The head of Australia’s domestic spy agency has warned a Senate estimates committee hearing that politicians at all levels of government were attractive targets for espionage and foreign interference.
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess said every sector of Australian society was a potential target for foreign interference.
“We see evidence of intelligence services deceptively cultivating politicians at all levels of government (to) advance the interests of the foreign government,” he told the hearing in Canberra on Oct. 20.
“In the coming weeks, I will write to all Commonwealth parliamentarians to warn they are attractive targets for those trying to steal our secrets and manipulate our decision making,” he continued.
Under questioning from independent Senator Rex Patrick, Burgess said the attempts to curry favour with politicians were coming from multiple countries. He said foreign intelligence services were adept at knowing at what stage people had been cultivated.
“Sometimes they’ll think they can chance their arm and do something more sinister and harmful,” the ASIO boss said.
“Other times they recognise this individual won’t be subject to that and they won’t ask them,” he continued.
Senator Patrick asked if foreign intelligence were trying to exploit politicians’ infidelities, sexual preferences, greed, or debt. Burgess said this was occurring but was not the main focus.
Social media was also a rich source of information, but not the only way foreign states found out about Australian politicians.
ASIO’s annual report revealed the agency recently identified and disrupted a plot to infiltrate Australia’s intelligence community.
“An Australia-based foreign national was working with a team of foreign intelligence officers, who were trying to recruit multiple Australian security clearance holders,” the report (pdf) stated.
“The agents wanted sensitive information about the intelligence community’s operations, particularly those directed against their home country,” it continued.
Burgess also warned Australia’s culturally diverse communities were being harassed, particularly for expressing views at odds with foreign governments or authorities.
“It is unacceptable that people in Australia are being intimidated simply for advocating for democratic reforms or criticising human rights abuses,” he said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said foreign interference was rife across the world and was adapting to new technologies to target individuals.
“The threat is as high or higher than it has ever been before,” she told 2GB radio on Oct. 21. “It’s been a priority for us for some time now and I think it’s a timely warning to parliamentary members.”
ASIO was also concerned about Islamic-linked terrorism and said it remained the nation’s greatest threat with Sydney and Melbourne the major centres of activity.
“We know groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda continue to call on their supporters to conduct terrorist attacks, in some instances with Australia specifically identified as a target,” Burgess said.
ASIO warned that any future terrorist attack carried out on Australian soil was likely to be carried out by a single individual or small group using basic weapons, improvised explosives, or firearms, according to its annual report.
Burgess said about 80 Australians who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight or support Islamic State were still in the Middle East.
“Some may bring back extremist ideology and enhanced battlefield capability back to Australia,” he said. Burgess also said multiple jailed terrorists inRead More – Source
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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
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People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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