SYDNEY (AFP) – Espionage in Australia had eclipsed Cold War levels, the country’s spymaster told parliament yesterday, in a speech warning that citizens were being monitored and harassed by foreign powers.
Several politicians across the ideological spectrum have become embroiled in investigations into suspected overseas influence operations.
Australia’s normally tight-lipped spy chiefs have become increasingly outspoken about the threat.
“There are more foreign spies and their proxies operating against Australian interests than there were at the height of the Cold War,” said Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Chief Michael Burgess.
He warned that diaspora groups living in Australia were being monitored and harassed by foreign governments.
He said the foreign surveillance and intimidation of diaspora groups was “nothing less than an attack on Australia’s sovereignty”.
“It is unacceptable that people in Australia are being intimidated, simply for advocating for democratic reforms or criticising human rights abuses,” he said.
In recent years, several Australian politicians have been embroiled in scandals after taking cash donations from foreign-linked donors or being accused of participating in propaganda efforts.
Burgess warned that the country’s politicians were prominent targets in efforts “to steal our secrets and manipulate our decision making”.
“We see evidence of intelligence services deceptively cultivating politicians of all levels of government to advance the interests of the foreign countries,” he added.