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July 4, 2024

Australian spy agency chooses AWS to stash its intelligence secrets

The Australian Signals Directorate said that it would also increase its use of AI to analyse data as part of its £1.5bn deal with AWS.

By Greg Noone

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) has said it will move its intelligence data to AWS as part of a £1.5bn (AU$2bn) deal with the hyperscaler. The agreement will provide for the construction of three new data centres in undisclosed locations. The ASD will also leverage AI to analyse intercepts, reports and other national security information as part of the agreement. Australia’s defence minister Richard Marles hailed the deal, stating that it would boost the country’s military interoperability with its allies.

“Today, modern defence forces, and indeed modern conflict, is more reliant upon information technology, upon computing infrastructure, than ever before,” said Marles. “What that means is that, increasingly, modern conflict is occurring at a top-secret level. So this capability in terms of computing infrastructure will ensure that Australia maintains at pace with the leading defence forces in the world.”

An Australian naval vessel passes in front of the Sydney Opera House, a photo used to illustrate a piece about Australia's recent partnership with AWS.
The Australian government has struck a £1.5bn deal with AWS to store intelligence data with the hyperscaler cloud player, an agreement the former says will enhance the interoperability of its military with the US and its allies. (Photo: Shutterstock)

AWS TS Cloud will “enhance interoperability” of Australia military

According to AWS, the Australian federal government’s new “Top Secret” (TS) Cloud will facilitate data exchanges between the country’s national intelligence community and its defence forces and afford them the ability to “select from AWS’s services across compute, storage, databases, analytics, AL and ML.” The project will cost A$2bn initially, though future operating costs remain undetermined. This will be outweighed, claimed prime minister Anthony Albanese, by the broader benefits of the deal for the Australian public, with 2,000 new jobs being created as part of the agreement.

The operational impact of the deal on Australia’s defence and intelligence divisions will also be transformative, said the ASD’s director-general Rachel Noble – though the spy chief was vague about how her agency would harness AI day to day. The technology, explained Noble, “allows us to make sense of that data that we might collect more quickly, triage it into what of that data is important to our national interest or national security, and produce intelligence reports in a really sort of classical way – like we have for 80 years.” 

Intelligence clouds increasingly common

Australia is not the first nation to sequester national security data in AWS servers: other such sovereign clouds have been created in the US and the UK, with intelligence agencies contracting with numerous cloud computing providers. “They offer that backbone for our offices to develop and deploy their own AI and data analytics tools when necessary,” Lakshmi Raman, chief of AI at the CIA told delegates at the INSA Symposium in 2022. “I think those managed services available via some of those cloud providers are going to be key to how we apply AI to some of our highest-priority mission problems.” 

Read more: AWS wins £450m contract from UK Home Office

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