Foreign spies are targeting people in Australia, government says it’s cracking down

The government has announced new measures to protect Australians from foreign interference, amid reports that foreign spies have followed, photographed, harassed and intimidated people from Australia’s multicultural communities.
A government source has revealed to SBS News details of several plans by foreign spies “from multiple countries” to harm people in Australia, which have been foiled by Australian authorities.
In one case, an insider was offered more than $10,000 to “do whatever it takes” to obtain personal information from what they called “dissidents” living in Australia.

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

Iranian-Australian activist Mohammed Hashem has experienced first-hand how intimidating a foreign power can be.
His cousin was executed by the Iranian regime and his father was threatened because of his son’s activism in Australia.
“The way they treat me, my family and … others, even people outside Iran, is really horrible,” Hashem told SBS News.
In another case, a foreign intelligence agency recruited members of the Australian community as agents to follow, photograph and report on a “dissident” living in Australia.
They sent agents to rent a property near the dissident’s home and an agent with access to the dissident’s personal financial information was pressured to provide financial information. The dissident was followed as they went about their daily lives in Australia, going to shops, outside work and past their home.
In another, more extreme case, a foreign intelligence service began monitoring a human rights activist and devised a plan to lure the target abroad where the person could be “dumped.”

In a similarly alarming case, someone working for a foreign government attempted to obtain his target’s home address and bank details. He hired a private investigator to take photos of the house, searched the trash, and asked how much money it would take to hire a subcontractor to make the dissident “disappear.”

In its annual threat assessment released in March of this year, said more Australians than ever are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference.
He later revealed that a former politician who carried out espionage for a foreign country was a sitting member of the Australian Parliament when he was recruited.
have warned that covert operations against people by governments such as Iran, Rwanda and Cambodia could degenerate into violence if left unchecked.
In August 2023, Iranian democracy activist Nos Hosseini in Melbourne had a decapitated chicken placed on her doorstep, allegedly by Iranian agents.
Iran’s ambassador to Australia denies that the Iranian government is engaged in foreign interference in Australia.
Since its establishment in 2020, Australia’s Counter Foreign Intelligence Taskforce has conducted more than 120 operations against foreign threats.

The taskforce is primarily led by ASIO, but shares powers with other agencies, including the Australian Federal Police.

Government policy against foreign spies

The government has announced new measures to tackle the threat of foreign spies, including making the Counter Foreign Intelligence Taskforce permanent and adding new agencies.
A new task force will be established to focus on the technology sector, where threats frequently emerge, and a support center will be set up for diaspora communities facing foreign interference.

The aim of the hub is to educate people on how to recognise foreign interference and to provide legal and mental health support to those affected by it.

A woman in a red jacket speaks

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says the government is responding to the growing threat of foreign interference against the people of Australia. Source: MONKEY / Lucas Coch

Home Secretary Clare O’Neil said the “world-leading” reforms would help tackle the “ever-changing threat” of foreign interference.

“Foreign interference is a complex problem and we are continually working with our agencies to ensure we cover all potential avenues of attack,” she said.
“These changes are vital improvements to our defences, better protecting vulnerable communities and sensitive technologies 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 visa applications from postgraduate students working in critical technology studies and cancel visa applications if there is a risk.
Hashem welcomes the government’s tough action, but says more needs to be done.
“It’s heartening that they care about us, but honestly that’s not enough. We need more serious action from the Australian government.”

With additional reporting by Naveen Razik.

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