16

POLITICALLY MOTIVATED VIOLENCE

Countering Terrorism and ‘Identity Extremism’, 1983–1989

The Australia of the 1980s was ethnically and demographically quite different from the country ASIO had been established to protect as the fourth arm of defence in 1949. To be sure, there had been non-British or English-speaking migrant communities in Australia since before Federation, but the wave of postwar migration changed the face of the nation. By the 1980s, significant populations of Armenians, Chinese, Croatians, Greeks, Italians, Palestinians, Serbians, Vietnamese and other Middle Eastern and Asian groups were becoming well established. For the vast majority, migrating to Australia provided an opportunity to start afresh, to establish a new life as ‘new Australians’, and almost all made the most of the opportunities afforded by the ‘lucky country’. Some, however, still felt their identity of origin strongly—to the point where it drove them to take or contemplate extremist action in support of the political objectives of their home country, grievances associated with their ethnic or religious identities or in revenge for a grievance from the past. This is what is called here ‘identity extremism’. As time went by, ASIO increasingly came to realise that this type of sentiment presented considerable danger, and the Government expected ASIO to remain abreast of what such extremist elements were thinking and planning to do.

This chapter examines how ASIO responded to the expanding security challenges associated with monitoring the growing number of extremist groups in Australia from 1983 to 1989. The program of intelligence-collection priorities during that time indicates concerns about extremist elements coming from among certain ethnic groups. There were also concerns about how some home-grown extremist groups would behave in reaction as well. What this chapter sets out to demonstrate is that while ASIO focused less and less on threats of subversion, it increasingly came to focus on monitoring a spectrum of identity extremists—that is, politically and religiously motivated groups with potential or apparent violent intent.

The review of counterterrorism capabilities and arrangements mentioned in the last chapter listed known or presumed terrorist incidents over the fifteen years in Australia from 1970. It showed there were 32 known or presumed terrorist incidents in Australia during that time, and fifteen of them had taken place in the ten years following 1975 (see Table 16.1).

Table 16.1: The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s list of known or presumed terrorist incidents in Australia, 1970–86

Date

Incident

Location

1 January 1970

Planned bomb attack

Serbian Orthodox Church, Canberra

21 October 1970

Bombing

Yugoslav Consulate-General, Melbourne

4 April 1971

Bombing

Serbian Orthodox Church, Melbourne

12 September 1971

Bombing

Theatre in Sydney

11 January 1972

Bombing

Serbian Orthodox Church, Canberra

14 February 1972

Armed assault

Yugoslav Consulate, Perth

16 February 1972

Bombing

Offices of Yugoslav tourist agencies, Sydney

26 April 1972

Bombings

Residence of pro-Yugoslav political figure, Melbourne

25 September 1972

Five ‘Black September’ letter bombs

Detected by postal service addressed to Israeli diplomats, ACT and NSW

3 October 1972

Two letter bombs

Detected by postal service addressed to Israeli diplomats, NSW

2 November 1972

Letter bomb

Sent to prominent member of Jewish community, NSW

8 December 1972

Bombing

Serbian Orthodox Church, Brisbane

24 January 1973

Letter bomb

Sent to Jewish businessman, intercepted by postal service, NSW

9 April 1973

Arson

Premises of Croatian newspaper editor, Melbourne

24 December 1974

Fire bomb

Pan Am ticket office, Sydney

25 May 1975

Bombing

Sunny Adriatic Trade and Tourist Centre, Melbourne

19 November 1975

Letter bomb

Addressed to Prime Minister and Queensland Premier

29 August 1977

Fire

Indian High Commission, Canberra

31 August 1977

Fire

Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Sydney

15 September 1977

Kidnapping and wounding

Indian Defence Attaché and his wife, Canberra

19 October 1977

Armed assault

Air India employee, Melbourne

4 December 1977

Bombing

Yugoslav Airlines office, Melbourne

24 December 1977

Bombing

Statue of Yugoslav General Mikhailovich, Canberra

13 February 1978

Bombing

Outside Hilton Hotel, Sydney

25 March 1978

Bomb found

Indian High Commissioner’s residence, Canberra

13 November 1978

Poisoned sweets

Served to delegates at Assyrian Congress, Sydney

8 February 1979

Bombing plan

Conspiracy targeting Yugoslavs and water pipes

17 December 1980

Assassination

Turkish Consul-General, Sydney

23 December 1982

Bombing

Israeli Consulate-General and Hakoah Club, Sydney

12 November 1983

Bomb found and defused

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Research Establishment, Lucas Heights, Sydney

