In September 2019, Australian intelligence agencies revealed that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on the country’s national parliament and three largest political parties a few months before a general election in May of that year. According to Reuters, the Australian administration covered up the identity of the attackers to protect its trade relationship with China.
China, which is Australia’s largest trading partner and the biggest buyer of its iron ore, coal and agricultural goods, has denied the allegations.
“I don’t care what country it is we’re talking about, whether it’s China or Russia or Iran – if people pose a threat to our country, they will be dealt with according to the level of that threat”, said Peter Dutton Minister of Home Affairs, according to Reuters.