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05/28/2013

China steals blueprints to Australia's intelligence headquarters: report

Well it isn’t just Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who are under siege.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is deep in damage control mode too, following hugely embarrassing reports that hackers have stolen the blueprints for the country’s soon-to-be-opened intelligence headquarters.

An Australian Broadcasting Corporation report revealed Monday that hackers broke into the computer systems of the contractor building the new HQ in Canberra, and the hackers were – surprise – traced back to China.

One analyst told an ABC investigative program that the building might now have to be gutted.

But the embarrassment doesn’t stop there.

In March, Australia’s Financial Review also revealed that the country’s Reserve Bank too came under cyber attack -- infiltrated by intelligence gathering Chinese-designed malware.

The target at the bank, the Review said, was classified intelligence about sensitive G20 negotiations.

And that’s not the end of it: the publication revealed that Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) was also infected by malicious software as far back as 2008.

On the stolen blueprints, Gillard would only say the report was “inaccurate.” But she offered no details.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus claimed the report was based on “unsubstantiated allegations.”

But, treading carefully, he would neither deny nor confirm the report.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei was issuing his government’s pro-forma response: “groundless allegations,” he said.

Of course China’s reputation for cyber hacking is exceedingly well known.

Earlier this month in its annual report, the U.S. Department of Defense fingered China for cyber espionage worldwide, saying “numerous” attacks appeared to be, “attributable directly to the Chinese government and military.”

Back in Canberra, Green Party Christine Milne, is calling for an independent inquiry.

Milne says the ABC report appears to show “an extremely serious breach” of security -- one that should also concern the country’s allies who share intelligence with Australia.

Might this sour relations between Australia and China -- now the country’s biggest trading partner?

No way, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said with a straight face Tuesday.

“It’s got absolutely no implications for a strategic partnership,” he said.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller


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