5 July 1985

Bomb explosion

Outside Union Carbide factory, Sydney

13 July 1985

Shooting

Two shots at Vietnamese Embassy, Canberra

Source: Telex, ‘Australian Counter-Terrorism Policy’, 24 October 1986, ASIO records.

The threat from terrorism: a new paradigm

Ever since the late 1960s, with the onset of aircraft hijackings, the number of terrorism-related incidents had been rising steadily. But in its May 1983 assessment of the threat, ASIO observed that the trend was ‘away from the more spectacular and protracted siege/hostage and hijack operations to the “hit-and-run” operations involving assassinations and bombings’. ASIO noted that ‘the latter operations are easy to mount and difficult to prevent’.1 ASIO assessed that the terrorist threat could come from one of a number of sources: Armenians, Palestinians, Croatians, the Ananda Marga and the governments of Iraq, Libya, Iran and Yugoslavia. It is to the Armenians we turn first.

Armenians

The assassination of the Turkish Consul-General, in 1980, discussed in Chapter 6, was a specific incident involving Armenian extremists. ASIO had identified potentially violent Armenian terrorist groups. One, as we have seen, was known as the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG); the other was the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia.2 The JCAG was understood by ASIO to have been established as the terrorist wing of the Dashnag Party (or Dashaktsutiun Party), with roots in the 1890s in Armenian parts of the Ottoman Empire. The Dashnag Party was also known as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a right-wing nationalist organisation with branches in Armenian communities around the world. ASIO records indicate the ‘Piro’ (or Bureau) was identified as the secretive and security-conscious world executive body of the Dashnag Party, known to use couriers and mail rather than telephone for transmission of messages to confidants around the world. ASIO identified that the Piro established the JCAG in Beirut in 1975, and continued to fund and direct its activities.3 Altogether, Armenian terrorists were seen as responsible for more than 130 incidents worldwide involving the deaths of about 40 people, including 24 Turkish diplomats. In Australia’s case, the JCAG was identified as responsible for the December 1980 assassination in Sydney of the Turkish Consul-General and his bodyguard. ASIO assessed in May 1983 that the threat to Turkish diplomatic personnel remained high, but that Armenian attacks on other targets were unlikely, thanks to recent arrests overseas that appeared to have disrupted their plans.4

Reports had been coming in of a gun and grenade attack against Ankara Airport in August 1982, and of assassinations of Turkish representatives. These and other indicators suggested the JCAG was planning to mount further spectacular and protracted operations worldwide. Developments in 1983 brought the JCAG to greater prominence in Australia, particularly within ASIO and police circles. On 12 July 1983, Krikor Keverian, who was understood to be associated with the JCAG in Sydney, returned home from a visit to Los Angeles, where the main JCAG centre of activity was located. A Customs search discovered four undeclared pistols and various parts, including spare magazines, speed loaders, special grips, holsters and three cases for concealing the pistols. Keverian was arrested and prosecuted.5

The discovery of Keverian’s stash came two weeks before the JCAG carried out an assault on the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon under the cover of the Armenian Revolutionary Army, thought to be the military arm of the ARF. All five members of the JCAG team involved were killed, most dying after the detonation of their own explosives when Portuguese troops stormed the premises. ASIO had real concerns that JCAG would try to duplicate these tactics in Australia.6

The JCAG was believed to draw its members from the Dashnag Youth Federation, a nationalist Armenian political group affiliated with the Dashnag Party. Dashnag Youth Federation camps were held in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend of June 1983 and again during October. The camps were described by participants as an ‘army camp’, and many of them wore Australian Army pattern green clothing.7

A Customs search of a furniture shipment from Los Angeles discovered a cache including a large quantity of arms and other items. The equipment included an Uzi submachine gun, five handguns, a set of lock picks, handcuffs, ammunition and holsters. The person to whom the shipment was addressed had become nervous on hearing of Keverian’s arrest and reported the weapons cache to authorities before the shipment reached Australia.8 That did not mean, however, that authorities were satisfied the threat had been neutralised.

