The head of Australia’s cyber spy agency has defended domestic surveillance operations, warning that “not all Australians are the good guys.”
Rachel Noble, chief of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), on Tuesday used the first major speech since her appointment to justify the agency’s power to gather intelligence on Australian citizens.
The federal government has been criticized over a plan to expand the ASD’s power to fight domestic security and criminal threats, but Noble said that the agency’s role is more important than ever.
“We are in a near-impossible game. The threat to our way of life is more real today than at any time I have known in my career,” she said in a speech to the Australian National University National Security College.
“Our ability to collect intelligence on Australians is not new because not all Australians are the good guys. Some Australians are agents of a foreign power.”
“Some Australians are terrorists.”
“Some Australians take up weapons and point them at us and our military. Some Australians are spies who are cultivated by foreign powers and are not on our side.”
Noble was appointed to lead the ASD in February after her predecessor, Mike Burgess, was chosen to lead the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The agency is tasked with intercepting foreign communications and disrupting offshore criminal activity but Noble said on Tuesday that it has had the power to target Australians since 2001.
“For more than 20 years ASD’s role in relation to intelligence collection against Australians has been laid bare on the face of legislation,” she said.
“It is hardly a modern revelation that ASD has this role. Transparency is not a new feature of our story — some people may have just forgotten what has already been said over many years.”