July 19, 2006
Broadcasting and the enemy within: ASIO's political surveillance of the ABC
In May 1965 the Director General of Security, Sir Charles Spry ,and the newly appointed General Manager of the ABC, Talbot Duckmanton, sat down to dinner in Sydney. At the dinner, which had been arranged two months earlier, the two men discussed matters of security affecting the ABC including ASIO's regular liaison with the ABC at state leve
All this and more we know, thanks to newly released archival files of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).
Earlier, in March, Duckmanton had met both Spry's deputy chief and the head of the Counter-Subversion branch of ASIO. The two senior ASIO officers expressed concern about the forthcoming National Television Congress, an early initiative promoting Australian content and highbrow television whose supporters included left wing figures, some in the ABC. The officers also brought with them a list of 'certain personnel' in the ABC with potted biographies and information about their left wing connections. The listed people ranged from a secretary, a set finisher to journalists, TV producers and editors who were past or present members of the Communist Party of Australia or 'sympathisers' with that party. Also discussed was Radio Australia, the Indonesian crisis and the Department of External Affairs. The meeting ended with Duckmanton confirming that ABC assistant general manger, Arthur Finlay, would remain as ASIO's 'liaison contact' but that Duckmanton 'would appreciate being kept informed personally on major matters, e.g. the list of personnel in the organization'.
A second meeting in April 1965 between Duckmanton and ASIO officers again discussed this list of ABC personnel, which included film editor, Rod Adamson, play editor, Leslie Rees, Talks supervisor, Allan Ashbolt and TV presenter, Bob Sanders, producer Bob Allnutt, senior broadcaster John Thompson and journalists Kevon Kemp and Gary Scully. The meeting ended with the arrangement being made for the dinner between Spry and Duckmanton in May.
Just a few months later, Sir Charles Spry wrote to Attorney General, Billy Snedden. Spry sent Snedden lists of names of news commentators who had spoken on ABC radio and TV about whom ASIO held 'adverse information' of 'a substantial nature'. They included academics Ted Wheelwright, Dr Peter Russo and Professor Oscar Spate, the eccentric churchman, Francis James, and a Melbourne businessman, Paul Morawetz.
Unlike the ABC, ASIO's impact on the cultural and intellectual life of Australia has been scantily and imperfectly recorded. Perhaps this is not only because ASIO's role was secret but also because it was just one of the raft of prevailing influences of conservative Australia, expressed variously through government ministers, Establishment artists and academics. Certainly, ASIO was no rogue elephant but a body whose actions were approved of by the Prime Minister in strict accordance to the conventions of the Westminster system. But ASIO's activities had some special characteristics. It was a body of some 500 full time staff armed with a vast filing system and substantial powers of inquiry whose total energy was devoted to identifying left wing influence in Australia and planning operations against it. ASIO was the powerful, sharp sword of Cold War Australia aimed at skewering the communist-influenced Left whose activities (apart from the more traditional trade unionism) ranged broadly across the visual arts, theatre, filmmaking, journalism, academia, radio and television. In this respect, there are similarities with operations of the American FBI in relation the mass media. Like the FBI, ASIO was broadly concerned with 'communist propaganda' in public debate, including in the media.
In this article I will examine the ASIO's role in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) where many of the cultural and intellectual strands in Australian life intersected. Particularly after the coming of television to all capital cities (1956-60) the ABC was subject to close surveillance by ASIO, fearful that radical ideas might be broadcast by this new medium which they regarded as extraordinarily powerful. In part this article describes the bureaucratic mechanisms which operated to ensure conservatism within public broadcasting; in part it is an example of the hegemonic struggle to maintain an official culture of anti-communism in all public institutions during the Cold War. The latter included the targeting of nascent 'anti-British' nationalism ranging from plays and programs on bushrangers and convicts to a more independent foreign policy stance.
My analysis relies on a series of files recently released under the the Archives Act. These internal files, never intended to be released, are a window into the bureaucratic and often humdrum business of internal security procedures of the Commonwealth of Australia during the Cold War. The classification by ASIO of its files into two broad categories (Personal and Subject) has meant that in order to understand political surveillance of the ABC it is necessary to reconstruct a narrative using a large number of files in combination with broader histories of the ABC, such as Ken Inglis' This is the ABC and with contemporary press coverage. As with all studies which rely on secret files it is important to guard against what might be called a 'a file-centred' point of view which exaggerates the power of covert actions and covert agencies. The literature discussed below gives some indication of overt government pressure on the ABC although this was largely unnecessary until the mid-1960s because of a conservative hegemony within ABC management and its government-appointed board.
Given this institutional conservatism of the ABC it is difficult to unpick the influence of ASIO from a tangled strand of influences. One clear point of ASIO intervention, however, was through its power to withold the all-important security clearance to existing or potential ABC employees. This process, colloquially known as vetting, (or more bluntly, blacklisting) applied to all white collar Commonwealth employees. As we shall see, ASIO influence grew from this basis so that from the late 1950s ASIO began to systematically monitor ABC radio and TV broadcasts. When 'matters of security interest' appeared they discussed their concerns with senior ABC personnel such as Assistant General Manager Arthur Finlay and Director of Talks, Alan Carmichael At the state level local ASIO officers took up vetting and security concerns with state ABC managers. The effect of such a security presence making itself felt can only have been to reinforce a politically conservative agenda and to have a chilling effect on cultural and political innovation. ASIO helped shape a cautious and conservative ABC which was ill-equipped to face the upheavals as the political and cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Origins and background
In May 1951 the Director General of Security Spry informed his staff that arrangements had been made 'with the Headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for co-operation with ASIO in matters of security affecting the Commission'. The month before he had written to the ABC's general manager, Charles Moses, outlining a system of security clearances for checking three types of staff: new appointments to key positions, 'personnel who could be a risk from a sabotage or propaganda aspect' and 'any employee about whom doubt may exist'.
Shortly afterwards, the ABC began to submit to ASIO long lists of prospective employees and ABC workers seeking promotion. This system of security clearances covered not only the entire federal public service, (including bodies like the CSIRO and ABC) but also the entry of migrants and those who wished to become Australian citizens. The vetting of people in 'key points' (a defence term denoting installations ranging from the BHP steelworks to major dams) meant that vetting extended to the state public services and even to private enterprise.
Perhaps because of the enormity of its national vetting tasks, ASIO was surprised when the ABC assistant General Manager, Arthur Finlay, insisted that ASIO widen its vetting to include ABC typists, commissionaires, messengers etc. Finlay told an ASIO officer who interviewed him that 'the Organisation and physical layout of Broadcasting Stations allowed more persons than would be expected to have access to places where sabotage is possible or written material which could be distorted into propaganda was present.'
Initially at least, ASIO resisted such suggestions. Later, with the coming of television, Finlay requested that ASIO again widen its vetting of ABC staff to all new employees. Finlay argued that staff movement was fluid. 'A dispatch assistant can be switched overnight to a broadcasting job. A typist might be required as Secretary to a senior executive.' His concerns were summarised in 1957 by ASIO thus: 'ABC already has a fair proportion of staff with adverse security records found as a result of our vetting (...) They want to check everybody to avoid getting any more staff with adverse records.' In the interests of its own bureaucratic efficiency (its delays were notorious) ASIO resisted wider vetting and continued to focus on journalists, producers, editorial and senior staff. Liaison was carried out through Arthur Finlay, recruited by Moses in 1934 from his position as master at Sydney Grammar School. His main function in this role was to discuss cases of individuals raised by ASIO's checking of the security records of prospective and present ABC employees.
One example of the way in which the vetting system worked can be seen in the case of journalist Jack Child who was a active trade union member of the Australian Journalists Association and who had had contact and possibly membership, of the Communist Party of Australia at some time. In July 1959 the ABC's Superintendent (Administration) passed Jack Child's name to ASIO for vetting along with 26 others. At that time Childs was working as a photographic artist on the Television News Times (later TV Times) and had applied for the position of 'Temporary Creative Artist' within the ABC.
ASIO's investigation resulted in a closely typed five page report. The report noted that Childs' name had been found in papers seized from the raid on the CPA's Marx House in July 1949 which showed him and his father as artists on the Sun newspaper. Another report showed his name on one of the Communist Party's own lists of members of its Journalists Branch and later both Jack and his wife Marie were reported to be members of the CPA's Mosman Branch. Sources at the ABC commented that he 'gives the impression that he is a rat bag' while another person opined that he was 'not a communist and that all artists were 'queer people'.' But most damaging of all, in view of what later happened, was that one informant reported that Child 'has been overheard to make derogatory remarks about Royalty'. During the visit of Princess Alexandra 'he made a few scathing comments on the utility of the visit.'
These reported sentiments then became the basis for denial of a security clearance. The compiler of the report noted that the 'adverse attitude to the Royal Family on the part of the Subject suggest that there has not been a material change in Subject's sentiments.' When a senior figure in ASIO suggested Child be cleared, he was overruled by ASIO's chief, Brigadier Charles Spry who noted:
'I do not hold that a person who does not accept the principle of royalty is necessarily a communist, or disloyal to his country for any other reason, but I do feel that when a person has been known to be a Communist or near-Communist in the past, the fact that he holds such views now indicates that he has Communist sympathies still. That is to say, I cannot conceive of him making a definite break with Communism, but still retaining his Communist strong feelings about the Royal family.
The upshot of Child's application for a promotion and transfer was that in May 1960 the ABC sacked him.
Surveillance of ABC programs
While staff vetting was ASIO's initial concern, from the mid 1950s onward, ASIO began to see a role for itself in surveillance of the content of ABC programs. In 1955 one alert ASIO officer reported on 'A Hero has been Slain' a radio feature presented by the writer-poets, Douglas Stewart and Nancy Keesing. The title was from a ballad on Australian bushranger, Ben Hall. 'The tone of the feature,' the ASIO man recorded, 'was that the bushrangers were noble and brave and the police brutal, callous and cowardly. Anyone holding a contrary opinion was referred to as 'Mr Respectable Opinion'.'
The rich and resonant voice reading those poems was that of actor Leonard Teale, (later of Homicide fame). Teale had been singled out by Finlay in an interview with ASIO in 1955 when, once again, Finlay requested wider vetting, this time of the Children's Session, including the Argonauts. An ASIO officer reported that Finlay worried about persons,
who were clever enough to cloak their subversive political views, to be appointed and gradually exert their influence to change the tenor of the Session. Mr Finlay remarked that he was very glad to see the last of Leonard Thiele [sic] (known as 'Chris' on the session) who has recently resigned, as it was only after he was contracted for the work that he had heard that Thiele was 'quite pink'.
ASIO already had a file on Teale and after Finlay's request, prospective staff for the Argonauts session were subject to security clearance. Such a craven and conservative attitude expressed by the public broadcaster undoubtedly laid the groundwork for closer surveillance of the ABC, especially its drama and current affairs programs.
Another ABC staff member who received early ASIO treatment was Federal Play Editor, Leslie Rees. An ASIO officer in 1957 heard Dymphna Cusack's play 'Pacific Paradise' and concluded 'it could be offensive to the United States of America' because of its anti-atomic bomb message. Spry then authorised the NSW ASIO director to approach a senior officer of the ABC to inform them of ASIO's suspicions that the CPA was using the ABC for propaganda. Spry's memo noted disingenuously that ASIO was 'merely advising the ABC and are not in any sense bringing pressure to bear'. Rees survived and worked at the ABC until he retired.
In January 1958, Spry began to broaden the ambit of security intervention into the ABC. Reports had been received, he told his regional directors, that 'undue opportunities have been given to Communist speakers, authors and producers to propagate their views' through the ABC. Spry asked them to survey the previous twelve months and provide reports on the extent of Communist influence. The 1958 survey turned some ASIO officers into putative censors based on extraordinarily meagre indications of left wing influence. Two weeks after Spry's memo, the NSW region advised that the first of a series of 12 weekly telecasts aimed at schools would deal with bushfires, New Guinea, and the Eureka Stockade.' The NSW ASIO director noted 'These subjects, of course, are topical sources of propaganda by the Communist Party of Australia.' A later and fuller response by NSW observed that a number of Australian writers and actors had appeared including Leonard Teale in the serial 'Commander Brady' and that Dr Stephen Macindoe had given a talk on 'Wheat in NSW'; the compere of Kindergarten of the Air, Joyce Hutchison, who had sympathies with the peace movement, was also noted.
In Canberra ASIO noted that six people known to ASIO had made broadcasts. They included academic Lord Lindsay who arranged a program of Asian music; Professor Geoffrey Sawer, who spoke 22 times in 'Notes on the News' and Professor A. D. Hope who reviewed books three times. The Victorian office of ASIO provided a copy of names the panel used by the ABC to draw speakers for programs such as 'News Commentary', and 'Australia and the World'. It noted lamely that 'persons of 'Left Wing sympathies' usually made themselves available to speak at any time whereas some difficulty was encountered in obtaining the services of the more conservative members of the panel'. The SA branch noted seven people had spoken who were adversely recorded, including Max Harris, who was described as 'Associate of Communist Party members.'
According to a national report drawn up for the Director of ASIO's Counter-Subversion section, the 1958 survey showed that only one known CPA member, writer Stephen Murray-Smith, had spoken on the ABC. Nevertheless, 'persons on record in all states, except Tasmania, have been given opportunities to broadcast by the ABC, in some cases, regularly and repeatedly'. The report, however, concluded that the 1958 survey was 'quite inconclusive'. ASIO officers had to work from months-old printed program notes which often did not mention speakers' names or topics. The only real way to determine the extent of propaganda was to actually listen to the broadcasts and, it noted, when this was done sometimes broadcasts by people on record were actually 'quite innocuous'.
Eighteen months after its first sortie, ASIO broadened its media operations. On 18 June 1959 ASIO's Director General of Security, Brigadier Charles Spry informed his regional directors of a second, wider operation which would assess 'the degree of communist penetration and/or influence' in commercial and ABC television and radio and non-communist newspaper and periodicals. Essentially, this first meant identifying 'individuals who are adversely recorded' who are employed in press radio or TV and secondly, identifying any media outlet 'pursuing a communist line'. Television had not yet come to Tasmania, South Australia, Canberra or West Australia and the survey in these states was largely of press and radio.
The most thorough analysis of leftwing influence on press, radio and TV was done by the Victorian Regional Office of ASIO in late 1959. It noted weekly talks by left wing writer Alan Marshall on ABC TV although 'So far ... no Communist slant has been detected.' One communist sympathiser, Norman Rothfield, had given a talk on China, and other sympathisers were detected working as drama producer (who was, interestingly, said to be 'in no position to influence ABC policy') and another as a set painter. On HSV 7, ASIO noted the presence of Shirley Broadway (McDonald) who was described as 'a TV star' who had come out of the radical New Theatre and whose husband was a CPA member. An artist, Hyman Slade, also worked for HSV 7. On GTV 9 was a journalist, Malcolm Bryning, of whom ASIO had a 'trace' as a member of the Eureka Youth League. In ABC radio ASIO found six journalists (including writer John Hepworth) had security records. Many were casuals and most were 'communist sympathisers' rather than confirmed CPA members. The most dangerous was John Scott Nelson, a permanent ABC officer and acting chief of staff who, in staccato ASIO-speak, was described as 'Highly regarded. Could influence ABC policy.'
The Victorian report also outlined left wing influence in the press which was clearly more pronounced that in radio and TV. The biggest concentration of left wing journalists was on the Herald and Weekly Times group, publishing the Melbourne Herald and the Sun.
The investigation by the Sydney office in response to the 1959 memo also offers an interesting insight into the early days of commercial television. The new television industry was clearly was clearly drawing on the existing theatre and film culture and personnel. The main channel into commercial TV for subversive ideas was believed to be the Left-influenced union, Actors Equity. But Sydney advised ASIO headquarters that they had little to fear:
We are advised that in the Commercial Stations, unless there is co-operation between the sponsor, the script reader and the station management, there is little likelihood of any script writer, actor or announcer being able to influence the programme with any propaganda. The procedure appears to be that 'a show' is usually prepared by a free lance producer or script writer, who then sells the show to a sponsor who, of course, checks the script. The producer then contracts with the Broadcasting or Television Company to put the show on and he arranges for musicians, actors, announcers, as necessary. The script is carefully checked, an if necessary, censored by the script reader, and subsequently by station management.
In NSW ASIO identified five CPA members or sympathisers in the ABC. They were film editor, Rod Adamson, floor manager Rob Allnutt, journalist Christopher O'Sullivan, play editor Leslie Rees and the secretary to the news editor, Norma Saunders.
ASIO was alarmed at the case of film editor Rod Adamson and advised the ABC that he should be sacked. Their inquiries suggested that he could have been trained in espionage after he lived in eastern Europe between 1947-49 and noted that he later had contact with the Soviet embassy in Australia. In this case, the ABC resisted. '[We] were informed that the ABC Executive considered the matter and decided that as Adamson was doing such a good job and would be hard to replace he should be kept on but that the situation should be watched... Adamson is not permanent and could be dismissed at a week's notice 'if there were grounds for such action'.''
The government's sanctioning of ASIO surveillance of the ABC and Spry's 1959 memo gave a licence for security intervention to prevent programs being broadcast. In his memoirs, Pictures on the Margin, Clement Semmler relates a telling incident. Semmler was an admirer and friend of author and CPA member Frank Hardy who had been tried for criminal defamation over his controversial book Power without Glory in 1950. In the 1960s Semmler had commissioned a series of TV scripts on an Australian theme which became Hardy's Yarns of Billy Borker. He was surprised to receive an agitated phone call from General Manager, Sir Charles Moses who asked him about Hardy's CPA affiliations and whether the project could be stopped. Semmler refused unless he received written instructions which never came. Semmler recalled:, 'Some years later I was told by one of Moses' secretaries (though I could not verify it) that the complaint had come because of an approach to Moses from the Australian security service.' At one point in the early 1960s ASIO opened a file on Semmler which contains very little but includes the following short report: 'It is reported that Semmler, described as a strange, highly strung temperamental person, is a close friend of Frank Hardy, a CPA member and author and that Hardy has often called to see Semmler at the ABC.'
Many smaller instances exist where ASIO officers reported any and every programme or news item which they suspected could be communist inspired. In October 1959 an ASIO officer noted 'good propaganda for the communists' in an item on the 7pm TV news bulletin which showed 'the facilities enjoyed by the workers at a Black Sea resort where the home of a former landowner had been made available'. That same month another ASIO officer noted that the ABC radio's News Review included a recording of a Czech orchestra's performance to Sydney waterside workers. Wharfies' comments (''Where they come from, of course, the workers get this sort of thing every lunch hour,') were also broadcast to the chagrin of ASIO's watchdogs. In September 1959, an item on the 7pm news on schools in Hungary which showed the issue of free text books and school satchels and new desks and chairs was 'of value as propaganda for the Communist countries'. On this basis ASIO's Victorian director made inquiries about the origin of such items.
A similar inquiry was made when far-right Liberal MP, Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes, criticised an ABC radio serial whose story line mentioned the Czech capital Prague in a neutral way. Other criticism surrounded a report on the program, 'Window on Asia' which dealt with life on a Chinese rural commune. Following the public controversy, ASIO officer Phillip Bailhache contacted Talks Director, Alan Carmichael and asked for the scripts and discussed Kent-Hughes outburst. Carmichael was able to reassure the ASIO officer that the Prague reference was simply a passing mention in a travel serial. The report on the Chinese commune was simply factual.
Four Corners and the early 1960s
The early 1960s saw several conflicts involving the ABC and the Federal Government. Inglis suggests that this may have arisen because of a realisation by Menzies that television had a greater power to stir people up than radio. Certainly, from the early 1960s onwards, ABC TV became something of a battle ground between the federal government and the younger, more innovative program makers, on the new Four Corners program and, especially after 1967, on such programs as This Day Tonight. In 1960 federal cabinet directly intervened to stop the ABC making a series of documentaries with broadcasters in the US, Canada and the UK. In March 1963 the Postmaster-General instructed the ABC not to broadcast an interview with former French Prime Minister, Georges Bidault.
Given this level of overt interference, ASIO's eagerness to inquire into the ABC whenever a government backbencher complained is not surprising. In April 1963, Senator Hannan attacked the ABC panel show 'Any Questions?' over 'insulting references' to the Queen. ASIO quickly checked the security records of the participants. They included journalist Cyril Pearl ('a particularly biting tongue and has some early trace of communist sympathy') Francis James (member of Australia-China Society, Australia Soviet Friendship Society) Mungo Macallum (member of Committee for Nuclear Disarmament). All this was done 'as the matter may be subject of Ministerial inquiry', said ASIO in anticipation. (Hannan was appointed to the Broadcasting Control Board a few years later.)
In May Minister for Housing Senator Spooner bullied a 'right of reply' out of Four Corners on which he had, the week before, refused to appear. His interviewer was Bob Sanders, who had the previous week run a critical discussion on housing policy to which Spooner had declined to appear. Sanders had earlier attracted ASIO notice through his interview of a Russian visitor, Nelia Naslova, on his program 'People'. Something Naslova said aroused ASIO interest and later an ASIO officer ended up interviewing Sanders by phone. After a few minutes Sanders objected. The incident later became public in TV Week and Spry was forced to write to Menzies explaining the incident. ASIO discovered that Sanders had been a member of the Adelaide University Socialist Club and had joined the ALP. On 'People' he had interviewed left wing supporters of the peace movement although by then his own views had changed. Meanwhile, in an intercepted telephone call, the editor of Tribune, Alec Robertson, was heard to praise Sanders and this was noted on his file. Thenceforward Sanders was placed on a 'Watch' list of ABC employees against whom no connection with the CPA was found but who nevertheless were of interest to security.
But it was Four Corners under Allan Ashbolt that detonated major controversies and galvanised ASIO to examine subversion in the ABC more closely. Ashbolt was already something of a controversial figure when he became editor of Four Corners. His first edition in August 1963 on Hiroshima Day 'could encourage public support for the Communist 'peace' front,' according to one ASIO officer. But it was his program on the culture and politics of Returned Soldiers League (RSL) which caused nation-wide controversy, with Menzies calling for the script of this program and several others for 'review'. At ASIO Spry dictated an urgent memo to an unknown underling:
Would you therefore ascertain most discreetly [original emphasis] who were the people who appeared on the programme, and provide me with details of any who may have adverse traces. This is urgent.
In the weeks that followed ASIO investigated individuals associated with Four Corners. They re-examined known leftwing employees of the ABC who, they speculated, might have formed 'a secret Party branch' in the ABC. The former included the urbane Four Corners presenter, Michael Charlton, who had left the program before Ashbolt arrived. ASIO found that Charlton had never been security checked but it found that he had had contact with the Czech and Polish consuls when he had tried to arrange visits of an ABC team to eastern Europe. It probably also received information from MI 5 on Charlton. About Ashbolt ASIO found that he had 'worked with a large number of persons of security interest in the entertainment field' and had tried to start a theatre with actor Peter Finch and others after the war. Ashbolt was also observed and 'overheard' [phone-tapped] talking to the Soviet diplomat Ivan Skripov but apart from a friendship with Judah Waten there was no a trace on file of any real connection between Ashbolt and the CPA.
After an investigation by Headquarters, Spry ordered his NSW branch to conduct a wider survey. He summarised the Headquarters findings thus: that 'we have nothing reflecting on Charlton; Bob Sanders is of interest through his communist associations of 1949-52 (which are known to the CPA); Ashbolt's connection with [Soviet] diplomatic personnel are of interest;'. A year later, Ashbolt was removed as editor of Four Corners over a different series of issues although there is nothing to suggest ASIO had a direct hand in this.
The newly released archival files of ASIO (which only cover the years to 1966) clearly reveal a significant aspect of the history of ABC which has not so far been known or understood. They need to be read in context of the more broad ranging history such as Ken Inglis' This is the ABC. They show the regular and 'normal' ASIO contact with the highest levels of ABC management. Sir Charles Moses had regular contact with ASIO and did his successor, Talbot Duckmanton. For vetting and administrative matters ASIO frequently dealt with assistant general manager, Arthur Finlay. ASIO's routine requests for scripts of radio and TV programs 'of security interest' were filled by Talks Director, Alan Carmichael, who also answered ASIO's queries about programs. We have already seen ASIO's interest in assistant general manager Clement Semmler. At a lower level. mundane matters were handled through contact between ASIO regional offices and ABC state managers. Overall, at least throughout the 1950s and 60s, a security watchdog was peering over the shoulder of the ABC and regularly querying employees' background and program content.
ASIO's surveillance also had a significant role in the bolstering the ABC's cultural conservatism. Part of ASIO's alertness to communist influence in ABC television, for example, was based on the fact that the CPA-influenced Left had successfully cultivated, from the late 1930s, a radical nationalist perspective on culture (Russel Ward's pathbreaking The Australian Legend was associated with this). By the late 1950s and early 1960s a desire to look for Australian (as opposed to British) traditions began to express itself in the ABC, especially through television. Thus, for example, ASIO began to notice long-time targets like writer Alan Marshall had begun to contribute to ABC TV series like 'Off the Beaten Track'. Many other artists and writers with who shared a 'soft nationalist' position and left wing values also set off alarm bells when they or their work appeared on ABC radio and TV.
To what degree did this secret political surveillance strengthen political and intellectual conservatism in the ABC? Apart from instances like Moses' attempt to quash the Frank Hardy series it is not easy to find direct and unequivocal examples. Yet ASIO's continuous surveillance, its requests for transcripts, its continuous vetting of staff, its letters to Ministers listing subversives who had spoken on the ABC must have had a substantial effect in setting boundaries for acceptable debate and issues.
The problem here is separating the influence of ASIO from other influences which surrounded the ABC and which fashioned it as part of a conservative political and cultural establishment. While ASIO was the eyes and ears of Menzies, the Prime Minister also had personal contact with the ABC's general manager Sir Charles Moses. Various chairmen of the ABC board were selected from among a conservative Establishment after the usual lobbying. Part of the conservative ethos involved other factors such as the ABC's deference to the most conservative aspects of BBC practice. Then there is the self-censorship and internalised caution by ABC managers about controversy which was undoubtedly fuelled by the ASIO presence. Some eager ABC officials saw matters of security as self-evidently important and regarded ASIO with an awe which seems bizarre to our eyes.
Yet in spite of this many sided political surveillance, the ABC opened up in the late 1960s and early 1970s and its conservatism slowly began to crumble. (For example Bill Peach's This Day Tonight gives a lively insight into some key battles, as does Inglis' history.) Part of the reason must lie in the fact that the challenge presented by younger journalists and producers was in no way linked to a formal left wing position. These younger forces, such as Peach, Peter Luck, Mike Willessee, Mike Carlton, Peter Manning and others were unassailable in the terms of the Cold War -- in spite of accusations of communism. The machinery of political surveillance therefore failed in its ultimate purpose. However, for the definitive picture of ASIO surveillance at the ABC on the all-important period from 1968-1975 we will have to wait while the 30 year delay prescribed by the Archives Act unrolls.
Posted by David at 11:28 PM
July 9, 2006
'Is Murphy a KGB agent?'
From : Australia's Spies and their Secrets (David McKnight, Allen & Unwin, 1994)
On Saturday 17 March 1973, the day after Murphy's raid on St Kilda Rd, the revolt in ASIO against the Whitlam Government began in earnest. A group of senior ASIO officers clandestinely visited the Opposition leader, Billy Snedden, and appealed for help. They told him that 'Barbour had gone to pieces and would not be reliable' . Instead of accommodating Murphy he should have defied the Attorney and the Commonwealth Police.
Snedden agreed. '[Barbour] could have refused Murphy entrance and he could have refused to open locks [on safes], but he did not. He had acquiesced in it all.' Barbour 'did not have the guts to stand up and fight.'
This surreptitious and improper meeting between the Opposition leader and senior ASIO officers was not the first such contact. An earlier meeting occurred soon after the MacMahon Government lost the December election when ASIO officers informed Snedden that Murphy had demanded that ASIO no longer target student groups and peace organisations. Snedden took the complaints seriously. In 1963-66 as a young Attorney General hehad been impressed by Spry and his officers and since that time maintained 'innocent' social relationships with some ASIO officers as well as having more formal contact as Minister for Immigration (1966- 69).
Snedden was not the only Opposition politician contacted by Labor's enemies in the security agency. The leader of the Country Party, Doug Anthony, also met with an ASIO officer shortly after the raid, thinking he might get 'some ammunition' from him. The officer bitterly complained about the raid and confided that 'Murphy went there to get his own file. He believed [ASIO] had a file on him but he couldnt find it'. Anthony also recalled that he had heard around the same time that 'Murphy' was not Lionel Murphy's real name. These two assertions, about the 'real' reason for the raid and the change of name, became part of the most bizarre aspect of the ASIO's encounter with Labor: an investigation of Lionel Murphy instigated by the hardline officers which included checking the suspicion that Murphy might have been working for the KGB.
Quite apart from this investigation the officers' extraordinary actions in approaching Snedden and Anthony confirmed that they and their Organization had become so entrenched in Cold War anti-communism that they could not deal with a democratically elected government propelled into office by deep social changes which had been signalled for years. Just as it had been for the previous 20 years and since the First World War under ASIO's antique ancestors, Labor had become a security threat.
FOR HIS part Snedden must also have had anxious anticipations that Murphy's March 15-16 raids were just a foretaste. Having demanded and got ASIO files once, he feared Murphy could go on looking for 'dirt on politicians' files', according to a staffer . Snedden and others stood to lose much if there was a fullscale Labor exposure of ASIO's links with Liberal politicians, senior public servants and businessmen. These fears became even more pronounced that same weekend after a National Times article. . Without naming names, the article described a planned 'spoiling operation' involving ASIO's Special Projects section and a network whihjc included conservative politicians, anti-communist intellectuals and journalists. The article's author, journalist Robert Mayne, stated 'from personal knowledge' that ASIO had provided information for a magazine to be called The Analyisis' to 'expose' leftwingers. Although the magazine had ultimately never been published, those involved were 'a leading NSW Liberal parliamentarian' and a 'Sydney businessman'. A Country Party MP planned to print the magazine. The article was the first to confirm what many had suspected for years. One of the unidentified politicians was soon known. Company records showed that a compnay owned by Peter Coleman, the Liberal member for Fuller, had registered the business name The Analysis. Mayne's article said he had admitted he had 'used [ASIO information] in Parliament and in articles he occasionally wrote.' The magazine was to be published by another politician, Henry Sullivan, a Country Party member of the Upper House who owned the Moree Champion newspaper.
Fearing similar exposures Snedden and his deputy Phillip Lynch had reason to take care. When DLP Senators later demanded a judicial inquiry into the affair, Snedden and Lynch opposed the idea because they were 'not sure what further documents designed to reflect on them might be produced by Murphy,' according to a DLP staffer.
That same weekend at a council of war in the Murphy camp, it was reasoned, offence was the best form of defence. Murphy's colleague and friend, Senator Jim McClelland, and press secretary, George Negus, both urged him to go to cabinet the following Tuesday and seek permission to sack Barbour. If this was not done, both warned, it would be his own head on the block. Murpjhy agreed. Murphy's staff briefed journalists and Monday papers predicted that Whitlam would join the attack, that Murphy would 'drastically curtail' ASIO and that Barbour would be sacked. Murphy then changed his mind. Barbour stayed.
Barbour responded to the raid with more sophistication and care than his indignant and angry colleagues. On the same day that, unknown to him his officers met Snedden, Barbour met Whitlam at the Lodge and protested vigorously about the raid. The meeting confirmed to him that the raid might be only the beginning and that the very existence of the Organisation might be at stake if he did not tread carefully. In the succeeding weeks and months as Opposition pressure stepped up Barbour began to realise that the raid was as much the result of 23 years pent up frustration and suspicion. Later under pressure he refused to condemn the Government, to the mounting dismay of his staff.
