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Australia building ‘top secret’ cloud to catch up and link with US, UK intel orgs

Australia is building a top-secret cloud to host intelligence data and share it with the US and UK, which have their own clouds built for the same purpose.

The three clouds were discussed on Monday by Andrew Shearer, Australia’s director-general of national intelligence, at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, DC.

“We are working very hard on a top-secret cloud initiative,” Shearer told the event, adding that it will interoperate with similar infrastructure already operated by the US and UK, and mean sensitive data can be shared “near instantaneously.”

“What that will do is obviously transform how we do our work as agencies but also it’ll open up a shared collaborative space that will really, I think, reinforce this sense of working together as a genuine community and bringing all those different capabilities to bear on problems.

“The ability to share vast amounts of data and to work on it together will be a massive change for us as a community.”

The US and UK, he added, are already “moving in that direction.” Australia can learn from those two nations’ experiences building similar clouds.

Shearer suggested that each of the three nations has different procurement rules, but they are aware that agreeing on some hardware and software standards “will let us move forward together as opposed to diverging.”

He opined that all Five Eyes partners – the intelligence-sharing alliance of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – “really need to focus on” shared standards.

AI is another field in which Shearer anticipates collaboration among the Five Eyes nations.

“We can do so much better on if we do it in a shared way,” he argued. “There are these opportunities for us to really deepen our existing cooperation. It’s more than an opportunity, though. I say it’s actually an imperative, given what we’re up against.”

But he also expressed doubt that security analysts will embrace AI. Recalling his own time as a junior security analyst, Shearer noted that such workers live in fear that they will miss a crucial piece of information, and won’t assume AI will avoid that sort of error.

The intelligence community will therefore need to understand the limitations of AI. Doing so will, again, require collaboration among partners and allies, in his opinion.

Shearer observed that Australia’s intelligence community is increasingly engaged with other Southeast Asian nations – sometimes to help them understand the impact of climate change. Japan, he added, has signalled it intends big changes to its intelligence efforts that align with the goals of the Five Eyes group – which is pleased with that plan.

European powers, too, currently have many of the same priorities as Australia – given Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the war in the Middle East.

Those overlapping interests mean more opportunities – indeed imperatives – to share approaches to intelligence, he argued. ®