Countering foreign interference in your organisation

There has been much media coverage regarding the threat of foreign meddling in international democratic processes and, most recently, in attempts to undermine elections. Most strikingly, the report released by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller in March 2019 detailed how Russian intelligence agencies conducted ‘sweeping and systematic’ interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.1 But what of the risk of foreign interference that may exist within our organisations?

Foreign interference, as distinct from legitimate and transparent forms of foreign influence, involves activities that are covert, deceptive, corrupting or coercive2 that are intended to advance the interests or objectives of foreign actors.

Clearly, multinational corporations and other institutions are not immune from being used by authoritarian regimes to manipulate democratic political processes.3 The Mueller Report, for example, documents dozens of examples of Russian intelligence agencies using major corporations, non-governmental organisations and other organisations as vehicles for interfering in the US Presidential elections.4 In November 2018, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) reportedly ordered the cancellation of the Australian resident visa of a prominent Chinese citizen businessman on the grounds that he was ‘amenable to conducting foreign interference’.

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This article was first published in The Australian Corporate Lawyer, Spring 2019, Volume 29 – Issue 3, pg 14-15.

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3 – Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme: Factsheet 2, Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department (February 2019)
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John Garnaut

John Garnaut
Senior Risk Advisor, Melbourne
T: +61 3 9278 1005
E: jgarnaut

Caroline Mackinnon

Caroline Mackinnon
Director, Sydney
T: +61 2 9248 9976
E: cmackinnon