A few days later the Bejedic visit went off without incident amid unprecedented security. Ten days later on March 27 Murphy finally answered his critics with a ministerial statement on Croatian terrorism. The speech was a blistering indictment of indifference to terrorism. Its target however was not, as expected, ASIO, but previous Liberal Attorneys General such as Tom Hughes and Ivor Greenwood. It quoted an unnamed ASIO officer that the attitude of the previous government to Croatian terrorism was one of 'indifference' and that ASIO 'was not given proper Ministerial directives'. The speech showed that Greenwood had twice simply lied to parliament by stating that police had no credible evidence of organised Croatian terrorism. The police had advised Greenwood that a Yugoslav aide memoire protesting the 1972 Bosnian incursion had 'a core of irrebutable fact'. Yet in parliament Greenwood had claimed the allegation had no basis. Greenwood had rejected police and ASIO advice to deport or deny passports to men of whom there were strong indications of terrorism. To prove his points Murphy dramatically tabled over 60 documents drawn from police, ASIO and departmental files. Among many other things they showed that financial support and training for the Bosnian incursion in mid-1972 was organised in Australia by a number of Croats. This information was in Greenwood's hands yet he told parliament that no evidence of organised terrorism existed.
While Murphy masterfully exposed the Liberals' role in turning a blind eye to terrorism, he found it hard to convince Whitlam of the justness of his precipitate raid on ASIO. As Liberal pressure mounted over the raid, the two fell out. After a quick inquiry by his own department Whitlam told parliament that the March 2 minute which caused the raid had wrongly reported the views of the top bureaucrats. The incorrect minutes were written by an ASIO officer. The raid, he explained, was consequenoy based on a misunderstanding. Whitlam's implication was that Murphy could have found out the actual situation but instead chose a more dramatic path. The raid, he explained, was consequently based on a misunderstanding. Whitlam's acceptance that senior bureaucrats had been 'misinterpreted' flew in the face of the facts. The March 2 meeting was clearly an attempt by security bureaucrats to play down the terrorist threat and thereby justify the previous government's complacent stance. Whitlam's view that the ASIO minute-taker had misinterpreted the meeting did Murphy no good at all. But Whitlam's point that the raid was unnecessary was absolutely correct. Two weeks later, just before leaving for overseas in April another row broke out between the two rivals. Whitlam learned abruptly of the execution in Yugoslavia of three Croats who had been captured during the incursion. All were Australian citizens. Whitlam fired off an official protest to the Yugoslavs that his government had not been notified in advance of the official announcement. The protest grabbed front page headlines and angered the Yugoslav Ambassador who replied that he had told Murphy of the executions several days before the official announcement. Murphy had not passed on the information and caused Whitlam to make a fool of himself, possibly the worst sin in the calendar. AT any rate such blunders kept the 'raid' alive. A few months later Whitlam stated that the raid was 'unquestionably' the point of maxiumum political embarrassment in its first six months.
WHILE MURPHY was beating back his detractors both within his own camp and within the Opposition another, more secret campaign was underway against him. Shortly after Murphy's ministerial statement and the tabling of the 60 documents, an incident occurred which convinced the hardliners that they were dealing with a possible KGB agent, not just a hostile politican with a penchant for drama.
When Murphy released the documents he expected that the revelations to blow the Opposition out of the water. The bulky documents included large quantities of material seized in raids. These showed that ministerial letters from the previous Liberal regimes which argued that the bombings were the work of isolated individuals were demonstrably untrue at the time they were made. Murphy reckoned without the Canberra Press Gallery. The documents were dense and then, as now, it is the sensation of the moment which journalists follow and editors demand. The documents were given a perfunctory skim and were soon yesterday's news. Murphy confided this frustration to his long time colleague Senator Arthur Gietzelt and asked him to get the ALP Left Steering Committee to write and publish a substantial pamphlet using the documents. Gietzelt told him that the committee had neither the skills to research such a pamphlet nor the apparatus to distribute it. The only sympathetic body which did, he said, was the Communist Party, which employed journalists on its weekly Tribune and had a national network of supporters who would help distribute such a pamphlet.
Fine, said Murphy, get a set of the documents to them and ask them to publish post haste. Gietzelt and another Labor left figure then arranged to meet two leading CPA figures, national secretary, Laurie Aarons and national industrial organiser, Joe Palmada. Such a meeting was also an opportunity to discuss the the first months of the Labor Government and the position of the left. The arrangement for the meeting was discreet, as such contacts had always been. They met in Sydney then travelled down the South Coast towards Wollongong and then picked a motel at random for the discussion. All went according to plan. The box of documents was not passed over at the meeting but an arrangement was made for them to be picked up from Gietzelt's daughter at the University of New South Wales.
A few days later, as Palamada was driving toward the university to pick them up, he casually noticed a van which pulled up alongside him. He thought nothing of it until, after collecting the documents, he again saw it behind him in the traffic. Intrigued, he drove a circuitous route and found it followed him at a distance through several twists and turns. He drove home to Waverley where the van finally left him. Such an incident could, of course, be the result of a fertile imagination, though Palmada was not normally given to such things. In fact two senior ASIO officers confirmed to the writer that this surveillance took place . Not only that but the private meeting between leading figures from the Gietzelt, Aarons and Palmada was watched by ASIO and that the meeting came at Murphy 's instigation.
Barbour then faced the question of whether to inform Whitlam of the meeting. After several days thought, he decided against it, believing it would only aggravate the delicate situation. A little later Murphy was told that Palmada believed he had been tailed. Murphy became angry with Barbour for not informing him immediately. After a heated discussion Barbour explained that the plan to cover the clandestine meeting arose through surveillance of the CPA members, not of Gietzelt.
Barbour's deputy, Jack Behm disagreed with Barbour's initial decision and believed Whitlam should have been told immediately. Twenty years later he recalled the meeting between Gietzelt, 'a member of the Government' and members of the CPA. Such a meeting, he commented '[was] a matter which should create some interest -- both to ASIO and the Labor Party.' He assumed that Gietzelt 'was discussing things which he should not have been discussing -- that's why it was clandestine.' He also defended the approach to Snedden arguing that the ASIO Act authorised the Director General to speak to anyone. When I pointed out that the DG was not among those nominated by Snedden as present, he said he was 'pretty certain' the DG would have been informed. Barbour however says he was unaware of this contact. And although Behm would be one of the 'top four officers' mentioned by Snedden he denies attending the meeting with Snedden.
Behm had risen to the position of deputy DG from the bottom. Before joining ASIO in 1949 Behm had been income tax assessor in Queensland and during the war in an artillery company of the Seventh Division. He soon became one of ASIO's big guns, taking over as Controller of the Special Services Section in 1959. After a stint in B2 he had become deputy in 1970, appointed by the also newly installed Barbour.
The fact that Murphy was implicated in this confidential Labor Left -CPA meeting 'fitted' with a theory which seized the minds of hardline officers from an incident during the 'visit' to the Canberra office. To their collective mind Murphy's claim that he acted because he was denied information was transparently false. As well, they believed the raids were premeditated which was also partly true, contrary to Murphy's later claims. The hardliners leaped several steps further and concluded that he had therefore totally contrived a reason for entering the Canberra office in the middle of the night. Once inside, accompanied by an uncleared secretary and in company with an ASIO enemy, former police officer Kerry Milte, he had rummaged through the file registry and made threats to Brown and Hunt. As ASIO's regional director in Canberra, Colin Brown, was to later describe, Murphy made a particular point of searching the index cards under 'M' and reportedly made a remark to the effect 'Heaven help you if my name is here'. Not finding what he wanted (his own file, they presumed), he then flew to Melbourne at dawn in the process breaching security again by helping himself to an ASIO courier's mail. At St Kilda Rd he had broken the law by ordering in the police, humilated the staff and irreparably damaged the Organization in the eyes of great and powerful friendly intelligence agencies. He had done enormous damage. In fact, if he had been a KGB agent, he could not have done more damage.
The theory that his real purpose was 'looking for his own file' became an incontrovertible fact within 24 hours of the Canberra 'visit'. Later that year he made an unannounced visit to the Adelaide office, then run by Ernie Redford. Redford recalled that Murphy soon began checking the card index to files, and suspects he was looking for his own file . The case of 'Murphy's file' was one of the the most bizarre sidelights to the clash between the Whitlam Government and ASIO. It posed the question, why ws Murphy so concerned about hisfile.What mnight it contain? The conclusion became obvious: Murphy was a KGB agent. Such theories were not confined to Australia. Similar suspicions that prominent social democrat or Labour politicians were also KGB agents pervaded the darker corners of British and US intelligence. Murphy's actions took place at a time when MI5 believed Harold Wilson was a possible Russian agent a view shared by the CIA's head of counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton who threw in Sweden's Olaf Palme and Willy Brandt for good measure. Gievn this it was not surprising that ASIO began to investigate Lionel Keith Murphy's background and true identity.
To investigate such a possibility the first task normally is to assemble all the documented facts about a person and to scrutinise them carefully. Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages are combed for certificates showing the person's full name, precise date and place of birth, their parents names, nurses and doctors who attended at the birth. Similarly the marriage certificate is checked for the names of witnesses and the presiding cleric. In a thorough check the identities of these people are checked. All of this and much more was done to investigate Lionel Keith Murphy.
ASIO'S INVESTIGATION of Murphy was homed in on a number of other facts. Lionel Murphy was a man of the Left, who owed his Senate seat to his connection with the Gietzelt brothers. As a Labor lawyer in 1952-54 he fought to assist a union activist, Ray Gietzelt, to wrest control of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union from officers associated with the Industrial Groups. By 1960 Arthur's astute use of the numbers from Left unions and branches saw Lionel pre-selected to the Senate ticket. ASIO files from 1960 show that at that time the Organization believed that Ray Gietzelt and his brother Arthur were both members of the Communist Party, though both also held tickets in the Labor Party. ( Both brothers in fact broke with the CPA).
The investigating officers also discovered facts about his personal life and disturbing connections to the East. By 1973 Lionel Murphy had been married to Ingrid Gee for three and a half years. A stunning catch, Ingrid Gee was a fashion model and a minor TV celebrity hosting a daytime quiz show on Channel Ten in Sydney. Little interested in parliamentary politics until she met Lionel, she nevertheless had progressive views supporting abortion rights and child care at a time when such radical ideas were part of the new wave of feminism. After a short study ASIO officers found that Ingrid Gee was not her real name. As a young woman her family name was Grzonkowski and she had been born in Poland. As a young woman she had changed her name to Gee for convenience sake -- or so she said.
The field inquiries of the C branch which conducted the Murphy inquiry then peeled back another layer. Ingrid Gee was Murphy's second wife. Details of his first wife were obscure. When a new Senator took his or her place they qualified for entry in Who's Who. Routinely a man in Who's Who listed his wife's first name, her parents' name and details of children would be given. Murphy omitted all this. Only to Murphy's intimate circle was his first wife known. Born in the town of Chita in the far flung Siberian East of the USSR , Nina Murphy was the child of White Russian parents who emigrated from Vladivostock to Australia in 1925. She had met Lionel while he was at Sydney University and married him around 1950 The marriage which lasted for about 15 years ended in divorce.
A second line of investigation concerned one of Ingrid Murphy's friends -- Junie Morosi. Morosi was introduced by Murphy to Jim Cairns who by mid 74 was deputy Prime Minister.
The fact that both Murphy's wives were born in the East fascinated the hardline ASIO officers By this time Western intelligence discovered that a new kind of Soviet agent was being placed in the West. These agents were not recruited from highly placed individuals in the host country but were Soviet or East Europeans intelligence officers who inserted themselves in the West with a false identity. Over years of preparation they established this false identity (their 'legend'), as well as their language and cultural skills. These 'sleepers' carried out no intelligence activity but merely established their documentation and reputation. As well, they looked for opportunities to work or live close to an intelligence target, be it a defence laboratory -- or an individual. Another possibility was that Nina Murphy might be blackmailed by the KGB to carry out intelligence activities. Such were the theories bandied about to explain Murphy and his wives.
The whole investigation of Murphy was a close secret within the small group of ASIO hardliners. Barbour himself denies knowledge of it. His deputy Jack Behm knew of the inquiries and recalled them when I spoke to him. He was also aware that both Murphy's wives were born in the East and that he married Ingrid Gee in Hong Kong. When I asked him the significance of these inquiries he brushed my question aside stating that 'it was no significant enough for you to worry about'.
Another senior officer however verified that the investigation was done and recalled that he felt 'intrigued' by the marriage to Ingrid Gee. One of the checks initiated by C Branch involved asking MI6 or MI5 in Hong Kong to report on Murphy's and Ingrid's connections in the colony. Yet the marriage in November 1969 was not secret in any way although it was sudden. Ingrid Murphy freely told the Australian press about it and the fact that the British High Commissioner was present along with an 'old lawyer friend who is now a magistrate'.
The use of British intelligence was hinted at in a press interview by former deputy head of MI5, Peter Wright, who said that Murphy had 'something Russian in his pedigree'. Other more detailed but garbled accounts of the ASIO investigations appear in two privately published books. One is Lynched! by a former staffer of Liberal MP Phillip Lynch, Brian Buckley, the other Anatomy of a Coup by journalists Stephen Foley and Marshall Wilson. Both are peppered with intelligence scuttlebut from ASIO source(s) (possibly the same ones). Buckley claims that 'In Hong Kong [Murphy] was followed by a special branch of the local police and his contacts with criminals and people suspected of working for the Russians was monitored. Murphy also formed an association with expatriate journalist Wilfred Burchett. Their contact point was Hong Kong.....' The investigation into Murphy's identity also surfaced here: 'One intelligence source claims that no-one knows for sure who Murphy was, that his stated antecedents and place of origin were investigated and found to be dubious. It is even claimed that he had his birth certificate changed....' Buckley also claims that 'Murphy had for many years been in close contact with agents of the KGB, his first wife being from the USSR and blackmailed.' [!]
The Foley-Wilson book states much of this at great length and repeats the fantastic allegations that 'many observed in Murphy the signs of 'tradecraft' and that he 'consistently refused to authorise taps on any of the Soviet bloc embassies' [A rather attention-grabbing and ill-advised behaviour by a Soviet agent, one would have thought! It is also totally false.] The authors repeat that the view that the real purpose of the raid was to recover his own ASIO file which showed, among other things, his 'close association' with the Soviet spy Ivan Skripov, expelled in 1963. That both books are full of unsubstantiated assertions presented as facts is of no relevance. Rather their significance lies in giving an insight into the authors' ASIO sources who believed and promoted bizarre suggestions of Murphy's 'KGB connection'.
The notion that there was something strange or inexplicable in Murphy's origins also surfaced in the press at the time. The Bulletin's Peter Samuel, a recipient of ASIO material, stated as early as May 1973 that 'Murphy's origins are somewhat obscure' and recounted a rumour that he had changed his original 'Jewish' name to Murphy. While discounting the 'Jewish name' theory, Samuel states that 'It is said on his behalf that he is of Irish background with one repeated report being that his father was an Irishman from Tipperary...' and 'Born in 1922, his primary schooling and childhood cannot be established...' Such remarks are odd since in both the 1962 and 1968 editions of Who's Who he stated that he was born in Sydney and educated at Kensington Public School. The mysterious 'repeated report' of his father's origins was also stated perfectly clearly in the same directory.
The investigation into Murphy's birth, ancestry, marriages and associations was an extraordinarily far fetched rogue action. It arose not from any well based suspicion but because of the trauma of the raid and the counter espionage mentality which saw a potential KGB plot behind legitimate political dissidence and the blunders of politicians. It represented the full flowering of a mentality which had grown in the closed hot house of 'security' for 20 years.
THE MURPHY probe was ultimately a sidelight. The main game in the revenge sought by some ASIO officers concerned a well laid plan to ambush first, their own boss Peter Barbour and second, Gough Whitlam. The ambush was in two parts. In the first instance it was intended to force Barbour to tell the 'truth' of the raid and the 'truth' of his protests to Whitlam. The second part was to prove the Prime Minister was liar and, with any luck, force his resignation. It almost succeeded. But Whitlam, with Barbour's help, slipped out of the ambush. Barbour's role in this would not be forgotten.
On the afternoon of March 16, a hour or so after Murphy departed, the branch heads and senior officers of ASIO met in acouncil of war. The atmosphere was explosive and the men were 'furious' and felt 'bloody awful' . 'To have this idiot enter with armed police in a punitive expedition and direct me to stay in my office and not open my safe! To the day I die, Murphy is a scoundrel and a crook, ' said one.
What to do? As the meeting proceeded it became clear that while the hardliners wanted dramatic action, the Director General, Peter Barbour counselled caution. He wanted to protest vigorously but in the back of his mind feared the Government may then dismember or abolish ASIO. In any case it was agreed he would see Whitlam the next day and protest. This he did, but when he reported back it was 'unsatisfactory'. The hardliners (and the bulk of ASIO staff) expected far more. 'If necessary he should have led the Organisation into the wilderness,' recalled a senior officer. The effect of this, they all knew, would have been a domestic political crisis and a crisis in defence and intelligence links with the British and Americans.
Barbour refused to go down this path. In the months following his initial protest, he co-operated with the government and refused to throw fuel on the fire which the Opposition (with hardliners' help) was stoking. The hardliners' attitude spread throughout the Organization and only a small group of younger officers supported Barbour's policy of careful negotiation with the new Government. In Parliament Barbour's refusal to publicly complain was Whitlam's top card thrown onto the parliamentary table to trump his critics.
On the morning of March 28, the day after Murphy's ministerial statement and the second day parliament had sat since the raid, Snedden rose to his feet and asked:
'Has a complaint or have complaints been made to him directly, to him through any member of his staff or to hisGovernment by any member of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation about the 'raids' ... on 16th March by the Attorney General with Commonwealth Police on the Melbourne and Canberra offices of ASIO?
Whitlam gave a fateful reply:
The only member of ASIO, or the only person whom I know to be a member of ASIO, with whom I have had any communication since the Attorney General's visit to the headquarters of the Organization in Melbourne on 16th March has been the Director General himself. He made no complaint at all.
The statement brought anger and disbelief at all levels with ASIO. The rank and file officers had been told that Barbour had protested strongly to Whitlam. Since the raid hundreds of agents, ex-agent and ASIO contacts had panicked and sought assurances of their anonymity. A few hours after Whitlam's statement Barbour drafted a long telex to all ASIO regional offices to set the record straight both on his meeting with Whitlam and to quell some of the wild rumours which had the Organisation in a state of 'internal turmoil'. The telex set out factually what happened; that Murphy had seen a report in Canberra which 'alarmed him'; that he decided to come to Melbourne 'to find out ...whether this meant that relevant information was being suppressed by ASIO'; that 'the Attorney General now regards that report as inaccurate'.
But the telex went on to direct contradicted Whitlam. Under a subheading 'Complaint' it read:
[The Director General] saw the Prime Minister personally, gave him full details of the actions of the police and told the Prime Minister that he regarded them as unprecedented, extraordinary and gravely damaging to the national security interest.' [emphasis added]
The telex enjoined officers to 'close ranks at this time and to maintain strict discipline'. They were reminded to 'maintain complete discretion and to make no comment to the Press or other public sources'. Discretion was less than complete. Shortly after he sent the telex Barbour began to realise that the Opposition was being fed material by some ASIO officers. By that time it was too late. His telex which implied Whitlam misled parliament had already clattered out over the wires to regional offices.
In May the Senators of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) succeeded in establishing a Senate committee to inquire into the 'civil rights of migrant Australians', i.e. the Croatian community which had been subject to various police raids on its members around the visit of Bejedic. Senator Frank McManus had particulalry close relations with the Melbourne Croatian community. Senate committees have the power to call witnesses and examine them and with this lever the DLP hoped to force the truth about the raid from witnesses such as Kerry Milte and Peter Barbour. While the parliament was in winter recess the DLP Senators and other committee members such as Peter Durack prepared.
The first major witness was to be Peter Barbour scheduled to appear on Wednesday 8 August. Three days before on Channel Nine the program Federal File had a scoop. The two journalists who ran it, the veteran Alan Reid and the younger Michael Shildberger reported that 'a prominent politician had seen a photostat of the telex message and was prepared to produce it if necessary. On that same Sunday, committee member Senator Jack Kane (DLP) announced he would urge the committee to compel the journalists to give evidence. On the Monday Snedden joined in. 'Either the Prime Minister is not telling the truth or the Director General has concocted a story.' Leaking of the telex to Federal File was designed to stampede him into revealing the content of the meeting with Whitlam. This in turn would gravely damage Whitlam. It was a well laid ambush. The fact that it did not come off was in no way due to any dilatoriness by rebellious ASIO officers.
What was little appreciated at the time was how isolated Barbour was from his troops and generals. Many months before an ASIO officer had shown journalist Michael Shildberger a number of documents 'in the back seat of a car in the back block of Canberra' . The officers were frustrated by what they saw as continual lies about the ASIO raid being promoted in the public arena. Shildberger was pretty confident of his sources -- he had dealt with ASIO officers for seveal years -- but not absolutely sure. So he and Reid sat on the story. A weeks before the story went to air Bill Snedden grabbed him in the corridor told him he had seen a copy of the telex which had the word 'complaint' as a heading. This confirmed the authenticity for Schildberger and Reid. The story was aired at a time when it placed maximum pressure on Barbour. The unspoken message of the leak was clearly that if he did not reveal that he had complained, the actual telex would be leaked and he would be shown to have misled the committee.
When asked if he had complained to Whitlam, Barbour's answer was simple. He refused to discuss meeting with Whitlam. 'It is not for me to say what the nature of the discussion was.' Senator Jim McClelland then asked two questions. Was the Attorney General within his authority in visiting ASIO? Was he within his authority in authorising the presence of Commonwealth Police and the sealing of safes? To both Barbour answered with a single word: yes. Enormously frustrated, the DLP and coalition Senators, tried a different tack. Senator Peter Durack asked a series of probing questions then choosing his words carefully asked:
Durack: But did you not regard that as rather an extraordinary situation, that you, as Director General of Security under an independent Act of Parliament, were recieving instructions ....from an Inspector of Police with a bit of paper in his hand...?
Barbour Yes I did.
Durack You regarded it as quite extraordinary?
Durack And totally unprecedented?
These were, of course, words from Barbour's own telex and he could hardly disavow them. Nevertheless it was not enough to hang Whitlam. The day after Barbour's evidence Liberal and DLP Senators proposed that other ASIO officers give evidence. McClelland retorted that the committee wanted to 'degrade Senator Murphy. They are disappointed that Mr Barbour evidence failed to do so.' One of the few journalists who hinted about what was actually going on was Alan Ramsey who described 'A senior member of ASIO [who is] waiting in the shadows ofther political controversy that now threatens to swallow ASIO's Director General, Peter Barbour. If give the chance he was to have been the star witrness in the political inquisition ofthe Government that has been loosley masquerading as a Senate inquiry intothecivil rights of migrants.'
During these early committee hearings Whitlam was overseas. On the evening of August 15 his plane touched down. That morning the Australian ran front page lead story. The headline was 'Murphy raid damaging, ASIO chief told the PM' It is not unusual for someone to leak a document at a strategic time however the story also had two unusual features. Stories in the Australian often did not have by-lines but stories from its Canberra bureau and on its front page nearly always did. This front page story did not have a by-line. The only hint given by the curiously reserved journalist was that the story 'leaked out in Canberra'. Its second curious feature was that the story simply consisted of only of quotes from the telex with a number of paragraphs which pointed out how strongly it appeared to contradict Whitlam's denial of a 'complaint' from ASIO. Whoever wrote it had not bothered to seek a comment from the Opposition or from the Government. This latter fact could have arisen if the telex was only received virtually as the paper is going to press but even so it is unusual for such a story to have no 'comment paras'. Yet we know the telex was circulating surreptitiously among the Opposition in Canberra long before. Though first mentioned on 'Federal File', Lynch said an 'executive member of the Liberal Party' was aware of the telex's existence 'some months ago'. This makes the absence of 'comment quotes' less explicable in terms of a last minute, breaking story. We now know there was a calculated conspiracy between the ASIO hardliners, Snedden and Lynch. The Australian story suggests to my mind that a senior executive of News Ltd also played a role.
Whitlam was angry at the turn of events. Deputy Opposition leader Phillip Lynch charged that Whitlam appeared to be lying, adding that he knew that newspaper stories quoting the telex were accurate. The DLP Senator Jack Kane called for Whitlam to appear before the inquiry. This was just grandstanding but his other call, that other ASIO officers give evidence was designed to get Barbour's deputy Jack Behm and the Canberra chief, Colin Brown, to appear. They would tell a different story to Barbour. Murphy's key person on the Senate inquiry, Jim McClelland, hit back with what sounded like a classic conspiracy theory. He accused Senators from the DLP of being party to the leakage to the Australian. Whitlam also believed that the affair sprang from an DLP-ASIO nexus, stating that he had 'some misgivings about a security organizations which lets out telexes to one's political opponents.' The following Tuesday when parliament next sat, the Opposition hammered Whitlam over the obvious and glaring inconsistency of his March 28 answer stating that Barbour had not complained and the telex complaining about the 'unprecedented, extraordinary and gravely damaging' raid by Murphy. Whitlam's trump card was a letter from Barbour which stated that while the telex contained the word 'complaint', he had not in fact 'complained' to Whitlam on the day after the raid. He had simply said, as shown in the telex that the raid was 'unprecedented, extraordinary and gravely damaging'. It was a distinction without a difference. But when Whitlam produced Barbour's letter, the trap, so carefully laid, snapped shut without its prey.
There would now be no mercy shown to Barbour by the hardliners.
THE RAID changed Murphy's relationship with ASIO 180 degrees. Soon after Murphy's relations with Barbour became quite reasonable. Barbour knew that the raid was in fact a damaging over-reaction based on a mistake rather than the wilder conspiracies theories which gripped some of his fellow officers. Having purged his mind of the suspicions which he had brought with him from Opposition, Murphy gave little detailed attention to ASIO from then on. His mind turned to other items on his radical agenda for legal reform. He arranged more regular and temperate meetings with Barbour. A legacy of the raid was the seconding of the young ASIO courier, Don Marshall to his staff as a liaison man. After the tumult and shouting, it seemed that things would settle down. A few weeks after the Opposition squeezed the last drops from the affair, Whitlam revealed that he was actively considering the appointment of a judge to inquire into ASIO, due to the leaking of the telex. Nothing was to be heard of this for nine months until June 1974 when the next ASIO crisis broke out.
B.M.Snedden and M. Bernie Shedvin Bill Snedden, An Unlikely Liberal Macmillan 1990 p161
Interview with a member of Snedden's staff, 21 July 1993. This interviewee was quite positive that a meeting had taken place before the raid andthat it stemmedfrom Snedden's 'innocent social relationship' with ASIO officers he had known since he was AG.
Interview J D Anthony, 21 July 1993
Interview, Snedden staff member.
Robert Mayne 'How ASIO exceeds its charter', National Times March 19-24, 1973
Denis Strangman 'The ASIO-Croatian Affair of 1973' in Les Shaw (ed) The Shape of the Labor Regime Harp Books Canberra 1974, p 84.
See The Australian 'Appeals Court likely' and SMH 'PM's aid to Murphy on ASIO expected' 19 March 1973
Ministerial Statement on Croatian Terrorism by the Attorney General, 27 March 1973.
Interview between Age editor Graham Perkin and Whitlam, SMH 5 June 1973
Interview Jack Behm 3 August 1993
Interview Ernest Redford July 1993
Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay Smear! Wilson and the Secret Service (Fourth Estate London 1991) shows MI5's penetration and surveillance of the Labour PArty on a scale that far exceeded ASIO's work in the ALP. Angleton had 'no doubt whatsoever' that Wilson (British PM (1964-76) was a Soviet agent, accordingto Tom Mangold's excellentCold Warrior.
ASIO file on Ray Gietzelt CRS A6119/79 item 832. Pages from this file around 1960 refer to Arthur Gietzelt as an 'undercover member of the CPA'. A 1959 report states 'that Ray Gietzelt was to be issued with a current CP of A card but he was not to be attaached to any branch.' It also noted that 'He was at that time president of Sylvania Branch ofthe ALP.'
Detials of the marriage which something of a celebrity news story appeared in the Australian , Mirror and Sun newspapers on 24 November 1969.
Quoted in Sunday Herald (Melbourne) 11 March 1990
BrianBuckely Lynched! The Life of Sir Phillip Lynch p.36-37
The view that Murphy was born in Tasmania(rather than in Sydney as Murphy maintained) was told to the writer by a senior ASIO officer in mid 1993. The confusion may have arisen from an article by Gavin Souter in SMH 22 December 1972 which stated that his father emigrated to 'Launceston where Lionel was born 50 years ago'.
Interview, Michael Shildberger 26 July 1993
Australian 10 August 1973
Australian 28 August 1973
SMH 18 August 1973
Aust. 20 August 1993
Posted by David at 10:17 PM
Enemies and friends in the Labor Party and the unions
From 'Australia's Spies and Their Secrets' (David McKnight, Allen and Unwin, 1994)
A man is walking briskly down the footpath beside Goulburn Street in Sydney in 1964. A careful observer would notice that he walks with a slight limp, his finger are stained with nicotine and his hair is greying, parted in the middle. He turns abruptly into a side entrance of the Sydney Trades Hall, an architectural oddity being one of Sydney's few multi-story Victorian buildings built almost entirely of brick. As he walks familiarly down one of its ill-lit, high ceilinged corridors he acknowledges a brief, knowing nod from an official of a minor right wing union.
He moves on. Behind rimless glasses are a pair of intelligent and searching eyes. He walks past the the Pastrycooks and Felt Hatters unions, their names scrolled in faded gold on brown wood. He stops at one of the bare reception rooms and begins to help himself to several copies of the union journal, crudely printed copies of a strike bulletin with an appeal for funds and a copy of an forbidingly dull pro-Soviet peace journal. ASIO's foremost trade union and Labor Party expert, Jack Clowes, is on his rounds.
By 1964 Jack Clowes had been in ASIO for fifteen years and would remain in it untl 1971 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. For much of that time, he had the closest possible relations with key figures in the NSW trade union movement and the NSW branch of the ALP. The image of ASIO has been that it was an enemy of Labor and clashed with it repeatedly. On the Labor side ASIO was the object of scorn and ridicule by such figures as Clyde Cameron and Eddie Ward. Between Evatt and Spry there was a gulf of hostility. Yet a key part of ASIO's war on subversion involved buildinga network of anti-communist allies wherever they were found, in academia, in business, in the press and also in the unions and the Labor Party.
The revelations of profound intelligence involvement in the internal struggles within the Labor Party came from a key Labor figure who formerely held office inthe NSW branch. He spoke at length to this writer of his own personal dealings with ASIO through Clowes which extended over 16 years. In the course of a long, unattributable interview he emphasised several times that the contact between ALP Right and ASIO was done to protect Australia. 'It was in Australia's national interest, because it was threatened by people whose first loyalty was to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.' He realised 'it all seems inexplicable now'.
