A new book by distinguished Australian journalist Brian Toohey, "SECRET: The Making Of Australia’s Security State" presents an important account of Australia’s increasily dystopian government, the numerous tragedies buried with our colonial nation’s secret history, and the worthlessness of our current ANZUS alliance with the USA.
The ten-part tome is packed with many important details but for this article I am focussing on only two sections:
Part One, "The Clandestine Agencies", which examines Australia’s alphabet soup of spy agencies and their less than glorious histories.
Part Four, "The Whitlam Era", which explores the 1975 overthrow of Australia’s last truly independent government.
As a top Australian investigative journalist with a focus on politics and national security issues, Brian Toohey broke many important stories that are referenced in the book. In some ways SECRET is an autobiography, re-revealing the secrets he exposed, many of which have since been forgotten, and recounting in even more detail the full impact of his revelations. But Toohey’s personal story is well placed within a larger and more concerning framework, showing how Australia today is hurtling down a wrong path many decades in the making.
For Australian citizens in particular, this is a critically important book. If you find this short review informative, I strongly recommend you read the full book for yourself. It is available online from various sites, or check your local library.
Australia’s Spy Agencies
Toohey describes how in 1948 a US traitor named William Weisband gave the Russians information on how to protect their secret cables from US decryption. Although the USA knew Weisband had done this, they decided not to tell their Australia partners. So Australian spies wasted some 20 years diligently protecting a secret operation that Russian spies already knew about. The truth was not revealed for over 50 years. This was the first of many post-war incidents where the USA declined to share critically important information with Australia.
Based mostly on hearsay from upper class Conservatives, the Americans became convinced that post-WW2 Australia was full of Communists. From 1948-50 the USA stopped sharing classified information with the Chifley Labor government, citing a US Navy claim for which there was zero evidence, and which was disbelieved by the US Army and Air Force. The USA even refused to give the Australian government information about the rocket tests they were performing in Woomera, South Australia.
Prime Minister Chifley created the domestic Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 1949. In 1960 Brigadier Charles Spry, who was appointed ASIO head by PM Robert Menzies, estimated there were 60,000 "subversives" in Australia. It was total rubbish. A 1976 Royal Commission found that ASIO’s years of spying on artists, writers, academics and others had been "a massive waste of time & resources".
Toohey writes that ASIO "made extensive use of journalistic stooges in major media outlets." One of them, Robert Mayne, later admitted putting his name on material that had been prepared by ASIO. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and The Age newspaper in Melbourn even allowed ASIO to vet their journalists for jobs (judging by the output, this is presumably routine in Australian media organisations nowadays).
After the overthrow of the Whitlam government in 1975, PM Malcolm Fraser wanted ASIO to tap journalists' parliament office phones in order to persecute leakers of confidential information. His request was turned down, but several journalists' home phones (including Toohey’s) were tapped. In the 1980s PM Bob Hawke made it a crime to reveal ASIO officers' identities and also watered down rules so that ASIO could investigate threats that were clearly non-violent.
In 1995 the ABC and The Australian newspaper reported that three suspected spies had been murdered in Australia due to leaks. These shocking headlines were based on comments from ASIO’s deputy director, who later admitted to the Attorney General that nobody had in fact died.
In 2010 WikiLeaks revealed that Labor MP Mark Arbib was a 'protected source' of the US Embassy in Canberra. ASIO refused to confirm or deny if Arbib, who continued working as an MP for many years, was ever investigated.
|It is disappointing that Toohey’s book contains five references to important releases from WikiLeaks, but not one mention of founder Julian Assange, who remains in a UK jail at the time of publication.|
ASIO paid the Australian National University (ANU) a whopping $1.7 million for author John Blaxland to write an official history of the organisation. As Toohey repeatedly points out, that two-volume official story is full of lies and self-serving nonsense.
Chapter 3 describes how ASIO has now become a secret police agency with unprecedented powers. Since 2002, ASIO can detain and question anyone for seven days. Refusing to answer, or even just revealing you have been detained, can get you five years in jail. It doesn’t matter if you are not even suspected of a crime. Since 2014, Australian journalists face up to ten years prison for reporting anything that ASIO has secretly designated a "Special Intelligence Operation" (SIO). ASIO does not explain how journalists are supposed to know in advance if a story includes an SIO. As Toohey says, "at least a bank robber knows he’s committing a crime". Not even apartheid Israel has such a law, which removes the traditional defence of publishing in the public interest.
