Published: 06 July 2021
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what changes have been made to policies and practices following recent cases of influence operations and foreign intelligence recruitment involving individuals who have previously studied or worked at local academic institutions; (b) how is the Ministry raising awareness among private citizens to sensitise them to the risks of influence operations and foreign intelligence recruitment, particularly those that play on cultural affinity; and (c) what messages have been delivered to countries that have engaged in influence operations and recruitment attempts in Singapore.
1. The threat of foreign influence, subversion and espionage has always been present, since time immemorial, and not just in Singapore. Foreign state actors make use of a variety of tactics to shape the behaviour, actions, and policies of a target country to suit their own agenda, and recruit sources and carry out operations that would give them intelligence about the country. They may go further as in a case in Singapore in the 1970s where a foreign power enlisted a leader of a political party to interfere in Singapore’s domestic politics.
2. We have policies and measures in place to minimise the risks of such foreign interference. We conduct security clearance for public sector positions that have access to classified government information. We also have legislative levers, such as the Internal Security Act, Political Donations Act, Broadcasting Act and Societies Act to guard against and respond to foreign interference.
3. Our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have processes and protocols to maintain oversight over academic collaborations and partnerships, both local and overseas, and take measures to instil awareness among their staff on the risks of foreign interference.
4. The ultimate line of defence against foreign interference, however, must be a populace that is united in our belief that Singapore’s domestic affairs are for us alone to decide, and who is discerning enough to identify attempts at manipulation. Through our security agencies’ engagement and outreach to constituencies within the public service and beyond, the Government will continue to raise awareness of the real risks and modus operandi of foreign actors – whether it takes the form of an online or offline influence operation aimed at shaping public opinion or policy-making, or foreign intelligence recruitment operation. Organisations and individuals who are more vulnerable to foreign interference, whether by virtue of the activities or issues they are involved in, will need to be even more aware of these risks.
5. Foreign interference operations are increasingly sophisticated and well-disguised. The affordances of the internet have increased the potential of online hostile information campaigns, but covert attempts to exercise control or influence over organisations and individuals are just as insidious. As the threats evolve, we need to continue to build up our capabilities to detect and disrupt such activities. These include introducing new legislative levers to prevent and counter foreign interference in Singapore’s domestic politics. As mentioned in previous Parliamentary responses and speeches, MHA is studying other countries’ approaches. We will move on these proposals when ready.
6. For national security reasons, the Government does not publicise the actions taken in dealing with foreign states involved in influence operations and recruitment attempts in Singapore. Such actions must necessarily take place out of the public eye.
7. The Singapore Government has made it very clear that we will not condone our nationals lending themselves to be subverted or used by foreign actors for activities prejudicial to our security and national interests. We take a very serious view of anyone who enters into a clandestine relationship with a foreign government or engages in espionage or subversive activities at the behest of a foreign actor. We will deal very firmly with such individuals.