Mike Burgess - politician who sold out

When Mike Burgess delivered ASIO’s threat assessment 2024, he included some content which is nothing short of sensationalist, explosive and yet in the national interest. He told us, we have amongst ourselves a former politician who worked for a foreign power while being on the Australian taxpayer paid most privileged job – a politician, a power player who could have had access to the most classified, sensitive information which shapes what Australia is today.

Talking about a foreign country’s spy network he referred to as “the A-team” the former politician worked for, the ASIO boss said: “[He or she] sold out their country, party and former colleagues.”

To drive home the level of seriousness he was drawing our attention to, he even added that the person should be grateful to his luck that the laws punishing such acts are not retrospective.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript:

Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.

In one of them, leading Australian academics and political figures were invited to a conference in an overseas country, with the organisers covering all expenses including airfares.

When the attendees arrived at the conference they were met by individuals claiming to be bureaucrats. In reality, they were spies in disguise, members of the A-team.

They used the conference to build relationships with the Australians and aggressively target them for recruitment, openly asking who had access to government documents.

A few weeks after the conference wrapped up, one of the academics started giving the A-team information about Australia’s national security and defence priorities.

Another Australian, an aspiring politician, provided insights into the factional dynamics of his party, analysis of a recent election and the names of up-and-comers – presumably so the A-team could target them too.

ASIO disrupted this scheme and confronted the Australians involved. While some were unwitting, others knew they were working for a foreign intelligence service. We helped the unaware ones extract themselves, and severed the links between the others and the foreign intelligence service. Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective.

ASIO did not stop there. We confronted the A-team directly. Late last year, the team leader thought he was grooming another Australian online. Little did he know he was actually speaking with an ASIO officer – the spy was being spied on, the player was being played. You can imagine his horror when my officer revealed himself and declared, “we know who you are. We know what you are doing. Stop it or there will be further consequences.”

Like other public servants, spies are required to tell their security teams about suspicious approaches so I sure hope the team leader lodged a contact report!

Now, you may be wondering why I’m giving you this amount of detail. I’ve declassified the case for two reasons.

First – awareness. Australians need to understand what the threat looks like so they can avoid it and report it.

The second reason is more complicated. We decided to confront the A-team and then speak about it publicly as part of a real-world, real-time disruption. We want the A-team to know its cover is blown. We want the A-team’s bosses to know its cover is blown. If the team leader failed to report our conversation to his spymasters, he will now have to explain why he didn’t, along with how ASIO knows so much about his team’s operations and identities.

Ever since the address, there have been calls to name the former politician, with the federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton speculating in public that it be a Labor politician from the New South Wales. His former colleague Joe Hockey believe it is unfair to all former politicians who now may be living under suspicion from their former constituents.

I believe, it is unfair and not in the national interest to not name all the active players, who according to Mike Burgess knew ‘they were working for a foreign intelligence service’.

Also read: ATO launches new protections against rising tide of fraud

Thus, not just the former politician, the ‘aspiring politician’ and also the academics involved must be outed.

Without naming them, we cannot achieve national awareness needed to keep Australia safe.

Such operatives, particularly politicians and academics need people in various roles around them to support them function. How are those people’s interests served if the former operatives are not outed?

The second reason given is more incongruent and incomprehensible. I really struggled to get what Mike Burgess wanted to achieve in saying: “The second reason is more complicated. We decided to confront the A-team and then speak about it publicly as part of a real-world, real-time disruption. We want the A-team to know its cover is blown. We want the A-team’s bosses to know its cover is blown.”

To me, when ASIO confronted the A-team, that very moment the A-team knew its cover was blown.

It is just plain common-sense.

The so-called real-world, real-time disruption’ by speaking in public, seems a useless addendum if he only wanted to send a message to the A-team.

The question is – who was Mike Burgess sending this message to?

Are there more players and recruits, (yet to be classified as ‘operatives’) that the ASIO chief was sending this message to?

We may never know.

In my view, no national interest is being served by keeping the names secret. It may only encourage them to fall in the same trap, to nurture the propensity to again work for some foreign power, aided by their unaware peers and friends.

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