Australia launches review into former pilots training Chinese military

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SYDNEY, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Australia will launch a review into the obligations former Defence Force personnel have to protect state secrets, following reports Australians were among Western military pilots who had been approached to help train the Chinese military.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Wednesday intelligence agencies and Australian Federal Police were “investigating a number of cases” in Australia, and announced a review into the policies and procedures governing Australian Defence Force personnel.

“For those who do come into possession of our nation’s secrets either through service in the Australian Defence Force or service in any other part of the Commonwealth, there is an enduring obligation to maintain those secrets,” he told a media conference.

“It’s important that we have the most robust framework possible that is in place to protect Australia’s information and protect our secrets.”

Britain has said it would change its national security laws to stop former military pilots being recruited by third-party agencies to work in China, after reports up to 30 pilots had trained the Chinese military.

British media reports have focussed on the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, which responded in a statement on its website saying it “strongly believes that its actions, and those of its employees, do not contravene any UK laws”.

New Zealand’s defence minister has also requested advice on whether the NZ Defence Force needs laws implemented to stop former military pilots training pilots of foreign militaries, a spokeswoman from the prime minister’s office said.

Four former New Zealand defence personnel worked for the South African flight training school.

An Australian citizen, Daniel Edmund Duggan, was arrested in New South Wales state in the same week that Britain announced the crackdown on former military pilots. Duggan, a former U.S. Marines Corp pilot who worked in China as an aviation consultant and flight trainer, is facing likely extradition to the United States on undisclosed charges.

His lawyer says Duggan denies breaching any U.S. or Australian law. Details of the U.S. arrest warrant and the charges he faces are sealed.

Reuters reported Duggan worked in Beijing from 2014, listing the same Beijing address as a Chinese businessman jailed in the United States for conspiring to hack U.S. defence contractors’ computers.

An Australian parliament hearing was told by defence officials on Wednesday it cost more than A$15 million ($9.75 million) to train a jet fighter pilot, and any disclosure of official information by a pilot to an unauthorised person after they had left the defence force was an offence.

“Foreign actors will target our people for the unique skills they have,” said Celia Perkins, the defence department’s deputy secretary for security.

($1 = 1.5387 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Lewis Jackson in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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