Chapter 4 looks at the sorry history of Australia’s "swash-buckling" CIA-style overseas Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) whose first head Alfred Brooks told Secretary of State Foster Dulles that "the US could, in effect, base nuclear weapons in Australia". A former Defence Committee advisor said: "Under Brooks, we regularly knocked back requests to assassinate someone."
Australian MPs decided to disband ASIS in 1957 but it somehow survived. ASIS was active in the Vietnam war, but all their contacts were killed by the end of the conflict. One ASIS station head drove a red MG sports car around Jakarta but insisted his cover was protected by his "tradecraft".
ASIS had operatives in Chile from 1972, helping the CIA overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. PM Whitlam intervened when they defied his Defence Minister’s orders to come home (Toohey does not mention that they stayed in Chile until after Pinochet seized power).
In 1983 ASIS trainees raided Melbourne’s Sheraton Hotel, without warning staff or local police, in a stupid training operation that nearly got people killed. More recently, ASIS was involved in the Iraq Wheat Board scandal, where sanctions against Saddam Hussein were broken, the bugging of government offices in Timor L’Este, and the subsequent cover-up including legal attacks on whistle-blower "Witness K" and his lawyer Bernard Collaery.
The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) is "far more powerful" than either ASIO or ASIS. Toohey says the ASD does not file archive documents, as required by law, "refuses to answer innocuous media questions", and has effectively been a subsidiary of the US National Security Agency (NSA) since at least 1956, when New Zealand and Australia first joined the UKUSA group (now called the Five Eyes).
Most Australian Prime Ministers did not even know about the ASD’s existence until 1983, when PM Whitlam’s Defence Minister told Parliament that no previous Army minister had known it existed either, despite the fact that Army heads had nominal oversight of ASD facilities.
In 1967 the USA installed giant antennas at West Australia’s North West Cape without telling Australia. The ASD now has ground stations providing information for the NSA at Kojarena (near Geraldton), Shoal Bay (near Darwin), and Pine Gap (near Alice Springs). US firm Hughes Space Group secretly built the Shoal Bay base while also building a nearby telecoms base under contract for an Indonesian telecoms company. The NSA then used the new Shoal Bay site to spy on the signals from the Indonesian site.
In 1983 Toohey revealed that Australian diplomatic posts in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere had installed signal interception equipment. This caused a lot of anger towards Australia, but many of these nations now have their own agreements with the NSA, which has partnerships outside the Five Eyes with dozens of nations. Indonesians were also aggrieved when Edward Snowden released documents that showed Australia helped the USA spy on all Indonesian citizens including the President, his wife, and his government ministers.
Toohey includes a 2013 quote from James Glanz in the New York Times:
"The NSA is authorized to spy upon the citizens of America’s closest allies [including Britain and Australia]… The NSA can go it alone if permission is not forthcoming - or if the US chooses not to ask."
So Australia routinely angers neighbouring countries in order to help the USA spy on them, but in return the USA keeps secrets from us and cuts off our flow of intelligence whenever they want. And the NSA likely also hands data on Australian firms to US corporations for commercial advantage. The much-vaunted US Alliance is more like an abusive relationship.
In 1979, when China was planning an attack in Vietnam, the NSA cut off the flow of sensitive data to the Fraser government.
In 1981 US Secretary of State Alexander Haig warned that Laos & Vietnam were using Soviet-sourced chemical agents. An Australian scientist helpfully explained that the yellow substance in question was actually just bee pollen. US officials insisted they had evidence for their claims, but never provided it. The US Ambassador lodged a complaint about the Australian scientist with PM Fraser.
Such lack of trust in US claims also caused serious problems. For example, Australian officials ignored US intelligence warnings that Timor L’Este would explode with violence after independence. When it happened, PM John Howard was woefully unprepared.
