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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Spy drive to tackle Chinese

News.com.au: ASIO has stepped up espionage against Chinese spies and Muslim extremists by more than doubling in only two years the number of intelligence officers from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The domestic spy agency, dominated by white Anglo-Saxon males during the Cold War, has recruited an unprecedented 88 foreign-language-speaking spies since late 2004 as part of the Government's plan to fast-track ASIO's expansion.

The Australian understands many of the new recruits are fluent Chinese speakers who have been assigned to a new ASIO counter-espionage unit specifically to combat the increased number of Chinese spies in Australia.

However, despite the sharp rise in foreign-language speakers, the domestic spy agency is still unable to attract the number of Arabic speakers it needs to operate inside the Muslim community and better monitor the terrorist threat inside Australia.

At least five key intelligence and security agencies, including ASIO, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Defence Signals Directorate, the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police are struggling to recruit Arabic speakers. Their experience mirrors that in the US where the CIA and FBI are desperately short of Arabic-speaking agents.

The Washington Post has revealed that five years after Arab terrorists conducted the September 11 attacks on the US, less than 1 per cent of FBI agents have any proficiency in Arabic and none of these works in the section of the bureau investigating international terrorism.

In Australia, it is believed that there are fewer than a dozen fluent Arabic speakers working full-time inside intelligence and security agencies.

The problem is exacerbated by the difficulty in obtaining timely security clearances for Arabic speakers, as ASIO is required to delve deep into their past, including time spent in the Middle East.

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told The Australian that ASIO needed recruits with "a range of experience and backgrounds".

"The Government is committed to appropriately resourcing our intelligence agencies," he said.

"ASIO already has approximately 1200 staff - double the number it had at the end of 2000-2001. It has developed innovative recruitment campaigns to recruit high-quality staff with a range of experience and backgrounds."

A spokesman for Mr Ruddock declined to reveal details of ASIO's foreign-language capabilities, except to confirm that the number of ASIO officers from non-English-speaking backgrounds had soared from 78 to 166 since 2004.

ASIO has also been recruiting a new generation of computer specialists to man a new specialist technology information division to help monitor persons of suspicion.

The new intake of Chinese-speaking ASIO officers has bolstered its capacity to monitor the activities of Chinese spies, which now outnumber the Russians that dominated Canberra intelligence circles during the Cold War.

The Australian revealed last year that senior government sources believed Australia had been targeted aggressively in recent years by Chinese spies seeking information on military-related technology and strategic policy secrets.

"China would be the biggest now by a fair way ... they have built up their capabilities over the last 10 years and are more aggressive in their activities," the source said.

China has denied it has spies in Australia, a claim dismissed by security officials who say they operate mostly under diplomatic cover and under the guise of businessmen.

ASIO is in the middle of the most dramatic expansion in its history, with $642 million in additional funding over the next five years and plans to increase its numbers from 1200 personnel to 1860 by 2010-11.

ASIO chief Paul O'Sullivan says it was now growing at its "maximum sustainable rate".

ASIO has spent about $1million this year on advertising for recruits, taking in about 240 new people for a net gain of 170.

One ad shows a shoe sitting on a floor with the caption: "To you, this is just a shoe. To an ASIO surveillance officer, it's still just a shoe. ASIO officers are just like you."
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