ASIO conducted extensive monitoring, under warrant, on a range of Armenian community members in Australia who were assessed to have ‘a propensity for violence in pursuit of the Armenian cause’. This monitoring included telephone interception, airport searches and extensive interviewing of Armenian community members. Agent coverage itself, however, was very difficult due to the clannish and close-knit nature of the Armenian community. Its strong sense of nationalism and its widespread and uniting hatred of the Turks made the group a challenging target to penetrate and persuade insiders to report on. ASIO also sought to coordinate its operations with those of the AFP and the relevant state police forces. Given the international connections, particularly to North America, ASIO liaised with counterpart agencies there as well.9

Through all this work, ASIO became aware that other disruptive activity associated with Armenian extremists was anticipated for September 1983, some of which was assessed as likely to occur in Australia. Designated counterterrorist alert levels ranged from ‘Standard CT Precautionary Procedures’ to ‘Special CT Precautionary Procedures’ and ‘Full CT Alert’. With these levels in mind, ASIO recommended that the Government’s security awareness alert level be raised to ‘Special CT Precautionary Procedures’. A ‘Full CT Alert’ was not recommended, as no concrete information on any specific planned operation was available.10 A Special Incident Task Force, with representatives from ASIO and other government agencies concerned, met on 1 December to raise the alert level. Evidence continued to mount that the JCAG planned a terrorist operation in December 1983, but the date passed without incident. There was some pressure to lower the threat level because of the resource implications of maintaining a heightened alert and additional surveillance, particularly over the Turkish diplomatic facilities.11 The Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was advised in mid-January 1984 that the heightened alert levels had been reviewed by the Special Incident Task Force and retained, in part because of ASIO’s concerns that the terrorist group was waiting for the level of protection to be dropped before taking further action.12

ASIO sought to increase its operational coverage of potential Armenian terrorism in the early months of 1984, looking for fresh ways to establish agent coverage to complement its telephone interception. Several potential candidates were considered, one of whom was John Assadourian.13ASIO had placed Assadourian under operational coverage, and subsequently assessed that he was likely to be unhelpful, hostile and aggressive. Assadourian was an Australian born in Beirut and associated with young Armenians living in Sydney who were under investigation for their involvement in the JCAG. Assadourian was an associate of Keverian, and both were members of a pistol club, regularly practising at the Anzac Rifle Range in the Sydney suburb of Malabar. Intercepts revealed that Assadourian had attempted to buy rifles and operated with a cover name.14Continuing indicators of concern, including an attempt to smuggle in a German-manufactured machine pistol—a prohibited item—led to further extension of warrants. As it turned out, the weapon was not discovered. This was in part, some claimed, due to an unfortunate six-week lapse between receipt of the instructions and the connection of the intercept. Given the indicators and ongoing concern, Assadourian continued to be subject to intermittent monitoring under warrant.15

Over time, however, technical monitoring as a source of intelligence against Armenians appeared to be drying up, as the targets were increasingly security-conscious. In their efforts to recruit agents from within the group, ASIO officers became concerned about Armenian attempts to compromise ASIO. This indicated a need to verify their motives and intentions by technical means.16 ASIO had to be more imaginative to keep up.17 Considerable resources were devoted to recruitment and to targeting under special powers of those seen to be members of the JCAG.18

