November 7th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Machines getting too clever for our good

CANBERRA OBSERVED Labor on the offensive against all argument

EDITORIAL El Niño caps tragic results of water deregulation

LIFE ISSUES Altruistic surrogacy leads to baby trafficking

CLIMATE CHANGE U.S., EU have hot air in store for climate gabfest

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Best marriage research backs Church's teaching

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Symptoms of a civilisation in crisis

THE DRUGS DEBATE An introduction to navigating the "ice" age

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Soloviev and the great vision for religious unity

PUBLIC POLICY Asia-Pacific conference sees through drug push

CINEMA Martian botanist left to cultivate his garden: The Martian

BOOK REVIEW Progress in the dock

BOOK REVIEW ASIO in the early years


Bishops being prosecuted for supporting man+woman marriage Here is what you can do

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ASIO in the early years

News Weekly, November 7, 2015


MORE CLOAK THAN DAGGER: One Womans Career in Secret Intelligence

by Molly J. Sasson

(Connor Court, Ballarat)
Paperback: 336 pages
ISBN: 9781925138726
Price: AUD$29.95


Reviewed by Hal G.P. Colebatch


After wartime service in the RAF, Molly Sasson worked for British intelligence and then, as the Cold War was getting under way, was recruited for the newly formed ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) by Brigadier Sir Charles Spry.

Her account of the early years of ASIO makes disturbing reading. Several of its officers – Sasson names names – were, she claims, dug-out ex-senior policemen (senior in years of service, not ability) who neither knew nor cared about the importance of the job, had never heard of tradecraft, and whose chief concern was not to rock the boat by actually doing anything before pension time.

Sasson was, however, completely admiring of Spry, and believes he was let down by the men under him, many of whom he had not been responsible for hiring. (Melbourne journalist Anthony Adam, among others, has exposed the travesty that was the ABC’s “biography”. A proper biography awaits publication). Yet ASIO seems to have been extraordinarily dysfunctional.

Despite ASIO’s historic success with the Petrov defection, masterminded by poet Michael Thwaites, Sasson is convinced that several ASIO officers betrayed Australian, British and American secrets to the Soviet Union over many decades. Time and again her reports and recommendations were simply dead-filed and nothing more was heard of them (Labor politician Clyde Cameron, between vilely slandering Vietnamese refugees, described Petrov as a “bloody traitor”. He was no more a traitor than was Claus von Stauffenberg).

Sasson relies on the testimony of Soviet defectors Major-General Oleg Kalugin and Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, both senior KGB officers. However, she believes that the most significant Western Intelligence haul, disclosing KGB penetration of ASIO, came from the KGB archivist Major Vasili Mitrokhin.

In 1972 Mitrokhin had been given responsibility for moving 300,000 top-secret files from the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters to a new location. Over 12 years, horrified by what he discovered in the files, he copied them and buried the notes under his floorboards.

In a daring covert operation, British agents disguised as workmen excavated six trunkloads of them. This happened in 1992, after the Soviet collapse.

But if communism had gone, the KGB’s successor organisation was not to be trifled with. Mitrokhin lived under an assumed name in hiding for the rest of his life. Those parts of the files dealing with KGB operations in Australia were passed to the Australian authorities.

Following this, the Keating government ordered two inquiries into ASIO, Operation Liver and the Cook Report. Both were said to contain “sensational” findings but have been supressed (during the brief spell of genuine glasnost my friend Professor Patrick O’Brien was assembling a team to examine the Moscow archives for Australian connections. He died suddenly while walking home, apparently alone, late one night).

Meanwhile, the evidence that Labor Leader Dr H.V. Evatt’s personal staff was substantially penetrated leaves no room for doubt.

A former ONA (Office of National Assessments) analyst, Dr Andrew Camp­bell, has rigorously exposed Evatt’s own disloyalty in two major articles in the National Observer. The actions of Evatt and other left-wing Labor figures led to the expulsion of a whole generation of anti-communist Labor men from the ALP, and dragged the party to the left.

Jim Cairns, deputy prime minister and federal treasurer until even Whitlam had to sack him, was an important office bearer in the “Peace” fronts, and though it is notoriously difficult to measure such things, his labours in setting up the moratorium movement in Australia probably had an effect in the US and played a part in the abandonment of South Vietnam.

When South Vietnam was falling he commented on the likely fate of anti-communist Vietnamese along the lines that they were collaborators and that many people believed that reprisals against them would be justified.

Another matter this book examines is Soviet penetration of the Department of External Affairs (later Foreign Affairs). One of the oddest aspects of this was that, apparently on Evatt’s recommendation, Richard Throssell, son of Stalinist propagandist and Gulag apologist Katharine Susannah Prichard, and himself a strong and committed leftist, was appointed to the department.

He was posted to Moscow, and valued by the KGB as an agent. According to the Venona decrypts: “He transmitted valuable information to the [local] communists, and they to us.”

He complained in his autobiography that he was kept away from secret material and his career impeded, but in fact it would have been easy, in the day-to-day course of events, for him to get his hands on a great deal, and to hear a good deal of gossip. At least one officer of the department gave testimony that he tried to recruit her. If the department kept Throssell away from classified material, it seems strange and culpable that he was taken and kept on at all.

Sasson is in no doubt that External Affairs was penetrated by less obvious spies, and gives her evidence in a surprising amount of detail. She has done a good deal to shine light upon a very murky story, and Australia owes her a debt of gratitude.

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