Toohey examines many other cases where US intelligence was manipulated, including Iraq WMD claims, lies about chemical weapon attacks in Syria, and the current Russiagate scandal. Toohey also examines how the WikiLeaks "Vault7" release of CIA software tools showed how easily the CIA can fake Russian or Chinese authorship of cyber attacks. He laments that journalists today are far less skeptical about intelligence claims than media were in days gone by.
UK & USA Hiding Dark Secrets In Distant Australia
Part Two is titled "An Ideal Place For Dangerous Tests And Dangerous Bases". It covers the post-WW2 use of nerve agents and chemical weapons tests, British nuclear tests at Maralinga, Emu Field and elsewhere, and the establishment of US spy bases such as North West Cape and Pine Gap.
Toohey is concerned about the enduring impact of British nuclear tests in Australia, which were deliberately misrepresented and then covered up. Many Australians dying of cancer today could have been affected by fallout from these massive tests, which were never cleaned up properly. The British used bulldozers to turn over radioactive topsoil, sending clouds of dust into the atmosphere, and left many kilograms of radioactive material uncovered, some of it with a half-life of 24,000 years.
Statistics in this section are truly shocking. For example: "the last Mosaic test at Monte Bello [in 1956] had a yeild of 98 kilotons - over 60 times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb." Or this: "22,000 bones, mostly of babies and young children, were removed from corpses in morgues" for tests on radiation effects between 1957 and 1978, mostly without parents' consent or awareness. Or how about these statistics on our US allies, backed up with citations:
The USA has used its armed forces overseas 215 times, including 160 times since 1991. The USA has around 800 overseas bases and interfered in foreign elections 81 times between 1946-2000.
Toohey also exposes how the USA repeatedly lied to Australia about the North West Cape base, which was originally of critical importance in communicating with underwater US nuclear submarines anywhere from Africa to Panama. Now the base is critical to the US militarization of space. 1,200 km north of Perth, North West Cape (which most Australians have never heard of) was a huge Cold War military target for China & Russia, but the US and Australian governments and military repeatedly lied to citizens about that.
Chapter 19 covers Defence Depertment head Arthur Tange’s ridiculous attempts to keep the Pine Gap base a secret. Toohey explains why the Pine Gap "Joint Defence Space Research Facility" was not really "joint", was used for neither "defence" nor "space", and never did any "research" at all. Following chapters reveal how Tange thought he could tell PM Whitlam what to do and say, how Pine Gap boss Richard Stallings was unmasked by Toohey as a CIA agent, and how Whitlam got conveniently "dismissed" just weeks before the Pine Gap treaty was due for renewal on 10 December 1975.
Part Three looks at the worthless ANZUS treaty, how New Zealand has done very well without it (despite remaining locked into the Five Eyes) and how the USA repeatedly ignores its treaty obligations. Toohey condemns former Labor Party leader and Defence Minister Kim Beazley in particular for morphing into a blatant US warmonger on Lockheed Martin’s board.
Toohey recounts many important details along the way. For example, Australia is now paying the USA $7 billion for six unarmed Triton drones to patrol the South China Sea. We could instead buy thirty weapons-capable US Reaper drones for $3 billion and use them for real "defence" tasks like coastal patrol & even bushfire assistance.
How The CIA Removed PM Gough Whitlam
Part Four covers "The Whitlam Era" and begins with a chapter titled "The Irrational US Hatred of Whitlam".
In 1973 the highly educated and intelligent Gough Whitlam became Australia’s first Labor leader for 23 years. His independent foreign policy was hardly radical but it shocked US officials who had become used to Australian Coalition governments quietly doing whatever they were told. US President Richard Nixon told Mashall Green, his ambassador to Australia, what he really thought of Whitlam:
"Marshall, I can’t stand that c*nt."
Whitlam rejected South African apartheid and abolished the White Australia policy. He granted independence to Papua New Guinea, improved relations with China & Japan, ended military conscription, and brought the last Australian troops home from Vietnam. He also "abandoned the doctrine of forward defence and cut trade barriers."
Whitlam ministers sometimes sent mixed messages to their US contacts. Toohey resigned as an aide to Whitlam’s deputy Lance Barnard, who stupidly told US officials that the PM would have no problem if the US stationed ICBMs at Pine Gap. Other ALP officials were more anti-US and joked about nationalising the whole Australian economy.
