The national security establishment believes the media doesn’t appreciate the extent of Chinese, Russian and other nations’ intelligence operations in Australia and wants more press coverage of the problem, according to a former senior intelligence official.

Speaking amid a backlash from media companies and journalists towards tough new laws governing intelligence leaks, Ross Babbage, a former head of strategic analysis at the Office of National Assessments, said security officials did not want to limit press freedoms, which they saw as aiding the fight against foreign spy agencies.

“Some of the leading strategic thinkers within government would like to see the Australian media expose some of the incredible operations that certain foreign powers have undertaken, and continue to undertake, in this country,” he said.

“There is a sense by most that the best defence against the highly intrusive foreign intelligence, psy-ops and subversion operations undertaken by certain authoritarian powers is the sunshine of free exposure that can best be delivered by a free media.”

Security officials, who see this as their best chance to modernise the laws they work under in 50 years, are concerned about the backlash by media organisations, according to Alan Dupont, a former army intelligence officer who is chief executive of the Cognoscenti Group, a firm that provides advice on geopolitics.

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