Operations were conducted under warrant against identified prominent JCAG members. One couple, for instance, who lived in a flat in a Sydney suburb, were subject to such scrutiny.19 ASIO officers installed microphones and a radio transmitter in their flat. The final stages of the installation were disrupted when somebody came by the flat, but an ASIO officer on watch distracted the visitor until the installation was completed and the covering material back in position.20 A room in a building nearby was used as the listening post.21 In the end, however, ASIO officers assessed that the logistics involved outweighed the dividend from the operation.22 Others, such as Kegham Sarkissian, who was identified as having direct links with the Piro in Beirut, were also subject to such monitoring.23 Sarkissian had been arrested in October 1982 for his involvement in an attempted bombing of the offices of the Honorary Turkish Consul in Philadelphia. Reports from overseas corroborated evidence about Sarkissian’s contacts and intentions.24

A Dashnag Youth Camp, involving members from Sydney and Melbourne, was held in the Canberra area in October 1986. ASIO had indications that the camp would feature the main surveillance and monitoring targets, and so committed considerable resources to the task of monitoring its activities. ASIO had extensive coverage of the camp, using a range of its special powers. But with secretive preparations and an exposed campsite, which made it hard for ASIO to do their job without being noticed, ASIO was disappointed with the results.25 The camp the following year was subject to a similar level of ASIO surveillance.26 ASIO officers subsequently described the results as patchy, and little of security interest was revealed.27 In fact, the camp was quite benign, akin to a church youth group or scout camp, with ‘absolutely no indication of “subversive activity” ’.28Yet ASIO continued to monitor them, seeing such monitoring as a core responsibility.

ASIO’s assessment of the dangers posed by such Armenian extremists was proven valid following the bombing of the Turkish Consulate-General in Melbourne on 23 November 1986. The bomb, hidden in a car in the basement of the consulate building, had apparently exploded prematurely, blowing ARF member Hagop Levonian to pieces.29 ASIO intercepts had not provided prior warning of the bombing,30 but very quickly thereafter ASIO could advise the Victoria Police that a leading member of the JCAG, Levon Demirian, and his wife and child were in Melbourne from 17 to 23 November, and had visited several ARF identities before travelling to Sydney. Demirian was known to be close to Levonian, and received a phone call from Levonian’s wife soon after the bombing. Between ASIO and the AFP, snippets of information confirmed that Levonian had died in the explosion and that Demirian was intimately involved in the preparations.31 In the early morning of 26 November, several police raids were carried out in Sydney and Canberra. ASIO’s coverage of the Armenian groups had allowed the police to make the raids, which resulted in the arrest of Levon Demirian. Reports also raised suspicion that his brother John had made the bomb.32

Afterwards, the Director-General, Alan Wrigley, wrote in praise of the collective efforts of ASIO staff during the crisis, particularly as the bombing took place as the move of ASIO headquarters from Melbourne to Canberra was taking place (see Chapter 14). In a memorandum to staff, Wrigley advised that the Attorney-General, Bowen, had told him to place on record that he was ‘particularly impressed with the way in which the Organization responded to the recent bombing’.

You may wish to convey my thanks and those of the Government to those members of your staff who worked very long hours in very difficult conditions. I believe the energy and efficiency with which resolution of that case has been pursued will have some deterrent value in the future. That is important—but I appreciate that the Organization will receive no public credit for its role. That in no way can diminish the importance of that role.33

Wrigley observed: ‘All ASIO staff involved—and indeed every one of us for them—should take pleasure in this recognition.’34

Despite the praise, ASIO’s work surrounding the bombing was not without its hiccups. Demirian had been under a telephone interception warrant for some time, and ASIO had been recording critical conversations involving him. But ASIO policy for tapes that would not be required later, was to erase them after six weeks; several tapes involving Demirian were erased in accordance with this routine policy. Not yet an organisation focused on delivering evidentiary results, ASIO did not see such record keeping as its responsibility. No one had thought to preserve the records in light of the sensitivity and legal implications of what had transpired—although in time this would change.35

There was a genuine concern that the loss of the tapes might have damaged the prosecution case against Demirian, and would ‘almost certainly endanger our relationship with the Victoria Police’, let alone the professional reputation of the Organisation.36 An investigation was conducted and a number of staff members were admonished for negligence and carelessness in the exercise of official duties.37 But as it turned out, the damage to the relationship with Victoria Police was not irreparable and the case against Demirian was sufficiently compelling that the loss of the tapes was not enough to prevent a conviction for conspiracy for which Levon Demirian was sentenced to ten years in prison.38