After Nixon’s horrific 1972 "Christmas Bombing" of Vietnam, Whitlam sent a polite letter to Washington saying both sides needed to cease hostilities and talk (which is what eventually happened). The entirely sensible letter enraged both Nixon & Kissinger, who expected Australia not to put "an ally on the same level as our enemy".
In January 1973 Whitlam told US Ambassador Rice that US bases could stay as long as there were no attempts to "screw us or bounce us".
Whitlam wanted to withdraw Australian troops from Singapore but agreed to an extension after learning they were doing important signal interception work. But when a US magazine reported that this was the reason for the delayed withdrawal, angry US officials falsely accused Whitlam of leaking. Australia’s ambassador in USA had to explain to CIA heads James Schlesinger & James Angleton that the US magazine had in fact named the source of the leak in their article, and it was a US intelligence officer.
In October 1973 the USA used the North West Cape base to send a nuclear alert to all US forces in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. When Whitlam rightly complained that the US had failed to inform Australia about this potentially critical danger, Kissinger & Schlesinger were again angry with him.
CIA agent James Angleton was a rabid lunatic who conspired with disgruntled ASIO officers in a failed attempt to overthrow Whitlam in 1973. The plan was to trap the PM in an apparent lie about his Attorney General’s raid on ASIO headquarters, which was prompted by valid concerns about the security of Yugoslavia’s visiting leader. The CIA plan only failed because ASIO’s director refused to co-operate.
The same disgruntled ASIO staff then launched a rumour that the ASIO director was having an affair with his secretary, eventually convincing Whitlam to sack him in September 1975. Meanwhile one of those disgruntled ASIO staffers was actually having an affair with the wife of the CIA station chief in Canberra.
In April 1974, after Russia proposed a joint base to photograph space objects, Whitlam said that Australia opposed the hosting of foreign bases but would honour existing deals. He said he did not favour the extension of any such deals, which sent alarm bells ringing in Washington. The Pine Gap lease was due to expire a year later, in December 1975.
Nixon’s security team then came up with a dramatic plan to interfere in Australian domestic politics by closing US bases, cutting off intelligence sharing, and imposing trade restrictions until a Coalition government was re-elected. But the plan was rejected because there was not enough time to replicate the Pine Gap base in another suitable location (such as Guam). Instead the USA put pressure on Whitlam, who later said US bases could stay.
Even so, and despite the fact that there was never any co-operation between Russia and Whitlam’s ministers, by early 1975 the USA was convinced that "maintaining the ALP government was essential to Soviet planning" in the region.
Meanwhile, Whitlam’s Energy Minister was chasing huge loans via a con-man named Tirath Khemlani, who many suspect had CIA links. A Coalition source with no reason to lie later told Toohey that the CIA had offered Khemlani $400,000 to visit Australia on 14 October 1975 and tell lies about the cancelled loan deal.
Whitlam sacked the head of ASIS on 21 October (after sacking the head of ASIO a month earlier). He then publicly stated that the CIA was funding the Coalition opposition’s junior partner, the National Country Party. Toohey says this was not an unlikely possibility: 32% of CIA covert action in the 70s was reportedly "election support".
In response, the National Country Party leader challenged Whitlam to prove allegations (first published by Toohey) that Pine Gap boss Richard Stallings was a CIA agent. Whitlam was due to provide the evidence for this in parliament on 11th November 1975, but he was dismissed from powerby the Governor General Sir John Kerr that same morning.
Meanwhile, a CIA analyst in Canberra had been warning Washington that Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser was increasingly unlikely to win the next election. Fraser was willing to delay the election by six months because his decision to block supply was backfiring in the polls and even angering his own MPs.
In the fortnight prior to "the Dismissal" on 11 November, Whitlam had again been warning that he would close Pine Gap. The USA were not sure if he was bluffing. The head of the CIA’s East Asia division, Ted Shackley, sent a blunt telex message to ASIO’s director warning that "the CIA feels grave concerns" about Whitlam’s behaviour.
Another CIA agent, Victor Marchetti, later said that Shackley (sacked in 1979) might have been less concerned about Pine Gap and more worried about the lucrative drug trade he was running: huge transport planes full of heroin from Indochina, dodging customs by picking up Pine Gap data en route to the USA.
