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Saturday, June 27, 2020
US influence over Australian cyber security a threat to rights and liberties
Written by: (Contributed) on 28 June 2020
The appointment of Kirstjen Neilson to a Canberra-based position created to develop Australia's Cyber Security Strategy (CSS) is a worrying sign of strengthened US involvement in our parliamentary system.
While few would deny a sensible CSS is a necessity for all countries in the modern world, the present Australian Morrison coalition government commitment contains some highly dubious agendas and is not straightforward. In light of a recent report about cyber-based surveillance systems, Australia now stands the very real likelihood of further massive erosion of civil liberties in the name of the CSS.
Kirstjen Neilson is a high-level US spook, with a Curriculum Vitae envied by career intelligence personnel; beginning with an advisory position with former US president George W. Bush before rising to deputy-chief of White House staff career moves also included personal involvement in Five Eyes meetings and briefing sessions with senior Australian political and intelligence chiefs. (1)
Appointed by President Trump in late 2017 as Homeland Security chief, Ms. Nielson later became a spook with a suitcase going places and is now Canberra-based in a position created by the Morrison coalition government to develop Australia's 2020 CSS. (2) She will work alongside Telstra chief, Andy Penn.
The appointment has coincided with US-led planning for the Trans Pacific Networks (TPN) telecommunications cable from Eureka in California linking Australia with Guam, a major US military and signals facility, and other countries in the region. Guam has been upgraded in recent years as a major military hub for regional operations and exists on the same arc from Pine Gap in Central Australia with similar intelligence facilities on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The TPN is due for completion in 2022 and has formed part of Cold War planning counter China's extensive regional telecommunications program. (3)
The Australian CSS is closely associated with US-led Cold War diplomatic positions sweeping the Indo-Pacific region: daily diatribes of anti-China sentiments and lurid conspiracy theories have frequently replaced serious journalistic work in mainstream media outlets. It is often difficult to disentangle the lunacy of far-right thinking with so-called mainstream media.
A quick study of those associated with the CSS has also revealed origins very early in the Morrison tenure as PM with moves to abolish the Ministry for Cyber Security and push it into Peter Dutton's Home Affairs portfolio. The Australian Cyber Security Centre was then expanded to include: Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, ASIO, and the Defence Intelligence Organisation, with the specific aim to 'inform, protect and disrupt'. (4)
The moves appear to follow a pattern pursued by the US intelligence services during the Obama period where there was a 'preference for espionage and covert operations over conventional force' and a transformation of their Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) into a spy service 'focussed on emerging threats' and assessments of allies and adversaries and their respective level of technological advancement and expertise. (5)
Other factors, however, have come into play. The computerisation of government departments and the corporate sector and their increasing centralisation has created problems of malfunction, potentially throwing whole societies into mayhem. Defence and security assessments, therefore, have come to rest upon the reliability of civil society of which they form part.
Defence and security personnel and their intelligence counterparts, however, are closely associated with class and state power of the existing order in Australia and elsewhere. Threats to their position are regarded as originating from those who seek change in society. It is no surprise, therefore, to find those government officials associated with class and state power have a preoccupation with 'the enemy within' and searching for those regarded as not being on-side in their societies.
The whole matter of cyber security has, therefore, created a convenient vantage point from where the required assessments will be conducted.
The present Cold War and the escalation of US-led diplomatic hostilities toward China, have led to an increase in internal surveillance in Australian society.
No-one, it would appear, has been regarded as above suspicion with daily witch-hunts at all levels of society. Declassified US military intelligence documents from the previous Cold War including Army Regulation 381-20 and Project X reveal the pattern of surveillance taking place in contemporary Australia.
US Defence Department AR 381-20 was part of the Army Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program; the vast military document left little to the imagination with references to co-ordinated counter-intelligence activities world-wide, targeting those who oppose the US Defence Department, 'during peacetime and all levels of conflict'. (6) Whole societies, it would appear, were systematically spied on and assessed in the course of normal US military duties.
The notorious Project X included US-trained intelligence agents placing citizens on 'black, grey and white lists for the purpose of identifying and prioritising adversary targets' and 'creating block-by-block inventories of families and their assets to keep tabs on the population'. (7)
While military documents such as AR 381-20 and Project X were eventually discontinued and declassified, they were invariably re-written and updated using the same protocol as seen with a recent report about cyber security and workplaces. It revealed a highly sophisticated surveillance program designed to monitor whole work-places and map and profile their workforces secretly.
The report stated that 'every individual is unique and has mannerisms or physical traits that identify them … these habits can be used to detect abnormal activities that point to nefarious activity'. (8) No clarification was provided of what was regarded as nefarious activity although the report continued that 'AI can also track the tone of voice in employees' emails … and … analyse their emotions'. (9) And as if to gloat over their surveillance capability over a workforce by the business-classes, the report acknowledged the capability to 'identify whether they are happy at work, or potentially becoming disengaged from their organisation'. (10)
Other surveillance capabilities included black-listing stating that 'by identifying these employees before they fall victim to a serious breach, AI can not only identify threat actors inside a network, but pro-actively train people to keep them out from the start'. (11)
Studies of industrial psychology have shown what qualities the business-classes admire: careerism and bourgeois ambition, intellectual pretension and disdain for the masses, haughtiness, arrogance and academic conceit, practical dilettantism and know-all manner, individualism. (12)
One can but wonder what Graham Greene would have made of such increased levels of class and state power; he wrote prolifically about the darker side of human nature and the inner workings of the corridors of power in Westminster and the Commonwealth for decades. Greene was also no stranger to the shadowy world of espionage:
Security's got a bit slack. But that's true of all other sections too. I made a rough
check for example of what people take out of their briefcases at lunchtime. Nothing
serious, but I was surprised at the number of briefcases … It's a warning, that's all,
of course. But a warning might scare a serious man. We can't very well ask them
to strip. (13)
Anyone ever associated with the trade-union movement, likewise, also knows how the corporate sector seeks to crush any opposition to their powers to accumulate capital and increase the dividends of shareholders. Long tentacles from the corridors of power invariably reach into the lowest levels of most workplaces. Dirty tricks and downright dishonesty form part of everyday best business practice; those at the top are taught the skills on the way up; the CSS will only increase the opportunities of the business-classes still further.
Australian society has already experienced a massive erosion of civil liberties in recent years. It now stands to lose many more as the drive to establish a CSS takes place without a bill of rights for ordinary working people. Increased ability to access personal information under Freedom of Information provision would appear an urgent necessity with the establishment of the CSS. It is doubtful, however, whether it will even be discussed openly in parliament.
The establish of the Australian CSS is also closely linked to the US war-drive to reassert traditional hegemonic positions in the Indo-Pacific region.
We must fight to defend our rights and liberties!
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. PM recruits Trump aide for cyber battle, Australian, 24 June 2020.
3. China sets out snare for world-wide web, The Weekend Australian, 15-16 May 2020.
4. State-based strikes on rise, Cyber Security-Special Report, Australian, 9 October 2019.
5. Pentagon plays spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
6. Army Regulation 381-20, Section I.5, Mission and Policy, page 1.
7. Lost History: Project X, Drugs and Death Squads, The Consortium Magazine, 31 March 1997.
8. Individuals, AI the foundation of security intelligence in world of increasing risk, Cyber Security Special Report, Australian, 9 October 2019.
12. See: The struggle over the mode of thinking, Stefan Engel, (Essen, 1996), pp. 82-85.
13. The Human Factor, Graham Greene, (London, 1978), page 36.