Everything's Getting Worse: A Sobering Report From Aussie Counter-Spies


Terrorism. Foreign espionage. Covert influence operations. Cyber espionage. Theft of industrial secrets. Encrypted communications. It's all getting to be too much to keep up with, Australia's domestic intelligence agency said in a staggering new report.

"During this reporting period, a range of factors contributed to the steadily worsening overall security and operational environment," Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) chief Duncan Lewis said in the agency's annual report to Parliament, before rattling off some of the above-mentioned threats. In addition to the actual threats, Lewis said he was also concerned about the agency's "unprecedented security intelligence caseload -- in terms of both the volume and seriousness of the threats we investigated... and an increasing complex and resource-intensive operating environment."

The report says Australian authorities disrupted planning for "imminent" terrorist attacks in Australia 13 times in the last three years, including three in the last year -- all but one linked to the Syria-based terrorist organization ISIS. Lewis doesn't see that threat abating anytime soon, even as ISIS suffers defeats in the Middle East.


ASIO also called attention to foreign influence operations, something the U.S. populace is learning more and more about.

"We identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country’s own political objectives," the report says. "Ethnic and religious communities in Australia were also the subject of covert influence operations designed to diminish their criticism of foreign governments. These activities --undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign governments -- represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens’ rights."

When it comes to cybersecurity, ASIO said it has detected state-sponsored cyber adversaries targeting the Australian government, industry and people with potential access to valuable intelligence. This, too, is expected to get worse:

"The number of countries pursuing cyber espionage programs is expected to increase, as these programs can offer significant returns with relatively low cost and plausible deniability. As technology evolves, there will be an increase in the sophistication and complexity of attacks," the report says.

For more on what keeps the Aussie spies up at night, read the full report here.

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