NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
Russian and Chinese espionage in Australia
, August 18, 2007
Australia's security and intelligence organisations recently have been justifiably preoccupied with countering terrorism. Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese have been up to their old tricks, reports John Miller, a former senior intelligence officer.Chinese spies currently outnumber the Soviet intelligence presence that existed in Australia during the Cold War, it was revealed late last year.
In response to Beijing's offensive, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has reportedly stepped up its activities to counter the Chinese threat, and increased its intake of foreign-language-speaking officers. (Cameron Stewart in The Australian
, December 28, and Cath Hart in The Australian
, December 29, 2006).
Ever since the establishment of the Chinese embassy in Canberra in 1973, Chinese intelligence officers have operated in Australia under diplomatic consular and trade cover, with assistance from Chinese businessmen. Before the Whitlam Government's diplomatic recognition of communist China, Chinese espionage had to be carried out by "illegal" means - that is, by intelligence officers bereft of diplomatic cover.Cold War levels
Last month, The Australian
's Cameron Stewart revealed that the number of Russian spies in Australia had increased to near Cold War levels, "forcing ASIO to respond by training a new generation of counter-espionage officers" (The Australian
, July 23 and 24, 2007).
Mr Stewart went on to report that ASIO, in a submission to the parliamentary joint committee on security and intelligence in February of this year, had acknowledged that it needed to use experienced officers to provide "effective mentoring and training to its younger officers learning the ancient craft of counter-espionage for the first time".
ASIO has also reportedly faced problems with recruiting linguists, as student enrolments in university Russian departments has fallen dramatically over the past few years.
The truth of the matter is that the Russians never ceased espionage in Australia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Western governments and intelligence services in the early 1990s misguidedly thought that the apparent end of the Cold War meant that they could slash defence spending and wind down counter-espionage and counter-intelligence operations, and financially reap the resulting "peace dividend".
However, despite the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party and the implosion of the USSR in 1991, the KGB's heirs and successors continued their activities, while those of the Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, barely broke step.
Naturally enough, since September 11, 2001, extra money and resources have been poured into ASIO, bolstering its counter-terrorist division and expanding a recruitment drive that had been in existence since the move to Canberra.
Australia has not changed its geographic location or its alliances over the past 20-odd years. To the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Australia was "the strategic hinterland of Asia", and KGB objectives were to attempt to detach Australia from the US alliance, in much the same way as it succeeded in doing with New Zealand in 1984-85.
It is not known how China views Australia in geopolitical terms, but it is obvious from the activities of its intelligence services that it conducts a great deal of information-gathering, monitoring of events, recruitment of agents, influence operations and so on. It can be confidently predicted that the Russians will continue in the same vein.
Since the fall of communism, changes in Russia have only been superficial. The FSB/SVR scarcely differs from its sinister predecessor, the KGB. Some senior personnel have been retired or redeployed to positions of power. But the bulk of the officers remain "Chekists", having trained in the same schools and disciplines as their KGB forerunners, and are attacking the same targets as they did during the Cold War.
Furthermore, they enjoy the fullest confidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his coterie, known more popularly as the siloviki
- a new ruling-class comprised mostly of former and serving intelligence officers and military personnel. Very little has changed for the populace as a whole, who continue to suffer crackdowns on dissidents and marginalisation of opposition parties.
Putinised Russia may not have the same international intentions as the Soviet Union, but its leadership certainly harbours grand designs. These are evident in its growing political power, backed by abundant mineral and petrochemical resources and a burgeoning arms industry.
There is no doubt that Mr Putin wants to be a player on the world stage, and sufficient information exists to show that his old KGB mindset about America being the "main adversary" remains strong, just as it remains alive and well in the armed forces.Tragedy
The tragedy for ASIO and other Western intelligence services is not only the loss of experienced staff, resulting in a chronic shortage of mentors, but also the rundown in coverage of Russian diplomatic and trade premises and their officers. The so-called ancient craft of counter-espionage relies very heavily on continuity of coverage, and development and maintenance of specialists in the field.
There is a lot of ground still to be made up, and gaping gaps in knowledge will never be repaired.