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Australia Developing ‘Top Secret’ Intelligence Cloud to Work With US, UK Spy Agencies

Australia’s top intelligence official has revealed development of a “top secret” intelligence cloud that is planned to be interoperable with US and UK spy networks and enable all 10 of the lucky country’s intel agencies to better detect national security threats.

“We are working very hard on a top secret cloud initiative where we’re hoping that we will be in a position to take that initiative forward,” Andrew Shearer, Australia’s Director-General of National Intelligence said Monday during an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Shearer did not say when the cloud will be first launched but said that it will “transform” how Australian intelligences work together, and with the US and UK. The cloud has been designed from the outset with interoperability of those partner countries in mind.

The “experiences” of the US and UK in building out their respective intel clouds also shaped Australia’s program, helping confront “problems” and avoid “some pitfalls,” according to Shearer.

“I think that’s a really powerful demonstration of how we can learn from each other. … As we move into the world of artificial intelligence, there’s also a massive amount that we can learn and share,” he added.

Australia, the US and the UK already closely share intelligence as three members of the Five Eyes intel-sharing arrangement, alongside New Zealand and Canada, but Shearer’s comments signal yet another push by Sydney, Washington and London to forge ever-stronger national security ties. They also come on the heels of a US defense official outlining how AUKUS partners are involved in deploying “common artificial intelligence algorithms” on platforms like the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.

Though the intelligence cloud was not described as part of the AUKUS security arrangement, Pillar II of the AUKUS plan focuses on shared exploration of new technologies including AI, cyber, electronic warfare and quantum computing.

Shearer acknowledged that intelligence analysts may be wary of leaning too hard on AI, fearful the AI could make a mistake and “miss the needle in the haystack.” That version of events is not, Shearer stressed, how analysts have typically worked. Rather they comb through open source and classified data to spot threats, using human judgement to base their results on.

“I think it’s really challenging for analysts to kind of lean fully on a tool like AI [because] there’s that fear, deep in the gut of every analyst” of having missed something, he added.

Still, Shearer also urged Five Eyes partner nations to “move together” on AI-based intelligence gathering techniques, warning that if different or individual approaches are taken, someone could “peddle over the horizon leaving the rest of us sort of in the dark.”

“I’m the one who has to look our prime minister in the eye and say, ‘I understand the data and the analytical technique that’s produced this assessment,’” he said, suggesting partner nations should be transparent with one another about how they gather AI influenced data.

With Japan, Six Eyes?

Shearer also referenced a “lively debate” over whether Japan will join the Five Eyes group as a sixth member but did not hint one way or the other which way partner nations are leaning on the issue.

“Japan has been transforming its strategic posture in recent years and is very forward leaning in terms of where it wants to get,” he said. “What I find really encouraging is a deep understanding across the Japanese political system and Japanese agencies that they need to lift up their level of [intelligence] capability.” He noted Australia and the US are “perfectly positioned” to assist Japan with such a challenge.

At a national level, Shearer said a new Australian National Intelligence Committee strategy will include a “set of principles” that will make sharing of new technologies across intelligence agencies mandatory.

That effort, stressed Shearer, will avoid situations where one “government agency” has funded equipment to be made by an industry contractor, but another agency has invested in a near identical solution, neither aware of the other’s project.