AFP raids journo after Chinese spy expose

Via Herald Sun:

Federal police officers are raiding the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst over a story about a secret government plan to spy on Australians.

…“The matter relates to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information that was referred to the AFP.

“Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security. No arrests are expected today as a result of this activity.”

Somehow I missed the original story:

Under the plan, emails, bank records and text messages of Australians could be secretly accessed by digital spies without a trace, provided the Defence and Home Affairs ministers approved.

…The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo first wrote to the Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty in February outlining a plan to potentially allow government hackers to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into critical ­infrastructure”.

…The Attorney-General is responsible for issuing ASIO warrants, but the agency’s operation fall under the ­umbrella of Home Affairs.

Under the proposal, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Defence Minister Marise Payne would tick off on orders allowing cyber spooks to target onshore threats without the country’s top law officer knowing.

This offers some insight into how spooked are the spooks about Communist Party of China influence Downunder. Obviously it is a step too far, not least because we don’t even know the loyalties of Peter Dutton, previously from the ABC:

Chinese Communist Party-aligned billionaire Huang Xiangmo paid tens of thousands of dollars to former Liberal minister Santo Santoro while mounting a back-room campaign to secure Australian citizenship.

In 2016 Mr Santoro arranged a one-on-one meeting for Mr Huang with then-immigration minister Peter Dutton.

Despite meeting inside the private suite of a Chinese restaurant in Sydney in 2016 — access to one of the most powerful ministers in the Turnbull government that few others could have obtained — Mr Huang ultimately failed in his citizenship bid after ASIO objected to his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

An investigation by Four Corners, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald can also reveal that in 2015, Mr Dutton gave approval for then-Labor MP Sam Dastyari to conduct a private citizenship ceremony for Mr Huang’s wife and two children.

Citizenship ceremonies are almost always held in public, and private “special purpose” conferrals are usually only granted for applicants who are ill or have urgent needs and are unable to attend a typical town hall ceremony.

The conferral allowed Mr Huang’s family to expedite their citizenship by weeks or even months and was granted by Mr Dutton after he was told by Mr Dastyari that the family urgently wanted to travel overseas. Mr Huang’s family now runs his business interests in Australia since he has been expelled from the country.

Recordings have separately emerged showing Mr Santoro — a former factional ally of Mr Dutton who is now a senior lobbyist — claiming Mr Dutton was one of his “best friends” and that, in return for payment of at least $20,000, Mr Santoro could provide clients access to staff within Mr Dutton’s office to help efforts to expedite migration applications.

Mr Santoro is recorded stating:

“There is nobody else anywhere who is better placed than me to help you through this particular part of the project. Nobody. … I can go to somebody in the minister’s office and say ‘can you have a close look at this?’.”

Citizenship conferral

In early 2015, months before Australia’s political parties were warned by ASIO that Mr Huang posed a risk of engaging in foreign interference on behalf of Beijing, Mr Dutton used his power as immigration minister to authorise Mr Dastyari to hold a private, expedited citizenship ceremony for Mr Huang’s wife and children.

The ceremony was held inside Mr Dastyari’s office in early 2015.

Two men in dark suits stand at podiums emblazoned with the Coat of Arms at a press conference

This allowed Mr Huang’s family to effectively skip the citizenship ceremony queue and obtain their Australian passports in early 2015.

Mr Dastyari, who resigned in 2017 over his own dealings with Mr Huang, said he had written to Mr Dutton asking him to grant the Huang family expedited citizenship.

“I thought there was a snowflake’s chance in hell that this was going to get approved and the pace and speed of which it got approved at the time surprised me, and in hindsight concerns me,” Mr Dastyari said.

In a statement to Four Corners, Mr Dutton said Mr Huang “has never made a donation to my campaign”.

“Mr Dastyari will need to answer questions around his request for a citizenship ceremony,” Mr Dutton said.

Pressed about the appropriateness of his own role assisting Mr Huang, Mr Dastyari said he had resigned from the parliament over his dealings with Mr Huang and it was “ludicrous” to suggest Mr Dutton had expedited the ceremony as a favour for a Labor senator.

Private lunch: The Minister and Mr Beijing

The following year, in 2016, Mr Huang’s own citizenship application was stalled by ASIO over concerns about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

A big donor to political parties, universities and charities since his arrival in Australia in 2011, Huang headed a Chinese Communist Party lobbying and influence organisation in Sydney, called the ACPPRC.

Increasingly anxious about his stalled citizenship, Mr Huang turned to another political contact, Mr Santoro, a former minister in John Howard’s government turned lobbyist.

The joint investigation obtained a confidential recording of a meeting in which he boasted about his direct line to Mr Dutton. In the recording, Mr Santoro is heard saying “one of my best friends is Peter Dutton”.

Mr Santoro vouches for Mr Dutton’s integrity as “the most honest politician that I have ever come across”, but said he also “tries to be helpful” if there was “a capability or a critical mass of investments that comes into Australia”.

The confidential recording reveals Mr Santoro has claimed his lobbying service extends to helping people attempting to expedite immigration applications, and that he can access Mr Dutton’s office for a fee of at least $20,000.

In 2016, as Mr Huang became increasingly anxious about securing his own citizenship, he put Mr Santoro on a retainer.

In March that year, Mr Santoro arranged a lunch between Mr Huang, Mr Dutton and the minister’s senior staffer in a private room at Master Ken’s upmarket seafood restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown.

When questioned by Four Corners, The Age and SMH, Mr Santoro confirmed the lunch had taken place, but denied its intent was to provide Mr Huang direct access to Mr Dutton — the man most citizenship applicants could only dream of meeting to push their case.

