The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better known by its acronym ASIO, has been building new headquarters. The project was announced in 2007, with staff to move into the building in December 2012. The current cost of the project is $631 million – a $171 million increase on the original budget.
It has now come to light that one of the reasons for delaying the use of the facility is that its security has been compromised. Before ASIO could even move into its new headquarters, a cyber-attack was mounted on one of the contractors involved in building the facility.
According to a report by ABC TV’s Four Corners, during the attack blueprints of floor plans, communications cabling, server locations and security systems were all stolen. These documents were traced back to a server in China, from where it is assumed the attack originated. The new facility will now not open until later this year.
Attacks on the departments of defence, prime minister and cabinet, foreign affairs and trade (home of Australia’s overseas intelligence agency ASIS) and tourism were also reported during the program, although there was no detail given as to what information had been taken when these departments were hacked.
These hacking incidents have reopened the debate over whether the Government should implement mandatory disclosure laws if an organisation has a data breach.
During the program a source disclosed that a Chinese foreign intelligence agency was behind the attacks, although this has not been confirmed by any government sources.
Read more about ASIO’s headquarters being hacked on the PerthNow website.
Is it really appropriate to continue to call yourselves a ‘security intelligence organisation’ after an event such as this?
ASIO is the equivalent of the United States Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI). It collects intelligence about potential threats within Australia. The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) is similar to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in that its focus is on international threats to Australia’s security.
The allegation that China was involved in this attack comes just weeks after the Government softened its stance towards China, claiming in May’s Defence White Paper that it no longer saw the rising superpower as a threat.
To be fair, this is not a case of ‘only in Australia’. Approximately 40 years ago the Americans had to completely rebuild the interior of their embassy in Moscow, and the British have had to do the same to several buildings in London over the years.
According to Des Ball, from the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ASIO doesn’t have a lot of options at this point. “With construction nearly completed you have two options. One is to accept it and practice utmost sensitivity even within your own headquarters. The other… is to rip the whole insides out and start again.”
Still, it seems ludicrous that ASIO, the budget for which has tripled since the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in the USA, has had the security of its own top-secret headquarters breached before it could even move into the building. If this is the best that one of our top intelligence agencies can do, I really do worry about the future of Australia’s intelligence, security and defence.
This is also reportedly not the first time that China has mounted a state-funded intelligence attack against Australia. With our security intelligence organisations on the back foot and our Government making friends with those who are allegedly attacking us, are you worried about the consequences?
Does this make you feel unsafe? Or is it just another case of the Government wasting money on a sub-par department?