Flat White

Dasher is only the iceberg’s tip

14 December 2017

3:06 PM

14 December 2017

3:06 PM

A Labor parliamentarian who, it is revealed, has links to a foreign power that attempts to retrieve information on Australia’s vulnerabilities and most important security secrets.

No, not Sam Dastyari in 2017, it’s the revelations brought about the Petrov Commission in the 1940s. Professor Des Ball, writing in The Australian in 2011, said ‘In the course of researching …Soviet intelligence operations… I became persuaded that H.V. Evatt, the attorney-general and Minister for external affairs [now DFAT] in the Curtin and Chifley governments and John W. Burton, secretary of the department of external affairs, were probably agents of Soviet intelligence.’

Ball’s book, ‘Breaking the Codes’ focussed on Venona, a code-breaking operation involving deciphering cable traffic between KGB officers in the embassy in Canberra and Moscow.

The foreign power to fear is no longer Moscow – or at least- not now our primary worry. Charles Wallace, a former intelligence officer, wrote in the Canberra Times just days ago ‘Australian defence-related programs that China has hacked include the F-35 joint strike fighter, the P-8 Poseidon electronic surveillance aircraft, and joint direct attack munitions (kits that allow bombs to be guided). Chinese hackers have also penetrated federal government departments and agencies, apparently to collect data and gain a better understanding of our operating systems.’

Australia does not name and shame foreign hackers, but the United States has a more robust approach. On November 27, it unsealed an indictment against three named people in China, for computer hacking, theft of trade secrets, conspiracy, and identity theft from US financial, engineering and technology industries. The three Chinese work for internet security firm Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Limited (Boyusec). Boyusec, APT3 and Gothic Panda are all hacking organisations linked to China’s Ministry of State Security.

Former Labor State parliamentarian Helen Sham-Ho, speaking on Radio National on Wednesday opined that Chinese-born or descent voters in Saturday’s Bennelong by-election were turning against the government, seeing it as anti-Chinese.

Yet many in Bennelong, from Hong Kong or China, are those most aware of the octopus-like tentacles of China’s reach and how deep and wide they have penetrated.

Australians are just beginning to realise, as in the case of the Confucius Institutes, language and cultural units funded partly by China and partly by Australia, that are now established in many universities and secondary schools, including the Australia-China Relations Institute, headed by former NSW premier Bob Carr, sited within Sydney’s University of Technology. ACRI was established by a large donation by Mr Huang Xiangmo.

Confucius Institutes are not the same as the Goethe Institutes, that promote German language and culture, the Dante Institutes offering similar for Italian, the Alliance Francaise, or the surviving-on-life-support but still carrying on, the British Council.

The Confucius Institutes must, under their rules, report back to Beijing and seem to actively report on – mainly but not exclusively – Chinese students and those considered dangers to Chinese security, such as members of Falun Gong and other activists.

Charles Wallace again, ‘Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, who defected in Sydney in 2005, said China had more than 1000 agents operating in Australia. Their main activity is collecting unclassified data of interest that is not in the public domain – such as scientific papers, and commercial and government documents. The ministry may also pressure or pay well-placed Chinese-Australians to provide information to help China – and help family members in China. Conversely, anyone who is unprepared to cooperate can expect relatives in China to be disadvantaged.’

Helen Sham-Ho made an interesting point in Wednesday morning’s interview. She pointed out that Dastyari did not speak Chinese and Mr Huang, his benefactor, did not speak English, so there seemed little point in the argument that vital information was being passed. But Sam Dastyari has never denied his relationship with Mr Huang or the meeting in the Mosman mansion.

The real worry is that Dasher was just the visible tip of the iceberg. The real danger, as the tragedy of the Titanic showed, was that nine-tenths of the iceberg was under water.

Charles Wallace concluded, ‘Like other intelligence organisations, China’s also work towards having well-placed sleeper agents in key positions. The most common method China uses to influence our political process is via ‘agents of influence’. Some of these agents are dual citizens of China and Australia. Their aim is to bribe current and past politicians to support China’s interests, sometimes to the detriment of Australia’s.’

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments