The Fourth Eye

Oyster

Toohey, B & Pinwill, W (1989), Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, W. Heinemann Australia

Oyster was the code name for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service

This fabulous and often funny history of ASIS opens with a description of how the book was censored by the Australian government after action taken in the High Court by the then Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans.  After fighting it, the authors found the censorship to be conducted in a  sensible and professional spirit.

Australians learned of the existence of ASIS in 1972, when it was described in a Sunday Telegraph article a full twenty years after it was formed. Gough Whitlam first learned of its existence from the Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister years before he was briefed on it in 1973.  It had been established by Menzies on 13 May 1952 when he issued Alfred Brookes with the Charter of the Australian Secret Service.   In 15 December 1954 an updated Charter outlining the Director’s role was issued and included, “Ministers do not concern themselves either with the sources providing secret information or with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Service in particular cases.  They are to be furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of the issue.” This Charter was updated again in 1958.

On 25 October 1977 the government first admitted in parliament that it had a spy service.  That is, public funds were used for 20 years to fund it’s operations without proper parliamentary approval or audit, and Australian diplomatic stations were used as a cover for its representatives throughout the world.

On the Five Eyes, Toohey describes the Western intelligence club, “The ties that bind the members of the Western Intelligence club are stronger than the ephemeral concerns of mere politicians. It is a transnational corporation fired with the fervour of a war veterans league.” p. 258

Peter Young, a former Army major who worked for the CIA as a member of the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam said, “Australians working hand-in-glove with their American counterparts…It is a one sided operation, heavily exploited by the Americans and capable of affording them the opportunity of feeding in slanted information which in turn could produce policies favourable to the originators.” p. 261

Defence Minister Beazley said on Channel 7 TV on 1 May 1989, ‘half of Australia’s regional intelligence is provided by the US.”

Allied Intelligence Bureau established in 1942 as Australia’s first real exposure intelligence collection, sabotage and propaganda outfit.  Commanded by Australian Colonel Roberts but directly under Major General Willoughby, the chief intelligence officer of General MacArthur for the South West Pacific, it included Australian, British, US, Dutch and Asian personnel drawn from 10 armed services.  Section B was a small intelligence collection unit, the Secret Intelligence Service, Australia Section, an offshoot  of British SIS.  Included signals intercept and code breaking unit.  It was disbanded in 1945.

It wasn’t until July 1946 that Cabinet agreed for a postwar joint intelligence organisation.  And it wasn’t until 24 May 1950 that a small Cabinet meeting decided it was desirable for Australia to have a secret service and decided to establish one.  The first action of Brookes was to go to England and see what support the SIS could offer.

The formation of ASIS was helped along by the fact that in 1949 the US and UK decided to stop the flow of classified information to Australia until Canberra tightened security, breached by the Russians.  On 2 March 1949 Chifley had announced the formation of ASIO under Justice Reed (replaced in July by Spry)

Directors

Alfred Brookes – Toohey describes his credo as a passionate expression of a view widely held in the intelligence community that a nation is ruined unless the clandestine services are really running the country.  Hope described his downfall as being due to ‘exceeding his responsibilities by giving advice to Ministers on policy matters that were not his business.’ p 11

 

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