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Espionage and foreign interference

Working to prevent serious threats to our national interests and protect the Australian way of life
    About this crime type

    About this crime

    Espionage and foreign interference are serious threats to Australia’s national interests, including to our:

    • political systems
    • military capabilities
    • trade and economic interests
    • intellectual property
    • community safety
    • democratic freedoms.

    Some foreign governments want to pressure and manipulate Australian:

    • governments
    • businesses
    • decision-makers
    • communities.

    They intend to benefit their own political, economic and commercial interests.

    In June 2018, the Australian Government introduced the National Security Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 (EFI Act) to combat the growing challenge of foreign interference.

    The EFI Act amended existing offences in the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) and introduced espionage-related offences. Some of the actions it criminalised include:

    • covert and deceptive or threatening activities by persons intending to interfere with Australia’s democratic systems and processes
    • supporting the intelligence activities of a foreign government.

    Espionage

    Espionage means dealing with information and communicating it to a foreign government. This can cause harm to Australia's national interests, advance a foreign country's national interests, or both.

    Espionage can involve defence, political, foreign relations or other security-classified information. It can also involve industrial or commercial information that affects Australia's national security.

    Foreign interference

    Foreign interference is an activity carried out by or on behalf of a foreign government. The activity may be coercive, threatening, deceptive or clandestine. It undermines Australia's sovereignty, values and national interests.

    Foreign interference activity may be used to:

    • influence a political or government process
    • influence the exercise of an Australian democratic or political right
    • support the intelligence activities of a foreign government
    • prejudice our national security.

    The secretive nature of foreign interference makes it difficult to detect. Any harm to Australia may not be apparent for many years.

    Foreign interference is different from routine diplomatic influence because it's hostile to our sovereignty, values and national interests, and isn't conducted in an open or transparent way.

    To be a crime under the Criminal Code Act, foreign interference must be linked to a foreign government or its proxy (also known as a foreign actor).

    Threats in our communities

    Some foreign governments threaten our culturally and linguistically diverse communities. They do this to inflame tensions in the Australian community and advance their own interests.

    Such foreign interference in the community may include:

    • harassment
    • surveillance
    • intimidation
    • other coercive measures.

    It's done to silence, monitor, harass, co-opt or coerce individuals, as well as broader community groups.

    Foreign state actors can target religious, political or ethnic communities.

    Fact sheets on foreign interference in the community

    Read our fact sheet on foreign interference in the community.

    Fact sheets in other languages

    We've also translated it into many languages to promote awareness and support people.

    Arabic 

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    Bangla 

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    Azerbaijani – North 

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    Azerbaijani – South 

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    Chinese – Simplified 

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    Chinese – Traditional 

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    Farsi (Persian) 

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    Filipino 

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    French 

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    German 

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    Greek 

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    Gujarati 

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    Hindi 

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    Indonesian 

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    Italian 

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    Khmer 

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    Kurdish – Kurmanji 

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    Kurdish – Sorani 

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    Malayalam 

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    Nepali 

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    Portuguese

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    Punjabi 

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    Russian 

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    Sinhalese 

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    Spanish 

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    Swahili

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    Tamil 

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    Thai 

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    Tigrinya

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    Urdu 

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    Uyghur 

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    Vietnamese 

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    Our work

    We work with government agencies and the private sector to raise awareness of the threat of foreign interference.

    Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce

    The AFP co-leads the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

    The taskforce conducts investigations into potential foreign interference and espionage (EFI) threats.

    It detects, disrupts and, where possible, prosecutes EFI-related activity.

    Along with the AFP and ASIO, the taskforce has members from:

    • Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
    • Australian Signals Directorate
    • Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation
    • Office of National Intelligence.

    Read more about Australia's strategy to counter foreign interference.

    Report a crime or concern

    We can investigate Commonwealth crimes (sometimes called federal crimes) and crimes that take place in the Australian Capital Territory. What best describes the crime you want to report or what you want to tell us about?

    How to report

    We urge you to phone the 24-hour National Security Hotline on1800 123 400 if you have witnessed or been a target of possible espionage or foreign interference in Australia.

    To be a crime under the Criminal Code Act, foreign interference must be linked to a foreign government or its proxy (also known as a foreign actor). The foreign actor must be:

    • covert or deceptive
    • threatening harm and making demands with menace to a person or persons
    • influencing a political or government process
    • impeding an Australian democratic or political right
    • attempting to gain access to intelligence, and
    • impacting our national security.

    While we may not investigate every report of foreign interference, each report helps us build a picture of any threat.

    Join us

    Use your investigative and analytical skills to protect our national security, our economy and our Australian way of life.

    We are always looking for passionate, critical thinkers to work with us defending Australia from the serious threat of espionage and foreign interference.

    You can choose from a variety of challenging and rewarding roles.

    Our intelligence officers and analysts support complex investigations. You'll need advanced research and analytical skills and experience or tertiary qualifications in policing, law enforcement or criminal intelligence.

    If you're interested in fighting online crime, you may be suitable for a cybercrime investigator role. You'll investigate and disrupt cybercrime against the Australian Government, critical infrastructure and the Australian economy.

    If counter-terrorism interests you, you could become a counter-terrorism investigator.

    Find out more about these roles:

    You can apply for positions when they are advertised on our Jobs portal.

    Police officers

    Police officer – national policing