Was outgoing ASIO head David Irvine -- he of the famous “unfettered ideas” radicalising us in our loungerooms -- treating us like idiots yesterday, or giving us a subtle but appropriate warning?
In a speech to Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce reported in The Australian Financial Review
, Irvine warned participants about being spied on and otherwise targeted during the G20. He was, he said, concerned “about the threat of activists in some form or other using cyber means to disrupt the arrangements of the G20”. Also, “there are going to be very significant attempts to collect information relative to G20 and that is something that individual delegations will have to handle.” Irvine also warned of the threat of undisciplined “hacktivists”.
So whom was Irvine warning us against? The biggest threat to G20 participants comes from ... us. Edward Snowden revealed last year that the British government had systematically spied
on participants in the 2009 G20 summit in the UK -- the critical one held at the height of the financial crisis and ensuing recession -- using both electronic surveillance and old-fashioned dirty tricks .
There’s no reason to assume Australian agencies, ably assisted by our American and British friends, won’t be doing exactly the same thing at this year’s G20 in Australia. Maybe Irvine was giving everyone fair warning that the “Australian intelligence community” as it likes to style itself will be looking to collect information.
As for “hacktivists”, whom Irvine contrasts unfavourably with government-sponsored hackers, let’s try a little test. Who materially undermined internet encryption, weakening protection for e-commerce and online financial transactions? Who damaged relations between the US and those of friendly governments like Germany and Brazil by spying on the most senior figures in those countries? Who materially damaged the businesses of US internet service providers because people stopped trusting that US companies could protect their data? Who did so while acting illegally? The National Security Agency. And who damaged relations between Australia and Indonesia because of spying on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other Indonesian officials? The Australian Signals Directorate. And who damaged our relations with East Timor by spying on the East Timorese cabinet under the guise of an aid program in 2004? Why, the Australian Security Intelligence Service, then headed by one David Irvine.
Hacktivists ain’t got nothing on you guys when it comes to inflicting damage, Mr Irvine.