Australia launches intel task force in wake of bold Chinese spying revelations

World | 2 Dec 2019 10:31 am

Australia launched a high-level intelligence task force to combat what officials say is rampant foreign interference in the country and after claims of bold Chinese spying operations.

The federal government will spend almost A$90 million establishing a new counter foreign interference task force which aims to catch and then take to court anyone working to undermine Australia's national interests.

The task force will include staff from domestic spy agency ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, financial intelligence unit Austrac, listening agency ASD and imagery intelligence organisation AGO, SBS reports.

"Our security and intelligence agencies have been clear that the threat from foreign interference has never been greater," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement today.

Morrison said the new force would involve all the top intelligence agencies "to disrupt and deter anyone attempting to undermine our national interests". 
One novelty of the force would see intelligence agencies, normally tasked with overseas threats, coordinate with federal police to identify and prosecute or expel foreign agents.
"We will be developing new specialist capabilities both from an investigatory capacity as well as being able to pursue investigations and bring them to either disrupt activity or, indeed, follow through and prosecute," Morrison said during a press conference in Canberra.
"This task force to counter foreign interference is about identifying it, disrupting and prosecuting."
Morrison did not explicitly mention China, saying "foreign interference comes from many, many different sources" and is "an evolving threat".
But today's announcement followed revelations that authorities were investigating a raft of explosive claims by Wang Liqiang, a would-be Chinese
defector, about Chinese espionage and covert influence operations in Australia.
It also came after the recently retired head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Duncan Lewis, said China wanted to "take over"
Australia's political system with an "insidious" and systematic campaign of espionage and influence peddling.'' 
Australian authorities are also looking into a claim that China tried to recruit a Melbourne businessman and get him elected to parliament. 

Bo "Nick" Zhao -- a 32-year-old luxury car dealer who was a member of Morrison's Liberal Party -- apparently rebuffed the offer and was found dead in
a motel room in March. 

Morrison described the allegations as "deeply disturbing and troubling.'' China branded the claims "lies", accusing "some politicians, organisations
and media in Australia" of "cooking up so-called China spy cases". 

Liberal lawmaker Gladys Liu has been linked to the dead man at the centre of the Chinese spying allegations in the Victorian seat of Chisholm. Photos of a man sitting next to Ms Liu have been posted on social media, with the suggestion the attendee is the deab businessman Nick Zhao, The Australian reported. 

Liu’s office said Friday she had no recollection of meeting Zhao at a function in 2016. But the office has confirmed Liu is the woman in the photograph. 

Sources said the photos were taken at Liu’s house early in 2016, The Australian reported.

The Nine Network reported Chinese operatives offered A$1 million to fund Liberal Party member Nick Zhao's tilt at the federal seat of Chisholm. The 32-year-old was found dead in a Melbourne hotel room after reportedly approaching domestic spy agency ASIO, ASIO to discuss the plot.-AFP/The Standard


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