The challenge of monitoring and translating intercepts against Armenian targets proved daunting for ASIO, and an appeal was made for international assistance. One overseas agency offered ASIO the services of an Armenian linguist. Such assistance helped corroborate and confirm key intercepts concerning Levon Demirian and Hagop Levonian.39 Wrigley later wrote to thank the head of the foreign service for the support, saying the interpreter ‘made an invaluable contribution, not only at the linguistic level but in expanding our understanding of things Armenian’.40

While the bombing in Melbourne was a major incident, the death of Levonian caused shock and a sense of loss in the Armenian community, and the arrest of Demirian led to suspicions within the JCAG of ASIO penetration. In the meantime, the Dashnag leadership in Beirut was reported by counterpart agencies to have been crippled between 1985 and 1987, further detracting from the impetus for coordinated terrorist action.41 A seminar in April 1987 brought together ASIO officers from Victoria and New South Wales (the principal regional offices concerned) and the Central Office in Canberra to review the status of the Armenian terrorist scene. With the JCAG seen as dismantled by the loss of Levonian and the arrest of Demirian, and with a detailed knowledge of a considerable number of targets in the Armenian community, ASIO assessed the short-term threat as low.42 Subsequently, a number of the warrants were allowed to lapse.43 ASIO and the Victoria Police believed there were some as yet unconfirmed accomplices, and so surveillance was instigated to confirm these suspicions.44 Warrants continued to be issued to undertake intercepts through 1988 and 1989, targeting associates of those known to be directly involved in the bombing, and pieces of information accrued that helped further substantiate the involvement of a small number of JCAG members.45 In essence, ASIO remained concerned about the capabilities and intentions of a select band of identified JCAG members in Australia for some time thereafter.

Palestinians

Palestinian terrorist groups were identified by ASIO as a significant threat, particularly Palestinian splinter groups spawned by the PLO. While these splinter groups appeared to be separate from the PLO, the true nature of their relationship was unclear. These groups sought to perpetrate additional violent acts after the PLO officially disavowed international terrorism. The 15 May Arab Organisation, for instance, an Iraq-based splinter group from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which rejected negotiations with Israel,46 was suspected of playing a part in the December 1982 bombings of the Hakoah Club and the Israeli Consulate-General in Sydney. Intelligence liaison from overseas counterparts indicated this group had carried out ‘operational reconnaissance’ in Australia, reportedly aimed at further Israeli targets. As a result of these warnings, on 24 March 1983 a Special Incident Task Force endorsed ASIO’s recommendation to raise the counterterrorist alert from ‘Standard CT Precautionary Procedures’ to ‘Special CT Risk’, but without going to ‘Full CT Alert’.47

The PFLP was critical of Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, who in 1983 publicly eschewed the use of terrorism and recognised the State of Israel’s right to exist. The PFLP was represented in Australia by two cells: one in Sydney and a more active one in Melbourne. The Melbourne cell was seen by ASIO as ‘extremely security conscious’, being circumspect in the use of telephones, avoiding note-taking, and frequently changing the timing and location of meetings at short notice. Nonetheless, ASIO observed that this group’s main focuses were on raising funds to be sent overseas and even emphasising to its supporters that it did not expect them to break any laws or undertake violent activities in Australia. ASIO therefore considered them unlikely to initiate violence or any terrorist activities in Australia.48 The same, however, could not be said for the Al Fatah faction of the PLO.

