The authors (from left): Emeritus Professor David Horner, Dr John Blaxland and Dr Rhys Crawley. Photo: ASIO

Inside story of ASIO

Spies conducted a secret war around the ANU campus and the suburbs of Canberra, according to an insider’s account of Australia’s security agency ASIO. ROSS PEAKE reports.

The Secret Cold War: The Official History of ASIO, 1975-1989, the third volume of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s history, shows the organisation was infiltrated by Soviet moles during the tumultuous later years of the Cold War, undermining many of the agency’s operations.

Professor John Blaxland from the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, who co-authored the book with Dr Rhys Crawley, says it reveals KGB officers were able to recruit and run agents in Australia for many years.

While the book covers ASIO’s history between 1975 and 1989, firm evidence of Soviet infiltration did not emerge until the early 1990s, making the final chapter ‘tricky’ to write.

“It's only afterwards, casting back, that [infiltration] was apparent and what had happened could be clearly identified, who was involved and what the damage appeared to be,” he says.

“Counter-espionage operations against Soviet officials in Australia continually and explicably failed throughout the 1980s.

“In hindsight, it became evident that these operations were failing because their details were leaking – penetration had happened at a fairly senior level and it had revealed the prospective operations to the Soviets, so they were ahead of the game.”

Blaxland says it is extraordinary how much activity ASIO was engaged in around Canberra at the time.