In rare speech, Australian intelligence chief stresses urgent need to recruit more spies
AUSTRALIAN INTELLIGENCE MUST recruit foreign spies with more urgency than at any time since the opening years of the Cold War, according to the head of Australia’s main foreign intelligence agency. Paul Symon, director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), was speaking at a public event to mark the 70th anniversary of the organization’s history. It was a rare public speech by the head of Australia’s secretive main foreign intelligence service.
Symon’s talk was hosted in Sydney by the Lowy Institute, an independent Australian think-tank that focuses on international affairs. During his talk, which was made available afterwards on the Lowy Institute’s website, Symon spoke about a range of issues relating to Australia’s geopolitical priorities and their connection to intelligence operations. He told the audience that the primary task of ASIS, which is to recruit foreign subjects to spy on behalf of Australia, remained as crucial as ever.
He added, however, that a growing number of pressing concerns made “the need to recruit new spies” more essential than ever before. According to Symon, ASIS needs to “recruit and work with even more vigor and urgency than at any other point in our 70-year history”. In this task, China remains a strategic focus for ASIS, given its role in the region. Symon claimed there were signs that increasing numbers of Chinese state “officials [and] individuals” were “interested in a relationship” with ASIS. This was because many Chinese are becoming concerned about what he described as the rise of “an enforced monoculture” in China, and wish to stop it, said Symon.
Later in his speech, the ASIS director touched in broad terms on the challenge posed by technology on human intelligence (HUMINT) operations, in which ASIS specializes. He described these challenges as “extraordinary”, and said they resulted from an interaction between “a complex strategic environment [and] intensified counter-intelligence efforts” by Australia’s adversaries, as well as a host of “emergent and emerging technologies”. These technologies are in many ways posing “a near-existential” risk to the types of HUMINT operations carried out by ASIS, as the organization’s collection activities run the risk of becoming “increasingly discoverable”, said Symon.