Mr Santoro said his work for Mr Huang was limited to providing introductory services and denied offering to help Mr Huang obtain citizenship.

Asked why he was paid by Mr Huang for at least a year, Mr Santoro said: “That’s between myself and Mr Huang.”

“But generally speaking, it would have been just to, I suppose, assist him to understand Australian politics,” Mr Santoro said.

Mr Dutton declined to answer specific questions about his dealings with Mr Santoro, but said he had been “introduced to Mr Huang as a leader in the Sydney Chinese community and had lunch with him on that basis”.

“I have certainly never made representations on his behalf to the Department [of Immigration] or anyone else,” Mr Dutton said.

Mr Huang declined to answer specific questions, but through a spokesman said his dealings with Mr Santoro were limited to “advice regarding business” including “development of the volcano area in Sicily, Italy”.

Mr Huang’s attempt to get a passport failed and last November, on advice from ASIO that he posed a risk of foreign interference, he was banned from re-entering Australia.

Welcome to the brave new world of Chinese espionage and counter-espionage.

Pleasant isn’t it?

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  1. DominicMEMBER

    Don’t worry about the government spying on you clandestinely – as long as you’re not ‘doing anything wrong’ then it’s perfectly acceptable to let them have free reign over your personal life and affairs.

    Just don’t apply tape over your desktop screen-mounted camera — you could find yourself in hot water 😉

    • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

      Multicultural societies are HIGH trust societies….. just so long as we have a vast and intrusive enforcement and surveillance system, to spy on all those people of different cultures and loyalties who we’ve imported.

      This is who we are now…. on the plus side at least we have access to decent Pho.

      • It’s getting harder and harder to find a decent (or value for money) Pho etc. as economic pressures have everyone racing to the bottom of maximising profit while making as cheap a product as possible using as cheap ingredients as possible made by cheap imported labour.

  2. And that my friends, is why you use a VPN for EVERYTHING.

    $50/year is a very small price to pay for not having al your data sent in the clear.

    Of course they can still get everything they want if they actually target you. But you won’t be picked up by the initial search when they look for, say, who in the country sent a message containing the words “fydenberg” and “pissant” in the same sentence…

    • err, nope, they can still track you easily and automatically on a VPN, simply by looking at your cookies and browser fingerprint.

      Also, the use of VPNs is can be construed as illegal under the “Australian Assistance and Access Bill” passed last year.

      • HadronCollision

        Good luck prosecuting that Elias
        It’d outlaw a shedload of legitimate use, like, oh, I don’t know, accessing your employer’s network from home

      • Like I say, if they target you specifically, they can get everything, I’m sure. VPN or not.

        But if they’re Screening bajillions of petabytes of traffic going through the NBN – they’re not going to sweep you up.

        And they can go and get fvcked if they declare VPNs illegal. That’s what China does – if it comes to that here, it’s going to be a very clear signal that it’s time to get the fvck out of the country.

      • As HC says I’ve had to use a VPN for years for company use, and it’s not only to protect from state actors like China, but industrial hacking. Nothing, nothing is secure online people, and anyone saying it is, is lying to you. To protect your data should be in legislation. For what this is about, there are legetimate warrants that police etc use and it’s part of the legislation. I’m more concerned about Google/Apple/Amazon and FB stealing my data (we’ll find out soon enough, but it’s a great way to hike your health premiums if you have all the lifestyle/other data), but think this possible gov move is a step too far.

      • Only 1 VPN I’ve read online that has legally been tested in court after being called in to reveal who did what on one of the VPN IP addresses. PIA rep testified they can’t match account data for owners to IP activity. This was accepted by the court apparently. Personally I use pia and I buy a MasterCard gift card with cash don’t register it and pay that way.

    • blindjusticeMEMBER

      VPN – as in virtual? virtual = software right? I dont know the ins and outs of how it works but is it possible that if you were a spy agency you would be online hosting vpn portals or selling vpn software that allows you to track people?

      Because if that was possible and I ran the CIA or whoever thats what I would do lol

      • You could, but the point of VPN’s is that they are offshore. There are a thousand different operators – it isn’t feasible for one government to buy them all out.

    • HadronCollision

      Privacy Pro on iOS redirects ALL web traffic via VPN offshore and logs nothing.
      $7.50 a month.

      I have it, it is blocking a LOTTTT of trackers (yes, I know trackers are not spy agencies). Anyone else using it?

      • VPN, plus ghostery, plus uBLock, plus no script, plus duckduckgo, plus no social media accounts (who wants that crap anyway)

    • I have a theory that they (whoever they may be) are collecting so much information that sifting through it all, categorising it and finding the useful stuff is a task too big to handle.
      So they have to concentrate their attention where they get the most bang for their buck.

      • You know who will bang for a buck? Povvo renters, that’s who!


        Seriously, though, I agree with you. Biggest bang for the buck and lowest hanging fruit won’t be in trying to trace back and decrypt traffic going through a VPN. It will be the stuff sent in the clear.

        So I just want to not be the lowest hanging fruit. Not fort google, not for facebook, not for the spooks not for the fvcking telemarketers.

  3. I saw a quick flash of something labelled “SECRET AUSTEO” on the news last night. That means “Secret, Australian Eyes Only” and is Serious Business. If that was genuine then regardless of what you think of the content, someone has committed a crime, the plods are duty bound to investigate, and they’ll very likely find out who exposed the information.

    Talking bullsh1t to a journo in a pub is one thing. Copying and sending AUSTEO material to journalists for publication is another matter entirely.