ASIO expelled two Indian agents in 2020 after being caught trying to steal sensitive airport information

Caleb Runciman
The Nightly
2 Min Read
ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess revealed in 2021 that a ‘nest of spies’ had been expelled from Australia in 2020 after they were caught “early” by the security agency. 
ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess revealed in 2021 that a ‘nest of spies’ had been expelled from Australia in 2020 after they were caught “early” by the security agency.  Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Australia’s spy agency ousted two agents working for the Indian Modi Government after they were caught grooming politicians while also trying to access sensitive airport information.

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess revealed in 2021 that a “nest of spies” had been expelled from Australia in 2020 after they were caught “early” by the security agency.

Their identity remained unknown until a report by The Washington Post revealed the agents were working for the “Research and Analysis Wing” of the Indian Modi Government on Monday.

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During a threat assessment in 2021, Burgess said: “they asked a public servant to provide information on security protocols at a major airport.”

“They successfully cultivated and recruited an Australian government security clearance holder who had access to sensitive details of defence technology.”

He said they developed “targeted relationships” with politicians, police, and a foreign embassy.

They were also caught surveilling Indian Australians.

Before the revelations, Burgess did not reveal the nation the operatives were working for, instead saying the information would be an “unnecessary distraction”.

“My focus is on detecting harm and dealing with it – professionally and privately, wherever possible, just as we did in the instance I’ve described,” he said.

The Washington Post reported that two spies working for the Indian agency were ousted during the crackdown.

It was further reported that, according to US and Indian officials, a plot to assassinate a US-based Modi critic — named Gurpatwant Singh Pannun — was underway at the same time Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting President Joe Biden in June 2023.

The plot was disrupted by US authorities.

Mr Pannun is a lawyer for the Sikhs for Justice organisation and is a part of the Khalistan separatist movement.

Prime Minister Modi raised concerns over “separatist activities” in Australia during a visit last year.

“We will not accept any elements that harm the friendly and warm ties between India and Australia by their actions or thoughts,” he said.

“Prime Minister (Anthony) Albanese has once again assured me he will take strict actions against such elements in the future.”

In February, Mr Burgess said the threat level from foreign agencies was at its highest level ever.

“In 2024, threats to our way of life have surpassed terrorism as Australia’s principal security concern,” Mr Burgess said.

“We have come full circle. While the terrorism threat level is possible, if we had a threat level for espionage and foreign interference it would be at certain — the highest level on the scale.”

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