The former Labor figure (whom I shall refer to as 'Smith' for convenience sake) held Clowes in very high personal regard and no doubt the feeling was mutual. According to him Clowes 'played an ambassadorial role both for ASIO in the labour movement, and for labour movement in ASIO.' It was certainly a two way process. To selected senior Labor figures over the years Clowes passed a stream of information gathered from surveillance and phone taps. He warned them of CPA dalliances with members of the ALP Left and of ALP members who had joined the CPA but kept their Labor tickets. While such contact may now be justified as 'in Australia's national interest', the effect of it was also to greatly strengthen Movement-based Right in the NSW branch and all the patronage and power which accompanied it. 'Smith' believed Clowes' assistance in defeating the Left also had national ramifications. 'The NSW ALP became a beacon for the rest of the ALP after the Whitlam defeat [in 1975] and if New South Wales had got it wrong in the 1960s and 1970s, then this would not have happened. [In this sequences of events] the influence of Jack Clowes was an indentifiable feature of the Right getting it right.' The much vaunted role of the NSW Right as an effective, shrewd and powerful force in Australian politics takes on a new dimension in the light of this revelation. We will return to Jack Clowes but first it is necessary to outline the roots of ASIO's long standing but little known connection with the people and events which shaped the Labor Party.
WHEN FORMER CIS officers were recruited to ASIO they brought with them their sources within the union movement, most of whom were from the Catholic Labor Right. The CIS had found that Catholic Action* [footnote for same page: I Early ASIO files use the generic term Catholic Action to refer to the Catholic based political forces which existed before and after the 1955 split] very useful as a source of intelligence on the Communist Party's struggles in the trade union movement. The zealously anti-communist Catholic Action was part of a worldwide lay movement which aimed to put Catholics imbued with the church's social teaching into influential positions which had been denied to them by religious (and anti-working class) prejudice. In 1947 the ALP had formed its own 'Industrial Groups' within unions, largely to combat the communist presence. Many Groups were soon dominated by the secretive Catholic Action and the seeds of the shattering 1955 ALP split were sewn. As well as the CIS contacts which filtered into ASIO, top level contact occurred between Santamaria and Spry through an introduction by Liberal External Affairs Minister Casey.
Problems began to emerge in ASIO's contact with Catholic Action which would dog the Organization for the next thirty years. Both organisations needed each other but the question was 'who was using whom'? The liaison was at times very close but it had a rocky beginning. Much of this emerged in the course of an internal investigation which ASIO carried out in 1953 to discover how ASIO information came to fall into the hands of Catholic Action. A memoranda from an officer in the NSW Special Services Section asking for guidance from the Regional Director noted that in 1950 an ASIO 'agent master', Norman Spry, was paying a Catholic Action officer 'a sum of money at regular intervals' for information gathered by Catholic Action. Relations were cautious on both sides. The Catholic Action liaison officer with ASIO made it clear that the two pounds a week he received was deducted from his salary fpaid by the group. What interested the liaison officer was not money but information. He persistently asked for Spry and other ASIO agent masters for a formal information exchange but they 'sidestepped' all requests. One ex-CIS officer in ASIO reported during the investigation how he came to be caution in this way. Once in CIS he had deliberately fed a CA agent 'some imaginary information'. 'I later found that identical information was received back at CIS having been channelled to it by [ blank]'. Nevertheless, the CA source was profitable. In 1952 he gave ASIO three shorthand notebooks recording 'high level party meetings'. But in September that year, the CA informer asked whether his organisation could receive information on CPA plans in the trade union movement on an 'unofficial' basis from ASIO. For example, he said, the Archibishop to know whether Johh Burton was a communist and had asked CAtholic Action to find out. When the ASIO officer demurred, the CA official complained and demanded to know if Government policy to CA had changed. His predecessor had 'an open slather with the Navy files and all the usual departments like Immigration'. The anonymous author of the memo warned of the 'penetration' of ASIO by Catholic Action 'which is in itself an intelligence agency' but on the other hand pointed out that it had supplied 'productive and worthwhile' information.
AT that stage ASIO decided that it would refuse to exchange information with Catholic Action. When told of this Catholic Action decided that it would downgrade ties with ASIO and 'would probably decide to trade information wherever the best exchange could be effected.' ASIO's reluctance at that stage to deal full bloodedly with Catholic Action stemmed partly from the fact that its infomration was of a very patchy quality and totally uncheckable, since they accepted whatever their sources told them. (Copying MI5, ASIO had an elaborate system of grading the reliability of sources). Another reason was that ASIO had its fingers burnt early in the piece. Because of what was later termed 'irregularities and improper agent control' a CA agent had been allowed to work out of an ASIO sub office at Edgecliff. This left the Organization 'open to grave repercussions'. If this became known to 'persons unkindly disposed' to ASIO' they could 'imply that ASIO and Catholic Action were 'hand in glove' and working in common to the point of sharing the same office. Further, some agents, it will be remembered, also visited and worked at that office.' The investigation appears to have concluded with denials all round and the disciplining of an officer.
The 1952-53 upset did not last long. As a new entrant to the intelligence field ASIO needed above all a network of agents and the most logical place to find them was among the members of Catholic Action. In February 1954 an officer from Special Services Section approached a CA representative to discuss 'the possibility of some of your people being prepared, as individuals, to infiltrate the Communist Party'. If a suitable Catholic was recruited as an ASIO agent on CA's nomination, his or her information would be passed on by ASIO to CA. The Sydney leadership of Catholic Action initially rejected the approach, largely because the ASIO officer reiterated the impossibility of handing over other information to CA. But this attitude soon changed and for several years ASIO and Catholic Action ran a number of joint agents which they debriefed separately. This arrangement whihc spanned the traumatic 1954-55 split in the ALP lasted until around 1957 when the National Civic Council was formed. In that year Spry, for example, found it necessary to order the cessation of the use of a Catholic Actionist in Ballarat as a 'talent spotter for ASIO agent running operations'. From around that time, at an official level anyway, the NCC-ASIO relationship seemed to be less close, though on the ground it was a different matter. While ASIO found the NCC an enormously valuable source of intelligence for many years, it greatly feared that it would be penetrated by the NCC,which was, after all, an intelligence agency itself. At least once this led ASIO to tap the phones of the NCC to ensure that it stayed on top in the relationship.
During the ealyr 1950s the liaison with 'Catholic Action' was just one of a number of relationships with anti-communist forces and individuals which ASIO forged. But events within the Labor Party in 1955 catapaulted Catholic Action to the centre of national politics and the significance of ASIO's liaison with it was similarly greatly magnified. At the March 1955 Federal Labor conference at Hobart, 17 of the 36 delegates -- the Victorian and NSW delegations -- walked out . The conference went on to disband and de-recognise the Industrial Groups. The response of those whom ASIO called Catholic Action (more correctly 'the Movement' or Industrial Group forces) was twofold. In Victoria, they chose to split from Labor. Departing Labor MPs withdrew their support for the Cain government and this ushered in the Bolte government which was to last 27 years. In NSW however, the Movement forces remained within the ALP where they faced a hostile alliance of left and centre determined to contest political power with them. For much of the remainder of the decade and for all of the 1960s a pattern was established. The Victorian Branch of the ALP was solidly left wing with a vociferous but weakened Right. The NSW Branch, after an initial period of centre control, reverted to control by ASIO's allies, the old 'stay put' Catholic Right.
THE VICTORIAN branch of the ALP was of great interest to ASIO. Melbourne was the home of the Catholic forces with whom ASIO officers dealt closely and ASIO agents within the unions and Labor Party provided a stream of reports thoughout the 1960s on the Labor Left, their contacts with the CPA and inner party battles. The surveillance also extended to formal 'vetting' of Labor election candidates. During both the 1958 and 1960 state elections, ASIO's Victorian office checked ALP candidates against its records, 'to ascertain those of interest'. One candidate in 1958 , a barrister, Alfred O'Connor, was noted because his name was forwarded by someone else to an East German magazine as someone who might be interested in receiving free copies. The candidate for Mornington, Gordon Anstee, had been a member of the Soviet Friendship League in Warrnambool in 1945, it was noted. Another barrisiter, Alan Brenton, was an associate of CPA lawyer and leader, Ted Hill, and 'would appear to have left wing sympathies.' Arthur Poyser, later a Labor Senator and ASIO critic, was 'assessed by contact of this Office as anti-Communist'.
In May 1960, a similar report was compiled for the Victorian state elections. The candidates for Balwyn was Edmund du Vergier, who had 'the reputation of being a 'red hot communist' and had also attended the 1959 peace conference. His wife was one of four women 'who talk at regular tea table conferences on current affairs, including Summit talks.' Geoffrey Blunden who standing for the seat of Brighton was the subject of a police report. The name of taxi-driver, Jack Kagan who stood for Ripponlea had been passed to ASIO by an overseas intelligence agency, probably MI 5. The report also detailed at length the record of an activist in the ALP womens' organisaiton, Gwen Noad, one of whose activities was to protest the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa. Jim Brebner, the secretary of the Pulp and Paper Workers Union, was 'a CPA sympathiser' although the bulk of his record was simply reports that CPA members regarded him favourably.
Shortly after the June 1960 Victorian ALP conference elected a new executive an ASIO officer ran a security check on its members, including its president, Albert McNolty and vice president Jim Brebner. Former Trades Hall president, Ron Alsop, was noted , as was a young plumber, George Crawford, whom the files showed had once been an official of the Eureka Youth League, a CPA dominated youth group. Though grouped around the 1958-60 period it is likely that ASIO interference and surveillance of the Victorian ALP continued into the 1960s, if not the early 1970s.
The ongoing struggle against the 'groupers' in Victoria also illustrated a classic case of the rule that in a dynamic political society any surveillance of one sector would invariably mean surveillance of other 'legitimate' forces. By 1958, the influential and long standing secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall, Vic Stout, was in regualr contact with communist leader and barrister Ted Hill. Stout was by no means a sympathiser with the CPA but saw the communists as useful allies in fighting the Groupers whose policies he did oppose. In April 1958 Spry authorised that a file be opened on Stout in reponse to a minute noting Stout's 'close association' with Hill and Stout's role as union leader and Labor spokesman on a daily session on Radio 3KZ. Nor was ASIO surveillance confined to the top level of the ALP. During the 1960 state elections, an ASIO field officer in Mildura debriefed an agent who had watched those handing out ALP how-to-votes. Some, the agent claimed, were CPA members who were also ALP members. But he saw fit to record several ALP members who were not CPA, such as Ted Innes (later federal parliamentarian) described as 'extreme left wing ALP' and Ivan Hodgson, later chief of the Transport Worker Union, of whom the agent said was 'strongly believed to be a communist'.
ASIO's INVOLVEMENT with the Labor Party also arose from its general brief to watch and to counter the activities of the Left in the trade unions. The formal brief of D desk in B1 branch was the surveillance of 'communist influence in the unions' but following the dictum that 'you follow the target wherever it leads' this automatically extended to surveillance of Labor Party affairs as well. '[E]very major operation mounted by the Communist Party,' said a 1960 analysis by Clowes '... has been based on the trade unions and it always became evident early in the operation that the ultimate aim of that Party was to involve the ALP, using the unions as the lever or springboard.'
The unions were simultaneously the numerical and financial base of the ALP as well as the vehicle for workers' struggles for better conditions. In the latter role the communists were strong and respected far beyond the limits of their own membership because they were a street wise, dedicated and collective force. CPA officials led over a dozen key blue collar unions and a host of smaller ones and many were affiliated to the ALP.
The communists were thus key allies to the ALP forces who opposed the Industrial Groups and their right wing policies. Prior to and just after the split a broad left and centre coalition, including the communists, fought the Industrial Groups. From 1956 to early 1960s this coalition gradually weakened especially after the old Movement consolidated its power within the NSW branch and the AWU resumed its anti-communist role. In 1956, anti-Grouper unions including the AWU, co-operated in key industrial disputes, such as the 1956 shearers' strike. Later, in 1959 the AWU joined the 'Groupers' and tried to split the ACTU and form an 'Australian Federation of Labour' after the ACTU levied unions to support the visit of Chinese trade unionists to Australia and made pro-peace gestures. The key bulwark against the Groupers in the unions was the practice of Labor Left and CPA members combining on a single united ticket in union elections. These 'unity tickets' were a prime target of the Liberal Government, the DLP and the NCC forces. The battle over them was partly a shadow play for several hidden attempts to re-unite the DLP and ALP. They were also a target of ASIO's B1 (d) desk which regarded them as a key method of communist subversion because they united the union Left and thereby strengthened the hand of the CPA. Similarly scandalised was the centre-right leadership of the ALP which nominally banned the practice of 'unity tickets', a move which only debilitated the whole party.
The unions which welcomed assistance from ASIO included at least the Clerks' Union and the Ironworkers' Association. In the case of the Clerks' Union a former official said he would have had contact with Clowes a dozen times over a seven year period from the late fifties to early sixties. Clowes was 'a marginal figure' but would provide information if it suited him. The Clerks' official nominated several other officials from his union who also knew Clowes. A former official of the Ironworkers also confirmed personal contact with Jack Clowes. When I requested an interview about Clowes with the key FIA leader of the period, Laurie Short, he declined in such a way as not acknowledge whether he had contact with Clowes. In any case ASIO files show that he was of some help to ASIO. When Laurie Short, applied for a US visa in 1953 the US asked ASIO for a security clearance of Short. This was given, although information about his previous activities as a leftwinger was also passed on, which caused some complications. In any case the US authorities were told by ASIO 'he is 'clear' with this Organization to which he has been of some assistance.'
So deep was the division in that period that the Clerks, Ironworkers, Shop Assistants, Engineers, the AWU and the NSW Labor Council refused to join the communists in a campaign against the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act, which could be used against all unions. Their logic was that penal clauses could be useful as a disciplining measure against the communists. Ultimately the penal clauses were used against many unions, including the Ironworkers' and a united campaign made them unworkable after 1969. The divisiveness over penal clauses and the Right's attempt to split the ACTU are indicative of the gulf which separated Right and Left in the late 1950s. In the eyes of the Right, CPA support for even the most sensible reforms tainted them. Similarly with ASIO. An analysis almost certainly written by Clowes of that period regarded all kinds of issues as having 'a CP of A flavour about them' They included 'proposals on [abolition of] Penal Clauses, Equal Pay, Automation, Leave, Daylight training forAppprentices, Day Labour, 35 hour week, [opposition to] Court Controlled Ballots, Interference in Union Ballots, Price Control, Coal Fields Industries, Socialisation, Peace, 10 per cent of National Revenue for Local Government and Bans on Nuclear Weapons.'
Little hard evidence exists of Spry's personal view on the Labor split and its aftermath although they can be imagined from his atttitude to Evatt and the activities of ASIO under his direction. One piece of hard evidence is an unsolicited letter he wrote to the Minister for Labour and National Services, Mr MacMahon, suggesting certain answers to a parliamentary question. The question, by Jim Cairns, tried to discover whether the government intended to outlaw the use of unity tickets in union elections. Spry's suggested answer was 'There is only one body that can prevent the use of unity tickets and that is the Australian Labor Party. Action by the Australian Labor Party to prevent such destructive collusion which can only harm our national security is sadly overdue.' Officially, of course, ASIO did not interest itself in trade union activities as such, as Spry said through Menzies in answer to a question from Clyde Cameron in 1960. He added a qualification however: 'The organization is, of course, vitally interested in Communist activities wherever they may be carried on, including in the trade union sphere, but this is entirely a different matter to the honourable member's suggestion.' Such a distinction was simply unworkable and false in practice.
JUST HOW far did ASIO's knowledge of the internal life of the ALP extend? More importantly, to what extent was this knowledge used in ASIO's operations ? The answer to the first question is that it was vast and intimate to a frightening degree. The answer to the second we shall probably never know. Even under liberalised rules covering the release of the hardest files to obtain concern what are coyly known as 'operations' and 'spoiling operations' on particular. I
The intimacy with which ASIO case officers knew the personal and political affairs can be seen from the surveilance on a leading left ALP politician, Les Haylen, who held the Sydney seat of Parkes between 1943 and 1963. Haylen was also an author and numbered among his friends, the communist writer Judah Waten; another associate was Evatt's secretary, Alan Dalziel. The telephones of both Dalziel and Waten were tapped and transcripts of all their conversations with Haylen were placed on Haylen's file . Labor contact with the young media baron, Rupert Murdoch is revealed:
Waten then asked when Haylen would be in Adelaide again. Haylen said he could go anytime. Waten asked if Haylen had had a personal talk with Roland Rivett (phon.) or with Murdock (f.n.u). Haylen said that Rivett had been sacked -- he had heard the news today -- he had been the victim of Playford (phon.) Waten thought that this would be the worse double cross in history, because Rivett was doing this for Murdock.
Tension between Dalziel and Haylen was also revealed. After Dalziel was dumped by the ALP when Evatt retired, he used Haylen's office. Haylen complained that Dalziel 'sits around my place like a migratory b------- flamingo -- nowhere to put his long legs.' Haylen's files also records that he took a woman who was high on ASIO's list of spy suspects, Lydia Janovski (Mokras), on a tour of parliament in December 1959. 'Janovski claims that Dr (HV) Evatt was very charming to her and was anxious to assist in any way hecould, including the offer of providing a car for her use. Others met by Janovski include Les Johnon, Fred (u.i.) from Victoria, Mr Cannes, [sic] Mr Crean, and Mr Morrison (u.i.) from South Australia.' (Attempts were made to restrict the access to such transcripts of phone taps on parliamentarians but security within ASIO was not tight when it came to trusted outsiders. Mr 'Smith' the Labor official interviewed for this book, knew the identity of two ASIO agents, a fact I was independently able to verify. )
IN NEW South Wales ASIO identified CPA leader Jack Hughes as a key figure in relations between the CPA and Labor Left. Hughes was a former leader of the NSW branch of the ALP who had led a breakaway party to join the CPA in 1944. Hughes was a guiding light and 'was regularly meeting with three members of the NSW state executive of the ALP for weekly discussions in regard to tactics to be employed at weekly meetings of the State executive of the ALP,' said one ASIO report. From an illegal phone tap it was deduced that Hughes was meeting with a member of the NSW ALP executive member, Norm Woodley, a waterside worker had been earlier been expelled from the ALP for taking part in 'unity tickets' with the CPA. . An analysis on Hughes file noted that 'With his background [a reference to his role as ALP leader in the late 1930s] Hughes is an ideal choice for any type of work associated with penetration of the ALP.' More generally ASIO rated Hughes as 'a key member of the communist hierarchy and 'undoubtedly a threat to ASIO, insofar as any one person can be, and as such must be a key target.' .
At least from the early 1950s the CPA had a highly secret fraction of members who had joined it while being members fo the ALP and remained publicly Labor ticket holders. As well, in outlying area isolated CPA members were sometimes advised to join the ALP. Such members worked to strengthen the Labor Left, defeat the resurgence of the Groups and have united CPA and Labor Left leadership. All of this, including the identities of many involved, was known to ASIO and most if not all was passed on to top Labor officials in the NSW branch. Surprisingly, the threat posed by the existence of 'dual ticket holders' in ALP branch membership was not considered significant. In an analysis in 1960 Jack Clowes noted that the ALP had 19,000 members and 521 branches and concluded that these figures 'indicate the practical impossibility of influencing to any great degree the ALP through the political wing'. He pointed out that bugged speeches by people like Jack Hughes welcomed the exodus of disillusioned members from the ALP to the CPA. The report went on to note that a 'survey recently completed by B1, NSW, indicates that penetration of the ALP by the CP of A in this State when compared with actual membership, is neglible. .
As we have already seen the central figure in the liaison between the NSW branch of the ALP and ASIO was Jack Clowes. Clowes first made contact with members of the industrial groups justbeforethe great LAbor split of 1955. His period of cloest liaison was from the late 1950s through the 1960s until 1971.
As part of the research for this book I interviewed two former officials of the NSW Right who held various senior positions, one in the union movement during the 1960s and 1970s, the other in the 1970s. The first, 'Mr Smith' explained that as a member of an Industrial Group and an up and coming trade unionist he had first met Clowes around 1954. In succeeding years a close relationship grew up between 'Smith' and other Labor and union officials and Clowes. The group, which included union leader John Ducker, shared all manner of information and gossip and often met for lunch at the Knights of the Southern Cross Club in central Sydney with Clowes.
The alliance between John Windsor Clowes and the anti-communists in the NSW branch was not that of puppeteer and puppets, but rather of people who shared the same ideological stance and who were useful for each other. Clowes' devotion to Labor politics, albeit of the Catholic Right, was genuine. It began as a young man in Queensland during the Depression after which Clowes became something of a protege of the Premier Ned Hanlon, according to an ASIO colleague. In the post war clash between East and West Clowes'anti-communism firmed, joining the CIS under Bob Wake in Brisbane. When ASIO was set up he moved initially to Sydney, then to the Perth office for a short period. After returning to Sydney around 1952 Clowes developed contacts in the union movement and gradually became the acknowledged expert on the byzantine complications of the left and right in trade unions. Recalled one ASIO officer, Clowes 'helped to build up a complete picture of Communist penetration of the union movement. His knowledge of personalities was unrivalled. He had an incredible card index system of his own. ...[with] hundreds and hundreds of names, and everything about each individual. It was almost his life's work. He was so dedicated, fanatical.'
Clowes' political sympathies lay with the leadership of the NSW branch of the ALP rather than that of the National Civic Council of BA Santamaria. 'But he didn't serve two masters. He was working for us, primarily. Any contact he had with the NCC would have been as ASIO officer, seeking information,' said a retired officer. Unlike their Melbourne co-thinkers, the NSW groupers, as we have seen, decided to 'stay in and fight' the Left within the NSW branch of the party. This combination of pragmatism and dedicated anti-communism had the approval of Clowes. Said 'Mr Smith': 'He did not agree with the fanatical part of the Movement. He disagreed with Santamaria's tactics of trying to destabilise the ALP, because he could see that the CPA might step in to fill in the vacuum. He also didn't agree with the anti-working class flavour of the Santamaria forces,' said one senior Labor figure. He had an 'instinctive recoiling from the excesses of Santamaria.'
'Smith' and other contacts in the Labor Party sing Clowes praises as a man who was on the side of 'legitimate unionism'. His reports which are now being released under the Archives Act confirm that his politics were pro-union and pro-Labor and have a decided touch of prosyletising fervour about them, urging readers to familiarise themselves with labour history and literature, such as Billy Hughes' classic Crusts and Crusades which one officer remembers Clowes urging him to read. His reports also indicate a rather proprietary attitude to the ALP, speaking about the 'audacity' of the CPA in trying to 'interfere in the affairs of that organisation.' Presumbly Clowes regarded the intense involvement of a government intelligence body in the ALP as perfectly legitimate.
Within ASIO some looked askance at his contact with right wing unionists, largely because the very labour movement itself was regarded as a subversive force, even when led by anti-communists. At one stage Clowes' career suffered because of his overt support for the labour movement. 'He believed unions and the ALP were legitimate, in contrast to some of the 'old school tie' people in ASIO, said 'Smith'. Clowes was thus regarded as 'our man' inside ASIO. 'He knew there was always a danger that the extreme Right in the Liberal Party ... would try to use ASIO to damage their political opponents.' Clowes evidently warned 'Smith' and his colleagues that some of his ASIO colleagues 'made no distinctions between traditional squeaky clean Laborites and others.... They saw someone like Cairns who was idealistic and intellectual and thought he was security risk -- which he was not. He was misused by CPA but he was not a real CP-oriented person.'
Yet it was Clowes' poltics that made him extraordinarily useful to ASIO and made him acceptable to the Labor Right. 'He could read the minds of the EV Elliotts and the Pat Clancys and the Jim Healys because he knew where they were coming from. He knew their phobias, he knew who who was a tippler and who was a rose gardener.'
Clowes' contacts with employers were also overt and known to 'Smith'. 'One of his main contributions was that he enabled employers and employers' organisations [to have] a more accurate insight into union affairs and industrial action.' He gave them 'an objective, impartial appreciation of a strike'. So that they 'were able to react in a balanced and effective way.' He knew in which strikes the Communist Party was involved and of the CPA's 'hidden agendas'. All of this was passed to employers.
THE RELATIONSHIP between Clowes and key individuals in the National Civic Council and the NSW Labor Right was enormously useful two way street. From 'Smith' and others in the ALP he gathered up to date inside information on the union movement, the CPA and the State Government which was Labor controlled until 1965. Clowes happily shared information drawn from his access to telephone taps and physical surveillance. During the 1950s details of the CPA's group of 'dual ticket holders' in the ALP were largely known to ASIO and the basic facts were conveyed to 'Smith' and his ALP contacts. .By the early 1960s the CPA presence in the ALP through 'undercover' members had largely dissipated and instead it concentrated on working directly (but discreetly) with leaders of the Labor Left. While day to day contact often occurred in union offices, on special occasions senior CPA leaders would meet some leaders of the ALP Left at a discreet rendezvous outside of Sydney. When ASIO was able to find out in advance of such events, the particpants were bugged and photographed -- and Clowes' ALP and union contacts were often informed. Clowes sometimes alerted the right of the union movement that a particular CPA union official was disenchanted with the party. The union official would soon find a warmer than normal greeting when he met certain Right officials and would be cultivated. 'Knowledge is power,' 'Smith' commented drily to the writer.
'Smith' instanced a particular case in 1971 when Clowes' knowledge proved highly useful to the Right then under seige from the Left. That year the Left split a small group calling itself 'Socialist Objective' emerged. The information Clowes provided enabled the Right's John Ducker to 'deal with and share power' with these people knowing that they were genuine non communists.
Talking to 'Smith', one striking fact that became apparent was his knowledge of ASIO's internal workings and structure, the obvious result of a high degree of trust that existed between him and the ASIO officers. So close was the relationship that 'Smith' knew the identity of a key ASIO agent in the NSW union movement. Several retired officers as well as 'Smith' and anotehr former Right union official alluded to the agent who was described to the writer as 'an industrial link man between the CPA and the Labor Left.' 'Smith' said the agent was one of a group of people who 'were loyal to the left Labor point of view but who did not believe that this meant advancing the interests of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union'. This man (in a nursing home at the time of writing) was an official of a Left union and played an important role in a successful spoiling operation run by ASIO and key NSW branch figures in the early 1970s.
Another instance of 'Smith''s closenes to operational activity concerned ASIO's counter-espionage branch. In the early 1970s 'Smith' was told of ASIO's interest in a particular female member of the ALP Left who had been sent a dozen red roses on May Day by an official of the Cuban consulate, an event interpreted as the start of a cultivation by the Cuban who was believed to be an intelligence officer. (By this time Clowes had retired and this gossip came through another ASIO officer who was also a 'Labor man'.)
Another field where intelligence co-operation with the NSW Labor was apparent concerned the peace movement. It was an article of faith shared by ASIO and the men who ran NSW Labor that the peace movement was a communist controlled entity with no redeeming feature. When Australia sent troops to the Vietnam war NSW Labor decided to ban its members from participation in the anti-war movement on the excuse that anti-war candidates had stood in the disastrous 1966 federal election. Ultimately the move came to nothing.
According to 'Smith', anti-Labor conservatives in ASIO and the wider intelligence world had their own contacts with senior Liberal politicians who urged them to leak information derived from unwaranted phone taps. Through Clowes and other contacts in ASIO 'Smith' believes he stymied several such moves by tipping off certain ALP leaders 'At different times it was suggested to me that different people [in the ALP] should be very careful with their phones because of unauthorised taps being put on,' he said. .
Just how co-operative was Clowes? 'Smith' described it simply. 'If you asked Clowes what he thought about X, he would tell you.' It is clear that this co-operation extended passing on ASIO research, the results of surveillance or the vetting a potential members of the ALP. So close were the links between Clowes and leaders of the NSW Right that when he retired from ASIO in late 1971, he was employed for two years as a research officer in the NSW Labor Council library.
Fol = page ;
Catholic Action Part 2 CRS A6122 item 1222
W.J. Hudson Casey OUP Melbourne 1986 pp 257-58
This statement and the subsequent ones are from two short ASIO files titled 'Catholic Action', CRS A6122 items 1198 and 1222. The most interesting file was released only after a major legal battle undertaken by its requestor, Mark Aarons, in 1992-93.
Memo to Acting Director, NSW of 19 September 1952
Memo to Director, NSW 'Irregularities and improper control of Q Sources' 15 October 1953
Memo to Senior Section Officer, S branch 10 February 1954
Spry memo to RD Victoria 25 November 1957
This point was stated by an interviewee who had personal knowledge of the situation which he said lasted until 1957 or thereabouts.
Minute for PSO B1, 26th May 1958 in CPA Interest in ALP Vol 1 (refernce ) fol 119
Memo of 6th May 1960 to Headquarters from Regional Director, Victoria. Vol 8 CPA interest in ALP (reference ?)
JV Stout personal file (reference )
Report from agent dated 11 September 1961. Vol 2 CPA interest in ALP
Folio 118 of CP of A Interest and Influence in Trade Unions Affiliated to the ALP (NSW) dated 23 August 1960 in CP A Interest in ALP Vol 8 [Citation number needed]
Laurence Elwyn Short CRS A6119 item 386 fol 28
Report of 23 August, op cit fol 102
Report of 23 August, fol 104
Leslie Haylen CRS A6119 item 501.
Ibid folio 96
Ibid Folio 94
Ibid fol 88
Vol 9 of personal file M J R Hughes, (referecne )
Report of 23 August 1960, fol 134, 110,106 CPA Interest in ALP Vol 8 op cit
Report of 23 August op cit fol 93
This description was confirmed by two interviewees both of whom held official positions in the NSW ALP
'The Communist role in the anti-Vietnam war and anti-conscription protest movements' (ASIO analysis in author's possession). p. 25.
Such warnings (which covered taps by intelligence agencies other than ASIO) continued until the mid 1980s, 'Smith' claimed.
Posted by David at 10:09 PM
From the underground to espionage
From Chapter Five
Espionage and the Roots of the Cold War (Frank Cass, London, 2002)
In the 1920s the repression faced by newly created Communist Parties demonstrated the need for the clandestine techniques developed in Russia before the Revolution. In the following period, which began when the ultra-leftist 'Third Period' coincided with the 1929 Wall Street crisis, another expression of konspiratsya made itself felt in the West. Soviet intelligence began to recruit middle class American, German and British communists/
The vehicle for the recruitment was frequently the Communist International and a number of recruits believed, initially, that they were working for Comintern rather than for Soviet intelligence. This period also saw the Comintern intensify its call for legal communist parties to construct an illegal apparatus. Specifically, Comintern also issued instructions for parties to select a group of members who would cease to be open about their membership. These two interconnected tracks, one covert and the other overt, one involving espionage and the other underground political work, form the subject of this chapter.
The American communist underground
The Central European and Russian tradition of underground work was brought to the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) not only by Comintern doctrine but also by the many immigrant workers who for a long period made up the majority of that party's membership. This tradition was so strong that in the early stages of the formation of the CPUSA Comintern ordered the party to cease operating as underground cells and to have a public presence.
During the 1930s however, Soviet intelligence agencies co-operated closely with the political underground of the CPUSA. The details of this co-operation and of the functioning of the CPUSA's underground figured prominently in one of the Cold War's most controversial episodes, in which an ex-CPUSA member, Whittaker Chambers, testified that a leading civil servant, Alger Hiss, was a secret party member and had collected information to give to the Russians. The broad sweep of Chambers' allegations are now beyond doubt. Recent searches of the Comintern archives have revealed a number of documents that not only tend to confirm Chambers' claims but also give some insight into the methods of konspiratsya. These documents show the close and witting connection between leaders of the CPUSA, such as Browder, and Soviet intelligence and the close co-operation between the NKVD and Comintern, the former often using the files of the latter to vet candidates for espionage tasks.