Al Fatah members drew considerable attention from ASIO in the mid-1980s. The trend since the mid-1970s, ASIO observed, was for Al Fatah to refrain from carrying out attacks outside the Middle East, as they were considered harmful to the political effort to gain recognition of the PLO. But after June 1982, when Israeli forces invaded southern Lebanon and expelled the PLO from Beirut, there was growing pressure for a resumption of terrorist operations outside the Middle East.49

With a number of known Al Fatah activists in Australia, ASIO was concerned such attacks could occur in Australia. There were indications also that some individual Al Fatah members had participated in the December 1982 bombings. ASIO had earlier actively recruited agents, sought warrants and installed listening devices in various locations to identify hints of any such activity.50 With the Government concerned about repeat incidents, the pressure mounted for more concerted and comprehensive monitoring of extremist groups.51 Following the bombings, ASIO monitored a number of reported Al Fatah members with listening devices, to seek confirmation of the perpetrators and to provide forewarning of further acts of violence.52 ASIO also discussed recruitment methods with counterparts overseas and gained useful tips.53 This seemed a sensible approach, as they had a longer history and were more experienced at operating against such targets.

In late 1983 and 1984, ASIO focused its efforts on people such as a former president of the General Union of Palestinian Workers, which was seen by ASIO as the front for Al Fatah in Australia. Monitoring of this person gave ASIO insights into his prickly relationship with others in the group, including an Australian citizen who was a Damascus-based member of Al Fatah sent back to Australia to control Al Fatah’s activities.54 ASIO had known about these people throughout the Fraser years as well, but was still no closer to confirming who had been involved in the December 1982 Sydney bombings.55

Nonetheless, ASIO operations focused on activities of individuals ‘related to the Sydney bombings’. One such person targeted, an Australian citizen of Middle Eastern extraction, came under scrutiny from ASIO using a number of methods, yet his activities remained a ‘mystery’.56 It became evident that following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the target had joined others in advocating violence against Israeli officials in retaliation. Other information indicated he played a role in the December 1982 bombings. In September 1983, he was reputed to have said, ‘we did it and it’s finished’, which suggested to ASIO that he was involved in the bombings.57 But little else materialised to corroborate that view. Separately, there were indications he had written to a leading Al Fatah member, who from 1971 to 1974 was the leader of the Black September Organisation. Formed by Al Fatah after a September 1970 massacre of Palestinians in Jordan, the Black September Organisation was involved in numerous terrorist attacks worldwide, including embassy seizures, aircraft hijackings, bombings and assassinations.58 Given the connections and concerns, the leading Al Fatah member remained a person of interest to ASIO.

In some instances, ASIO sources provided valuable information that helped provide a more complete understanding of the workings of groups such as Al Fatah. But it was high-pressure and very dangerous work that some simply could not sustain. Some agents were concerned about being exposed and harmed, and a number suffered considerable stress. Many declined to continue in the role and appeals by ASIO officers for them to remain engaged fell on deaf ears.59

One approach often used by ASIO was to seek to interview people and ask them directly for information. In one such instance, ASIO officers attempted to interview a Palestinian who was suspected of having undergone Al Fatah military and political training:60

Having knocked on the door, it was apparent that [he] was not home. When about to leave [he] was seen to arrive by car. He was then [approached] as he walked towards his house. The ASIO officers identified themselves and requested that they speak to him. [He] replied by saying ‘get off my property or I will call the police and my solicitor’. He repeated the demand to which the ASIO officers complied with his request … [He] responded by saying ‘You ASIO bastards, you have bugged my house, go away, I will not talk to you’. He then turned his back and walked towards his house.

The ASIO report concluded in an understated way: ‘By his conduct the ASIO officers considered the interview had terminated. His angry outburst and highly emotional attitude suggests that the subject would not welcome ASIO officers under any circumstances.’61

In June 1986, after almost one year as Director-General, Alan Wrigley considered the steadily mounting effort into investigating Al Fatah and asked for a comprehensive presentation as to what all this effort was providing and what it was requiring from ASIO resources.62 Wrigley was briefed on the spectrum of collection resources applied against Al Fatah targets in New South Wales and Victoria. The report noted the disappointing results from a variety of information sources. But with continuing unease about Al Fatah’s intentions, monitoring continued, looking for any signs of access to and training in the use of weapons and explosives.63

