In response to worries that Australian pilots were among the Western military personnel hired to provide instruction to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles has demanded an immediate review of secrecy policies in the military.
The Australian military secrets leak was a “clear and unambiguous” crime, the defence minister said on Wednesday, adding that sufficient evidence had been presented to warrant a “detailed examination into the adequacy of current defence policies and procedures.”
“It’s no secret that defence activities, people and assets are targets for foreign intelligence services,” the Minister stated in a report.
“But let me be clear: Australians who work or have worked for the government in any capacity, particularly our ADF (Australian Defence Force), who come into possession of the nation’s secrets, have an obligation to maintain those secrets beyond their employment with, or their engagement with, the Commonwealth,” he added.
“This is an enduring obligation and to reveal any of these secrets is a crime,” he continued.
Marles asked the defense department to look into claims that China had sought former Australian military members to serve as trainers last month and as a result, requested the review of Australians training Chinese troops.
If any Australians had been found to have given the Chinese military instruction, the minister would not comment. A joint police-intelligence service task team, he claimed, was looking into “a number of cases” involving ex-service members.
“What we are focused on right now is making sure that we do examine the policies and the procedures that are currently in place in respect of our former Defence personnel to make sure they are adequate,” he claimed.
“And if they are not, and if there are weaknesses in that system, then we are absolutely committed to fixing them.”
Defence officials said before an Australian parliament inquiry on Wednesday that a jet fighter pilot’s training costs more than 15 million Australian dollars ($9.75 million), and that it is illegal for a pilot to divulge classified material to a non-authorized individual after leaving the armed forces.
The deputy secretary for security of the Australian department of defence, Celia Perkins, stated that “foreign actors will target our people for the unique skills they have.”
Concerns over China’s alleged intention to snatch up military know-how have also been voiced by the UK and Canada.
In a recent intelligence notice, the UK’s Defense Ministry warned past and present military pilots to be wary of Chinese recruitment efforts that target them.
The Test Flying Academy of South Africa has been the subject of media attention. In response, the organisation posted a statement on its website stating that it “strongly believes that its actions, and those of its employees, do not contravene any UK laws.”
Former military pilots being hired by outside firms to work in China won’t be allowed, according to the UK, which announced it will amend its national security regulations.
The Canadian Department of National Defence was also looking into its own former service members, emphasising that they were still subject to confidentiality obligations after leaving the Canadian Armed Forces.
According to a spokeswoman for the prime minister’s office, New Zealand’s defence minister has also asked for opinions on whether legislation is needed to prevent former military pilots from instructing pilots of other forces.
Four formerly employed New Zealanders in the defence sector now work for the South African aviation training institution.
By December 14, the minister will get the review’s results from the Australian Defense Department.