Chambers had been a CPUSA member since 1925, had worked as journalist on the Daily Worker and in 1932 was briefly appointed editor of New Masses, a party literary journal. In 1932 he was asked by the CPUSA to work in its underground organisation. The underground in the period of the early 1930s closely and elaborately followed the practices of konspiratsya. In his account of his work in the CPUSA underground, Chambers devoted a section to outlining techniques which are very similar to those in the Comintern's Rules for Party Conspiratorial Work.
All meetings were by pre-arrangement. For example when I met Don [John Sherman] we would agree before we parted when and where we would meet next. Telephones were always assumed to be tapped... For unscheduled or emergency meetings there was a 'reserve meeting place.' .... Before any meeting, at least half an hour and preferably one or two hours, should be spent wandering around town, changing conveyances and direction to make sure there was no surveillance.
Meetings were arranged in busy public places like diners or movie houses, with punctuality always vital. If members of the apparatus were arrested they had to assert their innocence at all times and divulge nothing. 'Decades of underground experience had shown that any suspect who admits to one fact, however trifling he may believe it to be, will end by telling all,' declared Chambers. During Chambers' first period in the underground a New York dentist, Dr Phillip Rosenbliett, was an important link. His surgery and waiting room acted as a liaison point, with 'patients' who were given messages or material when they saw the dentist. In the slang of the Russian underground, Rosenbliett's surgery was a yafka..
But while the New York underground group knew the theory, they did not always practise it. In this first period, as Allen Weinstein noted, the underground apparatus was 'crude and haphazard'. Chambers was very indiscreet, maintaining non-party friendships and ostentatiously hinting to some party members that he was doing 'secret work' (behaviour which brings to mind the behaviour of Guy Burgess, below). Some members of his underground group knew each other socially and met collectively at a safe house on 51st Street, a practice which later changed to prevent members of the same group knowing the identity of others, Chambers recalled. Chambers' New York based underground group was responsible for maintaining a communications system (using microfilm and 'secret writing') which used German seamen as couriers between Germany and the Soviet Union and the United States. Its other role was to gather industrial and military information on behalf of the Soviet Union. In this period, Chambers' group acted in liaison with a succession of Soviet illegals who were their bosses. Chambers' personal role was a courier between the Soviet illegals and Max Bedacht, the head of the CPUSA's various underground groups.
The illegals represented the GRU, the intelligence wing of the Soviet Red Army which, at that time, was the main Soviet intelligence organisation. The most significant of the illegals was 'Ulrich' (Alexander Petrovich Ulanovski) who had been a revolutionary under Tsarism and had worked in the 1920s for the GRU in China. In the 1932-34 period the New York group had little success in industrial espionage and, in one instance, when they contacted CP members working at a submarine building company and were able to photograph blueprints, one worker soon confessed to the FBI. The compartmental structure of the underground organisation preserved it from exposure.
In 1934 the GRU agent Ulrich disbanded the group and began transferring agents like Whittaker Chambers to the-then leader of the CPUSA underground, Joseph Peters. Peters' experience with underground work began in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. After being transfered to the CPUSA in 1924, Peters became responsible for organising its underground group in New York in 1930. In 1931-32, he was in Moscow, attached to the Anglo-American Secretariat of Comintern, as a trainee in organisational matters.
In 1934, Peters introduced Whittaker Chambers to the next phase of his work for the underground. He was to be a courier and liaison worker for a CPUSA party branch of government officials in Washington. The branch, known in accounts of this period as 'the Ware group', after its key member, Harold Ware, met as a group in an apartment. Members knew each other by their real names, paid dues and discussed how to operate in the 'New Deal' government agencies for which they worked. In this period, although members of the group copied government documents for the CPUSA the group was not primarily an espionage group. Later though, some members engaged in espionage.
Many of these CPUSA members worked for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and a number lost their jobs when it was purged of left wing influence in 1935. By this stage, a key player in the events, lawyer Alger Hiss, had moved from the AAA to a Senate committee investigating the armaments industry and, according to Chambers, copied a number of State Department documents which were then photographed and given to Russian contacts. Hiss's transfer to the Senate committee prompted Peters to separate Hiss and another communist, Harry Dexter White, from the Ware group and form the basis of a more secret group. Both were clearly 'going places' and conspiratorial safeguards were stepped up.
In one odd episode in 1936, Peters proposed that the purloining of government documents become more systematic and that they be sold to their Russian contact, 'Bill' to raise money for the CPUSA. Apparently 'Bill' saw one set of documents obtained from a senior Treasury officer, Harry Dexter White, and rejected them as uninteresting. But shortly afterwards his attitude changed and the 'second apparatus' began to pass secret material to the Russians. In part this was because Hiss had moved once more, to the office of the Assistant Secretary of State, Francis Sayre, and because a new Russian contact, Boris Bykov, had begun to urge Peters and Chambers to begin to systematically collect government documents. This they did, using a number of covert CPUSA members.
The techniques of konspiratsya followed by Chambers, Peters and their Soviet contacts in this period generally accorded with that of The Rules for Party Conspiratorial Work, although there were differences. Chambers' adherence to conspiratorial methods in this period became more discreet than it had been in New York. However, as he noted himself, he broke at least one rule of underground work and became a personal friend of Alger Hiss. This action did exactly what the designers of the conspiratorial techniques feared: it endangered Hiss's security. Years later Hiss had to explain to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee how it was that he had known Chambers so closely, including lending him money.
Another breach of the practice of compartmentalising underground work occurred when, according to Chambers, Bykov also arranged to meet Hiss face to face to discuss how the latter could obtain State Department material. While such a meeting was a breach of conspiratorial method, in other instances Bykov rigidly (and absurdly) followed his tradecraft training. Bykov evaded non-existent surveillance by violent and rapid movements, jumping on subway trains as they were about to leave, entering large stores and leaving by a second exit, suspecting all window-shoppers as geheimpolizei (secret police). Bykov also insisted, for example, that Chambers give money to four of his Communist Party sources, a proposal that Chambers rightly rejected as crude and dangerous. After negotiation, Chambers agreed to give each an expensive Oriental rug, along with words of thanks from Soviet authorities. This too featured in establishing a case against Hiss and other recipients. But another side of Bykov's behaviour, Chambers argued, damaged some of the unwritten rules of underground work:
by almost every word he uttered, and the tone he uttered it in, he gave me pointedly to understand that he did not trust me. Underground work cannot exist without mutual trust. For a man not to be trusted in the underground is the next step to being charged with disloyalty to it. And the fact that a man is suspect destroys in advance practically any chance that he might have to establish his innocence. The walls simply cave in and the ground drops from under his feet.
By 1938, extensive espionage was under way in Washington but Chambers' feelings of disillusionment were growing, partly because of the great purges in the USSR, partly because of Bykov's outlandish behaviour. Worried that his defection could bring reprisals, he preserved some government documents and microfilm as 'insurance'. Years later they were produced as evidence to establish Chambers' credibility and to damn Hiss. These documents show that Soviet intelligence had a significant window into secret American diplomacy. They included a large number of copies or summaries of State Department documents and cables dealing with military and foreign affairs matters between January and April 1938. Other material was in Hiss's handwriting and some copied cables and documents appeared to be typed on Hiss's typewriter. Clearly far more than this was given to the Russians and Hiss's espionage and that of others continued during World War Two.
The 'Cambridge group'
In Britain in the early 1930s the overlap between Comintern and Soviet espionage was less pronounced than in the United States, as far as we know. The best known group of spies, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, all studied at Cambridge University where they developed into communists. Unlike the Washington-based apparatus of the CPUSA, they did not operate as part of any underground political apparatus but worked directly with Soviet intelligence officers. Even though Philby placed himself in the tradition of underground workers, there was no history of underground work in Britain, nor any real need for it, as compared, say, with Russia.
The actions of this group during the 1930s, as they moved from university leftism towards espionage, form a case study both in the links between Comintern and Russian intelligence and in the practical application of the rules of conspiracy. While the stories of the Cambridge group have been told and re-told, it has to be remembered that this trajectory of recruiting young enthusiasts on the basis of politics in an advanced, democratic society and transforming them into intelligence agents, was, at the time, a step into uncharted territory. Cold war accounts by journalists promoting the myth of Philby's 'icy calculation and ruthless dedication' have been dented by accounts based on Soviet archives which show instead his psychological dependence and vulnerability. Similarly, the following re-interpretation, based on several studies which use KGB files, emphasises the compromises with the rules of conspiracy, rather than the imagined well-oiled machine of Soviet espionage.
The recruitment of the key figure, Kim Philby, shows the seamless nature of the distinction between the Comintern underground and Soviet intelligence. In 1933 the conclusion of Kim Philby's studies at Cambridge coincided with his decision to become an active Marxist. In doing so he asked the advice of a Cambridge academic and CPGB member, Maurice Dobb, 'how I should go about it'. As others have remarked, instead of simply recruiting him to party membership, Dobb advised him to contact the Paris-based World Committee for the Relief of Victims of German Fascism.
Though the founder of the Committee, Willi Munzenberg, was a talent spotter for the KGB, there is no evidence he saw the potential of Philby. Members of his Committee in turn advised Philby that he could best help the anti-fascist cause in Vienna working for the Comintern-based group which went under various names, International Organisation for the Assistance of Revolutionaries, Red Aid or MOPR, its Russian acronym. Years later Philby explained clearly his transition. The Munzenberg group was 'a perfectly legal and open group'. This group then 'passed me on to a communist underground organisation in Vienna.' The work of MOPR became crucial in the period 1933-34 which saw a bloody attack on the Austrian Left, with the shelling of workers' apartments and the lynching of a number of its leaders. Thousands of Austrian communists and socialists were on the run, joining thousands more fleeing the first waves of Hitler's repression in Germany.
Philby's work for MOPR began his underground career. Working first as a courier then as an activist smuggling refugees out of Austria, Philby came in contact with the tradition of konspiratsya. It is clear that this was a purely political activity and Philby had not yet been recruited to Soviet intelligence because at this stage he made little attempt to hide his leftists beliefs from other Britishers whose assistance he sought. As well, we now know from a personal memoir in the KGB archives to which limited access has been given, that Philby initially tried to join the CPGB on his return from Austria. A suspicious party official told Philby to come back in 6 weeks. Participating in May Day was the last open action Philby took as a communist. A number of accounts have credited KGB illegal Teodor Maly with the spotting and recruitment of Philby in Austria. But in his KGB memoir Philby indicates that it was the left-wing Austrian photographer, Edith Tudor Hart, who met him through his wife and passed his name to an KGB illegal worker in Britain, Arnold Deutsch. Deutsch personified the trajectory of many revolutionaries-turned-spies, having worked as a courier for Comintern's OMS, in Europe, Palestine and Syria. Deutsch recruited Philby and instructed him at great length in the art of konspiratsya, to the extent that sometimes Philby expressed frustration with his teaching:
Otto and I met regularly. And he taught me the rules of conspiracy. He hammered them into my head: how to call the necessary person on the phone, how to check, how to recognise a tail in a crowd, and other basics. I got sick of it once and asked politely: 'Otto you are telling me this for the tenth time. In the same words. I have memorised it. Like poetry.' 'The tenth time?' he asked, 'Well that's only the beginning'.
From 1934 onwards, Philby constructed an identity to hide his real beliefs and behaviour, joining the Anglo-German Friendship Society and running a pro-German newsletter . He successfully angled for a position as journalist on The Times and covered the Franco side of the Spanish Civil War and systematically cut off connections with left-wing Cambridge friends. By mid-1940 Philby, with Burgess's assistance, had secured a low-level job in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI 6). There he taught something similar to underground technique to agents who were to be dropped into occupied Europe to conduct sabotage and propaganda. As he later noted, he was uniquely qualified for this. 'The first fact to distinguish me from my colleagues was that I was alone in having had personal experience of life underground. Not one of the others had ever dreamt of lowering his voice when passing a policeman in the street.'
Philby's conspiratorial practice was more thorough and careful than that of Burgess and Blunt. Yet like all of his colleagues he was several times betrayed by his sloppiness, only to be rescued by the incompetence of others. His memoirs, My Silent War, opens with a dramatic incident in which he was picked up by the Francoist Civil Guards while he was a Times journalist in Spain. He was questioned about his reason for not carrying a trifling local permit and his luggage thoroughly searched. Unknown to the police, he was still carrying rice-paper instructions on enciphering messages in his pocket which he had received from his Russian contact in England. As a search of his body was about to begin he emptied his pockets, throwing his wallet in such a way that his captors turned to make a grab for it, allowing him a second for 'a crunch and a swallow' to destroy the dangerous rice-paper. As Philby later concluded, 'the really risky operation is not usually the one which brings most danger, since real risks can be assessed in advance and precautions taken to obviate them. It is the almost meaningless incident...that often puts one to mortal hazard.' A better justification for the 'rules of conspiracy' could hardly be found.
Throughout all this time, Philby was in regular contact with his Soviet case officer, meeting regularly in Narbonne, a French town just over the border from Spain. Another, more dangerous incident in Spain was to surface in 1951 when he was interrogated while under suspicion from SIS. Asked how he had supported himself in Spain while not on the Times staff, Philby faltered. The whole exercise had been in fact financed by the Russians who had even used Burgess as a conduit for funds. His interrogator, MI 5's Dick White, took this stumble as 'absolutely significant' and Philby was sacked from the SIS shortly after.
Donald Maclean was the first of the Cambridge group to enter the heart of the British government when he successfully applied to join the Foreign Office in 1935. Recruited personally by Philby the previous year, he was probably the most productive agent of the group, sending thousands of cables and reports from London, Paris and Washington over 16 years.
One of the most striking episodes throwing light on his conspiratorial practice occurred in 1938 when he began a sexual liaison with his Soviet case officer, known only by her code name 'Norma'. The choice of a female case officer was perhaps an example of too-clever conspiratorial practice, in which women were often thought to arouse less suspicion than men. In this case the KGB estimated Norma and Maclean's late night contacts would be less likely to arouse suspicion, according to Costello and Tsarev. The liaison resulted in exactly the kind of security problem which the Russians feared: 'Norma' revealed to Maclean the codename by which he was known ('Lyric') as well as her own. The Russians came to know this because of another elementary breach when Maclean hand-wrote a letter, signed 'Lyric' to the KGB, welcoming the resumption of contact which had been broken for six months because of the Stalin purges of the intelligence services. Later that year Maclean was assigned to the Paris embassy and 'Norma', although reprimanded, was also re-assigned to Paris. The problems with their relationship did not end there. Maclean then fell in love with an American woman, Melinda Marling, in Paris and a stormy confrontation broke out between himself and 'Norma' in January 1940. On top of all this Maclean compounded the problem by revealing to Marling his actual role as diplomat-spy. With some difficulty, the matter was resolved by physical separation of 'Norma' from Maclean, largely due to the German invasion of France.
The most indiscreet of the Cambridge group was Guy Burgess as many accounts have repeatedly pointed out. We now know that his recruitment to Soviet intelligence was forced on his recruiter, Alexander Orlov. As Maclean began cutting his ties with overt communist politics and building up a right wing front, Burgess refused to accept this and eventually forced Maclean to admit his real reasons and then demand inclusion in the conspiracy. The incorporation of Burgess into the group introduced a continuing unstable element, which in 1951 finally proved disastrous when he defected on the spur of the moment with Maclean. Burgess thereby drew attention to Philby, his close friend.
Another reason for KGB reluctance to recruit Burgess was his membership of the CPGB from 1932 and his trip to Russia in 1934, on which according his own fanciful account he said he met Piatnitsky and Bukharin. The separate visits to Russia by both Burgess (1934) and Blunt (1935) are also a testimony to the contingent and almost haphazard process of recruitment, in contrast to the portrayal in popular accounts of a well-oiled plan run by all-knowing Soviet masterminds. According to the rules of conspiracy, such a wanton show of political preference was absolutely ruled out if one was being recruited to the intelligence service. Burgess later joined the staff of an extreme right-wing parliamentarian and became a member of the Anglo-German friendship society. Yet both as a BBC talks producer and in private his left wing beliefs continued to bubble to the surface. In 1936 Guy Burgess told a friend Goronwy Rees whom he was trying to recruit: 'I want to tell you that I am a Comintern agent and have been ever since I came down from Cambridge.' Whether Burgess believed his work was for Comintern or whether it was merely a convenient way of initiating the recruitment, it indicates that on some level there was a seamless connection between working for the Comintern underground and working for Soviet intelligence. Despite his erratic conversion to the Right, Burgess joined SIS in 1938 though he was later terminated in 1940, only to join the Foreign Office some years later.
Anthony Blunt, a Cambridge don by the early 1930s, was formally recruited to Soviet intelligence in 1937, according to recently released KGB documents, much later than earlier accounts. This explains the seemingly cavalier act (for an intelligence agent) of openly writing left-wing art criticism such as his 1937 essay 'Art Under Capitalism and Socialism'. His initial role was largely as a talent spotter and he recruited the son of a wealthy American family, Michael Straight. Straight later recalled a briefing by a Russian on conspiratorial technique who 'said a few trivial things about telephoning from public booths to avoid detection. Then he departed. He was more like the agent of a small time smuggling operation than the representative of a new international order.' After this Straight was given half a torn paper as a recognition symbol for a later meeting in the US and worked with Soviet intelligence until the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Blunt's left wing articles, and his 1935 trip to the USSR, subsequently almost blew his cover. In 1939, as he took tentative steps toward his goal of penetrating British intelligence by joining in the Field Security Police, he was questioned about them. Again, wartime laxness saved the day. In any case Blunt was accepted into MI 5 in 1940 where he soon transferred to his preferred section -- counter-espionage -- enabling him to report on measures against Soviet and German intelligence.
There is another element which should be mentioned in any discussion of konspiratsya and the tradecraft of espionage. Burgess and Blunt, while they were surely instructed in the methods of konspiratsya, must surely have already learned a great deal about clandestine meetings, messages and the habits of secrecy from their experience as homosexuals in a deeply repressive British society. In this sense they were prime candidates for intelligence. Similarly, Whittaker Chambers was a repressed homosexual, having a number of casual lovers during his period in the CPUSA underground. In this context the comment of one of Guy Burgess' lovers, Jack Hewit, about the milieu in which they moved, is telling. 'There was a sort of gay intellectual freemasonry which you know nothing about. It was like the five concentric circles in the Olympic emblem. One person in one circle knew one in another and that's how people met.' Though they are not concentric, the analogy of the Olympic circles is an apt representation of the compartmentalised structure of a conspiratorial organisation, which was sometimes know as the 'chain' system. In addition, Burgess's charm and his ability to make contact with homosexuals in high places was one of his most useful qualities for the Russians, even though they scorned his sexuality as a perversion and detested his bohemian and libertine character.
The KGB defector, Alexander Orlov, who was personally aware of the recruitment of Burgess, singled out the targetting of homosexual Western diplomats for special mention. Writing in the mid-1950s, he observed that his strategy had been 'remarkably successful'. Orlov goes on to make a point remarkably similar to Jack Hewit comment about ' gay freemasonry': 'The Soviet intelligence officers were amazed at the sense of mutual consideration and true loyalty among homosexuals.' He was almost certainly referring to Burgess and his recruting attempts in his circle.
The most significant lesson that can be learned from the history of the Cambridge group is that while the 'rules of conspiracy' are easy to formulate, concrete circumstances temper or occasionally sweep them aside. The elementary principle of compartmentalising different underground workers was breached from the start when Philby personally recruited Maclean. The recruitment of Burgess, initiated independently of Moscow by Orlov, compounded this breach of konspiratsya much to the anger of Moscow, as Costello and Tsarev note. The three even referred to each other, jokingly, as 'The Three Musketeers'. In 1936 Moscow Centre complained at length about this breach of security but little could be done.
Later, in 1941 Moscow became increasingly alarmed at continuing contact between Philby, Blunt and Burgess. It demanded that its case officer stop this practice but he replied that it was 'impossible' and this breach of conspiratorial practice became an added element in the Centre's growing suspicion that Philby might have been a double agent.
The original handlers of the group, Maly, Deutsch and Orlov, were men who originally learned the rules in political circumstances and then applied them to intelligence. Unlike later professional KGB officers, they tempered the rules to fit the situation and this probably explains both the daring success of the Cambridge group as well as its flaws. Yet they also drummed the lessons of konspiratsya into the group. It is interesting to note Deutsch's reasons for the need to imbue the Cambridge group with awareness of conspiratorial practice:
WAISE [Maclean], SYNOK [Philby] and our other agents in England have grown up in a climate in which the legality of our Party is upheld in an atmosphere of democratic illusions. That is why they are sometimes careless and our security measures seem exaggerated to them. If any relaxation of security was permitted on our part, they would become even more undisciplined. That is why, when running them we should stick strictly to the essential security measures even at the risk of cutting faintly ridiculous figures.
The breaches of conspiratorial practice were not all on the side of the 'relaxed' agent-handlers like Maly, Deutsch and Orlov. Philby's secret reports from the Franco side in Spain were mailed by him to an address in Paris which he later found was the Soviet embassy. Though coded, in invisible ink and signed by pseudonyms it would not have taken long to identify him, had the reports been copied by the French police and passed on to the Franco side.
The eventual exposure of the Cambridge group, however, was not due to such breaches but to the breaking of coded Soviet cables which pointed to Maclean as a source of information when he was stationed in the US. That they were not identified until relatively late was partly due to the success of conspiratorial technique (and also to the inefficiency of British intelligence and the tumult of the Second World War).
Comintern's underground : combining legal and illegal means
From the earliest days of the Great Depression, Comintern had strongly promoted the construction of underground organisations in affiliated parties, arguing that depression would quickly lead to war with consequent savage repression. In the democratic west, this did not occur but the triumph of Nazism in Germany was sufficient to sustain this strategy throughout the 1930s. In 1933 Comintern issued its most definitive public statement of 'conspirative' principles. Much of the statement drew on the 'Rules for Party Conspiratorial Work' already discussed. In the concrete circumstances of the early 1930s, namely the brutal attacks aimed at communists in central Europe, this statement argued that illegality provided the best defence. Slowness in accepting this, it said, was due to 'legalist superstitions'. In the place of Leninist doctrine calling for the combination of legal and illegal work, Comintern tipped the balance toward illegal work. Its cardinal point echoed the experience of the Russian underground.
The basic principle of illegal work of the Communist Parties -- worked out through decades of Bolshevik underground activity -- is the ability to preserve the mass character of the party in its underground activity during the most savage terror. The essence of illegality does not lie in hiding a small group of people from the enemy; it lies in carrying on uninterrupted mass work.
Compartmentalisation was one key. Important sections of the party, such as the leadership and the printing and distribution apparatus had to be isolated from each other. It was 'impermissible to use the same address or quarters for different organisations. Tying them up in one big knot aggravates the dangers of a raid', it argued. Another hazard of underground work, based on the Russian experience was the tendency to concentrate too many secrets in the technical (printing and administrative) apparatus and then to neglect this apparatus. Codes, address lists and safe houses had to be frequently changed. An illegal party had to be surrounded by 'a large cadre of sympathisers and revolutionary, non-party activists'. The German experience meant that centralisation of party work, so long a feature of Bolshevism, had to be tempered so that central organs were at least physically separate. An independent local leadership was also needed 'which will be able to react immediately to events, without waiting for directives from the centre.'
This and other calls by Comintern for conspiratorial organisation took root in individual communist parties not only because of their loyalty to Comintern but also because it responded to local conditions. The upsurge in communist militancy in the West, as a result of the Depression and the 'Third Period' leftism led to an accompanying tightening of legal and extra-legal repression aimed at that militancy. In turn this provided the conditions in which the practical application of the principles of konspiratsya became a realistic option. In the following section, I examine an aspect of the political underground which was downplayed by Comintern in the early 1930s-- the struggle to combine legal methods as well as the more usual illegal methods.
Combining legal and illegal methods
For most of the decade of the 1930s the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) was engaged in a battle to remain a legal political party. Although its struggle through the courts set important legal precedents Australian common law, its use of 'bourgeois justice' began in an almost shame-faced manner. The leadership of the party was clearly wary of appearing to believe in 'legalist superstitions'. The struggle took place during the long reign of a conservative federal government from December 1931 until 1941 which also passed laws aimed at repressing militant unionism.
At the beginning of this period, the Communist Party of Australia was in the throes of internal upheaval. In December 1929 the annual CPA conference had dismissed most of its existing leadership for 'right wing deviationism'. This internal upheaval was followed by the intervention of a Comintern 'instructor', Herbert Moore Wicks, who 'bolshevised' the CPA. Wicks (who used the name Herbert Moore in Australia) was a member of the CPUSA and encouraged a dogmatic approach, brooked no opposition and expelled several leading communists.
The election of 19 December 1931 saw the sweeping defeat of a brief, ineffectual Labor government which had been overtaken by the events of the Depression. Its replacement was a government led by the United Australia Party under Joseph Lyons and his deputy John Latham. It took office amid popular fears of communism and a campaign promise to outlaw it.
One week before this triumphant win by conservatism, the CPA leadership realised that it was not prepared to face outlawry and that there was '[a]lmost complete absence of satisfactory underground contacts' and this put the party into 'a very weak position to meet the situation of illegality'. The Political Bureau decided on an elementary plan of action which sketched out a pattern which would become familiar for the next 30 years. '[An] Apparatus must be prepared so that we can function in the event of being declared illegal' and a 'second line of leadership' had to be developed to replace arrested leaders.
At the end of December 1931, a report to Central Committee spelt out precautionary measures in more detail.
Where mail is used for confidential letters, addresses unknown to our enemies must be used. In the localities, a system of couriers must be organised to establish personal contact with the various Party organs when delivering instructions and literature...In the event of arrest, members must not answer any questions either at the preliminary hearings or in the Courts. The Party will wage a strenuous struggle for a legal existence....
To meet the threat the CPA responded in two ways. First, it was determined to continue its activity under conditions of illegality. It urged its supporters to learn from the negative example of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which collapsed after being banned in the First World War.
The IWW made no definite preparations to meet the capitalist attack, nor did they take any steps to protect their organisation. They helped the capitalists to suppress them with their romantic talk of 'filling the capitalist gaols' and in many cases seeking voluntary martyrdom.
Second, it placed a high priority on remaining legal. 'Opportunist ideas that the Party 'will grow under illegal conditions' must be exposed as tending towards the liquidation of activity.' Mass activity against war and fascism was the answer to the proposed ban. But while it hailed 'legal methods' in principle, its practice was less than whole hearted.
The new conservative Attorney General was John Latham, a man who 'vehemently despised' communism. In May 1932 he placed before parliament a series of tough amendments to the Crimes Act, similar but more far-reaching than previous amendments introduced in 1926-28. Both were aimed at militant unionism and the CPA. The 1926-28 amendments included one year's jail for members of unlawful associations; jail or deportation for those who 'by speech or writing' advocated revolution or the destruction of property; six months jail for selling literature of an unlawful association and the confiscation of all property held by an unlawful association.
The new amendments would give power to the High Court or state Supreme Courts to 'declare' a body of people to be 'an unlawful association', thus remedying a defect in the 1926 law. Under its provisions averments presented by the Attorney General to the court constituted a prima facie case and the onus of proof lay on the body of people to establish it was not an unlawful association.
Introducing the Bill, Assistant Treasurer, Stanley Bruce, argued that it would 'help the Government excise a social cancer.' 'In these restless times when subversive doctrines are being preached, and the loyalty of the community and the stability of our institutions are being undermined, the widest power to deal with unlawful associations is essential in the interests of society,' he said.
On 1 September the federal government summonsed the publisher of the Workers Weekly , Harold Devanny, charging him under section 30 D of the Crimes Act with soliciting funds for an unlawful association. To fight Devanny's prosecution and thereby defend the legality of the party, the CPA had engaged solicitor Christian Jollie-Smith. Jollie-Smith, a founding member of the CPA, and a non-party barrister, Clive Evatt. Evatt's view was that the CPA could retain its legality through making a case on purely legal grounds. In the Magistrates Court he argued that the section of the Crimes Act under which Devanny was charged were all unconstitutional. As well, he argued '[t]here is nothing unlawful about being opposed to war.' The pleadings were to no avail and Devanny was convicted and sentenced to six months hard labour. Evatt announced an immediate appeal to the High Court.
With outlawry a real possibility and little faith in the High Court, the CPA dramatically foreshadowed its imagined future:
We must ... utilise the remaining breathing space to make sound preparations to ward off the blows of the bourgeoisie, to prove ourselves worthy comrades in arms of our heroic brothers in the Communist Parties of the White terror countries -- China, Italy, Hungary and others -- who have not only maintained but successfully built Bolshevik parties and conducted revolutionary struggles under conditions of pitiless terror.
Far from being pitiless terror, the government's legal offensive was pitifully incompetent. As the CPA's lawyers probed the government case, they found it fraught with legal blunders to the extent that the original summonses were withdrawn and re-issued. But the crucial weakness was that simple facts could not be established. The government's document conflated the work of the CPA with a number of closely affiliated front organisations such as the Militant Minority Movement (MMM), the Unemployed Workers' Movement, the International Labour Defence and the League Against Imperialism. In this case, there can be no doubt that the ad hoc committee planning the anti-war demonstration was effectively in the hands of the CPA, but the government's case assumed rather than proved this.
Behind the scenes the CPA had its own wrangles. Clive Evatt's advice provoked a torrid debate in the CPA leadership about defence tactics. From the start of the case the Political Bureau was concerned to guard 'against creating legalistic illusions'. Advice from Jollie-Smith and Evatt was firmly that the case could be won on legal grounds without the need for a leader of the CPA to enter the witness box. The Political Bureau rejected this and insisted that the president, Lance Sharkey, appear as a witness to 'put the party position -- that they attack the Party as the spearhead of the working class movement, to vindicate the party and show it as the champion of the workers' struggles.' In the event, Evatt's advice prevailed over Sharkey and no revolutionary statement from the dock was forthcoming. This was later condemned by the Political Bureau, but excused as 'due to inexperience'.
The High Court case before six judges revealed grave weaknesses in the case against Devanny. On December 8, 1932 the court uphheld Devanny's appeal, quashed the conviction and a majority of five judges criticised the Crown's case. It was a stinging slap in the face to the federal government.
Yet the significance of this legal and political victory in the High Court was hardly understood by the CPA which took great pains to minimise it. The reasons for this are bound up in the CPA's view of democracy in capitalist society as as a sham. To hail the decision would be to give credit to a conservative institution of capitalist society. It would also mean acknowledging that power in capitalist society was dispersed in a number of institutions which sometimes clashed on major issues. Thus the Workers Weekly headlined the article on the Devanny judgement with the words 'Prelude to new attacks' and 'We must have no legalist illusions'. The article warned that 'the High Court is not in any way a defender of the right of workers to organise and collect funds for their struggle against capitalism; it has only decided that Latham must try again.'
The taste of outlawry in 1932 impelled the communists to redouble their efforts in constructing an underground for the rest of the decade. Shortly after the High Court decision the Central Committee emphasised that the threat of illegality was still present and that the party still had to prepare a strong underground organisation. In part this was due to their sheer disbelief that the handling of the Federal Government case could have simply been incompetent. Party secretary J. B. Miles confessed to a Central Committee meeting that he was 'suspicious about the stupidity in the Devanny case. It was so awfully stupid that it looks as though it was real.'
The Central Committee man charged with reporting on illegality, Sam Aarons, emphasised that further attacks were expected. He signalled two key themes which were to be central to the handling of illegality by the CPA over the next two decades. The first concerned the paradox of defending the legality of the party under capitalism. On the one hand communists were deeply cynical about the law and viewed liberal democracy as a sham as their response to the High Court judgement demonstrated. On the other, Aarons argued that 'We have to contest every position, fight to the last ditch on every small point, where the democratic rights and freedoms of the workers are concerned.' He contrasted this determination to defend democratic rights with 'a tendency to get underground at the first approach of the threat of illegality.'
