A high-ranking Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officer betrayed highly classified secrets to the Russians during the Cold War, according to ABC television’s Four Corners program.
ABC investigative unit reporter Andrew Fowler presented dramatic evidence for Russian penetration of ASIO, in a Four Corners special entitled “Trust and Betrayal” (November 1).
Fowler reported: “For at least 15 years, a mole had been passing on Australia’s secrets and the high-grade intelligence of its closest allies to the Soviet Union’s spies, the KGB …
“A series of explosive revelations had outed spies throughout the Western alliance. The worst of them, Kim Philby, [former deputy head] of Britain’s M16 counterintelligence, betrayed the names of dozens of agents who were hunted down and killed by the Soviets.
“ASIO congratulated itself that it had never been tainted by a major traitor. But it was aware its unique position gave the Soviets a potential window into the US – Moscow’s number-one target.”
In the program, Major-General Oleg Kalugin, former head of the KGB’s overseas spy network, confirmed that the ASIO mole had, since the late 1970s, passed on highly classified documents that gave “excellent information about the United States, about the United Kingdom, about the NATO allies.”
This led – as was bluntly pointed out in the program by the former Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Alan Rose – to the Americans cutting off the flow of much high-grade information to ASIO.
It appears that this reduction of intelligence flow commenced in the mid-1980s and lasted until the early 1990s. This would doubtless have had a negative impact on ASIO’s operational ability.
In a face-saving endeavour to show that something was being done about such a massive security breach, in the winter of 1993 Federal Police and ASIO officers raided the Canberra home of long-time ASIO Russian interpreter, George Sadil.
Classified documents were found scattered around in Sadil’s home, convincing some in ASIO that they had found their man.
However, in the subsequent court case Sadil claimed that, like many others, he merely had the documents at home to work on. Moreover, no evidence could be found that he had actually passed information to the KGB, or to anyone else for that matter.
Eventually, Sadil was given a three-month suspended sentence for the relatively minor offence of having ASIO documents in his home. Sadil was clearly nothing more than a scapegoat.
This was confirmed when Andrew Fowler observed that there is an awareness among members of the intelligence community of who was the real mole.
He says there is a real anger persisting that this individual has gone unpunished, despite the appalling damage he inflicted on Australian and Western security generally. It is hinted that the mole held a relatively senior level in ASIO.
Four Corners correctly alleged that, during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, Australia was a high-priority target for Soviet penetration, given its privileged position in the Western alliance.
The KGB and its successor, the SVRR, directed special attention to Australia during the 1980s. It was in the mid-1980s that Valeriy Zemskov, a high-ranking officer of the KGB Special Reserve, was posted to Canberra to pursue the “New Zealandisation” of Australia.
My own subsequent public exposure of Zemskov no doubt derailed some Soviet forward plans, but he certainly developed a sophisticated network of contacts during his time here.
Even as late as February 1994, the then Federal Labor Government had to admit that in the preceding year they been forced to expel six Russian intelligence officers for espionage. Mind you, this admission was only made after I had earlier informed the House of Representatives of the expulsions.
Nevertheless, despite these and other exposures of Russian espionage activities over the years, the case of the real mole in ASIO remains unresolved.
In a parliamentary speech of December 7, 1994, I pointed out that, in Major-General Kalugin’s memoirs, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West, published in November 1994, he claimed that a mole in ASIO had supplied the KGB with “… extremely useful information about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and its American and British partners.”
Earlier, on November 3, 1994, Kalugin had told ABC TV: “There might have been more than just one person behind him because of the wide range of his access to classified information.”
It is time that the Federal Government identified and dealt with the real mole in ASIO, as well as any others who aided and abetted him.
- Ken Aldred is a former federal Liberal MP and a specialist in defence and security matters.