By mid- to late 1987 ASIO’s Victorian regional office had established a team focused on the identification and coverage of Middle Eastern targets operating in that state. Al Fatah was the first target to be considered. Overt sources, including newspapers published by various Middle Eastern groups, were used by ASIO to monitor target groups, but Al Fatah did not publish a newspaper, so other approaches were required. These included a range of operational methods as well as liaison with other agencies. As with most Middle Eastern groups, recruiting and penetrating targets was difficult.64

ASIO observed that Al Fatah was inactive by 1988, but it retained the ‘infrastructure capable of lending support to terrorist organisations’. ASIO noted that local members had been involved in operational intelligence gathering and had expressed a ‘willingness to undertake acts of violence in support of the cause and some have claimed to have participated in Al Fatah training cadres overseas’. Reports verified the occurrence of cell meetings, but due to patchy coverage, ASIO found it difficult to establish exactly what was being discussed.65 On balance, however, ASIO officers reported that by 1989 Al Fatah had not conducted an act of terrorism in recent years, making it difficult to assess local attitudes to Al Fatah acts of violence. Indeed, as the Victorian regional office observed, ‘given the assessment that this group of Al Fatah members is unlikely to conduct or support violence’, there was little compelling reason to justify continued intrusive operations.66 It was becoming apparent that local Al Fatah members were ‘supportive of Yasser Arafat’s search for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian problem’.67 While ASIO’s level of concern would ebb and flow, concern about Palestinian extremist elements would remain well beyond the end of the Cold War.

Hezbollah

While concern abated over Al Fatah, ASIO grew increasingly worried about the emergence of Hezbollah, or ‘Party of God’, a Shiite political, religious and military group understood to be sponsored by Iran. This group rose to prominence after the fall of the Shah of Iran, the pro-American monarch who was toppled in February 1979 by the Shiite revolutionaries led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. It had conducted at least twenty terrorist operations between January 1983 and October 1986, mainly in Lebanon, directed against the United States, France, Israel and ‘moderate’ Arab nations.68 Further terrorist acts were reported overseas in 1987.69 There was a concern that some of those involved might travel to Australia.

Hezbollah was first reported to exist in Sydney in February 1982. Then, following the Hakoah Club explosion in December 1982, conflicting information frustrated ASIO’s assessment of the possible role of Lebanese Shias implicated in the explosion. But responsibility for the incident was reportedly claimed by the Organisation for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners—suggesting, but not confirming, a link with Hezbollah. Hezbollah was considered by ASIO to be an umbrella organisation aiming to create an Islamic republic in Lebanon, remove all Western influence from that country and destroy the state of Israel.70 The ideological link to Australia was not immediately apparent. Rather, it was the lengths Hezbollah followers in Australia were prepared to go to further their cause that generated concern and attracted ASIO’s attention.

One key person associated with this group71 had visited Australia a number of times and claimed to have political, ideological and religious influence.72 He let people know he cared only about the good of Shiites in Australia. There was considerable uncertainty over how much direction he was taking from Iran.73

What was clear, however, was that in the mid-1980s ASIO came across a range of pamphlets associated with him that called for struggle against Israel. Al Amal, the largest Shiite political organisation in Lebanon, had a number of branches in Australia. With the emergence of Iranian Shiite zealots critical of Al Amal’s lack of adherence to ‘Islamic ideals’, a dissident faction emerged. This faction apparently collected and forwarded funds to the ‘Resistance’—that is, Hezbollah in Lebanon.74 ASIO reported in 1987 that a large sum of money was being sent to the Resistance in Lebanon, of which only a small fraction was forwarded to ‘the poor and orphans’.75 ASIO subsequently happened to find out that he was funded directly from Iran and Lebanon.76 But there was little to reveal of security relevance.77 In part, it seemed, this was because Hezbollah members were very security-conscious. ASIO assessed that their activities were ‘deceptive’ and that there were ‘strong indications of clandestinity’.78

Little of security interest was revealed, despite ASIO knowing that the Hezbollah organisation overseas included elements that supported and conducted acts of terrorism. From ASIO’s perspective, there were indications of capability and of possible intent to undertake terrorist acts in Australia, and it was the Organisation’s job, therefore, to obtain ‘information sufficient to permit forewarning of Hezbollah violence in or supported from Australia’. There remained a number of unanswered questions.79 Additional concerns revolved around the generation of communal tensions between Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern political parties in Sydney, which had the potential to result in violence.80