Aarons' second point also appeared contradictory or paradoxical. He argued against those who separated mass work from the question of illegality.
The question of whether the party shall have a continued legal existence will only be determined in so far as we have penetrated the ranks and taken up the immediate questions of the working class....The factories are our basis, in the question of the fight against illegality. If we have strong nuclei in the important factories no action can drive the party out of existence
The Central Committee meeting of December 1932 had before it a clear directive from the Communist International regarding preparations for illegality. This letter was prefaced by a statement that 'increased persecution of communists requires the strict fulfilment of the directives of the ECCI'. It described elaborate conspiratorial methods to be used in factories but linked mass work to underground work:
The names of the members of the nucleus must be kept secret, the meetings of the nucleus must be held in private houses, only the members of the nucleus must know the place and time of the meetings and the place of the meeting should be changed as often as possible. In the cases when the members of the Party in the factories, e.g. among the miners , are already known to the management.... the names of the newly accepted members must be kept secret. The illegal work of the nucleus must in no case lead to a restriction of the mass work of the nucleus, to its separation from the workers [emphasis added]
This last point as we have seen was a key strategic concept derived from Lenin's re-working of the Russian conspiratorial tradition. It was crucial to political survival and contains the rationale for going underground in the first place. It was both the method and the goal.
The Comintern directive laid down strict guidelines for the reconstruction of the CPA in the event of the Federal Government successfully banning it:
There must be such a reconstruction of the party committees that will allow of the greatest flexibility in their work, the closest contact with the lower organisations and the ability to display great initiative and self reliance. In particular, it is advisable in the future to set up Party committees with a small membership (7-11 members), changing the existing practice in which the District Committees have 25 or more members.
The issue of going underground was openly discussed in the CPA newspaper which reprinted an article by Comintern leader Osip Piatnitsky:
A great number of examples from the history of the Parties of the Comintern show that when Parties and revolutionary trade unions without any organisations in the factories are driven underground, they immediately lose contact not only with the masses but in many cases even with their own members. There is absolutely no guarantee that the Communist Parties in the most important capitalist countries will not be driven underground.
Piatnitsky's latter prediction soon came true. In January 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and later that year the German Communist Party was outlawed.
The brush with illegality in the second half of 1932 combined with the advent of Hitler meant that the CPA began to employ more seriously conspiratorial methods which emerged from the experience of European and Russian socialists. The result was a plan drawn up in 1934 for an illegal apparatus.
The 1934 plan is posited on the possibility of an attack on the CPA with little warning, including a rounding up of members of the Political Bureau by police. It therefore proposed that two members of the eight-person Political Bureau 'go into illegality' immediately and work from private homes rather than party offices. The other six would follow them into 'complete illegality' at signs of 'approaching critical events or anticipation of attack'. The plan recognised that this raised the problem that the Political Bureau would effectively be isolated from the membership and from the district leadership of the party. The answer was to create an alternative leadership, described as a 'working leadership'. These leaders would be a small group of 3-5 whose main qualification, apart from some organisational and political ability, was that they were not known to the police or public as CPA members. This construction of a second, illegal 'working leadership' was to be followed at the lower levels of the party and in the CPA's street units (local branches).
The key determinant in the success of the plan was the successful functioning of a communication system. In the city of Sydney, where the national leadership worked, the preferred method was personal contact and the use of couriers between Political Bureau members and the District leadership. Another method was material 'deposited in a certain place (house, office etc) to be collected by comrades receiving the instructions, or by specially appointed comrades'. This was clearly the method which later became known in espionage training as 'the dead letter drop', a method which did not use the official postal system and which created a 'cut-out' between the sender and the receiver of the message.
In other major cities the use of the normal postal system was necessary. In order to do this successfully two things were needed: first, a system of what is usually known as cover addresses or accommodation addresses, second, 'a cipher system for all important Party directives'.
The plan also took account of the need for reserves and sympathisers. These were to be drawn from 'fraternals' -- closely allied bodies such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Militant Minority Movement, the League Against Imperialism and the International Labor Defence.
The 1934 plan concluded:
Only the P. B. [Political Bureau] and the Secretariats of the various D.Cs [District Committees] would know of the existence of the illegal apparatus and only the P. B. in Sydney and the Secretaries of the DCs would know the actual composition of the central groups. Outside of these comrades and the members of the illegal apparatus, not one party member would know of the existence or personnel of such an organisation...
The attack on the CPA did not come in the form which its plan expected. However, some elements of the plan did have an immediate application in the CPA's drive to build party groups in factories. In many factories such groups had to operate as underground cells and in this way party members received elementary training in secrecy. An article in the Communist Review talked about the process following the recruitment of a small number of workers in a factory:
The first procedure is for the comrade who did the recruiting to visit each member personally [original emphasis] and make arrangements for a meeting. Each comrade should be given a pseudonym and should be known by it within the party. It is well to remember that in all capitalist countries the factory unit is illegal. Bearing this in mind every meeting should be organised on a conspirative basis.
These points were not lost on the nemesis of the CPA, the Commonwealth Investigation Branch which watched the CPA closely and was aware of its underground activities both in political life and in military circles. It also grasped the connection between these techniques and the Russian underground tradition, arguing that
There is a distinct failure to appreciate the secrecy with which the Communist Party works. The local party is trained by men, in turned trained in technique in Russia, by people who were hounded for years by the police of Europe and perforce had to learn every trick of secrecy and evasion of authority.
Yet as events would show, the defence of the party's legality depended once more on courts rather than than conspiracy.
While the CPA felt more comfortable in agitational political activity than in the conservative world of the courts, it was to win another legal victory in the latter half of the 1930s. The High Court's rejection of Devanny's conviction allowed the CPA and its fraternal organisations to continue to function legally but with a major disadvantage: they could not openly use the postal system to distribute copies of their publications. The postal ban was part of the Crimes Act they had not challenged.
These bans were quite effective in disrupting the political work of the CPA and its fraternals. The circulation within Australia of newspapers like the Militant Minority Movement's Red Leader dropped and in order to send copies of it to the RILU in Moscow, seamen were enroled as couriers when they travelled to Vladivostock, Hamburg and San Francisco. Between 1932 and 1937 the CPA found it very difficult to receive copies of Comintern publications like Inprecorr.
In 1933 the CPA began publicly protesting against the postal bans. Workers Weekly revealed to its readers that '[w]ithout any publicity scores of working class publications are being seized and condemned. And the veil of silence with which the authorities cover their work makes it more effective'. The Weekly noted that '[w]hen Norman Lindsay's pornographic novel 'Red Heap' was banned then the liberal Press protested loudly against this unnecessary interference with the 'liberty of the subject''.' With some reluctance the CPA appealed to liberal intellectuals to join it in campaigning to overturn the ban while insisting that in any case, the ban was an inevitable consequence of capitalism.
In May 1935 the Friends of the Soviet Union (FOSU) demanded to know the reasons for the ban on their magazine Soviets Today and threatened the government with legal action to overturn it. When the issue came before federal cabinet it appeared that the ban would be overturned. Acting Attorney General Thomas Brennan advised that the ban on the Soviets Today 'had not proved effective to prevent the distribution of that publication' and that the ban should be lifted 'rather than become involved in litigation in which the Commonwealth may not be in a position to produce evidence satisfactory to a Court'. The change in policy, he suggested, could be explained by the improved relations between Britain and Russia and on Russia's admission to the League of Nations.
But Brennan's advice was rejected at a cabinet meeting in May 1935 and in June the CPA demonstrated its newfound acceptance of the weapons offered by bourgeois legality. A member of the CPA and FOSU, W. Thomas, sought an injunction to restrain the Commonwealth from destroying copies of publications and from preventing their transmission by post. He also boldly claimed $5,000 damages because of the ban. This time, the CPA clearly overcame its fears of 'legalist superstitions'. The Commonwealth responded by raising the stakes and commencing legal action to have the High Court declare both the FOSU and the CPA as illegal associations. This galvanised the CPA and in an article in the Comintern's Inprecorr, Sharkey vowed that the CPA and the workers 'will fight this latest attack of the ruling class to the last ditch.'
In November, the CPA and FOSU began a strategy of using its legal standing in the case to demand detailed information from the Commonwealth on which it based its case. This would effectively place the onus of proof on the Commonwealth, thus reversing the roles of the parties and giving the CPA and FOSU an advantage. At one court hearing the Commonwealth noted that the legal action by CPA might force the revelation of information held by the 'Intelligence section' of the Commonwealth Government. The second attempt to ban the CPA dragged on until 1937. The case was settled by an out of court agreement which saw the government lift the postal bans in exchange for the dropping of the case.
The CPA's successful defeat of the second attempt to ban it showed a positive acceptance of legal means and illustrated just how far the CPA had come since its reluctance to use 'bourgeois legality' three years earlier. In this way the CPA had arrived at the classic Leninist formula of combining legal as well as illegal methods of struggle.
Posted by David at 9:53 PM
July 5, 2006
The Comintern underground in Shanghai
[This is part of Chapter 4 of 'Espionage and the Roots of the Cold war' (Frank Cass, London). The book deals with the connection between underground communist political activity and Soviet espionage from 1917 to 1940s.]
On May 1, 1929 an unusual meeting of trade unionists took place in Shanghai. The communists who organised the meeting later regarded it as 'perhaps the biggest single feat of illegal organisation' at the time.
It was a copybook version of the kind of illegal activity under conditions of savage repression which was described by the Comintern Commission on Illegal Work:
"A guildhall on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Settlement was booked. Factory workers went to the hall in groups of three or four. Their times of arrival were carefully staggered. They were still arriving when a policeman walked into the hall to ask what was going on. He was politely disarmed and locked in a small room. The meeting was held, 400 people heard a 45 minute May Day address and dispersed into the night. Then the policeman was released."
The description is by a British communist, George Hardy, who worked underground in Shanghai for Profintern, Comintern's trade union wing. Hardy's task was to stimulate the left wing trade union movement in China and in South East Asia and he worked closely with historic leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) such as Chou En-lai, Deng Hsiao-ping and Liu Shao-chi who were all active in the underground trade union movement, particularly that part centred in Shanghai.
In the period 1928-32 Shanghai was an industrialised city and a busy centre of trade. In the extra-territorial International Settlement and the French concession, British, Japanese, French and German businesses flourished. With its protected status, its relatively modern communications and its European community, Shanghai provided the logical place for building an underground apparatus which would represent the ECCI to the Communist Party of China. It was the contact point from which Comintern military experts could be spirited through the lines separating the Nationalists and the Red Army; it was the place where the future leaders of the American Communist Party were blooded. Shanghai drew writer Agnes Smedley to Red China's cause. The Shanghai underground drew German communist, Richard Sorge, who later worked for Soviet intelligence in Tokyo.
Little wonder then, that when an American military intelligence official investigated 'the Sorge affair' and Soviet intelligence he was led back to the Comintern apparatus in Shanghai, a city he described as 'a veritable witch's cauldron of international intrigue, a focal point of Communist effort'.
* * *
China had been at the centre of hopes and fears of a second communist revolution for most of the 1920s, especially after the defeat of the German uprising in 1923. Although the Communist Party of China (CPC) ultimately carried through a revolution based on its strength among peasants, in the period between 1920 and 1933 its strategy included a primary role for the urban working class.
The period between the defeat of the CPC in 1927 and the departure of most CPC leaders from Shanghai to the soviet areas in 1932-33 has been somewhat neglected by historians, partly because of a certain orthodoxy in scholarship which saw urban events largely in terms of their relationship to rural revolution.
This chapter will study the Comintern's apparatus for underground trade union work in Shanghai in the period 1928-32. This period was one of savage repression directed against the Communist Party of China and the trade union movement which it heavily influenced, the All-China Labour Federation (ACLF). The focus of Comintern trade union activity was the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (PPTUS) which, under its Russian name TOS [Tikho Okeanskii Sekretariat] was the far eastern wing of Profintern. The PPTUS in Shanghai was responsible for both support for the ACLF and for developing 'red trade unionism', as it was called, in South East Asia, Korea, Japan and India. The PPTUS apparatus was in turn, part of a larger network of clandestine organisations in Shanghai, notably the Far Eastern Bureau of the Comintern and Soviet military intelligence.
The underground work of the PPTUS can be schematically divided in the following way. In the initial period between 1927-1929 the American communist Earl Browder was the leading PPTUS figure; between 1929-1930 the British communist George Hardy was in charge of the work; between 1930-1931 when the trade union work was controlled by 'Leon' and 'Kennedy', the code names for two American communists who appear to be James Dolson and Charles Krumbein. In June 1931 the underground apparatus in Shanghai was severely disrupted, though not destroyed, by the arrest of two Russians who were officers of the Comintern's International Liaison Department (OMS). The two OMS officers administered the apparatus which supported the PPTUS and the Far Eastern Bureau of Comintern and worked as a language teacher and his wife under the pseudonyms of M. and Mme Hilaire Noulens. Their arrest meant the capture by the Shanghai Municipal Police of a vast quantity of administrative records which are now held in Washington, USA. Together with newly opened Comintern archives, in Moscow, they allow a valuable insight into the functioning of the Comintern and Profintern underground apparatuses in urban China.
The Communist International through Grigory Voitinsky first made contact with Chinese radicals in 1920. The following year Voitinsky helped found the Communist Party of China (CPC) which remained very small until 1925. In this year a national trade union conference formed the All-China Labor Federation (ACLF) whose leaders included many prominent communists and which immediately affiliated to trade union wing of the Communist International, Profintern or the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU).
The period 1925-27 saw the Chinese labor movement reach its zenith, only to crash to defeat. In large part, the growth of the labor movement depended on the political alliance formed between the Communist Party of China (CPC) (with the full support of the Soviet government) with the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). In May 1925, shortly after the formation of the ACLF, a strike at a Japanese textile mill in Shanghai was brutally suppressed leading to nationwide boycotts and strikes against foreign companies and institutions. In June British troops shot Canton students and workers sparking a 16 month strike against the British in Canton-Hong Kong. In Shanghai workers twice rose up against warlord control in late 1926 and early 1927. Finally, in March 1927 an armed workers revolt took over Shanghai shortly before KMT troops entered and took control. But in April, alarmed by the unrest, Chiang Kai-shek turned on the CPC and its union supporters, bloodily breaking the alliance between them. From that point onwards the KMT government used systematic police and military terror against real and alleged communists and all CPC political and trade union work in cities was conducted in secret.
These epic events in China in 1927 coincided with an idea originated in Australia and taken up vigorously by the Communist International. In 1921, amid rumours of a new war, the Australian trade union movement proposed that a regional organisation of Pacific trade unions be formed. Though raised by Australian delegates at the 1922 Profintern congress the idea languished until 1925 when the general secretary of Profintern, Alexander Lozovsky informed his executive bureau of the Australian plan to convene a conference of Pacific trade unions in Sydney in 1926. While supporting the initiative, one of the Comintern's Far East specialists argued that Sydney was too far from the 'main lines of communication' and that Australia's racist immigration policy made difficult the entry of delegates from Asia. 'It might therefore be proposed , that although the initial step is being taken by the Australian comrades, the congress should be convened not in Australia but in a real Pacific country in Shanghai or Canton', he said. This is what occurred. Organised at too short notice, the conference attracted few Pacific unions, however a Profintern delegate, 'Comrade Rubanoff', (Rubinstein) ensured that groundwork was laid for a further conference in China in 1927.
The 1927 conference of Pacific unions, planned for Canton, was suddenly moved after a counter-revolutionary coup which destroyed the ACLF and its local leaders. The venue then moved to Hankow which was controlled by a local government of Left KMT and communists.
The Pan Pacific Trade Union Conference opened on May 20 at the People's Club in Hankow after a welcome parade of tens of thousands of workers organised by the local trade unions. In the course of a week the conference heard reports on political and labour movement conditions in Indonesia, Japan, the United States and China. Among the speakers from the All-China Labor Federation was Lui Shao-chi. Fourteen of the 22 Japanese delegates were arrested on their way to China and the Australian government refused to grant passports to its trade union delegates.
The importance of the gathering and the relatively legal conditions in which it was held was indicated by the presence of the secretary general of Profintern, Alexander Lozovsky. But even while the conference was sitting, the Soviet mission in Peking was sacked. The American communist Earl Browder emerged as a key leader from the conference which also elected him editor of the Pan Pacific Worker which was initially published openly in Hankow. Browder forecast a triumphal future for the PPTUS which would 'help tear down the numerous barriers of language and race prejudice which have kept the mighty armies of workers in the Pacific apart for so many years.' But the CPC-KMT split of 1927, ending with the defeat of the ill-judged Canton uprising in December 1927 forced Browder and the PPTUS to operate in a period of savage repression and deep clandestinity.
Browder had led an American trade union delegation to the founding congress of Profintern in 1921 and in the 1920s, when he spent most of his time in Moscow or China, he was a leading member of the American communist party. From 1930 to 1945 he was secretary of the CPUSA. Working with Browder for the PPTUS was the less well known figure, Charles Johnson (whose code names were 'Stein', 'Steinberg' or occasionally 'Charlie'), a 46 year old Latvian who was born Karl Ernestovich Yanson. Already a Bolshevik, in 1908 he migrated to the United States where he later headed the left wing of the American Socialist Party which split in 1919 and helped form what became the Communist Party of the USA. From 1920-22 he represented the American party in Moscow at the Communist International and from 1923 was a member of the Profintern Executive Committee where he became known to the head of Profintern, Lozovsky and Pavel Mif (Mikhail Firman) a specialist on China.
From its formation in 1927 the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat was responsible for a number of functions. First, it wrote and printed various publications initially, the Pan Pacific Worker then, after this was moved to the United States, the Far Eastern Bulletin which appeared in both English and Chinese. Second, it provided both advice and money to ACLF. At this time, before the real beginning of guerrilla war, this was the strategic core of the Chinese communists and the PPTUS officials met weekly with the All-China Federation of Labor leaders. Third, it supported and promoted red trade union work in the Philippines, Japan, Malaya, India, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries.
The PPTUS was quite open about its own existence within Shanghai. Publications, such as the Far Eastern Bulletin, defiantly proclaimed on their masthead that they were published in Shanghai. The Statutes of the PPTUS stated that the 'seat' of the Secretariat 'is to be situated in the city of Shanghai, China. The Shanghai police and the Kuomintang authorities thus knew that the PPTUS operated under their noses and were constantly alert. And although no Comintern officials were arrested until June 1931 a number of officials and militants of the All-China Labor Federation who worked with Comintern were arrested, jailed or executed.
To conduct such work a variety of conspiratorial techniques were used to send and receive mail, to hold meetings, to print and distribute documents, to hold larger conferences and to distribute money. For uncoded letters, a system of couriers operated irregularly between Shanghai and the Soviet Union via Harbin, with the dangerous border crossing often assisted by Soviet diplomatic staff and the Soviet security police, OGPU. However most mail was sent using the normal postal system (with people such as Browder signing himself 'Russell' or 'Morris') with a variety of cover addresses. A great deal of mail to and from Moscow was addressed initially to cover addresses in Berlin where Comintern had an elaborate 'post office' for re-routing mail to its true destination. In case of casual postal inspection, the letters were sometimes couched in a personal tone. For example, those to Profintern's chief, Lozovsky, from the Comintern representative in Australia, Sydor Stoler, usually began 'Cher Papa!' and were signed 'Votre fils qui vous respecte et aime.' . Left wing newspapers and magazines intended for the Far Eastern Bureau of ECCI could be sent openly by addressing them to the 'Universal Clipping Service, GPO Box 1565, Shanghai'.
Yet carelessness and misunderstandings by Moscow and its Berlin 'post office' dogged the communications of the Far Eastern Bureau (FEB) and PPTUS. Bulky envelopes aroused the suspicion of customs authorities who opened mail and questioned the box holder. An exasperated letter from Shanghai reported that 'owing to all these acts of carelessness on the part of our comrades, we have now lost three safe addresses within the last six weeks, and they are now keeping a very close watch on all post boxes.' The commercial cable system was used for urgent messages but 'business' language was employed. When Johnson ('Stein') left Shanghai he cabled Alexander: 'leaving Shanghai turned over business new manager i gave also complete outline immediate business transactions joint meeting chinese shareholders - steinert.' [sic] (An attempt was made in 1930 to send information from Moscow via radio but this appears to have been an experiment. )
The PPTUS illegal apparatus in Shanghai was funded from Profintern headquarters in Moscow. The budget of the PPTUS is unclear but at one point in October 1929, the PPTUS representative, George Hardy reported that he had been without funds for two months and asked Moscow to 'cable $10,000 (Gold) and despatch messenger immediately with balance'. The PPTUS, in turn, regularly gave money to the All-China Labor Federation, to the Philippines Congress of Labor and to other Red unions in South East Asia. Profintern paid for the Australian edition of the Pan Pacific Worker, for instance, cabling $200 from Germany to the Australian union leader, Jock Garden, in June 1929. Much of the Russian funding for Profintern's activities worldwide was remitted in complex transactions through Swiss and German banks to businesses established by the OMS, typically import-export companies which habitually use cables and exchange money.
The Browder-Johnson period
The first major task which faced Browder and Johnson in this period was the holding of a full meeting of the Secretariat in February 1928 under conditions of complete illegality. Chaired by the Australian delegate Jack Ryan, who represented the ACTU in Shanghai, the meeting was attended by representatives from the Philippine Workers Congress, the Trade Union Education League (USA), the National Minority Movement (UK), the Japanese red trade union federation, the Hiogikai, the Far Eastern section of the Russian unions, an Indonesian union group and the All-China Labour Federation. The meeting discussed the difficult new conditions in China and the collapse of the ACLF. A report noted that in the recent revolutionary upheaval 'the red unions never had any well planned and detailed organisational system. So at the blow of the political reaction and in the process of transformation (from legal to underground) the organisation has been disintegrated [sic].' Another resolution, drafted by Johnson (Stein) urged the ACLF to fight for legalisation and to use 'all existing legal possibilities'. The February meeting decided to hold its next conference in Australia, prior to the 1929 congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Apart from organising this meeting and arranging delegates for the Fourth Profintern Congress in Moscow in March, the work of the PPTUS had been confined to the production of the Pan Pacific Worker which was done under conditions of savage repression. 'Our printing arrangements have broken down entirely,' reported Browder in May.
The trouble came from the Chinese workers in the shop, who resigned in a body rather than continue to print what they thought endangered their necks. The crisis came after another print shop, suspected of having printed a 'red' leaflet had its whole staff of 17 workers taken out and shot. It seems impossible to resume printing at this time, although we may be able to soon, having some encouragement from the proprietor who 'wants the money'.'
Although banned, occasional statements by the PPTUS were published in China Outlook, an American missionary publication. Largely because of these difficulties an Australian edition of Pan Pacific Worker began to appear in April.
While the Pan Pacific Worker hailed the red labour movement of China, the actual position was very different. In early 1928 Browder reported to Lozovsky that in Hankow the labour movement had been 'completely wiped out. Of the large cities, only Shanghai and Canton have any open labour movement and in both places it is under the control of the Kuomintang. The illegal trade unions are largely destroyed'. The 'yellow' unions of the Kuomintang, were 'gaining in power and influence'.
But the problem was even worse. When 35,000 silk filature workers went on strike the red union, the ACLF, was taken by surprise. Browder complained that the Chinese Communist Party had effectively fused the ACLF with the party. By allocating the leading ACLF cadres to other political work, it had 'practically abolished' the ACLF. Generally, Browder argued, the Communist Party displayed 'inexcusable confusion about and underestimation of TU work'.
The equivocal position of the Chinese Communist Party on political work in trade unions was a problem which for years dogged the successive Comintern cadres who staffed the PPTUS in Shanghai. Ultimately, the success of the CPC would lie in its work among peasants but in this period its outlook strongly influenced by the Russian revolution decreed that the working class would transform China. Even so, a resolution from the central committee of the CPC in April 1928 noted that practice did not necessarily fit theory:
In regard to the situation in all of China, it seems in general the peasants are radical and the workers are backward. The workers are now engaged in no active struggles, and show no development of the illegal trade union organisations. Although the Party organs have committed many military opportunist mistakes in the peasant uprising yet they still lead such actions continuously ..... Even where formally a trade union is maintained in fact it is only another name for the Party nucleus, and there are no non-Party members in it (as in Shanghai).
The resolution went on dutifully to urge a 'fight against the tendency of neglecting the labor movement' and urged that the party should 'make the labour movement [the] most important and fundamental work of our Party' so that the workers become the 'advance guard of the peasants and toiling masses.'
In spite of police terror, radical working class action was not entirely absent. When Japan staged a military incident in Manchuria in 1928 spontaneous anti-Japanese feeling erupted in Shanghai which the yellow (KMT) unions tried to channel. A trade union committee against imperialism was established on which the Communists had 7 out of 21 positions but after the local garrison commander took charge of one meeting the seven communists 'were so terrorised that they did not dare to say a word.' On May 30, National Humiliation Day, six factories in East Shanghai went on strike and an anti-KMT demonstration which Browder estimated at 1,500 took place in the international sector of Shanghai. In the Chinese sector of Shanghai, slogans were milder but industrial action more widespread. The Times correspondent reported that 'Communist agitation around Shanghai, though underground, is very active. Elsewhere on the street walls appear mysteriously defaced slogans such as 'Down with Chiang Kai-shek', 'Down with the Kuomintang'....The strike in the French concession holding up the tram and electricity and water services obstinately continues and is a purely political affair, the men having no real complaint.'
In the last half of 1928 relations between Browder and Johnson deteriorated, with Browder making official complaints to Lozovsky and during his absence even refusing to leave the key to the PPTUS post office box with Johnson. In December, Browder returned to the United States and from there began to edit an American edition of Pan Pacific Worker.
The Hardy period
In February 1929 Charles Johnson (Stein) handed over the Profintern work in Shanghai to a new cadre allocated by Comintern, the British communist, George Hardy. Hardy, whose code name in his reports was 'Mason', had been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World in Canada, the USA and Australia before becoming a member of the Political Bureau of the British Communist Party in 1925-26. In 1923 he participated in the German revolution and in 1928 he became a member of the Profintern Executive Bureau. Before travelling to China posing as a well-to-do businessman, Hardy had experienced underground work in several countries. In Shanghai he became a key figure in Comintern liaison with the Chinese Communist Party. When Profintern tried to withdraw him from Shanghai in late 1929 the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party protested, arguing that he understood conditions in China better than other functionaries with whom they dealt.
One of Hardy's tasks in the first half of 1929 was to organise the attendance of union delegates at the second Pan Pacific Trade Union conference to be held in August. After the 1927 Hankow conference, Australia had been proposed as the venue of the next conference with the support of the new national trade union federation, the ACTU. But in June 1928 the conservative Bruce government, fearful of the threat to the British Empire and White Australia, announced that it would ban the entry of delegates. The PPTUS therefore decided that the second conference would be held on Soviet territory in Vladivostock. The conference was dominated by the recent Soviet-China border clash and the need to 'defend the Soviet Union' and by the prevailing leftist approach which saw reformism as the main danger to the workers' movement. To this extent the conference marked the Soviet domination of a body which originally had a more genuinely internationalist appeal. Alert to the gathering, Japanese, Chinese and British police prevented many delegates from attending Vladivostock and a second, secret conference was held in Shanghai, attended by delegates from Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaya.
Hardy's approach to trade union work in China was, like Browder's, critical of the CPC's labour movement strategy. At one point he reported to Moscow that 'in China the Party as a whole has not even fully grasped the full significance of trade union work' and 'even the PB [Political Bureau of the CPC] is not clear on all [trade union] questions.' Nevertheless, during 1929 there was mild resurgence of the labor movement. 'Terrorist tactics' were less readily applied by the KMT, reported Hardy. 'This does not mean that there is any evidence that white terror is being discarded as a weapon against the workers for hundreds are still being executed and tortured and it only means more are receiving long prison sentences for such offensices [sic] as distributing literature ... instead of being sent indiscriminately for execution.' In June 1929, according to The Times, the Nanking Government issued 'drastic regulations' for a weekly search for communist literature in all bookshops. The KMT-influenced Printers Union warned its members that printing such literature 'will be punished mercilessly'.
During this period the ACLF organised its May Day meeting at a guild hall in the centre of Shanghai referred to above. Such tactics were discussed later at a special conference in Moscow of trade unionists who worked illegally or semi-legally where a Chinese union organiser, 'Liu Tsien', described conditions in Shanghai. Meetings were organised within factories in such a way that they could disperse in a few minutes. For example, sometimes two communists would start a fist fight and workers would gather. The 'fight' would then stop and the fighters would then deliver a short speech to the crowd. At other places, workers' meetings were organised under the cover of a small company shareholders' meeting. 'Liu Tsien' reported that meetings in theatres were held where police were captured to prevent them raising the alarm. But he warned that poorly organised attempts at such meetings had resulted in the loss of many comrades. His report also confirmed Hardy's view that the role of factory nuclei was practically nil and that party committees substituted themselves for workers' nuclei.
While underground techniques had to be rapidly adapted and applied, another key problem which confronted Hardy was to convince the Chinese communists to take advantage of the extremely small 'legal' possibilities in the situation. After the defeats of 1927 the ACLF had strength only in the seamens' union and the railways union. A number of red unions had been taken over by KMT forces while the union of postal workers and the Mechanics Union had never been under the ACLF umbrella. The postal workers, for example, were run by 'disciples' of a Shanghai underworld figure who played a considerable role in the 'yellow unions'. Yet the only 'legal' opportunities for trade union work were those created by the existence of 'yellow unions', a designation which covered a range of non-communist unions under the control of the KMT or of employers.
Such legal work was difficult for at least two reasons quite apart from the obvious problems of illegality and terror. First, at the level of the Chinese Communist Party, a 'putschist' approach was strong. This tended to downplay demands based on the basic needs of workers and to emphasise revolutionary calls for uprisings and armed struggle. Second, the Communist International itself, from the Sixth World Congress in 1928, followed a strategy which was similar to the local 'putschism', emphasising the imminence of revolution and damning any co-operation with 'reformist' forces.
In spite of these evident similarities between the CPC and the ECCI, the question of legal work in yellow unions crystalised differences between the two. The CPC leadership tended to dismiss the minority within its ranks who favoured legal work as Rightists. The memory of the bloody defeat of 1927 after a period of open, legal co-operation with Kuomintang forces was still very fresh. As well, a number of communists who had recently worked in 'yellow unions' had gone over to the KMT. Yet legal work in reactionary organisations was an established principle of conspiracy. Hardy had the difficult task of resolving this contradiction. At a plenum of the ACLF in February 1929 Hardy criticised the minority within the ACLF which wanted to concentrate on forming red unions within all yellow unions. This amounted to accepting a minority status and relinquishing the possibility of independent red unions. In place of this Hardy urged a flexible strategy. In areas of traditional ACLF strength, red unions would be maintained; but in yellow unions, red fractions would be built to take advantage of legal opportunities, as the minority suggested. Elsewhere, in what he called the 'fascist unions', the ACLF would keep trying to build a small cautious base.
The weakness of the ACLF was due to a number of factors, according to Hardy. Apart from the effects of terror, the CPC often failed to distinguish between itself and the union federation. Thus instead of the unions calling for struggle for better wages and shorter hours, it issued calls for armed revolt. Such calls when expressed by the CPC leader Li Li-san were later to lead to a major split between the CPC and Comintern. Thus within the party opposite tendencies existed, one wanting to do mainly legal work in yellow unions to avoid repression, the other ignoring any legal possibilities.
