By Cameron Stewart
July 23, 2007
RUSSIA has boosted the number of spies in Australia to near Cold War
levels, forcing ASIO to respond by training a new generation of
The growing Russian threat comes on top of an even larger rise in the
number of Chinese agents operating in Australia in recent years, as a
booming economy and record defence spending provide a wealth of new
opportunities for traditional espionage.
Russia and China's increased espionage activity has been made easier by
the overwhelming focus of Western intelligence agencies, including ASIO,
on al-Qa'ida and other Muslim extremist groups.
It comes at a time of growing tensions between the West and Russia over
spies, with London and Moscow embroiled in a deepening diplomatic row
over the fatal radioactive poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander
Litvinenko in Britain.
Sources have told The Australian that Russia and China pose the most
serious espionage threat to Australia's national interests since the
days of the Cold War.
ASIO has responded to the challenge by urgently boosting the ranks of
its counter-espionage team and allocating more money and resources for
2007-08 to its new Counter-Espionage and Interference Division.
The threat posed by foreign agents is such that ASIO chief Paul
O'Sullivan plans to lift ASIO's spending on traditional
counter-espionage activities each year until 2011.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, yesterday
confirmed that ASIO had recently boosted its resources dedicated to
counter-espionage but declined to comment on the nature of the threat or
identify specific countries.
"The establishment of a division dedicated to counter-espionage, foreign
interference and foreign intelligence collection has permitted a closer
and more intensive focus by senior managers on these particular
functions," the spokeswoman said. "The additional staffing will allow
ASIO to broaden the scope and reach of its counter-espionage and foreign
interference investigations, and to expand its outreach activity to
government departments and agencies."
However, ASIO - in a submission to the parliamentary joint committee on
intelligence and security in February this year - said it needed to use
experienced officers to provide "effective mentoring and training" to
its younger officers learning the ancient spy craft of counter-espionage
for the first time.
The new ranks of Russian and Chinese spies in Australia are focusing on
military, scientific and industrial espionage at a time of prolific
defence spending and the commodities boom.
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