Sky News: Australia’s top spy agency has warned foreign espionage will replace terrorism as the greatest threat to national security by 2025. acio has revealed spies are targeting Australia’s mining and agriculture sectors to get information on how the nation is diversifying trade away from China. Joining me live is Daniel Lewkovitz, CEO of Calamity Monitoring. Daniel, good morning.
Daniel Lewkovitz: Good morning, Janie.
Sky News: Daniel this week, it’s been revealed a significant number of foreign spies and their proxies have been removed from Australia or rendered inoperative. That’s an alarming revelation.
Daniel Lewkovitz: Well, it’s more than that, Jamie. I mean, you know, it’s a big deal when intelligence agencies start putting things into the media. This is not a new threat. This is not a new problem. This has been around for a very long time. And I suppose to some extent, foreign intelligence agencies, including our own working in the interest of a nation against ours is nothing new. But the fact that this is so mainstream is perhaps a good indicator to the layperson, how prolific This issue has actually become now that it’s going to become part of the national discourse in much the same way I suppose that terrorism did after 2001 Oh, 911, even though at that time, that also wasn’t a completely new threat, it was just the first time the ordinary person in the street woke up to it.
Sky News: So what action then Daniel, can Australian agencies take to try to push against these foreign players?
Daniel Lewkovitz: Well, what’s happened is a change in focus, not from predominantly kinetic warfare. So you know, bombs, guns, missiles, terrorism, beheading, and so forth two additional threats that can target the sovereignty of our nation, our democracy, our economy, and so forth. And, you know, it’s not easy for the average person to necessarily have a big role to play in anti terrorism or counterterrorism.
But in terms of protecting the national interest, from an information point of view, counter espionage point of view, that’s certainly something that’s relevant, for example, to businesses who have the ability to protect their information assets that their computer networks, take steps to prevent cyber warfare and so forth, as well as for the ordinary population to just be aware of the threats that this nation faces.
For example, the Chinese counter for technology was found in Cisco routers many years ago. So even though organizations all the way up to defense around the world might have only bought from what they thought were trusted suppliers, Cisco, an American company was a good example. Evaluation of these products found counterfeit chips inside, so actual hardware devices inside that allowed information to be stolen. And so this was going into secure environments. Now, to some extent, that’s not necessarily something that you know, an ordinary business might be able to concern itself with. But when we look at some of the things that have happened recently, network attacks, information theft, and so forth, it’s very, very important that companies take care of this, not only because it’s in the national interest, which is obviously something we should all care very deeply about.
But because it’s actually relevant to specific businesses that we’ve seen in a saber rattling that’s going on right now, between this country and China that it’s very easy for businesses to suffer, partly because whilst on the one stage, you know, democracies have traditionally been opposed to communism, and so forth, we’re in an interesting state at the moment where we’re also massive trading partners with some of these entities as well. So there’s a tense relationship there, but one that needs to be managed very, very carefully.
Sky News: And you spoke a lot about the businesses, but also youth radicalization, Daniel has been highly spoken about, uh, what advice would you give to people and what signs to look out for?
Daniel Lewkovitz: Well, so this is coming back to what I was saying earlier that whilst you know, the focus may increase in certain areas that perhaps were less of a threat previously, that doesn’t mean that existing threats are no longer around. I mean, the the threat of violent extremism, terrorism and so forth is certainly one that continues to hurt nations worldwide.
You know, at the moment, we’re on the way to a terrible anniversary, which will be something like 40,000 deadly Islamised attacks just since 911. And so these are staggering numbers. And you know, some would say, Well, this is just part of modern life we live in but you know, when, when I look around at the moment, and I see that, you know, economies and communities around the world right now are suffering, these are additional headaches, but we absolutely don’t need and it’s something that we need to focus on. So really, you know, to use a phrase that some people haven’t heard and perhaps it was mocked a bit when it was first offered by our then Prime Minister, but be alert, not alarmed.
It’s very important that Australians you know, watch out for things if you see something strange, inquiries being made of your organization or people acting in a peculiar manner. It’s important to get advice and report that because look, hopefully it’s nothing but it may be something.