At the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI in July 1929, the Comintern's key expert on organisation, Piatnitsky turned to this question and asked: 'But why do the Chinese comrades still waver on the question as to whether to work or not to work in the Kuomintang unions? What is the result? The Red unions are small outfits and the Kuomintang unions are mass organisations.' In response a representative of the Chinese party, 'Tsui Wito' [Chu Chiu-pai] asserted that some work was being done in yellow unions but also linked the desire to conduct legal work with the bogey of 'Right opportunism.'
In September 1929 the ECCI officially endorsed the direction of Hardy and Piatnitsky, criticising the 'remnants of sectarianism which still prevail' in the party. At the same time it argued that the Communist Party of China 'must raise the question of resumption of a legal existence by the Red trade unions, even if it were under another name and without official sanction, in connection with the revival of the labour movement. The actual leadership of these unions however, must continue to work on a conspirative basis'.
In November 1929 the Fifth Congress of the once mighty ACLF was held under illegal conditions in Shanghai. Hardy gave a report, which concluded with the silent 'shouting' of slogans in illegal fashion: 'by one comrade announcing the slogan and each forcibly raising their right hand with a clenched fist'. Although he estimated that 'we can reasonably expect some improvement in the proletarian base of the party', this was to be the last national ACLF conference until 1948.
Underground struggle in South East Asia
While direct contact with the Chinese labor movement was possible in Shanghai, elsewhere in South East Asia the cultivation of left wing trade unions by Comintern took place at several removes.
The most successful activity occurred in the Philippines where an organised trade union movement, the Congresso Obrero de Filipinas (COF) was well established and operated with a degree of legality. While the COF was prevented from attending the 1927 PPTU conference, it later affiliated and sent a delegate to the February 1928 Secretariat meeting in Shanghai. The PPTUS maintained close contact with both COF leader, Crisanto Evangelista, and the leader of the peasants' federation, Jacinto Manahan, who were undoubtedly among those Browder earlier referred to as 'as nucleus of devoted and energetic comrades' in the Philippines.
Both men visited Moscow to attend the Fourth Profintern congress in early 1928 and in early 1929 there was an upswing in class struggle which George Hardy attributed to 'close contact the PPTUS maintains with our Filipino comrades'. At the same time Hardy had to deal with a personal clash between Manahan and Evangelista after the former withdrew from the COF because Evangelista criticised him for allowing prayers at a peasants conference. But in May 1929 the COF split, with Evangelista leading a breakaway group. The Far Eastern Bureau of Comintern accepted the split and Hardy reported that the new COF (Proletariat) soon greatly increased its membership. Hardy issued instructions that the COF (Proletariat) hold a workers conference to decide on a 'national programme of action and demands' and to discuss Soviet-China tensions and other international trade union questions. McLane's linking of this split to the formation of the Communist Party of the Philippines in August 1930 is borne out by Hardy who argued that '[o]ur position will always be weak in the Islands until we can form a party group. Evangelista is hesitant ... [and] has given press interviews of a very social democratic character'. To remedy this Hardy urged the dispatch of an American comrade who could work there illegally.
A letter from Hardy to Australian communist Jack Ryan telling him that 'the Philippine comrades are doing extremely well' gives the flavour of the PPTUS work:
We are contemplating organising a united front conference in the Philippines in order to make a final effort to destroy all the reactionary elements and their organisation. Already their membership has fallen to 8,000 and their main strength is in the tobacco industry..... we are now engaged in a strike which involves unions affiliated to the reactionary organisation as well as our own. If we can win this strike it will give a great impetus to our position in this industry.
Overall, the Comintern archives tend to confirm McLane's analysis which emphasised the significance of the PPTUS and of American communists in shaping the Philippines political and union situation.
In Singapore and Malaya there was less success. The roots of the communist movement in Malaya lay in the contact between communists such as Sneevliet, Tan Malaka, Alimin and local leftists and trade unionists in the 1920s. By mid-1928 Browder could report that in 'Singapore and the Straits Settlements, an underground trade union movement is very active, which is led principally by Chinese workers who have been trained in the Canton trade union movement'. But the following year, George Hardy reported more coolly that there was 'some evidence of activity in Singapore'. In Malaya, he said, 'most of the members of the Committee of the Chinese Communist Party' had been arrested and some were executed including 'our representative'. But he added that Shanghai was 'completely isolated from Indochina, Indonesia, Siam and Korea'.
Overseas Chinese workers were organised in the Nanyang Federation of Labour, which attended the 1929 conference in Shanghai for delegates barred from the Vladivostock conference. Hardy established that the federation was based in Singapore, had 5,000 members including a small number in Thailand and Indonesia and used seamen as couriers to communicate with its members.
In February 1930 Hardy sent his 'best confidential translator and a very good comrade' to Singapore to urge local red trade unionists to become delegates for the Fifth Profintern Congress but this plan collapsed in a wave of arrests in Malaya in April. The arrests occurred immediately after the founding of the Malayan Communist Party at a conference attended by Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh). Some of those arrested were later executed after deportation to China. Yong, following earlier scholars, interprets the founding of the MCP as a 'brilliant tactical move' by the Russian-based Comintern to weaken CPC influence in Southeast Asia but while there was tension between the Comintern representatives such as Hardy and the CPC, there is no evidence in Comintern archives of a rivalry taken to such extreme lengths.
Contact with India was a problem for the PPTUS which was never solved. In 1927 the Indian Trade Union Congress tried to send delegates to the Hankow conference but they were not permitted to leave India. At the beginning of 1928 a PPTUS representative, probably the British communist T. R. Strudwick, went to India but he was not allowed to land. The Australian communist, Jack Ryan, attended the Ninth All-India Trade Union Congress in December 1928 having departed secretly from Australia aiming to secure TUC affiliation to the PPTUS. He reported that 'CID men followed me night and day ever since I reached Bombay' and that an American union delegate was arrested and deported. But a vote by the AITUC to affiliate to the PPTUS was narrowly lost. Hardy also tried to make contact with radical forces in British colonies such as India and Malaya through the British Communist Party but complained: 'They look upon the PPTUS as they look on all colonial work -- it is of third rate importance to them.
Communists and left trade unionists in Indonesia had early contact with those in Malaya but the situation in the Dutch colony was, if anything, more repressive than in Malaya. At the 1927 Hankow conference the delegate from Indonesia, Musso, reported that trade unions could not function legally and that simple conspiratorial techniques were used: 'Javanese workers find other means of coming together and preparing actions against their oppressors. Numerous auxiliary organisations in the form of social and sports clubs have sprung up in spite of the vigilance of the police and the spies.' Browder reported 'no direct connections' with Indonesia while in early 1929 Musso wrote that attempts to reorganise the party 'have been crushed' and the unions dissolved. Sugono, the chairman of the Central Committee was tortured by the Dutch. In February 1929 Hardy sent a Chinese courier to arrange for delegates to the Vladivostock conference but this had proved fruitless.
Delegates from Japan's left wing union federation, Hyogikai, attended the Hankow conference and meetings of the PPTUS in Shanghai in 1928 as well as the 1929 Vladivostock conference. Repression of red trade unions and of the Japanese Communist Party was savage from the late 1920s onwards and this made regular contact with Shanghai very difficult. The necessity to operate illegally made even simple communication very complex. Hardy complained that he was forced to write totally coded letters to safe addresses which changed four times in the space of 12 months. At the June 1929 conference the Japanese delegate did not appear because Hardy received the details of the rendezvous from Japan only half an hour before the appointed time and the delegate left Shanghai without making contact. The methods of maintaining contact included the discreet publishing of certain numbers in the left wing Japanese press denoting the current codes, a method used by the Bolshevik press. While in 1928 the PPTUS hailed the left Hyogikai, Hardy privately acknowledged that it had lost much of its strength.
The PPTUS under 'Leon' and 'Edward': 1930-1931
Hardy left Shanghai in mid-1930 and went on to lead the Profintern's maritime work through which it operated an international courier service. His replacement by 'Leon' was accompanied by a sharp deterioration in the security of Comintern activities and a break in contact between Moscow and Shanghai which lasted from June until late 1930. The security of the conspiratorial work in Shanghai also changed. In September 1930 Leon reported to the Profintern in Moscow that the bureau had issued its first bulletin but this was 'technically almost unthinkable and extremely risky'. However the Bureau continued to work closely with the ACLF and maintained good contacts with the left wing Filipino trade unions. An organiser was based in Hong Kong with a brief to work with trade unions in Indo-China and Malaya.
In January 1931 after this period of disruption a new plan for work was decided and the leadership of the PPTUS was reconstituted on instructions from Profintern. New leaders of the PPTUS, 'Leon' and 'Edward', were appointed and their activities can be followed using both the new Soviet archives and the long standing records of the Shanghai Municipal Police. 'Edward' (or 'Kennedy') was an American, Charles Krumbein, who arrived in Shanghai in early 1931. The previous year he had been jailed in Britain where police believed he was a Comintern representative. While in jail his partner, Margaret Undjus, visited him. In Shanghai, the two lived together under the names Mr and Mrs Albert E. Stewart with Undjus using the name 'Alice'. The identity of 'Leon' is less certain but a British intelligence analysis suggested that he was probably James Dolson, an American journalist and communist who had been associated with Comintern activities in China from 1927-28. Dolson's presence in Shanghai in 1931 is confirmed by other Russian material.
The major preoccupation of the PPTUS was assistance to the ACLF, including the re-commencement of the journal Pacific Worker. But the ACLF was badly damaged by a major split in the CPC (see below) and much of the first half of 1931 was spent re-building small trade union groups within the tram, rail, textile and seamen's unions. A wave of spontaneous strikes in the cotton and silk industries where the workers were mainly women lifted hopes that the tide was turning and 'Alice' made systematic contact with women workers.
Beyond Shanghai, the work of the PPTUS continued. In April-May 1931, 'Leon' visited the Philippines where he found 'the same handful of 4-5 comrades' were trying to manage the new Communist Party, the trade union federation and the peasants' federation. The arrests of the Filipino trade union and peasant leaders Manahan and Evangelista for sedition following the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines in November 1930 led to a PPTUS campaign of solidarity. In early 1931 the PPTUS began to have regular contact with Japanese communists and the trade unions which they led. Around May the Indonesian communist, Tan Malaka, was found living in Shanghai in a debilitated state. After medical treatment and rest, he was due to go south to establish contacts in Indonesia and India. Their continual frustration with colonies like Indonesia, Malaya and India led the PPTUS to write an 'open letter' criticising American, Dutch and French CPs for neglecting colonial work and demanding that the Executive Bureau of Profintern discuss this.
This frustration also resulted in determination to develop work based in Singapore and Malaya, evidently because it offered access to India and Indonesia, as well as having a growing left wing movement. This decision to work in the British colony was later to become crucial to the fate of the PPTUS. In early 1931 the PPTUS decided to send two cadres on visits of 6-8 weeks 'during which time they are to find out and establish permanent connections with Indonesian and Hindoo comrades in Singapore and through them with these respective countries.'
At the beginning of 1931 the underground trade union movement in China received a serious blow. This came not from the KMT government but from within the Chinese Communist Party. Over the previous two years criticism by the ECCI had been growing of the adventurist political strategy proposed by a key member of the CPC Politbureau, Li Li-san. This had culminated in a letter from Comintern in November 1930 and the arrival at this time of a Comintern representative, Pavel Mif, who helped unseat Li Li-san at the fourth plenum of the CPC in January 1931. The plenum also isolated the 'Right' faction (creating a three-way split) one of whose key leaders was a leading trade unionist, Lo Chang-lung.
The ACLF, perhaps closer to the day to day concerns of workers, was a base of opposition to Li Li-san's strategy which called for immediate armed uprisings and political strikes. In February 1931 'Leon' reported disturbing information among the state of underground communist work among trade unions in Shanghai. At a fraction meeting of ACLF cadres, 18 out of 19 had voted against the line of the fourth plenum, that is, against the clear wishes of the Comintern and the CPC majority. This split in the party resulted in most of the union activists in the ACLF breaking away and this left the CPC and the PPTUS with very few forces, reported 'Leon'. He railed against the treachery of the 'Right' faction. 'This faction used our people, our apparatus, our printing press, our money -- for their own fractional purposes. The Treasurer of the ACLF (Ou-Yu-Min) absconded with over 3,000 Mex, probably under Lochanlun's orders.'
Worse than this, all earlier assumptions about the strength of the underground union movement were discovered to be false. Before the split, he explained, he had believed that the membership of the red trade unions in Shanghai was between 700-800. 'It is now clear that what really existed was -- an apparatus, self-contained and almost completely isolated from the mass and their daily struggles (with but very few exceptions).' When he asked about previous claims, the Chinese comrades 'smile and shrug their shoulders and say they were never true!' To help retrieve this drastic situation, 'Leon' also passed on to Moscow the request of Chinese party that Lui Shao Chi be sent back to help lead the trade union work.
The situation worsened in April and June 1931 when two events badly damaged the Comintern apparatus in Shanghai and severely tested the effectiveness of its conspiratorial practices.
The first occurred in April 1931, when a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC, Ku Shun-chang, was arrested by the KMT in Hankow and revealed details of CPC organisation leading to the arrest of a large number of communist cadre in Shanghai. Key CPC leaders who escaped arrest disappeared but in spite of such precautions the general secretary of the CPC, Hsiang Chung-fa, was arrested and executed in June 1931 .
The arrest of Ku Shun-chang and his co-operation with the KMT meant that the Far Eastern Bureau of Comintern and PPTUS apparatuses also had to take rapid precautions and a 'wild state of disorganisation' followed as they struggled to preserve their lives and their organisation. Just before his arrest, Ku had organised an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle two Soviet military advisers to the Red Army and so they had to leave immediately.
The PPTUS leader, 'Leon', was on the point of returning from the Philippines, to rejoin his colleagues Krumbein ('Kennedy') and Margaret Undjus ('Alice'). On June 9 Krumbein reported to Moscow that most of the members of the Far Eastern Bureau had left and that the arrests since April had 'to a very large degree shattered our apparatus'. He closed his letter with the following: 'we feel certain that if we once can get our comrades on the correct track that things will take a rapid turn.'
A rapid turn began on June 1, when a courier for Comintern's OMS, Joseph Ducroux, was arrested in Singapore. Ducroux had travelled from Shanghai to Hong Kong where he had met the Vietnamese communist, Ho Chi Minh. Shortly afterwards, British police intercepted an 'invisible ink' letter from Ho Chi Minh to a leading Malayan communist which set up a meeting with Ducroux. This plus some unusual behaviour by Ducroux led to the his arrest along with several members of the Malayan Communist Party immediately after the meeting.
Ducroux had been on a mission for OMS to India and when passing through Shanghai had been given a Shanghai postal address used by OMS. When arrested, police found both the Shanghai address as well as some reference to Ho Chi Minh. This breach of conspiratorial practice which broke down the compartmentalised structure of two other fields of work led to the arrest of Ho Chi Minh and to the arrest in Shanghai of two key Comintern cadres, Jakov Rudnik and Tatiana Moiseenko. The latter, working under the pseudonyms of M. Hilaire Noulens and Mme Noulens, posed as a language teacher and his wife.
In fact, Rudnik and Moiseenko stood at the conspiratorial heart of the Comintern's Shanghai apparatus. Both had worked for Soviet intelligence in the 1920s and then for Comintern's OMS. As OMS officers, they were responsible for the entire technical and administrative support for the Far Eastern Bureau of Comintern and for the PPTUS. On top of this, following the crisis engendered by the April arrest of Ku, a large number of the PPTUS and FEB documents were given to Rudnik and Moiseenko for safekeeping since it was accurately assumed that Ku was unaware of the identities of the OMS officers.
Shortly after the British police arrested M. Noulens (of whose activities they had no inkling at first) they began to discover a treasure trove of letters, cables, finance records, addresses, ciphers and bank books, all related to the Comintern. These is turn allowed them to establish the movements of Comintern officials as well as their code names. In an analysis of the 'Noulens case' one year later, British intelligence declared that it 'afforded a unique opportunity of seeing from the inside, and on unimpeachable documentary evidence, the working of a highly developed Communist organisation of the 'illegal' order ... one moreover which ... is still in operation in spite of the set-back'. Of particular interest was a large number of letters from 'the notorious Annamite communist, Nguyen Ai Quac' (Ho Chi Minh). The 'most outstanding document' was a report from the CPC on the revenge killings of members of the family of Ku, carried out under the direction of Chou En-lai.
With their identities still unknown, the two OMS officers were tried, sentenced to death, then jailed instead and survived to return to Russia in 1939, a date which, ironically, ensured that they survived the worst Stalinist repression. On their return, they wrote a detailed report which is now available. Combined with other Soviet archives and the British analysis, we can now grasp the underground structure in Shanghai and get a picture of its operation. The Far Eastern Bureau, staffed by eight or nine Europeans, was oriented to China and was the source of an annual subsidy to the CPC of $95,000. It was also responsible for the selection of students to attend the Communist University of the Peoples of the Far East. The PPTUS had a staff of three Europeans and directed a subsidy of about $25,000 per year to the ACLF, as well as liaising with red unions in South East Asia, Japan.
The conditions in Shanghai required a high degree of skill in conspiratorial work. The OMS judged that meetings between Comintern officers and the CPC in public places such as cinemas, cafes and parks were far too dangerous and so private apartments had to be used. Rudnik ('Marin') noted that before he began work in Shanghai, he was told that a number of professional people would be able to make their apartments and offices available for conspiratorial purposes. But nothing like this occurred. Renting multiple apartments, he discovered, was complicated because most of them were leased by four large companies. This meant that a large number of passports and pseudonyms had to be used by Rudnik and Moiseenko to avoid obvious questions regarding one man's apparent need for so many apartments and offices. To add to this, the two most senior figures in the FEB, Pavel Mif and Ry'llski ('Austen') spoke only Russian, making translation and interpreting a major task. Mif could not walk around Shanghai in daylight hours because it was judged that, as the former director of the Communist University for the Peoples of the Far East, he might meet former students who had betrayed and now supported the KMT.
Both the FEB and PPTUS used the normal postal service but all letters between Shanghai and Russia were sent to Berlin to the address of 'some petty communist' who transmitted them to an intermediary from whom they were sent to Moscow. Long cables were broken into coded portions, 'each portion being sent to a different address and out of its proper sequence in the composite message'. Similarly, a system of couriers operated between Russia and most of the major centres in East and Southeast Asia.
Rudnik was meticulous in his conspiratorial technique, but not perfect. An American report into the 'Noulens Affair', prompted by the discovery that Richard Sorge had spent 1930-32 in Shanghai, noted that while under arrest, Rudnik asked to change into a grey suit. Examination of the suit by the Shanghai Municipal Police revealed that 'the three tabs bearing the tailor's name had either been deliberately cut out or frayed, so that they were illegible. Most of the buttons had been changed too. The trouser buttons, however, were untouched.' Tailor's marks on the buttons led to the identification of Rudnik with another person, 'Mr Alison', adding another small piece to the jigsaw puzzle of Comintern in Shanghai.
How effective was the system of conspiracy which was used by the Far Eastern Bureau, the PPTUS and the two OMS officials?
On first glance it would seem to have failed dramatically. The arrests of Rudnik, Moiseenko, Ducroux, the Malayan communists and Ho Chi Minh were severe blows; the apparatus and connections from Shanghai to Singapore were unusable; the mass of documents offered British and American intelligence an insight into Comintern which was unparalleled since the Arcos raid in Britain in 1926.
Yet the damage was limited. In spite of being able to identify a number of Comintern officials by code name, residence, dates of arrival and travel and personal habits, the British were unable to arrest any of these individuals. Except in the case of 'Edward' and 'Alice' (Krumbein and Undjus) no independent identification was established, meaning that figures such as Pavel Mif and Gerhart Eisler (later a top official in East Germany) slipped through the net. As well, there is no evidence of damage to the officials and apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party. We can conclude therefore first, that the system of establishing false identities and the use of pseudonyms largely worked well. Second, in spite of the collapse of compartmentalisation between the FEB and the PPTUS (Rudnik held the records of both), the more significant 'compartment', between the CPC and the Comintern, remained solid. Third, the raid did not affect Soviet military intelligence based in the city and one of its principal officers, Richard Sorge, followed the progress of the trial and did not leave Shanghai until late 1932.
This was also the conclusion of the British police and intelligence who thought it 'unwise to take too optimistic a view' of the raid and arrests. It was 'to be regretted that Austin, Schneider, Stewart (Kennedy) and Margaret Undjus (Alice) should have been able to cover their tracks and slip away unscathed. And it is a tribute to the efficacy of the system of concealment employed by these people that, except in the case of Stewart and Margaret Undjus, so few of their personal details have been betrayed by the papers as to render their reappearance in the same area, or elsewhere, free of any grave risk to themselves.'
Moreover, the British discovered that the Rudnik-Moiseenko arrests did not stop the continued functioning of the Comintern apparatus. While the trial of those two OMS officers was proceeding during the latter half of 1931, they had reason to believe that the remnants of Comintern were reporting it to Moscow:
[E]ven when the confusion resulting from the Noulens' raid was at its worst, the conspirative system previously estasblished was still effective enough to afford freedom of manoeuvre to the remains of the organisation for the purpose of remodelling its lines and withdrawing its threatened personnel, that the organising centres at Moscow and Berlin never really lost their grip on the situation and that gradually and furtively the Comintern's Far Eastern staff are re-establishing themselves.
We can be less certain about the consequences for the Chinese Communist Party's underground trade union work but it is clear that the practice of the CPC underground was much less successful. This was not only because of severe repression but also because of major strategic mistake. The fundamental problem lay in the CPC's unwillingness or inability to work in a 'mass' way in the manner prescribed by Lenin's re-invention of the Russian conspiratorial tradition. The only way to break out of conspiratorial isolation was to look to the 'yellow' trade unions and to conduct 'legal work' within them. This was made impossible by a combination of the ECCI's Third Period policies which discouraged this and by the CPC's own putschist orientation and its memory of the 1927 disaster which was preceded by co-operation with KMT forces. The consequence was that, as more recent Chinese scholarship points out, 'the [CPC] underground had no strategy to join hands with the neutral elements in the labor movement ... and attacked all organisations other than the red unions.'
Posted by David at 11:11 AM
September 27, 2005
Laurie Aarons: 19 August 1917 - 7 February 2005
This obituary for Laurie Aarons, a leader of the Communist Party of Australia, appeared in The Age, 11 February 2005 under the heading 'Top comrade bucked heavy-handed Soviets'.
One of the first acts of rebellion by Laurie Aarons, who has died of cancer at Calvary Hospital in Sydney, aged 87, occurred during the 1930s when a conservative member of the NSW Parliament tried to pass a law enforcing "neck-to-knee" costumes at Bondi and other surfing beaches in Sydney.
Along with his comrades in the Young Communist League, Aarons wore bathing trunks and defied the planned law, which soon collapsed.
A short time earlier, at age 14, he had made his first political speech, this time opposing the New Guard, a quasi-fascist group that attacked communists and unemployed protests.
Aarons was born in the year of the Russian revolution and led a life full of commitment to the ideal of socialism as a member and leader of the Communist Party of Australia. Paradoxically, his greatest achievement was to have the moral courage to question the distortion of the socialist ideal in the USSR.
He represented a strand within the Jewish community epitomised by Marx that was internationalist, socialist, revolutionary and secular.
In the 1930s he became a boot repairer and threw himself into political activity and the trade union movement. Alarmed by the growth of fascism, and like many in the CPA, he initially supported World War II, only to soon criticise it as an "imperialist war" when the CPA dogmatically followed the Soviet position. This changed after the Nazi attack on the USSR in 1941, and Aarons tried to join the RAAF but was rejected. He later found out from security files that this was largely because his father had fought in Spain on the Republican side during the civil war. During World War II he worked with the services bureau of the CPA, which supported the 3000 to 4000 communists in the armed forces.
In 1944 he married Carole Arkinstall, after separating from his first wife, Della Nicholas. Thereafter, he shared his life with Arkinstall, until her death in 2003. They had three sons, Brian, Mark and John.
The CPA emerged in the post-war period as a strong force and Aarons worked as a party organiser, first in Adelaide, then Newcastle.
When the party faced banning in 1951, Aarons was poised to go "underground" with a secretly elected leadership group intended to replace the central committee, which would have been arrested.
Throughout the Cold War, as with all leading communists, he was under surveillance by secret intelligence organisations. ASIO accumulated at least 20 volumes of files on him, recording his movements, speeches and telephone conversations. In the 1980s he was able to read much of this with wry amusement at the National Archives.
His period as national secretary of the CPA from 1965 saw a period of renewal, as the party's internal workings were democratised and loosened.
The speech by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Stalin, and the Sino-Soviet split, caused Aarons to become sceptical of the Soviet claim to unquestioning respect.
In early 1968 he welcomed the development of "socialism with a human face" under Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia.
His denunciation of the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks set the CPA on a collision course with the Soviet Union; it resulted in the Soviet Communist Party attacking the CPA and sponsoring a pro-Soviet wing, which formed a breakaway rump in 1971. In the 1970s the CPA embraced the ideas of the emerging radical movements among women, students and environmentalists. Under Aarons' leadership, communist-led unions looked increasingly outwards to the community rather than inwards to the narrow issues of members' wages and conditions.
He was particularly heartened by the struggle of the NSW Builders Labourers' Federation, which saved historic buildings from demolition, while taking militancy on members' poor wages and conditions to new heights.
This renewal, plus the CPA's passionate participation in the anti-Vietnam War movement, led to a rejuvenation of the CPA that lasted into the 1980s. But by 1991, the CPA could not go on and the party dissolved.
Aarons retired as CPA national secretary in 1976 and, to the surprise of his comrades, took up work as a taxi driver.
In the 1980s he held great hopes for the program of perestroika and glasnost under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and was deeply disappointed when this collapsed.
In retirement he wrote a series of pamphlets attacking tax avoidance by the rich, ASIO, and the growing inequality in Australia. He also conducted many oral history interviews with veteran communists, and these are now in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
As a man, he was well loved for his modesty, integrity, optimism and passion for justice and fairness.
Aarons is survived by his brother Eric, half-brother Gerald, sons Brian, John and Mark, by four grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Posted by David at 7:10 PM
Denis Freney 1936-1995: a rebel with many causes
This obituary of Denis Freney was published under the heading 'Dynamo of left led Timor protest' in The Australian, 11 September 1995.
Denis Freney lived a life full of adventure which sprang from his passionate commitment to a better world through the political Left. His recent death from cancer at 58 has shocked many people. He was best known in Australia for his key role in organising the Campaign for an Independent East Timor and his earlier organising in the Vietnam Moratorium and the protests against the 1971 Springbok football tour.
Over 20 years he became one of Australia's most widely known and energetic left wing activists and journalists. He personified Gramsci's aphorism that to change society one need 'optimism of the will'. His life paralleled the profound changes in Australia from the Menzian era of the RSL, of short hair and conformity towards a more relaxed and liberal society.
His commitment to East Timor began well before the Indonesian invasion when he organised a trade union and community delegation to the newly liberated Portuguese colony. In this period and after the invasion he worked closely with Jose Ramos Horta and Abilio Araujo in keeping the world informed of the bruality of Indonesian rule and the Fretilin guerrilla struggle.
In the early years after the invasion he set up a much needed radio link with the Fretilin guerrillas and with the support of several Australian and East Timorese established a transmitter in a remote part of the Northern Territory. Though harassed by Australian intelligence, Telecom and police, this vital contact survived for more than 18 months.
Denis Freney's attachment to the Left began when he was attracted as a teenager to the ALP in the early 1950s, but he soon joined the Communist Party of Australia at Sydney University. But after Kruschev's secret speech on Stalin's crimes and the subsequent invasion of Hungary he joined the trotskyist movement.
His commitment to the Fourth International, as it was known, was to be the beginning of eight years of sometimes dangerous travel to promote anti-colonial rebellion and socialism. He worked in Algeria in the wake of the FLN victory and undertook an organising mission to South Africa under apartheid, among other places.
In Johannesburg in 1961 in the wake of the lifting of a State of Emergency, he made contact with the Committee for National Liberation. This mainly white group planned and carried out sabotage and prepared for guerrilla warfare against the white regime. In one memorable incident he was in car with a white and two black members of the CNL when the police pulled them up. The Afrikaans-speaking white driver dealt with the policeman, remarking later that they were lucky he had not looked in the boot: it was full of stolen detonators being used to blow up electric pylons.
In 1963 Denis travelled to newly free Algeria to work with the Algerian Press Service and with Michel Pablo, an adviser to the new FLN government of Ben Bella. With Pablo he popularsied the notion of 'self-management' -- a form of grassroots control by peasants and workers which tried to avoid the centralism and bureaucracy of Soviet-style socialism. A little later he narrowly escaped being caught up in a coup in Algeria by the conservative forces in the FLN.
After 1968 Denis lived in Australia and became a dynamo on the Left, helping organise many demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and setting up a suburban shop called 'Liberation' on Sydney's northern beaches. At this time Liberal state MP Peter Coleman denounced him as 'one of a handful of teachers committed to mobilising high school students for revolution'. As a teacher he kept his politics and job separate, except for unionism. He became the centre of a major industrial dispute when he was victimised by a compulsory transfer to another school. His position symbolised the frustration of many newly militant teachers with the bureaucracy and authoritarianism of the Education Department.
The massive campaign against the 1971 Springbok rugby tour which ended sporting contact with South Africa was in large part driven by his energy. At one point his home was raided by police who planted smokeflares under his bed and then arrested him. This was hardly necessary -- his car boot contained a dozen of the devices used to disrupt the football.
In 1970 Denis Freney rejoined the Communist Party of Australia, to the displeasure of the pro-Soviet minority. The CPA was evolving away from Stalinism and had condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He promoted its further evolution during whihc it embraced the new social movements of womens liberation, gay liberation and what we now call the green movement. Denis was part of a wave of new radicals who revitalised the staid Left and detonated a chain reaction of social change which is still being felt in Australian society.
While he was organising the Campaign for an Independent East Timor and in the 1980s, Denis worked as a journalist on the CPA paper Tribune. He had begun by changing a lot of the paper's stuffiness born of the male dominated trade union world. Later he was to report on the flowering of Solidarity in the early 80s for Tribune. A decade earlier Denis wrote one of the first articles in Australia reporting the emergence of the militant Gay Liberation Movement in New York. A short time later he acknowledged his own homosexuality by coming out and becoming one of the early activists in the gay movement.
Yet for much of his life, Denis sacrified his personal life to broader goals, as he explained in his autobiography, A Map of Days (Heinemann). Yet he always had a circle of close friends with whom he shared communal houses or the hot curries for which he became famous.
He was not always an easy man to get close to and his single-mindedness occasionally drove his closest friends to distraction or laughter.
In recent years, like many today on the Left, he began to re-think the meaning of his lifelong commitment, though he never wavered from the egalitarian, humanist and secular values at the heart of his beliefs. He was a man who regretted nothing he had done and was proud of most of it. His life was a testament to the idea that committed individuals can make a big difference to the society in which they live.
Mary Alice Evatt described her late husband, Dr Evatt in a way that applies to Denis Freney. 'He would never hold himself back from things. Now the people who are not good in life or in politics or in art are those who won't give everything, hold themselves back from life, from pain and joy, both. No, he would always put all of himself into whatever he was doing. And it made life very interesting, it made it very difficult for him but still that was his nature.'
A commemoration for Denis Freney will be held at the Harold Park Hotel, Wigram Rd Glebe, on Saturday 16th September, 12.30pm.
