Just days after Australia’s intelligence chief announced that the agency had achieved significant counter-espionage success. According to local media, Australia has exposed and discreetly expelled a major Russian spy network whose members had been posing as diplomats.
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Internal sources mentioned in a report on Friday that the spy ring included individuals using deep-cover identities and those posing as embassy and consular workers. However, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has not named the offending nation.
The network, larger and more dangerous than a “nest” of spies that had previously been destroyed, was referred to as a “hive” of spies by Mike Burgess, the secretary-general of security for ASIO. No precise figures have been disclosed.
Some Russian operatives used deep cover identities, according to sources familiar with the ASIO operation, while others assumed the roles of diplomatic and consular staff roles.
It’s also reported that the espionage ring sought to enlist Australians who had access to sensitive information and used cutting-edge technology to steal data and communicate without being monitored.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine, ASIO decided to launch a covert counter-espionage investigation rather than push for the expulsion of Russian embassy personnel.
By tracking the Russian espionage ring, it made sure that targets were unaware that ASIO was keeping an eye on them.
Internal sources claimed that the chance that Russia might retaliate by targeting the small number of Australian diplomatic personnel in Moscow affected ASIO’s decision-making throughout the operation.
Some intelligence operations have previously led to tit-for-tat reprisals. Russian espionage network sources state that there were higher chances that diplomats or other Australians residing in Russia would have been targeted if unregistered spies had been aggressively and publicly expelled.
Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of Australia, refused to confirm whether the espionage network that ASIO had thwarted was Russian.
Before his election to office in May of last year, Albanese had demanded the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Australia as reprisal for the invasion of Ukraine. However, Russian Ambassador Alexey Pavlovsky continues to hold the position he has held in Australia since May 2019.
Allegedly ASIO continued its counter-espionage investigation and tracked down the network’s members to take advantage of government decisions to permit Russian diplomats to remain in the country.
An estimated 400 suspected Russian spies, across Europe, were expelled from Moscow’s diplomatic posts as part of a campaign of military support and sanctions in retaliation against Ukraine’s invasion by Putin.
ASIO has a long record of resisting spying that is ordered from Moscow. To look into the alleged disclosure of Australian government secrets to the Soviet Union, the group was founded in 1949.