UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) – The Minister of Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil, warns about an impending “dystopian future” stemming from cyber-crime, foreign meddling, and challenges to democracy. However, unmentioned is Australia’s departure from being a true liberal democracy due to its proliferation of stringent laws that lack standard safeguards for individual freedoms.
Richard Marles, the Defense Minister, underscores the pressing necessity of allocating significant funds towards armaments to counter an unspecified adversary (China), which exhibits no inclination to potentially invade Australia. Mike Burgess, the chief of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, alerts that an “unprecedented threat of espionage and foreign interference” looms over Australia.
He notes that various foreign intelligence agencies are actively pursuing information about “medical advancements,” though it is worth considering that the national interest is better served when these advancements are publicly accessible, as they typically are.
Foreign Spies with No Serious Success in Australia
Fortunately, foreign espionage endeavors in Australia have largely met with limited success, with the possible exception of activities involving American agents. However, this trend has taken a turn as Marles has merged Australia’s Defense Intelligence Agency with its American counterpart, effectively nullifying the confidentiality of the “Australian Eyes Only” classification.
Oftentimes, the efforts of spies yield inconsequential results. An illustrative case is the group known as the “nest of spies,” operational from the final stages of World War II until shortly thereafter. Spearheaded by Walter Clayton, an active member of the Australian Communist Party, this network aimed to assist the Soviet Union, an ally against Nazi Germany.
Clayton amassed a trove of official Australian documents, transmitting them to the local KGB representative in Canberra. This intermediary, not directly engaged in espionage, relayed the materials to an unappreciative KGB headquarters in Moscow, prompting orders to cease sending low-quality intelligence. Undeterred, Clayton persisted.
The United States and the United Kingdom intercepted these communications, yet deciphering awaited advancements in the Venona decryption project. Within Clayton’s submissions was a pair of 1945 documents from the UK Cabinet’s Post Hostilities Planning Staff, intermixed with numerous evidently useless messages.
Documents Turning Out to Be Inaccurate
These documents, however, proved wildly inaccurate or simply insubstantial to be of practical value. One mistakenly predicted British dominion over India beyond 1955, whereas India gained independence in 1947, dividing into Pakistan and India. The other outlined Britain’s intent to uphold Mediterranean influence, an accord Churchill had already negotiated with Stalin in October 1944.
Remarkably, the initial volume of the official ASIO history asserted that “several of the British documents provided by Clayton would have been of significant value to the Soviet Union.” Upon examination, it’s challenging to discern their true value. Furthermore, Stalin rarely embraced foreign-sourced intelligence.
Following ASIO’s establishment in 1949, roughly two decades were expended investigating Clayton’s spy network. Ultimately, his activities appeared inconsequential, resulting in no charges being brought forth. However, an American participant in the Venona project, William Weisband, informed the Soviets in 1948 of US success in deciphering their Top Secret communications.
Consequently, the Soviets transitioned to a more secure encryption system. ASIO’s awareness of this betrayal only emerged after the US National Security Agency unveiled Weisband’s actions in 2000, deeming it a substantial loss of intelligence, possibly the most significant in US history. If the US valued the alliance, Australia would likely have been informed well before 2000.
Foreign Interference Against Australia
In a separate incident during the late 1940s, the US engaged in a malevolent case of foreign interference against Australia. Ambassador Myron Cowen and naval attaché Stephen Jurika endeavored to undermine the Chifley government.
Jurika communicated to Washington that effective action against communism was improbable until the Labor government was ousted, a notion swiftly contradicted when Chifley employed the army to quell a largely communist-led coal miners’ strike in 1949—a remarkable instance of strikebreaking during peacetime.
In the middle of 1948, the US Navy implemented a prohibition on sharing classified information with Australia, citing concerns that the Chifley government posed a security risk. This embargo remained in effect until mid-1950. However, despite assurances, no substantiating evidence supporting these claims has ever surfaced.
In 1954, ASIO received widespread praise for facilitating the defection of Vladimir Petrov, the head of the KGB in Australia, along with his wife Evdokia, who was associated with another intelligence agency, the MVD. The subsequent Royal Commission, often hailed as a success, was actually a charade.