Posted by David at 7:04 PM
August 27, 2005
The puzzle of the Cold War
A speech given at Old Parliament House, Canberra, on the opening of exhibition on the Petrov Affair, 17 August 2004.
Tonight I want to give a broad sketch of the period of the Cold War, rather than to focus in on any particular aspect in depth. But I do want to discuss what I call the puzzle of the Cold War - how do we - from this period in time -- understand the fear of communism which characterized that time?
I want to begin by defining what we mean by the Cold War. Many people attribute the phrase to the British writer, George Orwell, whose used the term 'cold war' in 1945 to contrast that period to a period of hot war - that is a war involving guns and bombs. But this is a little misleading. During the Cold war, it is true, that there was no direct military conflict between the communist bloc and the capitalist West, though the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s nearly precipitated nuclear war.
But the Cold War did involve plenty of guns and bombs-type conflicts. There was, for example, the Korean war and later the Vietnam war, both costing millions of lives as well as a strong of smaller wars. Whatever their local and specific causes, these conflicts were fought as wars by proxy between the US and communist bloc.
When did the cold war begin and end? Some argue the cold war started in 1917, the year of the Russian revolution and, effectively, the beginning of the utopian tragedy of the Soviet state. This view has a lot going for it, since the Cold War's central defining element was the conflict between capitalism and communism, and communism's first and strongest government was the Soviet state which lasted until 1991.
For the purposes of tonight, I will concentrate on what is regarded as the early cold war - -the period from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, culminating in the Petrov defection and the resulting Royal Commission on Espionage in 1954-55.
This was a period in which events swung decisively against the labour movement and the Left. It was a period in which the Right became alarmed at the strength of communism, especially internationally, and mobilised political support on this basis.
And this transition to what became known as the Cold War happened very rapidly - just in the space of a few years - because when World War Two ended, the US, Britain, Australia were in alliance with the Soviet Union.
But, by 1948 it was clear that the victorious Soviet Union was determined to colonize eastern Europe -- which it did with some brutality. The airlift of supplies to Berlin symbolized to many people that communism simply denied civil freedoms which were taken for granted in the West. The popularity of the phrase 'the Iron Curtain' which appears so melodramatic today, had some popular currency at the time.
In the late 1940s Communism was on the move elsewhere. In former colonies of Europe strong independence movements emerged, often with communists playing key roles. In Malaya and Viet Nam such struggles ensued against respectively the British and French colonial powers. Most significant of all, was the communist victory in China in 1949 which sent shock waves around the world and gave rise to a belief that even more countries would fall like a line of dominos. In Australia this victory later allowed the Right to speak of a double barreled fear of a red and yellow peril. And all these fears were heightened when the Soviet Union detonated its own atomic bomb, breaking the US monopoly.
At home, the communist party -- the CPA -- was on the move as well. It emerged confidently from the Second World War with a large membership and a powerful base in the unions. It also had big plans. Initially, the challenge it made was within the labour movement. The bitter coal strike of 1949 was as much as challenge to the political leadership of the ALP as it was to the mine owners. In many other industries, the CPA urged a strongly militant stance and strikes were widespread.
The victory of the Liberal and Country parties in 1949 did much to dash the hopes of many of the Left and labor movement - in part because one of the winning elements of Menzies' campaign was fear of communism. Once in office he lost no time in drawing up a law to ban the CPA. Menzies regarded the communists as a treasonable force. So shortly after the bill passed through parliament, a series of raids on communist offices and the homes of CPA officials took place around Australia. But this plan also had a rallying effect on the targets of repression. And the Communist party, rather than challenging other forces on the Left, now began to seek allies to try to politically defeat the law to ban it.
The law was defeated - -first by the High Court in March 1951 and then the following September by a popular referendum to change the constitution - this defeat being one of the most remarkable events in the Cold War in Australia.
This is all the more remarkable because in the middle of the debate about the ban on the CPA, North Korea had invaded South Korea and Australian troops and pilots were sent to fight there.
But while a majority of Australians judged Menzies had gone too far with his ban on the CPA, for many people the fear of communism remained a legitimate concern because of the communism's victories overseas. These in turn created a climate in which many people began to believe that a new war would become possible. And for people who had just suffered a war this was a potent fear.
To many people this remains one of the puzzles of the early cold war. To us today the message about the fear of communism appears exaggerated, hyped, and hysterical. I believe there certainly was an air of hysteria. And it is certainly true that fear of communism was a very politically useful weapon which the conservative parties used to great effect at election after election. Beating the anti-Communist drum seemed to drown out discussion on any other issues and to scare people into singing the one tune or staying silent. The accusation of communism was able to close off debate and shut people up. Nor are these criticisms new -- such criticisms were made at the time.
But the puzzle remains: why were these fears accepted by a large number of people? Why was the accusation of communism so potent a weapon?
It is of course very easy to judge a previous historical period.
The people are always more stupid than us - or more naÃƒÂ¯ve --- or more noble. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But the people and the political players of the cold war were in fact very much like us - in the given circumstances of the time.
One of the challenges for people like myself who was only just born in the period of the early cold war is to try to think our way into the feeling of the times. This became clear to me when I was writing my book on the history of ASIO and the Cold war. For example, it gradually became obvious to me that my picture of the former ASIO officers some of whom I interviewed and about whose files I read, courtesy of National Archives, were rather different creatures from what I imagined. I had imagined that they were a rather grim, fanatical bunch who opposed the high minded and idealistic lefties who wanted to change Australia for the better. What I realised was that many of the ASIO officers and the anti communists were of course, also idealists. And that in many ways the things which they did - and with which I disagreed --- were the action of idealists - driven by ideals to sacrifice some freedoms in the passionate belief that that this was necessary to save even a greater freedoms. Driven by ideals to label people who disagreed as soft on communism.
The other challenge to understand the cold war is one faced by anyone looking at history back over 60 years . And that is, that when we look backwards , we have to realise that what is now in the past was once in the future.
For example, we now know as a simple matter of fact that no direct conflict occurred between the Soviet Union and the West in the 1950s. But looking toward the future from a standpoint in 1950, this was by no means clear. A third world war was a possibility, it was genuinely believed.
This point of view was something which came home to me forcefully again, when I was writing my account of ASIO and the Cold War. Like many other historians of that period, I was surprised by the vehemence and bitterness of the anti-Communist cause. It became clear to me as ÃƒÅ½ researched the now-released files that Western intelligence and defence officials sincerely believed that a Third World War with their erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, could soon break out. Moreover this view was shared by the intelligence and defence officials of the Soviet Union, which made various preparations, including alerting communist parties around the world to be ready.
So with both sides believing that a war could take place, some drastic plans were made. Some of these plans I discovered in my research, In particular in the early 1950s the Australian government made plans to intern over a thousand communists in camps in the event of war. This would involve the full gamut of repression -, the construction of internment camps, dawn raids on homes by police, difficult questions of whether to intern wives and small children, the shaky legal basis of interment etc .
To us today this seems bizarre. It seems all of a piece with attempts to ban the Communist party, and to fight almost any kind of non-conformism. But of course it all has be seen in context.
We usually have no difficulty seeing the context as it was seen by the victims of the Cold war. The communists and other people on the left saw the arguments of anti-communism as just another tactic by conservatives and by employers to beat back social change and perfectly reasonable reforms. They had faced such opposition since the beginning of the days of the trade union movement. They were accused of being merely an extension of the Soviet Union and they knew that that was quite incorrect. Rather, they represented the continuation of a radical tradition in Australia that long pre-dated the creation of the Soviet Union.
It is harder today to understand the context as the anti-Communists and the Right saw it. They were concerned that Stalin -- whom they knew was responsible for mass murder of his own people -- was armed with the A bomb. We now know that no Third World war ever took place. But this was not known in 1952 or 1953 or 54.
And that is the context for trying to understand the Royal Commission on Espionage which followed the defection of the Petrovs. It is true that on one level, it was a piece of political theatre, designed by a canny Menzies to drive home a lesson for the Australian people; but on another level it was quite understandable that some kind of investigation had to follow the defection of two Soviet spies, given that war with the Soviet Union was a possibility.
I am not saying that somehow the anti Communists were right, merely that today we have to make an effort to understand their perspective. For a long while, the Cold War has been a battle ground for what today are called the 'history wars.;' that is, a battle over the prevailing interpretation of the Cold war. By and large the Left has won this battle. Most people today look with incomprehension at the stifling of dissident opinion during the most intense period of the Cold War.
And so it takes an effort of imagination to see another point of view.
Finally, why would we bother to develop such a point of view ? Essentially because the Cold war has really, definitively finished and what we need now is a balanced view , not a partisan view of that period. This is not only the challenge to historians but to all of us who try to look back at anything in the past - whether it is family history or global history - we need to try and understand the perspective of people with whom we might have little sympathy. That us to say, we need to exercise a little empathy.
Posted by David at 7:26 PM
The quiet Americans
This article, on US intelligence and the labour movement, appeared in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 February 2003.
The recent reprimand delivered to the Labor leadership over the outspoken comments of some MPs about President George Bush and US policy toward Iraq has brought to light an intriguing aspect of US diplomacy in Australia.
Since the Second World War US embassies have include a special kind of diplomat, the Labor Attache. The Labor Attache , like the defence attache and cultural attache, promotes US interests in countries where the trade union movement and Labor parties are strong.
These have been the Quiet Americans, holding private pow wows with MPS and union leaders, handing out trips to the US and reporting all their observations to the State Department. During the Cold War, they worked covertly with anti-communist forces in actions that constitute interference in Australia's internal political life. As well, there are good reasons to believe that Labor attaches may have in the past been closely linked with US intelligence.
Much of the work of Labor Attaches is now visible in recently released American archives obtained by this writer. They offer a fascinating insight into internal Labor politics as well as the machinations of US diplomats. These documents cover the late 1960s when Australia's trade union movement was confident and strong and when white collar unions were moving to merge with the blue-collar ACTU and major industrial disputes occurred in protest at decisions of the Arbitration Commission.
A key figure in these documents is Bob Hawke, originally an ACTU advocate, then ACTU president and later Prime Minister.
Hawke was of interest to Labor Attaches such as Bob Walkinshaw and Emil Lindahl because they closely watched the political struggle within the ACTU. By the mid-late 1960s they were aware that the existing President, Albert Monk, was ill and a political struggle over his succession had broken out. . They noted that Monk 'takes frequent drinks of whisky and beer during the day - [although he] is never referred to as an alcoholic'.
Bob Hawke was one of a number of contenders for Monk's job and a bitter battle ensured over it. Hawke, said a US official in 1966 'is regarded as brilliant and by some people even as a possible future Prime Minister of Australia'. One US official, Doyle Martin, added that Hawke personally cultivates trade union leaders and 'is a competent performer at the saloon, as well as the forensic, bar'.
Two of their most sympathetic sources for interpreting the ACTU were the anti-communist forces, such as BA Santamaria's 'National Civic Council' (NCC) and Tom Doherty of the right wing Australian Workers Union. At one stage Bob Walkinshaw, the Labor Attache, sent the State Department copies of the NCC's analysis of the Australian communist movement, and commented: 'Santamaria is generally known as an authority on communism and has been a reliable source of information to the reporting officer on this question'. He added: 'Although it can be presumed that Santamaria would obviously be somewhat prejudiced, the contents of this pamphlet can be taken as reflecting a fairly accurate and objective analysis'. Such comments indicate just how wildly distorted was the vision through American eyes.
Several of the US Labor Attaches cultivated Hawke and had many long private conversations all of which were written up and relayed to the State Department and are now available for public scrutiny. An intriguing picture emerges of the young Hawke in his late 30s dealing with US diplomats. The Labor Attaches were unnerved by his militant aspirations and his association with communists. But on the other hand they began to see that he was a charismatic and ambitious man with aspirations beyond the union movement.
During 1969, the dynamic Hawke moved to take the leadership of the ACTU from its plodding officers. The Labor Attache, Emil Lindahl, watched these developments carefully and noted that while he was 'brilliant and effective', his enemies 'feel he is subject to flights of irresponsibility, including drunkenness, playing around with women, and brawling'. After intimately discussing the contest between Hawke and his rival, the ACTU President Harold Souter, the report concluded: 'Both Souter and Hawke can be considered friends of the US'.
The reason for this can be seen in Hawke's own astute judgement of the Labor Attaches. In December 1969, Lindahl attended a church meeting where Hawke spoke passionately about the 'holocaust in Vietnam'. Afterwards, Lindahl reported, Hawke came and sat with him, and asked 'Did I hit you too hard on Vietnam?' Lindahl replied, 'I know you can hit harder'. After a beer and more discussion together, Lindahl reported: '-[Hawke] puffed on his newly acquired cigar with a great deal of self-satisfaction. This very confident young man appears to be the master of his own destiny'. Lindahl was puzzled by Hawke's public vehemence on Vietnam and his private warmth. He had found this also when speaking with Jim Cairns and Clyde Holding. His report speculated about whether it was 'an effort at trying to make us believe that they are really responsible middle-of-the-roaders plagued by extremists' ? Or was it a 'Machiavellian scheme to disarm us' while planning an attack on the Australian Government?
Immediately after his election to the presidency of the ACTU in September 1969, the US ambassador, cabled that the Australian Government 'can expect nothing but trouble from Bob Hawke' who was 'all too prone to look upon strike action as best [sic] means of obtaining trade union goals'. Nevertheless, Rice added, the ACTU needed 'the breath of fresh air Hawke will put into it'.
The US Labor attaches were also intimate observers of the Labor Party, as well as the union movement. An American assessment of Whitlam, soon after he announced his bid for Labor leader argued that he 'has offended almost everybody by his bland assumption that his election will be automatic.' On the positive side it noted that '[Whitlam] would make considerable effort to remove the anti-American image the Party now casts' but 'as the Embassy has previously reported, his views on the long term future of China and Southeast Asia conflict strongly with those of the United States'
Victoria was of special interest to the Labor Attaches. It was also home to B.A. Santamaria and his political organisation and both were friendly sources of much information to the Labor Attaches. . In December 1969, the Labor Attache, Emil Lindahl, met the key anti-communist B.A. Santamaria at lunch at the Victorian Employers Federation where Santamaria was speaking. Santamaria was, according to Lindahl; 'his usual erudite self'.
In New South Wales, the Labor Attache cultivated the bright young things of the trade union movement. These included later NSW Premier, Barrie Unsworth and union king-maker John Ducker.
Of them, one American official wrote in 1967: 'Ducker and Unsworth are both energetic, democratic and sternly anti-communist young men-. The promotion of Ducker and Unsworth in the New South Wales Labor hierarchy has more than ordinary significance. The two are active in an informal group of younger trade union leaders who are consciously grooming themselves to be the next generation of New South Wales trade union leaders who are sternly anti-communist'.
The close relationship between the US embassy and Barrie Unsworth was revealed after the US embassy planned to bring anti-communist Vietnamese trade union leaders to Australia in 1966. The original plan involved a group called 'Committeee for the Defence of Australia'. But when the embassy asked Unsworth about this he said the group was 'ultra-rightist' and 'a political kiss of death' to the Vietnamese unionists. Instead, the cables say, Unsworth proposed that his union, the Electrical Trades Union, would sponsor the trip, which pleased the Americans.
Labor's fears about the real agenda of Labor Attaches go back some time. In 1966 the federal executive passed a resolution ordering an inquiry 'into the activities of the US Central Intelligence Agency'. Doyle Martin, a counsellor for political affairs noted in a cable: 'According to rumour this statement was aimed at the Embassy's political and labor officers whose interest in following ALP affairs has caused them to be suspected by left wing supporters of having some covert responsibilities.'
The truly murky part of the story on the ALP and the role of US Labor Attaches concerns the covert operations by US intelligence organisations such as the CIA. On the archival documents available to this writer, the CIA certainly received reports of the Labor Attaches on Australia. Next to each report is a distribution list for Government agencies. A typical cable from March 1969 shows that the State department received 29 copies, the CIA received 20 copies with the US Information Agency receiving 10 while the Agency for Internal Development receiving 12.. The US Labor Department received only 6 copies.
While the CIA's funding of intellectuals through the Congress of Cultural Freedom is not only old news but is the subject of a recent scholarly book, Who Paid the Piper?' by Frances Stonor Saunders, there is no book on other CIA covert operations in the trade union field. Saunders herself refers, in passing to one of the key figures in the operation, Irving Brown who was the International affairs officer of the US trade unions, the AFL-CIO (referred by some as the AFL-CIA). Another writer, Jonathan Kwitny, in his The Crimes of the Patriots, on the Nugan Hand bank refers to the 'CIA's long standing secret co-operation with the AFL-CIO, in bringing potential union leaders to the US'. Dozens of Australian union leaders took advantage of these 'freebies'. The CIA's interest in the Australian participants was presumably in talent spotting for future contacts though it has never been clear what other co-operation may have occurred. The selection of the beneficiaries of these trips were the Labor Attaches. (Suggestions of security links of Labor Attaches are emphasised by the censoring of the archival documents on 'security' grounds.)
Figures like NSW Labor king maker John Ducker now admit to extensive contacts with ASIO as part of the Right's anti-communist struggle. On the international front, similar connections are becoming clearer with Labor attaches and the American union movement playing key roles.
It should not be assumed, of course, that US was the only country with an intelligence interest in the labor movements of the West. The Soviet Government also ran a program of free trips to Russia and no doubt the KGB did talent spotting for potential recruits.
Posted by David at 7:21 PM
Western Intelligence and SEATO's war on subversion, 1956-63
Between the French defeat in Vietnam of 1954 and the beginning of significant US intervention in Vietnam in 1964-65, Western and South East Asian intelligence and security bodies co-operated in opposing subversion and armed insurgency under the auspices of the South East Asia Collective Defence Treaty, signed in Manila in 1954. The 'Manila Pact' saw the establishment of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, (SEATO) a regional equivalent to both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Baghdad Pact or Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). SEATO's signatories were the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Pakistan and the Philippines.
This article examines one part of SEATO activity which was the work of the Committee of Security Experts (CSE) a secretariat liaising between the security and intelligence organisations of SEATO signatories and convening biannual meetings of those organisations.
The birth of SEATO took place in a region still in the throes of decolonisation and challenged by communism. The Pacific war had fatally disrupted European colonial control and allowed both nationalist and communist forces to emerge and strengthen. In Europe, the communist challenge lead Truman to enunciate in 1947 his doctrine of containment which was to be sharply tested in Southeast Asia. That same year saw a radical turn in Soviet foreign policy which spurred on communist forces to mount significant armed challenges in Malaya, Indochina and the Philippines, and lesser ones in Burma and Thailand.
But the decisive events in the strategic situation of Southeast Asia were the victory of Mao's communists in China in 1949 shortly followed by the Korean War. Doubts about US commitment to the region evaporated and US policy toward the region turned from non-intervention to intervention.. In the case of Indochina, US material support for France, initially for reasons of co-operation in Europe, was dramatically bolstered to contain communism. The American fear was that Indochina would create a 'knock on' effect enabling other communist parties to seize power.
It was the surrender in May 1954 of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu and the subsequent Geneva Accords which led to the creation of SEATO. The Geneva Accords temporarily partitioned Viet Nam at the 17th parallel, ceding the north to the communists led by Ho Chi Minh. The agreement also provided for reunification elections which were never held, largely because the communists were widely expected to win, according to former Director of Central Intelligence, Charles Colby. After the signing of the Geneva Accords Cambodia effectively declared its neutrality, a worrying move to the US, as was its later recognition of the Peoples' Republic of China.
By the time of the creation of the SEATO administrative structure in 1955 communist groups in South East Asia had reached very different stages of development. While the communists had gained part of Viet Nam, military insurgencies led by communist parties in Malaya and the Philippines had been defeated.
In Thailand, where the administrative bodies of SEATO were established, small communist groups existed in some urban areas, in the remote north and in the far south which was also a safe rear area for the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). With its common borders with Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Malaya, Thailand was regarded as the key to Western efforts to counter communism and was the main base for the Central Intelligence Agency operations in the South East Asia in the period. The CIA was closely involved in training and arming the Thai Border Police in a series of growing counter-insurgency operations from the early 1950s onwards.
The Republic of Indonesia, founded in 1949 after a long period of Dutch colonial control, had a significant, growing communist party which had won nearly one quarter of the popular vote at the 1955 election. In 1958 the CIA had encouraged a group of dissident military leaders to start a local revolt directed at the central government. Using its Civil Air Transport, the CIA provided covert military support in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Indonesian President Sukarno. Sukarno, a leftwing nationalist who sponsored the neutralist Non-Aligned Movement, was known for anti-Western sentiments and had designated two communists as ministers without portfolio in his government in 1962.
By 1955 the guerrilla challenge in Malaya had effectively ended although a new challenge was emerging in the form of full political independence for Malaya and Singapore. In the latter a relatively strong left-wing movement existed. Singapore was Britain's key base east of Suez and projected British power as a deterrent to China and as protection for North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei as well as Singapore and Malaya. In Burma a small communist insurgency existed with the greater fear that China might intervene militarily to support it. In Laos fighting had flared in July 1955 between the communist Pathet Lao and the pro-Western government. A period of stabilisation followed but broke down into a series of coups and counter coups which saw Laos turn into a war by proxy between the USSR and USA. By 1961 the US proposed to intervene militarily using SEATO but this was blocked by France and Great Britain. The conflict in Laos proved to be a turning point for SEATO, demonstrating its ineffectiveness and internal divisions.
While some Western states always had doubts about the effectiveness of SEATO, the Americans were keen to promote it in its early years, with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles attending every Council meetings between 1955 and 1959. SEATO as a whole was, until around 1960, central to US plans to counter what they saw as the deterioration of pro-Western governments in South East Asia, especially Laos. According to the US Defense Department, the use of a multilateral SEATO force to counter communist insurgency, which would include Asian military forces, was attractive because it would be politically acceptable. During the 1961 'Laos crisis', a proposal by the Thai Government for a SEATO force to intervene was supported by US Secretary of State Dean Rusk but this proposal was shelved due to strong opposition from the French and British. The consequence was that the US relied increasingly on its covert military aid through the CIA, including its recruitment of the Laotian ethnic minorities as counter-insurgency units.
Britain was also genuinely committed to SEATO from its inception. It reinforced British status in the Western alliance as well as offering a practical deterrent to communism. Unlike France it had successfully fought a communist insurgency while granting independence to a former colony. This experience in Malaya was highly regarded by the American who later sought to apply its lessons in Viet Nam. But Britain's participation in SEATO was predicated on its continued ability and desire to keep significant military forces in Singapore. By the early 1960s the likelihood of an independent Singapore continuing to permit British forces on its territory was dim. At the same time Prime Minister Harold Macmillan determined to cut defence expenditure east of Suez and to encourage bi-lateral agreements (for instance with the Republic of Vietnam) rather than multilateral ones such as SEATO.
Southeast Asia was a key theatre of conflict between the Western powers and communism, having gone close to the nuclear brink at least twice and seen several armed insurgencies culminating in the Vietnam war. Yet in the immediate postwar period, the attention of London and Washington was focussed on Europe and the Middle East and Asian intelligence targets were low status. Western intelligence in this region was complicated by demobilisation and the imperial legacy as well as being in a state of 'dilapidation'. The literature on this region is uneven. Busch notes that the key defence agreement in the region, SEATO, has not attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Compounding this problem, studies of intelligence and security in the region are thin on the ground by comparison with Europe. The most extensive and richest knowledge we have concerns the Central Intelligence Agency . Coverage of the British Secret Intelligence Service and Security Service is negligible by comparison although South East Asian operations are mentioned in a number of general studies In recent times the Malaya Emergency has been a particular focus and a specialised collection on the clandestine cold war in Asia also recently appeared. Until now the work of SEATO's Committee of Security Experts (CSE) is unrecorded in the literature discussing intelligence activity. Study of it however can give insights into the thinking of British, American, French and Australian intelligence bodies in the crucial period leading to the war in Viet Nam. This article is based on archival records of the Committee of Security Experts which include position papers produced by each intelligence service for CSE meetings and the accounts of those meetings by Australian security and foreign affairs participants. (These documents have only become available in recent years after negotiations between archive agencies of the original signatories to the Manila Pact.)
The work of the committee of security experts
The overall policy for SEATO was made by annual meetings of its Council, comprising the Foreign Ministers of member countries. The bulk of the work of SEATO was carried out by the military and civil wings based at its headquarters in Bangkok, supervised by Bangkok-based diplomats of SEATO signatories. SEATO's Military Planning Office (MPO) planned counter-insurgency operations and prepared for military intervention in both Laos and Thailand. It also conducted twenty three major military exercises from 1955 to 1962 . However, SEATO had no dedicated military forces and its purpose was the co-ordination of its members' armed forces.
A less well known aspect of SEATO's purpose involved intelligence liaison aimed at countering the rise of communism in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaya and Singapore, as well as the countries of Asian signatories. This liaison was conducted through the Committee of Security Experts (CSE) which was based in Bangkok, Thailand and which met every six months. The CSE was formed in 1955 initially under the name 'Committee to Combat Communist Subversion', at the instigation of the CIA. Working with the Committee of Security Experts (and also staffed by security and intelligence officers) was an Office of Counter Subversion and a Research Services Office. In 1963, as the military conflict deepened in Vietnam, the Committee of Security Experts was re-named the Intelligence Assessment Committee and its functions altered. This article mainly concerns its work between 1955 and 1963.
The biannual meetings of CSE saw delegations headed by the local representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Britain's MI 5 and MI 6, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) , New Zealand's Security Service, the Philippines National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau, and the Thai Directorate of Central Intelligence. The CSE role was twofold. First, to provide intelligence-based assessments of subversion and insurgency to the SEATO Council and its Military Advisers. These ranged from studies of subversion in schools and universities, trade unions, and agricultural communities to a more purely military analysis of the weaponry and personnel. Second, to develop political warfare through 'counter-measures', particularly in the ideological field, which were usually carried out in conjunction with the Research Services Office. The Research Services Office specialised in 'exposure papers' for selected release to governments and journalists. Early suggested topics included 'Communist Exploitation of Neutralism', 'Communist Exploitation of Overseas Chinese', 'Living Standards in Communist Countries' and 'The Communist Record and Views on Religion'. Less formally, the time spent at CSE meetings discussing threat assessments functioned in part as an education forum for the Asian security agencies. As well, CSE was a regular venue for personal contact between Asian-based Western intelligence officers. An early report referred to its 'normal cheerful, club-like atmosphere.' Within SEATO, the work of the CSE was co-ordinated by a dedicated Liaison Officer, at first H. M. Askew until he was replaced in 1960 by Peter Joce, both British intelligence officers.
Two of the two key intelligence figures who participated in the CSE in its hey day were MI5's Michael Serpell and the CIA's Bangkok Chief of Station Bob Jantzen. Jantzen was something of a legendary figure, 'a gregarious, six-foot-four inch, red headed, back slapping extrovert', according to former CIA officer, Ralph McGehee. Another former CIA officer, Joseph Smith, portrays him as superficially friendly and accommodating but with a pushy style. A hint of his personal style is given in a report of a CSE meeting in May 1959: 'Jantzen's chairmanship of the meeting was poor and his impatience and lack of tact gave unfortunate offence to some Asian members, particularly [Colonel Nicanour] Jimenez [leader of the Filipino delegation]. Jantzen scarcely concealed his belief that the Asian members were not pulling their weight'.
Michael Serpell lead delegations to meetings of the CSE in 1960-62 and was based in Singapore at Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE). SIFE was the joint operations centre for MI5 and MI6 for Southeast Asia and was housed in the offices of the British Commissioner General for Southeast Asia at Phoenix Park. Serpell's particular contribution to CSE was to report on the British sphere of influence covering Malaya, Brunei, Sarawak and Singapore. In the late 1940s Serpell had been personal assistant to MI 5's Director General, Sir Percy Sillitoe, and wrote one of the early reports on looming Soviet espionage after the Nunn-May affair. Other British officers who participated in the CSE include Dick Thistlethwaite, who lead delegations from 1956 -59, and Michael Wrigley, the SIS station chief in Bangkok, who led them between 1963 and 1969. Other security officials included Brigadier H.E. Gilbert (New Zealand), Captain P. Collinet (France), Police General Chamra Mandukananda (Thailand) and Colonel Nicanor Jimenez (Philippines).
An important and tangible result of CSE meetings was the arrangement of specialised training for Southeast Asian intelligence agencies. Given the high regard for its successful counterinsurgency in Malaya, Britain took a major role in training, using Special Branch School in Kuala Lumpur. It conducted more specialised training at Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE) in Singapore.
The functioning of the CSE was hampered from the start by a number of factors which made it quite different from the intelligence co-ordination of its European equivalent, NATO . An attempt by SIFE in 1956 to broaden the terms of reference of the CSE lead to a perceptive analysis by the New Zealand Department of External Affairs:
The root problem has been that the committee consists fundamentally of representatives of the national security services each of whom can speak authoritatively only on the security problem within his own national frontiers - This problem is complicated by the fact that the major non-Asian powers have sources of intelligence other than those of their national security services concerning the subversive threat to the Treaty area. In some respects these sources and the evaluations made by the intelligence bodies give a much fuller picture of the problem in particular countries- Further more they may be more accurate than the intelligence material and evaluations presented to the Committee by the Asian powers since - these are distorted either because the Asian intelligence and security agencies are not as efficient as those of the Commonwealth and the United States, or because for political reasons they are consciously or unconsciously falsified
This disparity between the partners in SEATO was a continuing problem. An Australian CSE participant commented in 1958 that 'the committee tends to be monopolised by the Western members' because of fears of wasted time and that 'little will be achieved unless the Asian members send competent delegations to the CSE meetings.' Within the standing SEATO bureaucracy certain offices were designated to filled by the nationals of particular member states, regardless of skill or appropriateness. The director of the Research Services Office was to be a Pakistani while his deputy was American (initially Jack Lydman of the CIA). But the initial director, M. Hadi Hussain, was 'indolent and inefficient', according to the Australian ambassador to Thailand, J K Waller. Such appointments undermined the CSE's 'exposure program' and counter propaganda effort. Colonial attitudes also survived. An Australian and a Pakistani delegate took Richard Thistlethwaite (MI5) to task at an early meeting after his attempt to 'rush proceedings' by letting it be known that he had a more pressing engagement after the CSE meeting.
Tensions between the Western intelligence agencies also hampered the work of the CSE. From the earliest days of SEATO the British preferred a less fundamentalist approach to anti-communism to the US. For example, in 1955 the British distanced themselves from an American proposal for SEATO to issue a strident anti-Communist declaration. The British argued that such a declaration would be 'out of place' in the context of the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement after the 1955 Bandung meeting. Britain and the US were also divided on the question of 'neutralism'. The British, supported by France, advocated a policy of neutrality for South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to create a buffer between communist and Western-aligned areas of the region. But for the US, there was no room for neutrality because it gave openings to communist forces. American fundamentalism was observable when, during the Laos crisis, the US told Australia privately that they were critical of British intelligence assessments which suggested that the local disorders were 'spontaneous' rather than 'the result of outside Communist inspiration', as the US believed. Later at one senior CIA officer admitted the failings of this approach which helped precipitate civil war in Laos in 1960-61. Former deputy director of plans, Richard Bissell has described how the CIA financed one Laotian political front then shifted its support to a more anti-communist group which staged a coup. Yet the latter had little local political support. The problem with the former was that it 'advocated pro-Western neutrality', said Bissell, and this was enough to condemn it in US eyes.
Outside the CSE proceedings, such tensions between British and US intelligence agencies were longstanding. In spite of agreements between them that they would not run operations in the other's sphere of influence, this was routinely disregarded by the CIA in Singapore and Malaya and through the activities of the Asia Foundation, an object of suspicion by the British intelligence, according to Joseph Smith. In 1956, the CIA was covertly intervening in Singapore to block the growing strength of the Peoples Action Party and its left-wing allies.