In 1977 Whitlam pointed out that Shackley’s message to ASIO had included instructions for the ASIO director not to share his telex with the PM. This was "a foreign intelligence service telling Australia’s domestic security service to keep information from the Australian government." Totally unacceptable behaviour from a supposed "ally".
Whitlam’s Defence Minister later revealed that Kerr had sought and received (on 8 November 1975) a high-level briefing on the CIA’s threat to withdraw US intelligence sharing. Kerr denied that this briefing ever took place, and also denied ever meeting with US intelligence officials (which was a blatant lie).
Citing declassified US National Security Council documents, James Curren later revealed that the USA had considered "some sort of covert CIA activity in Australian domestic politics" in 1974. Toohey suggests the abandoned plan may have been resurrected due to Washington’s urgent concerns in late 1975.
Toohey also reveals that Bernie Houghton, a key figure in the notorious CIA-run Nugan Hand Bank, had flown into Sydney without a valid visa in 1972 and immediately got an ASIO clearance to stay as long as he wanted. Toohey says Houghton, who later ran a night club in Sydney’s Kings Cross, used to help Ted Shackley launder CIA drug money in Indochina. A former CIA officer named Kevin Mulcahey phoned Toohey, offering to provide more information about what the CIA had done in Australia in 1975, but he died before Toohey could go visit him. Mulcahey was also a prosecution witness who helped indict ex-CIA arms dealer Ed Wilson. Ted Shackley got sacked from the CIA in 1979 for not revealing his relationship with Wilson, who had met with Houghton in Switzerland five times that same year. A tangled web indeed!
Toohey strangely does not mention that Fraser’s Liberal Party accepted a $2.6 million donation from the Nugan Hand bank prior to blocking supply in the Senate, or that Frank Nugan was found dead on a bush road in Australia in 1980, or that Australian Federal Police decided not to seek the arrest and extradition of Michael Hand after he was found alive and well in the USA in 2015.
The final chapter of Section Four is aptly titled "Embracing Ignorance". It starts by noting how Australian officials totally ignored Christopher Boyce’s revelations that the CIA was deceiving our government and interfering with our politics and unions (remember that future PM Bob Hawke was a senior union leader at the time). There was one honourable exception: ASIO’s man in Washington, Mike Leslie, was determined to go talk to Boyce, but was repeatedly warned not to do so by the heads of Defence and Foreign Affairs. He was then ordered to stop seeking a meeting by his ASIO boss in 1977.
Luckily a few Australia journos were also curious. Boyce told Bill Pinwill that CIA staff used to refer to Sir John Kerr, who had worked with CIA staff before becoming Australia’s Governor General, as "our man Kerr." Boyce also told 60 Minutes' Ray Martin in 1982 that the CIA were angry at Whitlam for repeatedly "publicising" the existence of Pine Gap by talking about it.
Toohey says he requested archive records about Chris Boyce from the Australian Defence Department, the Foreign Affairs Department, and the Prime Minister’s office. But there were none to be found. It seems the ASIO warnings not to interview Boyce (above) are the sum total of the Australian government’s interest in his important revelations.
CIA bosses like James Angleton ran networks of agents in Australia but both the official ASIO history and the 1976 Hope Royal Commission declared that there were no undercover CIA agents here. US senator Frank Church said Australia was "exempt" from CIA activity, which Toohey calls "demonstrable nonsense". Toohey provides several accounts of ASIO turning a blind eye to undercover CIA agents in Australia, including one well known female CIA agent who had an affair with a senior Whitlam Minister.
When I interviewed Chris Boyce in 2013 he told me that he had long been proud that US President Jimmy Carter had sent his Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Australia expressly in order to promise Gough Whitlam that the USA would "never again interfere with the domestic affairs of Australia". But the Snowden revelations demonstrated that if this anecdote was ever true, the USA was lying again.
As Boyce said to me:
Australia always fights in America’s wars. Australian foreign policy is American foreign policy. From the American standpoint, Australia’s status as an American client state is not about protecting Australia. America doesn’t have friends. It has interests.