Australia’s top intelligence official, ASIO boss Mike Burgess, recently revealed in his annual threat assessment that a small but concerning number of former defence insiders have been putting cash before country. Burgess noted that these individuals have been selling their military training and expertise to foreign governments, and in some cases, have been stopped from travelling overseas to provide the training. However, legal ambiguities have impeded law enforcement’s ability to intervene in other cases.
Burgess warned that selling war-fighting skills is not different to selling secrets, especially when the training and tactics are being transferred to countries that could use them against Australia or its allies in the future. He added that since the announcement of AUKUS (the security cooperation deal between Australia, the US and UK), there has been a distinct uptick in the online targeting of people working in Australia’s defence industry.
In response, Defence Minister Richard Marles has asked the department to review its policies to stop former soldiers and personnel from sharing classified information with foreign powers, and has flagged possible law changes. Burgess also noted that his concerns were not limited to the defence sector, and that Australia needs to ensure its laws and obligations prevent former insiders from transferring any form of sensitive know-how to authoritarian regimes.
Australian National University international security expert John Blaxland called Burgess’s remarks a “sobering talk,” noting that the spy chief was “front-footed in getting out there with a message that none of his predecessors as directors-general have had the temerity to do in quite this scale.”