Marked strategic differences were regularly displayed between France and the US at many meetings. At the 13th CSE meeting in November 1960, a US assessment of South Vietnam spoke simply of the Diem government's 'bold counter-measures' and the communists' ability to 'exploit dissatisfaction with the government'. The analysis of the French spoke frankly of the government's 'corruption and excesses' and its 'panicky measures'. An Australian report of the meeting noted the isolation of the US because of its 'over-confident' view on South Vietnam.
The attitude of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau was a regular problem at CSE meetings because most of its work was directed at the threat from India, rather than from communist subversion. This became most critical during the Sino-Indian border dispute in 1964, when the Pakistan Intelligence Agency argued that there was little threat from Communist China and objected to the term Chinese 'attack' and preferred a reference to the 'aggravation of the Sino-Indian border dispute'. After 1965 France and Pakistan formally reduced their participation in the military structure of SEATO and lowered their profile at Council meetings.
The dilemmas of political and cultural warfare
In the period under study, the main thrust of Western intelligence through SEATO was to encourage political and cultural warfare against subversion. To this end the CSE organised two public seminars under the auspices of SEATO at Baguio in the Philippines, in November 1957 and at Lahore, Pakistan in February 1960. Delegates to the seminars included intelligence officers and anti-communist journalists, trade unionists, politicians and educationalists. These included the former communist Douglas Hyde who spoke at Lahore and John Rayner, from the Foreign Office's Information Research Department who discussed 'counter action' to subversion. Apart from its overt aim of exchanging views, the purpose of the seminars was to provide quotable material in the form of reports, documents, film and speeches for in 'exposing communist tactics and techniques'. Speeches and resolutions at the seminars strongly emphasised freedom and democracy in contrast to communism. The Baguio seminar recommended that 'Communist subversion is often most effectively precluded or defeated by positive action to support the concepts under which the nations of the Free World are established- positive values [such] as freedom, human dignity, religion and spiritual worth-'. This reflected the Pacific Charter, signed along with the Collective Defence Treaty, which pledged to 'invigorate the foundations of justice and liberty'.
The articulation of such values highlighted one of the dilemmas of the position of the CSE security agencies (and their governments) which was that countering subversion was regarded as a higher priority than preserving democratic freedoms, including those associated with elections.
Some of this emerged during a CSE meeting which discussed the 'historical review of the communist threat' in May 1959. The Pakistan Intelligence Bureau reported that all communist activity had been suppressed by the Pakistan Government in 1954, although the Communist Party of Pakistan had won five seats in the East Pakistan elections held that year. The following year, having abandoned neutralism and joined the Baghdad Pact, Pakistan declared the local communist party illegal. Repression of communist infiltration of peasant, student and trade union groups followed a military coup in October 1958. The experience of the intelligence authorities of Pakistan in suppressing communist electoral activities was summed up in paper on 'Communist Exploitation of Elections' given to the CSE in August 1960.
The aims of counter-subversion also conflicted with democratic norms after a coup in Thailand in 1958. The coup lead to the arrest of the chairman of the Socialist United Front and over 400 alleged communists and their sympathisers in the press, political parties, trade union and student organizations. Fourteen publishing firms and 29 newspapers and magazines had been closed, according to a Thai intelligence report to the meeting. In the British colony of Singapore, reported the British delegation, 'police action in 1956 effectively disrupted the communist plans for the complete domination of the Singapore Trade Union Congress'. In Malaya, the MCP continued to work in the unions and concentrated on what was termed 'legal subversion' by supporting left-wing parties.
Apart from purely political activities, the CSE's counter-subversion effort extended to broader cultural and intellectual areas. In 1959 the SEATO Council welcomed a series of CSE recommendations which called for a survey in member states on the extent and influence of communist textbooks, literature and films. Existing laws on the importation of such material should be examined and 'regular examinations should be made of the syllabi and textbooks (especially foreign publications) in use in schools to prevent the spreading of Communist propaganda among young people', said the Council. A survey of subversion at universities in South East Asia reported that governments in Pakistan, the Philippines and Singapore screened potential university staff for communist tendencies. In response to a related CSE recommendation about university staff who visited communist countries, the Philippines reported that such university staff had been closely interrogated and 'are under constant surveillance'.
Of particular concern in the cultural and educational sphere were overseas Chinese communities which had originally been encouraged by the colonial powers in South East Asia. After the 1949 Chinese revolution, these communities were sometimes used by local communists as launching pads for various political struggles, with the Chinese community in Malaya being the most obvious example. In a similar way the Chinese Peoples' Republic was prepared to use these communities to develop cultural and other ties with their host countries. (This 'cultural offensive', in the parlance of the intelligence agencies, was regarded as a major threat. A 1959 paper by CIA officer and the deputy director of the Research Services Office, William Coolidge, argued that 'cultural exchanges serve to open up the country to communist penetration- because cultural ties seem 'innocuous''.
The British delegate (either Serpell or Thistlethwaite) reported that in the territories of North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak the 'China-born nostalgia' of the 22 per cent Chinese minority was kept alive by 'vernacular films, travelling 'opera' companies, and a continual leakage of mainland news through clandestine channels'. To stem this, in North Borneo, 37 publications had been banned and nine teachers deported as undesirable immigrants. In Sarawak two Chinese had been deported for using a 'subversive song book' which contained songs 'in praise of Communist China, intended to create a sense of grievance'. In Singapore, the new government had banned the publications of 43 Chinese mainland publishers and ten from Hong Kong. In Malaya, a search of a factory workers' union office had 'yielded 120 books , three quarters of which were communist, including communist song books'. In Thailand the new government 'ordered the arrest of all known communist and pro-communist elements, including those who had visited Communist China on 'cultural missions'.'
Restrictions on travel to communist countries (and associated surveillance) was another aspect of counter-subversion reviewed by SEATO intelligence officers. An American paper described the Chinese tactic of 'peoples' diplomacy' which encouraged travel to China particularly by visitors from Third World countries who might be impressed with its achievement. The actual purpose of 'peoples' diplomacy' was to increase pressure for formal diplomatic recognition of China and to establish 'propaganda channels' particularly in African and Latin American countries. The CSE Liaison officer warned against certain tourists to communist countries whom he described as 'busybodies who think that, with the knowledge gained from the visits, they can, single-handed, bring about a relaxation of tension between the West and the East'.
The debate on 'civic action' and counter-insurgency
Differences within the intelligence agencies operating in South East Asia were evident in discussion over a paper on 'Civic Action' delivered by the US at the 13th CSE meeting in November 1960. In a familiar approach to guerilla warfare, the US emphasised the non-military aspects needed to win, such as the political and psychological support of ordinary people.
'Communism thrives where discontent, poverty, corruption ineptitude, abuses and other social ills exist. Guerrilla warfare is not only a military war but also a political, psychological and socio-economic war,' the paper said, echoing similar analyses by communist theorists of guerrilla war. The manner in which the counter-insurgency forces behave toward the people 'greatly influences the course of events'. To build popular support for counter-insurgency, forms of civic action were needed including road building, health and medical assistance, the installation of honest local officials and the distribution of food. Honesty, respect and consideration for local populations were to be prized.
In stating this , the US was referring to the methods used by the CIA's Edward Lansdale to defeat of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines some seven years before. His strategy included civilian-commando units to defend local communities, civilian advisory committees, keeping elections free, as well as road building and other public works. Another aspect was the resettlement of civilians into temporary villages, screened from the visits of communist guerrillas. This had 'proven very successful' in the Philippines and was being practised in Vietnam where 150,000 people 'mostly from the over-populated lowlands' were re-settled in 'agrovilles' in the high plateaux or the Mekong Delta. Combined with other civic action in Vietnam, including building schools, bridges, markets, the strategy had lead to 'much of the war-torn economy [being] rehabilitated'. The American paper gave similar optimistic examples of civic action in Indonesia, Burma and Laos.
The US optimism about civic action as a remedy to communism in South Vietnam was not universally shared. The French delegation lead by Captain Pierre Collinet at the 1960 meeting was scathing about what it regarded as the superficiality of the US approach and warned that civic action was 'no panacea against Communism'. In South Vietnam after the 1954 settlement, he said, many disorganised programs of civic action were initiated by government agencies. One consequence of this was that 'no one was willing to take responsibility for the ensuing failures and set backs'. The successes of civic action programs were often spoilt by 'arbitrary arrests, extortion by rural government officials and operational units in the field, delays and errors in the agrarian reforms and favouritism'. Civilians were often left with the impression that the aim is to 'woo' the masses which was 'in itself a confession of the weakness and possibly even insecurity of the regime,' said Collinet. The methods of civic action were copied from the enemy who was in fact more skilled in articulating the populace's grievances. In addition, many people resented the boredom of having to attend pep talks and saw the Government propaganda as just 'eye wash'. But the American paper was well received by the other intelligence services represented at the meeting with the Australian ASIO officer, Colin Brown, commenting that most thought was 'one of the more useful works produced in the committee.'
The failure of SEATO's counter subversion work
The heightened level of insurgency in Laos and Vietnam in 1961-62 marked a turning point for the Committee of Security experts. It became clear that the war on subversion was taking a decidedly military turn and that the counter-subversion effort had to be stepped up.
Acting on a suggestion from the US State Department, the foreign ministers on the SEATO Council in August 1961 commissioned an expert group to report on new ways to fight communist subversion. Led by G. R. (Ron) Richards, the deputy director-general of ASIO, the group's report successfully proposed the creation within SEATO of a high-level Office of Counter Subversion (OCS) led by a Special Assistant who ranked third in the hierarchy of SEATO. The Special Assistant position was initially filled by a CIA officer, George Aurell, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army who had headed the CIA's Far East Division in the Philippines from 1952-58. Given extensive bilateral American intelligence and paramilitary activity in Thailand which was quite independent of SEATO, his appointment was seen by some as a guarantee that the CIA would face no interference from SEATO-associated intelligence forces. According to a former intelligence officer, Aurell's appointment to the SEATO role was denounced by Radio Peking several days before he arrived in Bangkok, reinforcing doubts about the security arrangements of SEATO's Bangkok bureaucracy.
Under Aurell, the Office coordinated several assistance programs to member states, especially Thailand. It also organised security training assistance to the Thais, including a two year attachment to the Thai Provincial Police by an Australian officer, Douglas McPherson. Aurell may not have been the most suitable person to run the office, given his preferences for military operations rather than civic action by the CIA. During his time in the Philippines, he is reported to have complained: 'What in hell is an intelligence agency doing running a rural resettlement program?' A New Zealand account comments that Aurell 'did little' and that his re-appointment therefore suited New Zealand which was sceptical of the worth of SEATO counter subversion strategy.
By the mid 1960s, the weakness of SEATO's work in the field of counter subversion was extensively detailed in a report by an Australian intelligence officer who was seconded to work in the Office of Counter Subversion. Among the barriers he faced in undertaking counter subversion work was a lack of co-operation from Thai officials. The Director of the OCS at this time was a Major-General Thamrang Parnsingha, an expert on psychological warfare who 'is extremely suspicious of personal contact between foreigners and Thai officials on matters of security. In the 10 months he controlled the office, Thamrang managed somehow to avoid any material involvement with counter-subversion in Thailand,' said the disgruntled officer. The failure of the SEATO Office of Counter Subversion stands in stark contrast to the extensive CIA para-military counter-insurgency program within Thailand under bilateral agreements with the USA. The paralysis and irrelevance of SEATO, said the officer, 'is leading increasingly, and very understandably, to a reluctance on the part of American officials to discuss locally any matters graded confidential and above.'
In the terms set by SEATO itself, notably the prevention of the spread of communism, particularly in South Viet Nam, SEATO failed to achieve its goals. The reasons for the its failure are complex but the continuing participation of the United States as the key player in SEATO was decisive. From 1962 onwards in the wake of the Laos crisis the US began to circumvent SEATO in favour of bi-lateral relations and direct intervention. In the looming crisis in South Viet Nam both methods would soon be become its preferred modus operandi rather than working through cumbersome multilateral bodies like SEATO. Added to this problem were several other factors, including a more definitive British withdrawal east of Suez, deepening passivity of France about South East Asia and its preoccupation with the events in Algeria. Thus SEATO, including its civilian intelligence side, became what Pearson refers to as a 'paper machine with a momentum of its own' where multilateral discussion and editing of position papers tended to substitute for meaningful action.
Behind this failure of the administrative expression of a defence pact were three deeper differences among its signatories and these were expressed at the level of the Committee of Security Experts. The first involved drawing a distinction between communism and nationalism in a decolonising Southeast Asia. This was a point made by SIS's Michael Wrigley who believed that much of the unrest in Southeast Asia was inspired by nationalism rather than being directed by Moscow or Peking. Such conclusions were unpalatable to the United States. The second was differing attitudes to neutralism. The US refused to countenance any form of neutralism while the former colonial powers in the region, Britain and France, were prepared to accommodate some form of neutralist governments in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. The third concerned China. While the existence of the Peoples' Republic of China provided a unifying focus for Western intelligence co-operation in Southeast Asia this co-operation was dogged by disagreements, with Britain having recognised the government in Beijing while the US remained opposed such diplomatic recognition. This difference extended to analysis of intelligence with British and Commonwealth allies more inclined to see a defensive stance rather than an aggressive one.
While the Committee of Security Experts provided a venue for liaison between the security agencies in Southeast Asia and training for regional security bodies, its participating intelligence agencies proved unable to overcome these broader differences at the strategic and diplomatic level of their parent nations.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Michael Boyle for his insightful comments.
Posted by David at 7:14 PM
August 26, 2005
Eurocommunism and the Soviet Union
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rule of its Communist Party, a great deal of evidence on the relations between the CPSU and world communist movement has come to light. One of the more interesting comes from an archivist for the foreign branch of the KGB, Vasili Mitrokhin, who copied thousands of documents over a 12 year period and came to the West (courtesy of British intelligence) in 1992. . His material is the basis for a book by himself and British academic Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press).
The emergence of Eurocommunism led to elaborate KGB plans to discredit some of its leaders, such as the Italian Enrico Berlinguer and the Spanish communist Santiago Carillo.
Berlinguer, who became PCI general secretary in 1972, launched the notion of a 'historic compromise' between the PCI, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats in 1973 after the Chile coup. In 1975, a KGB informer on the PCI central committee accused Berlinguer of a 'cowardly rejection of Leninism' and urged the CPSU to strongly criticise the PCI. This would spit the party, but this was necessary, said the informer.
In June 1976 during the election campaign in which the PCI received 34% of votes, Berlinguer issued a statement that Italy should remain in NATO. Shortly after, KGB chairman, Andropov ordered a plan of disinformation which would claim Berlinguer owned land in Sardinia and had been involved in dubious building contracts worth billions of lira. The plan does not seem to have been implemented.
A more secret conflict between the PCI leadership and the CPSU concerned the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, the president of the Christian Democrats in early 1978. The leaders of the PCI, were deeply concerned about the support by the Czechoslovak StB [security and intelligence service] for the Italian Red Brigades which had carried out the kidnapping. During this period the Soviet ambassador to Rome sided with the PCI and criticised the Czechs.
The major break with the CPSU occurred after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In 1982 Berlinguer declared that the October revolution had 'exhausted its propulsive force'. Until this period, Soviet subsidies continued to go to the PCI. In 1972 it was over US$5m, in 1976, it was US$6.5m.. From the early 1980s subsidies were channelled to the pro-Soviet wing led by Cossutta, partly to finance the pro-Soviet newspaper Paese Sera.
The other bete noir for the CPSU was the Spanish Communist Party and its leader Santiago Carrillo. Carrilo took the PCE on a 'Eurocommunist' path froim the 1970s. As in Italy the KGB operated through a pro-Soviet informer on the PCE central committee, Ignacio Gallego. In 1977, Gallego forwarded galley proofs of Carrillo's forthcoming book 'Eurocommunism and the State' as well as a draft declaration to be made by the PCE, PCI and French CP. Gallego also informed the KGB that a left wing newspaper Pueblo was intending to send a reporter to Moscow to interview dissidents, an action which seems to have led to the denial of a visa to the reporter.
After the June 1977 election in which the PCE won a disappointing 9 per cent, the CPSU International Department drafted an attack on Carrillo's 'revisionism' and arranged for its publication under the signatures of three PCE members. Throughout this time Gallego received about US$30,000 per year from the KGB. In 1984 the Russians financed a break away party by Gallego. The PCE itself lost much of its support and merged with two other left groups in 1986 to form the United Left..
The case the French CP and its leader George Marchais is different again. Marchais's criticism of the Soviet Union was limited and brief. The 1976 French party congress rejected 'dictatorship of the proletariat' and criticised what they called 'limitations on democracy' in the Soviet Union. In this period a KGB report notes that the French authorities had obtained documentary evidence that Marchais had lied about his war record. Marchais had said that he was forced to go to Germany to work in the Messerschmitt factory and had escaped back to France in 1943. The French authorities (according to the KGB) had a document which showed that he had signed a voluntary work contract for the Germans. It is not clear (probably unlikely) that the KGB helped bring this information to light in 1977 when a former member of the French CP Politburo published a document showing Marchais had signed on voluntarily. (In 1980, L'Express published a document indicating that he had stayed in Germany until 1944.) By this time the PCF was back in the pro-Soviet camp, supporting the invasion of Afghanistan and praising the banning of Solidarity in Poland. As with the PCI and PCE, the KGB used an informer on the central committee, Gaston Plissonnier.
In 1987 Marchais sent a begging letter to Gorbachev and requesting 10 million francs (US$1.6m) for help in the 1988 elections. This was agreed by the Soviet Politburo. However, Gorbachev himself was well known for his interest and respect for the Italian CP in the period before 1991.
Posted by David at 7:30 PM
August 12, 2005
Australia's intelligence and security, yesterday and today
The following is a lecture given by Dr David McKnight, University of Technology, Sydney, at the National Archives of Australia on 6 June 2004.
I want to begin by paying tribute today to the National Archives. It is a vital repository for the nation's memory. It allows researchers like myself to come and try to understand our history. It allows individuals who are curious about their family history to find out much more. It puts on timely exhibitions like this one.
We can be grateful that it has not been privatised, or outsourced or commercialised, like so many of our great public institutions. Let's hope that this ideological craze has passed.
My first contact with National Archives came while I was working on the Sydney Morning Herald as a journalist in the late 1980s. A few friends of mine had begun to make use of the new Archives Act to request material about some of the more secret aspects of Australia's history. And about the shadowy organisation known as ASIO, and its predecessors such as the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
As a journalist I thought there was a hot story in the offing and so I came down to the bleak concrete bunker in grassy paddocks out at Mitchell and began my research. I wrote two articles which picked up on some of the wacky things that went on. But in the process as a lot of others have been, I was bitten by a bug, The bug causes an illness whose main symptom is a fascination with old documents and a desire to make sense of them by writing history. In an extreme cases there is an urgent desire to nail down, once and for all, the truth of matters of controversy and in the process to harass Archives staff into providing little known and highly secret papers. One fellow historian used to refer to himself as an 'archives rat' -- gnawing away at problems by rummaging through musty old papers in darkened vaults.
As well as this, there is a rather naughty desire to read the private correspondence from the inner workings of government. To be able to open a red folder with the impressive words 'Top Secret" or even "Ultra" stamped on it. To be able to read private letters and cables to and from the Prime Minister about the affairs of state.
This is kind of the desire that fuels lots of people from historians to detectives -- and no doubt security officers.
When I first visited the National Archives I was fascinated by the unlikely kinds of people who had ASIO dossiers:
They included Professor Manning Clark; nuclear scientist Sir Marcus Oliphant ; Professor Julius Stone; the artist Lloyd Rees; the boxer Jimmy Carruthers - the Labor MP Jim Cairns, the novelist Christina Stead, and Dame Mary Gilmore (whose photo now appears on the ten dollar bill). All were regarded as communist sympathisers of one kind or another . After I while - after I had got over my indignation that a file was kept o n them -- I realised that this was perfectly true. All kinds of intellectuals, artists, politicians, and many others passed through the Left or the CPA at some stage in their lives. It is said that the biggest party in Australia is still the ex-members of the Communist Party.
I should mention at this point that I was once myself a member of the Communist Party. I had joined as a young student and had drifted out of the party at the about same time that I had begun to write my book. In fact during the period of research for the book, the CPA voluntarily dissolved itself.
The point about that is, that I had met personally met many of the top leaders whose files I was sitting down to study.
Writing and researching a book about a secret agency was a challenge. In fact it was one of the most fascinating things I've ever done. I was surprised at how much was actually on the public record -- stuff that had slipped out over the years in newspapers etc . But much more important was the ability to open a direct window into the agency through access to its own documents.
One of the highlights of my research was that I dug up plans for mass internment of communists. I had heard rumours that the Menzies government had plans to round up communists and place them in internment camps in the event of World War 3. So I requested archival documents on this and sure enough such plans did exist. They involved ASIO, military intelligence and state police raiding peoples homes simultaneously around Australia and taking them to internment camps. In the early 1950s this was a real possobilty. Partly because of this, the Communist Party developed an extensive underground organisations, with hidden printing presses, safe houses, and individuals with false identities.
As I researched I found out other unusual facts. During one court case which I fought with Archives, it was mentioned that ASIO had about 40,000 pages of transcript of telephone tapping, from the period when it was not legal. The mind boggles at what the organisation must have today,
I found out that ASIO kept a close watch on the ABC, recording some of its programs, and vetting its journalistic staff after complaints from the government about left wing ABC bias. Some things never change.
As well, I discovered that ASIO has a library of movie footage. Sounds fascinating but of course when you actually see it, it consists largely of people walking into and out of doorways -- usually attending a meeting of the central committee of the Communist Party or a CPA branch. More interesting stuff shows May Day marches and there is a training documentary which is quite a good film.
Researching archives sometimes shoots down your pet conspiracy theory -- and in fact this is one of the great benefits. But archives can also confirm conspiracy theories. In the 1960s people on the Left made the wild accusation that some on the Right -- notably BA Santamaria's Catholic forces -- were working with ASIO. Not only was this confirmed by archival documents but even more surprising was the high level of co-operation between the NSW Right in the Labor Party and several ASIO officers in the 1970s . I was sceptical about these accusations until I saw documents confirming them. A related conspiracy theory concerned ASIO and the Whitlam government. I am researching some of this at the moment. It is not true that ASIO conspired against Whitlam. The Director General Peter Barbour had a rocky but very proper relationship with PM Whitlam. What did occur was a rogue group of officers within ASIO tried to undermine both Barbour and Whitlam. But that's a story that the Archives may or may not reveal in years to come. The problem is that the best conspiracies leave no documents to be found in years to come.
Former officersIn researching the book I also set out to track down former officers of ASIO to see if they would be interviewed, This was a fascinating exercises in detective work itself. A surprising number -- about 35 -- agreed to talk to me in some form or other. Another 40 others simply refused point blank. All those who did talk technically breached the Crimes Act and I was desperately hoping that when the book was published, there would be legal action against it. No such luck.
So I was in the position where I had personal contact with both those under surveillance, those doing the surveillance and perhaps most useful of all, the solid foudnation of ASIO documnts courtesy of National Archives.
A fascinating position for a writer to be in
The former ASIO officers who agreed to talk to me were an interesting lot. Most were from the generation known colloquially within ASIO as 'the old and bold' . They were fairly tough minded individuals who knew a lot of secrets about Western global intelligence efforts and their more modest equivalents within Australia.
As a group, they were enormously varied in their outlooks and manner; this was a surprise because when I imagined beforehand what they might be like, I tended to see them as being poured out of the one mould. As a caricature. A few were talkative, most were guarded, but with some interviews were like prising open an oyster. A small number had actually been sympathisers with the Labor Party although the erratic behaviour of Doc Evatt turned them off. Others were supporters of Menzies -- but they knew just what a difficult it can be to meet the partisan demands of political masters. There were also genuine oddballs. One former ASIO officer - who was regarded as a bit wacky by his own colleagues insisted on taking my photo before I could interview him. Apparently he believed that I might have been a Soviet sleeper agent and one of the Russian's rules was : never allow someone to take your photo., Anyway I shrugged and he clicked and we chatted but what he said was of little use.
But these characters aside, I found to my surprise that many ASIO officers were idealistic and motivated by a spirit of service to the Australia. It s just that they were anti-communist idealists -- in contrast to the left wing idealists in whose circles I moved.
My job was to get information from them and this was often frustrating. Often I found that they truly didn't have answers to some of the questions I posed. I then realised that this was a reflection of the fact that internally ASIO had barriers. The people in counter espionage did not have detailed chats over morning tea with the people from records or admin about the latest shenanigans of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov. So there were always secrets within secrets with in secrets.
The original reason for ASIO's creation was as a counter espionage organisiation. This was the most legitimate of its activities, since there is no doubt that then and now other countries place intelligence officers in Canberra and Australia generally. Indeed disagreements about whether the Russians penetrated ASIO tore the organisation apart in recent times.
Counter espionage is probably least understood and analysed of ASIO's activities. I know I devoted less than I could have in my book. The Petrov Royal Commission into Espionage has been written about many times because it intruded into Australian domestic politics, so I wont go into it today. Much less known about is the cat and mouse game played between ASIO and the Russian embassy in the 1970s and 80s. A former Director General of Security Peter Barbour once took me through the daily work of ASIO counter espionage officers. It was mind numbing in its attention to detail. Each of the suspect KGB officers and their families were watched, they were tailed as they moved around Canberra, their phone calls all transcribed, the people whom they met were watched, and often approached and questioned. And all this vast raw intelligence which was produced everyday was collated and analysed -- looking for patterns or clues.
I found out titbits which help make spy writing colourful. When ASIO was tailing a KGB officer they used several cars and communicated by radio using a code. Rather than saying , 'We are following Ivan Volkov down Northbourne Ave in a northerly direction' They would say 'We are taking the package down Northbourne Ave'.
But the Russians were experts at counter-measures. It was thought that at the Embassy, they listened in to ASIO radio and to walkie talkie frequencies in an effort to work out who was being tailed where. To counter this, ASIO set up a false network of cars and walkie talkies with officers to talk on them, simulating a tailing operation. Meanwhile the real surveillance, carried out by the OBS section of ASIO, followed the KGB officers on a very different frequency or in radio silence. In this way it was hoped Russians might be lulled into a false sense of security,
The phone tapping and bugging of suspected Soviet intelligence officers was also of great interest. One former officer explained how it became clear from a bug in their home that one Russian couple were having lots of fights and their sex life was rather poor. He said this was useful because it showed that the suspect KGB man might be off his balance or preoccupied -- and this could be factored into operations.
Just while we are on the topic of sex, a British MI5 officer here on secondment in the 1970s suggested that ASIO stage another kind of operation. This involved a deliberate car crash in which the local person was an attractive woman whose car the Russian would hit. The idea was to create an accidental contact which was personal. The women in question would mention casually to the Russian that she worked in Foreign Affairs. And they would wait if he took the bait -- the longest of long shots would be that the Russian could be seduced and turned. But it was a chance worth taking.
On another occasion, a Russian intelligence officer here developed cancer and it was thought he might be cultivated, perhaps with a promise to help his family in some way, after he had died, but this plan came to nothing because his illness progressed so rapidly.
There is an old saying in journalism, "never let the facts spoil a good story'.
As I researched I found the facts were getting in the way of the story --or rather in the way of my own preconceived prejudices. The central problem concerned allegations of Russian espionage in the early period of the Cold War. I had begun the book thinking that the allegation that local Australian communists had helped the Russian espionage effort was, to put it bluntly, a lot of cock and bull, designed to fuel Menzies' anti-communist political crusade. The more documents I read and the more people I spoke to, the more I realised that a small secret group of members of the CPA had indeed helped the Russians, up to the point of taking documents from Foreign Affairs where they worked, and passing them on. And in fact these actions , which occurred in many Western countries, helped precipitate the deep suspicions of the Cold War.
So when I came to complete the book I tried to put down the truth as I saw it, not as my own prejudices would have it. I hope I had developed a somewhat more mature and less judgemental attitude. I also realised that some of the claims and fears about ASIO were wild exaggerations and often deliberately misleading. One famous one concerned the bombing of the Hilton Hotel in 1978 --- "ASIO bombed the Hilton" --- was the slogan spray painted on many Sydney walls. When you have a feel for the organisation, you realise what utter nonsense this claim is.
I say this as a preliminary to making a few remarks about the current situation in which ASIO is scarcely absent from the front pages of our daily newspapers.
The 'war on terror'
Many people regard the current 'war on terror' as a virtual re-run of the Cold war.
Let me list some of the characteristics of the war on terror which seem to support this:
We have a global conflict in which a dangerous enemy has internal allies within Australia. Allies whom it is feared could do great damage to Australia.
We have the strengthening of the intrusive powers of ASIO. We have certain organisations banned.
We have raids on homes by ASIO and AFP and similar operations
We have the conflict being framed in a language of national security, and in a language of fear.
All of this has been denounced and has been compared to McCarthyism.
But the comparison, I believe, is superficial and often wrong in my view. In the Cold war, I believe the Left in Australia were scarcely a threat.
The Cold War Left, in its various incarnations, was a broadly progressive force, often fighting for goals which were later accepted by the society broadly. It's true that the Communist Party was lead by very determined, hard headed and occasionally fanatical people but it was largely an open and public body. It had roots among the labour movement and in the community. Its actions were peaceful, not violent. Most of its actions took the shape of a militant political agitation aimed at improving life for ordinary people and for minorities. There was never any actual danger that the Left's revolutionary ideas would ever be realised. No socialist revolution could occur, nor did occur in advanced capitalism. Espousal of revolutionary ideas may have excited panic from conservatives and anti communists but this was as much a fantasy as the radical Left's fantasy of revolution.
But whether you agree with how I have just characterised the Left or not, there is no comparison with the current situation.
The global sub-faction of Islamic fundamentalism which has decide to turn to terrorism is not an open political movement, nor is it progressive in any way, nor does it have a mass base in the community not even in the Moslem community.
It is a genuine threat to security and it is a legitimate target for ASIO . That means from time to time, that people will be watched closely and even that homes will be raided. How could anyone think otherwise after an event like Bali?
The war on terror is first of all, an intelligence war and second, in the longer term - an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, especially the youth of the Muslim world. (It is because of the latter reason that I think the war in Iraq is so foolish) To meet the first challenge Australia needs a strong, competent, dedicated and sophisticated security agency such as ASIO.
I have been dealing with ASIO and Archives for 14 years now. I have a reasonably good grasp of its history and I can make an educated guess at the kind of organisation it is today. My conclusion is that it has been transformed in the last 10 -15 years -- and I am not alone in this conclusion. It has a far more open attitude to the release of its own arhcives. It is a professional, not a political organisation today. It has internal procedures to ensure that it does not exceed its powers and there are several outside bodies to which it can be called to account. It activities are very different from how most people imagine it, and it is unlike the body which performed during the period of the Cold War. Having said that, it is not perfect, and we must continue to safeguard our liberties carefully.
I say this as someone who has lodged various complaints about access to documents, who has taken Archives and ASIO to legal tribunals, and who has complained to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security and has generally made a nuisance of myself over the years.
But this is part of the rich political and intellectual life which is possible in a democracy. And the defence of democratic society against terrorist attack is a important thing.
The Archives is richer for the clashes that we have had over the years about the release of documents and both ASIO and myself are more mature about it.
I hope everyone enjoys the exhibition.
Posted by David at 2:50 AM