Australian spy chief under pressure to name ex-politician who ‘sold out’

The spy chief said a team from an unidentified country had cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician.

Director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Mike Burgess
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Mike Burgess during a press conference in Brisbane, Australia, August 2019 [File: Darren England/ Australia and New Zealand/EPA]

Australia’s spy chief is facing calls to name a former politician accused of having “sold out” the country to a foreign power.

Director-general of security for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, said in an annual speech on Wednesday evening that a spy team from an unidentified country had cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician.

“This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime,” Burgess said in a speech in the capital, Canberra.

In his address, Burgess said a foreign intelligence service unit, named “the A-Team”, had made Australia its “priority target” and specifically targeted those with access to “privileged information” by using social networking sites and promising financial rewards.

Burgess added that the unidentified former politician had been recruited “several years ago” and had suggested a plot to introduce a family member of the prime minister into the spy’s orbit, but the plan did not go ahead.

He said police had not charged the person because they were no longer active.

Following the unexpected revelations, Alex Turnbull, the son of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said in an interview on Thursday with that he had been approached about an infrastructure project by a group of suspected Chinese agents in around 2017 when his father was in government.

He said the group had links to a former New South Wales state Labour Party parliamentarian without naming the person.

However, current and former members of the opposition party have pushed for the name of the ex-politician to be released to avoid speculations.

Former parliamentary treasurer, Joe Hockey, who also served as the ambassador to the United States, echoed the demands for the ex-politician to be named.

“Mr Burgess, having gone this far, must name that person rather than potentially smear everyone who has served their country,” Hockey wrote on X.

Opposition party leader, Peter Dutton, also said on radio station 2GB: “The trouble is, if he does not indicate the name then there is a cloud hanging over everybody else.”

Australia is a current member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which includes the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, making it a target for operatives from countries such as China and Russia.

In 2018, under former Prime Minister Turnbull’s leadership, foreign interference laws were introduced, of which the “key purpose” of the measures was to expose China’s activities.

A Chinese-Australian businessman was sentenced to years and nine months in jail on Thursday for attempting to win favour with a minister – the first sentence given under the interference laws, according to state broadcaster ABC.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies