The head of ASIO says that 'the level of threat we face from foreign espionage and interference activities is currently unprecedented.' We can't let this become the new normal.
The head of the nation's domestic spy agency has sounded the alarm on foreign states interfering in Australia's political affairs, revealing a "sleeper" agent was secretly operating in the country for years before being caught.
Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation boss Mike Burgess warned foreign spies were intimidating Australians within the country, while there was one case of a group of agents who threatened the physical safety of someone in Australia as part of a foreign interference plot.
In an unprecedented public address about the extent of ASIO's operations, Mr Burgess said visiting scientists and academics were ingratiating themselves into Australian universities with the aim of conducting clandestine intelligence collection, striking "at the very heart of our notions of free and fair academic exchange".
With ASIO investigating twice as many terrorism threats than this time last year, Mr Burgess also raised concern about the growing threat of right-wing extremism, saying small cells were regularly meeting in suburbs across Australia to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons and train in combat.
Mr Burgess warned Australia was currently the target of "sophisticated and persistent espionage and foreign interference activities from a range of nations". China has previously been blamed by security agencies for large-scale hacking in Australia, while ASIO is investigating a suspected Chinese military intelligence operative in Melbourne who had approached a Liberal Party member to run for parliament.
Mr Burgess said there were more foreign intelligence officers and their proxies operating in Australia now than at the height of the Cold War, and many of them had the capabilities and intent "to cause significant harm to our national security".