Dutton says spy recruit should be ‘outed and shamed’

Source: 2GB

Opposition leader Peter Dutton says he suspects an ex-MP who “sold out” Australia to a foreign spy ring was from the Labor party, and has called on the former politician to be “outed and shamed”.

Dutton said it was “unfair” for ASIO to “besmirch” all retired politicians by not naming the person the security agency claims had been recruited by spies.

It comes after ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess revealed in his annual address that a foreign agency’s “A-team”, or Australia team, recruited a former politician who “sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime”.

The former politician also flagged introducing a prime minister’s family member to the spies but the plot did not go ahead.

Dutton said that protecting the ex-MP’s identity left “a cloud hanging above everybody else”.

“It’s pretty rough to essentially besmirch former politicians when he’s talking about one,” said Dutton on 2GB radio on Thursday.

“If you’re putting that detail out there, as Mr Burgess has done, then I think it is incumbent to either give a little bit more criteria, or a little bit more of a hint as to who it might be because I think it’s a little bit unfair on a lot of former MPs who are patriotic, as 99.9 per cent on both sides are.

“And if there’s one who they’ve identified who’s not then that person should be outed and shamed.”

When asked by host Ray Hadley if the ex-politician was a Labor party member from NSW, Dutton replied: “That’s where I’d put my money”.

Former federal treasurer and ambassador to the US Joe Hockey said Burgess was smearing all former and current politicians and creating distrust amongst Australia’s allies.

A furious Hockey said it was “unacceptable” and the perpetrator must be named.

“That’s a statement of fact, that a politician served the interests of a foreign nation again the interests of Australia,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.

“You can’t make an allegation about someone being a traitor and then expect that no one will ask questions.

“I served 20 years in parliament — I want to know who that person is.”

Hockey, who is in Washington and runs advisory firm Bondi Partners, said he had already been asked who it was.

Burgess’ revelation reflected badly on all current and serving politicians.

“This is not a flippant statement … this is a statement by the head of our secret intelligence service … he now has to say who that person is,” Hockey said.

Burgess said in his annual address on Wednesday that the person he referred to was not active any more and had been “neutralised”.

“They’re not doing it now, they’re not breaking the law,” he told reporters and intelligence community brass at his annual address.

“If we see them go active again, I can guarantee they’ll get caught.”

“Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective,” Burgess said.

Federal Labor government minister Anika Wells said she had “not been approached by any bad spies”.

“It is a glimpse of the sophistication with which they (foreign spies) are all operating now and we are all, clearly, going to have to be far more vigilant,” she told Nine’s Today show.

Wells added there might be “legal issues” that precluded Mr Burgess from naming the ex-politician.

Burgess said the foreign spies posed as consultants, head hunters, local government officials, academics and researchers and targeted students, academics, politicians, businesspeople, law enforcement officials and public servants.

They offered cash for information, with premiums for insider details.

The ring also flew academics and political figures to another country for an all-expenses-paid trip where they ended up meeting spies disguised as bureaucrats.

Weeks later, the A-team then managed to pry information about Australia’s national security and defence from an academic.

Burgess put the unit on notice after declassifying the information.

“We want the A-team’s bosses to know its cover is blown,” he said.

“I want the A-team and its masters to understand if they target Australia, ASIO will target them.

“We will make their jobs as difficult, costly and painful as possible.”

Arrests were not the only way of breaking up these rings or countering foreign interference, he said.

Other actions included working with partners to cancel visas or directly confronting spies or their organisations.

Burgess said he had spoken with his counterparts from other nations and told them to stop their actions or face reprisals “and they usually do”.

While the usual suspects were conducting espionage, so were friendly nations, he said.

ASIO’s Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce has conducted more than 120 operations since it was stood up in mid-2020.

Plots included a foreign agent trying to track a dissident in Australia and getting a quote from someone to “take severe action” against them and another spy agency trying to find an Australian willing to make a dissident “disappear”.

-with AAP

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