I’ll give you a good example. At the moment, there is a Russian pirate website that offers academic papers. Now, traditionally, these are things that are very costly. And you know, students and academics have to subscribe. So this pirate website, you know, might seem tempting for them. But researchers have the term that that site is actually harvesting passwords, and credentials of academics and people who are at the university. So in other words, this is basically a honeypot that attracts those sorts of people in and so of course, once they’ve got that they can then gain a foothold into their research institutions and gain access to information that’s nationally sensitive.
And so these are things that our spy agencies, our intelligence agencies, and our domestic law enforcement are always on the lookout. And one of the things that I think people need to realize is that it’s not necessarily countries at war with us trying to impose direct harm on us, one of the other things that foreign intelligence services can do is so unrest and sow discord within a community.
So, you know, obviously, a few years ago, everybody was saying that it was Russian bots, and so forth, that we’re trying to get Trump elected Donald Trump elected. And of course, I think what people didn’t realize is that it actually didn’t matter, really, who got elected President of the United States, whether it was Hillary Clinton, whether it was Donald Trump, what mattered was seeing ordinary Americans turning on each other in the streets. And that’s something that we see, too. These days, once upon a time, foreign intelligence had to actually insert people into nations, having them live in the community was a tremendously costly exercise. But now it’s something that can be done from their own countries via the internet.
So I think it’s also important for people to realize that when you’re fighting strangers on the internet, when you’re essentially calling for uprisings in your own community, you’re actually hurting this nation, it’s a lot bigger than just fighting someone on the internet, this is pretty much exactly what the enemies of this nation would like you to be doing. And I’m concerned that a lot of people seem to fall for it.
They’re being radicalized online. They’re supposedly grassroot movements that are in fact, being sponsored and promoted by overseas intelligence, you know, during the Cold War era, and even prior to that the Soviets would refer to useful idiots in the West, who were essentially people that would help them without even realizing that they were doing so and so this is something for people to think about when they’re getting in fights on the internet.
Sky News: How quickly can someone get radicalised?
Daniel Lewkovitz: Well, I mean, if we’re talking about, for example, Islamic extremism. So where, you know, a person could go from the ordinary Muslim schoolboy to someone who would actually kill research came out of Israel a few years ago from debriefing, some failed terrorist attacks, where it turned out that, you know, that could be that could be as little as nine to 12 weeks. So it’s an astonishingly short period of time, it’s important to note that, you know, these are people who have no prior criminal history, these are people who are not in any sort of intelligence radar.
And, you know, our intelligence agencies do phenomenal work, our policing agencies do phenomenal work. But, you know, it’s always been said, they have to get it right every single time. Someone who wants to cause harm only has to get it right, once and so you know, that the timeframe is shifting lower and lower, the proliferation, I’m sorry, of online material, has created a huge exposure to this, you know, from the comfort of someone’s home.
But having said that, I think it’s important to recognize that incitement to radicalism doesn’t necessarily just happen online, it’s it’s unusual that you know, someone is just sitting at home, watching, you know, cat videos on YouTube, and then all of a sudden, they see something and next thing, they’re running around trying to perpetrate acts of violence. You know, these are, these are sentiments that come from a variety of directions, they come from what’s online, they come from what’s spoken about in the home, around the dinner table, they come from what’s taught in schools, they come from what’s discussed, you know, at prayers, and so forth.
So, you know, it’s really important to, to look at this, and it’s one of the challenges that I suppose our intelligence agencies have, because there really is a two way relationship between communities, you know, from where some of this violence emanates, to the extent that on the one hand, our you know, our defense agencies, our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence agencies want to sort of squash this incitement and squash this threat, but at the same time, because they you know, they simply can’t have eyes and ears everywhere.
And, you know, personally, I don’t want the government to have eyes and ears everywhere. They also rely on information being fed to them by these communities. So you know, it’s important on the one hand to stop a problem without also at the same time getting you know the friendlies offside as well and so you know that there is a balancing act there.