The hunt for yoga-loving women

The Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Mike Burgess, claimed in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney on 27 March that Australian cyber warfare capabilities were partly responsible for the recent defeat of Daesh forces in Syria.

Burgess’ speech was part of a recruitment drive for the ASD. Like all electronic intelligence agencies around the world, the ASD is finding it hard to recruit high quality graduates because the rewards elsewhere in the computer industries can be so much higher. The UK’s GCHQ and the NSA in the United States are having similar problems and they both run similar outreach programmes including competitions for children. In October last year the ASD opened its first Twitter account (@ASDGovAu) in the hope of looking more “hip”.

In his speech, Burgess claimed that from its headquarters in Canberra, the ASD had been responsible for crippling Daesh communications systems in Syria and that this severely disrupted the ability of its military commanders on the ground to fight. In a very particular attempt to woo more female computer experts, Burgess also highlighted the case of a young female employee who he claimed had been able to pose as a terrorist commander in order to gain a Daesh target’s trust. She was able to lure the target to a neighbouring country where he was “neutralised”.

In a further attempt to try to show how “un-geeky” ASD employees are, Burgess said that the young woman in question “grew up in the suburbs and enjoys yoga, hiking and touch football”. Unfortunately this made him sound as though he were running a dating agency rather than an intelligence service. But, in common with other western agencies, the ASD is concerned that the “male geek” image is putting off young women from applying for the work. All agencies are seeking ways to tackle the problem.

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