Foreign spies have targeted people in Australia. The government says it’s cracking down

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jul7,2024
The government has announced new measures to protect Australians against foreign interference, amid evidence that foreign spies have followed, photographed, harassed and intimidated people from multicultural communities in Australia.
A government source has revealed to SBS News details of several plots by foreign spies “from multiple countries” to harm people in Australia, foiled by Australian authorities.
In one instance an insider was offered offered more than $10,000 to “do whatever is necessary” to obtain personal data of what they referred to as “dissidents” living in Australia.

The spies and their proxies can then use this information to identify and locate, film, harass and intimidate their targets.

Iranian Australian activist Mohammed Hashem has felt firsthand the intimidation of a foreign power.
His cousin was executed by Iran’s regime, and his father was threatened over his son’s activism here in Australia.
“How they are just treating me, my family and … others, even those outside Iran, it’s really terrible,” Hashem told SBS News.
In another case, a foreign intelligence service recruited members of the Australian community as agents to follow, photograph and report on an Australian-based “dissident”.
They directed agents to rent a residence close to the dissident’s home and one agent with access to the dissident’s personal financial data was pressured to provide financial records. The dissident was followed as they went about their daily life in Australia into shops, outside work and past their home.
In another more extreme case, a foreign intelligence service started monitoring a human rights activist and plotted to lure the target offshore where the individual could be “disposed of”.

In a similarly alarming case, an individual working on behalf of a foreign government tried to identify his target’s home address and bank details, hired a private detective to take photographs of the house, sort through the garbage bin and asked how much money would be required to get a subcontractor to make the dissident “disappear”.

In his annual threat assessment delivered in March this year, said more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before.
He later revealed a former politician who engaged in espionage for a foreign country was a serving member of an Australian parliament when they were recruited.
have warned clandestine operations against people here by governments such as Iran, Rwanda and Cambodia, could descend into violence if left unchecked.
In August 2023, Iranian pro-democracy activist Nos Hosseini had a decapitated chicken placed outside her door in Melbourne, she suspects by Iranian operatives.
Iran’s ambassador to Australia denied foreign interference is being carried out in Australia from the Iranian government.
Since 2020 when it was stood up, Australia’s Counter Foreign Intelligence Taskforce has conducted more than 120 operations against foreign threats.

The taskforce is predominantly led by ASIO but shares capabilities with other agencies including the Australian Federal Police.

Government crackdown on foreign spies

The government has announced new measures to respond to the threat of foreign spies, including making the Counter Foreign Intelligence Taskforce permanent and adding new agencies to it.
It will create a new taskforce focusing on the tech sector, where threats are regularly emerging within, and launch a support hub for diaspora communities that are affected by foreign interference.

The hub is designed to educate people on identifying foreign interference and provide legal and mental health support for people affected by it.

A woman in a red blazer speaks

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says the government is responding to the increasing threat of foreign interference against people in Australia. Source: AAP / Lukas Coch

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the “world-leading” reforms would help to address the “constantly-evolving threat” of foreign interference.

“Foreign interference is a complex problem and we are constantly working with our agencies to make sure that we are covering all possible avenues of attack,” she said.
“These changes are essential upgrades to our defences, which will result in vulnerable communities and sensitive technologies being better protected from a threat that the Director General of ASIO has identified as the most serious we face.”
In April O’Neil introduced powers to screen the visa applications of postgraduate students working in critical technology studies and cancel visa applications where there is a risk.
Hashem welcomes the government crackdown but says more needs to be done.
“It’s heartwarming they are caring about us, but honestly it’s not enough. We need more serious action from the Australian government.”

With additional reporting by Naveen Razik.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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