Dating apps like Tinder and protests over COVID vaccine mandate attract attention from ASIO, says annual threat assessment

Foreign spies are using Tinder and other dating apps to recruit Australians with access to sensitive government secrets.

ASIO boss Mike Burgess made the alarming revelation during his annual threat assessment, in which he also warned that it was difficult to identify anti-vaccine activists who might turn violent.

In a wide-ranging speech to an audience of military leaders, security officials and politicians at ASIO headquarters in Canberra, Mr Burgess confirmed that espionage and foreign interference had now ‘supplied’ the terrorism as a “primary security concern”, declaring the recent AUKUS nuclear partnership an obvious target for international agents.

Over the past two years, thousands of Australians with access to classified information have reportedly been targeted by foreign intelligence services using social media profiles.

“These spies are adept at using the internet for their recruiting efforts,” Burgess said.

“There has been an increase in suspicious approaches on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, for example.”

Director General of Security Mike Burgess said foreign intelligence services were looking to recruit people online.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

Overseas intelligence agents are even being watched by ASIO on popular dating apps as they try to lure Australians into giving them access to official secrets.

“My message to all potential victims on these sites is familiar – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The director general of security said the online connection was an easy way for foreign intelligence services to target employees of interest.

“On any of the popular social media or internet platforms, they make seemingly innocuous approaches, such as job postings,” Burgess revealed.

“It then moves to direct messaging on different encrypted platforms or in-person meetings, before a recruitment pitch is made.”

A foreign interference plot in an unspecified Australian election has also come to light

A spy ring run by a wealthy “puppeteer” linked to a foreign government recently tried to bankroll vulnerable political candidates in an unspecified Australian election, in order to elect sympathetic MPs to parliament.

Tantalizing but only vague details of the foiled plot were detailed by the ASIO boss as he warned of the risk of foreign interference in this year’s upcoming federal contest.

One person, whom Mr Burgess dubbed “the puppeteer”, hired another person to enable foreign interference operations and used an offshore bank account to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for operating expenses.

“The employee hired by the puppeteer began to identify potential candidates for election who supported foreign government interests or who were assessed as vulnerable to inducement and culture,” he said.

“This year – a federal election year – we must be especially vigilant against foreign policy interference,” Burgess said, declining to name specific countries that pose a threat.

Protesters at the gates of Parliament
Hundreds of protesters recently converged on the public entrance to Parliament.(Facebook: official 2022 convoy to Canberra)

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters closely watched

The Director-General also described how COVID-19 has pushed online radicalization into “overdrive”, with isolated individuals spending more time exposed to “extremist messaging, misinformation and conspiracy theories”.

“Some Australians believe the government’s approach to vaccinations and lockdowns has undermined their freedoms. And in a small number of cases grievance has turned into violence,” he said.

“In this rise in violent extremism driven by specific issues or grievances, many actors are newcomers, so it’s harder to get a sense of what is just big talk – and what is real planning for violence.”

Over the past week, some protesters in Canberra have been videotaped calling for violence against elected officials, including the execution of the Prime Minister.

Mr Burgess revealed that suspects under the age of 18 now make up more than half of ASIO’s priority counter-terrorism investigations each week.

“Where once minors tended to be on the fringes of extremist groups, we now see teenagers in leadership positions, directing adults and ready to take violent action themselves,” he said.

“ASIO is aware that minors prey on other minors, seek to turn them towards their violent ideology and use grooming techniques similar to those used by paedophiles.”

After the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban last year, ASIO continues to monitor the country closely, warning that violent extremists from this region could once again travel there for training.

About Jimmie P. Ricks

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