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Australian lawmaker says hackers stole spy agency information

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 4:12 AM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
Prime Minister Julia Gillard talks during House of Representatives question time on May 28, 2013 in Canberra, Australia.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard talks during House of Representatives question time on May 28, 2013 in Canberra, Australia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An opposition senator says the cyber theft of spy agency blueprints happened
  • He says the prime minster was wrong to dismiss a TV report on the attack
  • China has called the TV report a "baseless accusation"
  • The program alleged that other top Australian government agencies were hacked

(CNN) -- Hackers using a server in China stole the blueprints for the new headquarters of Australia's main spy agency "some time ago," an opposition senator said Wednesday, contradicting comments by the country's prime minister.

The controversy stems from a TV report this week alleging that a cyberattack swiped the blueprints to the new headquarters of the ASIO, Australia's top intelligence organization, including details on the building's security and communications systems, its floor plan and the locations of its servers.

"These events did take place some time ago; they were dealt with by ASIO," said George Brandis, the deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate who is responsible for national security issues. "I'm reassured by the director general about the way in which they were dealt with by ASIO."

He was speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate Sky News Australia following a private briefing with David Irvine, the director-general of the spy agency.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday described the report, by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's investigative program Four Corners, as "inaccurate."

The program also reported that hackers, thought to be from China, had breached government agencies including the prime minister's office and cabinet, as well as the departments of foreign affairs and defense.

"There were a number of unsubstantiated allegations of hacking in the Four Corners report as the attorney general has stated," Gillard said in parliament. "Neither he or the director general of ASIO intend to comment further on these inaccurate reports."

But Brandis disputed Gillard's statement.

"The prime minister in question time yesterday just dismissed the report entirely as being inaccurate, and that claim by the prime minister is false," he said.

Gillard's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Brandis's remarks. Brandis's office didn't immediately make him available for further comment on the matter.

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At a foreign ministry news conference Tuesday, a Chinese government official called the report a "baseless accusation."

"Since the attacks are technically untraceable, it's difficult to find the origin of these attacks," said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei. "I don't know where does the evidence come from for media to make such reports."

Hong added that cybersecurity is an issue internationally and it calls for a "calm and thorough discussion."

"Making baseless accusation will not help to improve the current situation," he said.

Earlier this month, the United States accused China of trying to extract sensitive information from U.S. government computers.

A Pentagon report said China was carrying out the attacks in an effort to extract information from "diplomatic, economic and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs."

At the time, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China was "firmly against any forms of cyberattacks." Beijing has in the past insisted that China is the victim of cyberattacks, most originating in the United States.

Watch where you click: International cyber attacks on the rise

CNN's Dayu Zhang contributed to this report.

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