Higher education institutes have “processes and protocols” for dealing with foreign interference: Shanmugam

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SINGAPORE: Institutes of higher education (IHL) have processes and protocols to deal with foreign interference, Justice and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Tuesday (July 6th).

“Our IHLs have processes and protocols to maintain oversight of academic collaborations and partnerships, both local and foreign, and take steps to make their staff aware of the risks of foreign interference,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam was responding in a written response to a parliamentary question from MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied), who had asked about recent cases of influence operations and foreign intelligence recruiting involving people who had previously studied or worked in local academic institutions.

DICKSON YEO CASE

The issue came after Singaporean Dickson Yeo, who was spying for China against the United States, was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on January 29 for acting as a paid agent for a “foreign state”.

According to US court documents, Yeo was recruited by Chinese intelligence officers while studying for a doctorate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore in 2015.

READ: Dickson Yeo detained under ISA for attempting to provide Singapore reports for a ‘foreign state’

Yeo conducted intelligence activities against Singapore from 2016 until his arrest in the United States in 2019, the Department of Homeland Security said. It has been tasked with researching information and providing reports on matters of interest to its overseas managers, including information relating to Singapore.

Former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said Yeo’s thesis supervisor at LKYSPP was Huang Jing. The professor was identified in 2017 as an “agent of influence for a foreign country” by the Ministry of the Interior of Singapore (MHA).

The LKYSPP told CNA after Yeo’s arrest that it had tightened “surveillance and risk awareness procedures” with respect to his education and research.

“We maintain enhanced oversight of academic collaborations and partnerships, both local and overseas, and will also continue to maintain heightened awareness among all of our staff and students about the risks of foreign interference,” said a spokesperson.

Following the announcement of Yeo’s detention, CNA sought comments from Singapore’s other five autonomous universities on new and existing measures against foreign interference.

Nanyang University of Technology, Singapore University of Management, Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Technology and Design did not respond to questions.

Shanmugam said on Tuesday that for national security reasons, the government is not making public measures taken to deal with foreign states involved in influence operations and attempted recruitment in Singapore.

“Such actions must necessarily take place out of public view,” he said.

INCREASINGLY REFINED FOREIGN INTERFERENCE OPERATIONS

Mr. Shanmugam pointed out that foreign interference operations are becoming more and more sophisticated and well disguised.

“The possibilities of the Internet have increased the potential for hostile information campaigns online, but covert attempts to exert control or influence over organizations and individuals are equally insidious,” he said.

“As threats evolve, we must continue to build our capacity to detect and disrupt such activity. “

This includes the introduction of new laws to prevent and counter foreign interference in Singapore’s domestic politics, Shanmugam said, adding that the MHA is studying approaches from other countries and “will follow the proposals” when it is. ready.

READ: Dickson Yeo applied for government jobs to access ‘information of interest’ for overseas managers: ISD

Current “policies and measures” to minimize the risk of foreign interference include laws governing political donations, emissions and corporations, he said.

Authorities are also carrying out security clearance for public sector positions that have access to classified government information, he added.

Nonetheless, Mr Shanmugam said the “ultimate line of defense” against foreign interference must be a people united in their belief that Singapore’s internal affairs are for us alone to decide and who is insightful enough to identify attempts to handling.

“Thanks to the commitment and awareness of our security agencies to constituencies within the public service and beyond, the government will continue to raise awareness of the real risks and the modus operandi of foreign actors, whether this takes the form an online or offline influence operation aimed at shaping public opinion or policy-making, or a foreign intelligence recruiting operation, ”he added.

“Organizations and individuals who are more vulnerable to foreign interference, whether because of the activities or issues in which they are involved, will need to be even more aware of these risks.”


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