While there appeared to be potential, there was little indication of it materialising as violence, even when international events appeared likely to prompt a local response. The downing of the Iranian Airbus aircraft on 3 July 1988 by the USS Vincennes, clashes between the Al Amal group and Hezbollah military forces in Lebanon, and howls of protest over Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses and the fatwah or edict calling for Rushdie’s death issued in Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, failed to trigger the scale of violent incidents ASIO feared. To be sure, fighting in Sydney broke out between supporters of Al Amal and Hezbollah in late 1989, but these were police matters, and not the primary concern of ASIO.81 With Hezbollah’s apparent militant agenda laden with untoward intent, ASIO’s responsibilities in this domain would stretch far beyond the end of the Cold War.

ASIO monitored the activities of the Iranian Embassy and staff much in the same way it monitored the Soviet Embassy. It should be noted that in the late 1980s Australia had an Iranian émigré population of about 10,000 Iranian-born residents who had fled the overthrow of the Shah. International partner agencies advised that Iranian Government authorities had been implicated in international acts of terrorism, particularly in the early 1980s, so vigilance was called for.82 One embassy staff member, thought to be a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with duties to report on intelligence in the Iranian and Muslim communities in Australia, was placed under surveillance. Areas of interest for Iranian officials were Iranian university students in Australia (ASIO noted that only those committed to the cause were allowed on overseas scholarships), countering the influence of anti-Khomeini newspapers printed in Sydney, and monitoring the size and activities of the Baha’i community in Australia (a persecuted minority in Iran).83

Iraqi Embassy officials also were interested in identifying Iraqi dissidents and supporters of Hezbollah. There were indications from international partner agencies in the 1980s that such Iraqi officials had been involved in the murder of several dissidents outside Iraq at the behest of the Iraqi Directorate of General Intelligence. ASIO, not surprisingly, was eager to monitor for signs of such intentions in Australia as well.84 One person of interest migrated from Iraq in the 1960s and was subsequently granted Australian citizenship. ASIO observed he was in contact with Abdul Al Oraibi, an Iraq Embassy official who worked for the Directorate of General Intelligence—an arm of the ruling Ba’ath Party. The person of interest was seen as a willing accomplice of Iraqi officials.85

Libyans

ASIO’s first major concern about Libyan intelligence activities in Australia surfaced in July–August 1978, when it was learned that a delegation that was ostensibly in Australia to inspect agricultural machinery, actually comprised the deputy head of Al Fatah’s security intelligence department and a captain in the Libyan Intelligence Service, and that their objective was to obtain information for Al Fatah intelligence.86

The Libyan Embassy opened in Canberra in April 1979 and subsequently converted into the Libyan People’s Bureau in January 1981, reflecting Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s political and social philosophy. Under Gaddafi, Libya was known to support revolutionary groups, providing training and funds to establish ‘revolutionary committees’ in various countries, including the United Kingdom. In Australia, Libya was reported to have funded the establishment in the mid- to late 1970s of an Arabic newspaper in Sydney as well as the pro-Libya Basic People’s Congress and the Arab Libyan–Australian Friendship Association. Libya sought to extend its influence, funding journalists and others on visits to Libya to generate favourable publicity.87

Additional concerns surfaced following Gaddafi’s February 1980 call for all Libyan expatriates to return to Libya or face punishment: this call resulted in the assassination of twelve people and the attempted murder of another six in Western Europe and the United States. The immediacy of the threat to Australian interests was apparent in 1981, when ASIO learned that a Libyan who had organised violence against expatriates in the United Kingdom had succeeded in entering—and leaving—Australia under a false name.88

Following another, more threatening call by Gaddafi in October 1982, approval was given for ASIO to use its special powers against the Libyan People’s Bureau. Through this, ASIO learned that the officials at the bureau were trying to obtain lists of all Libyans who had arrived in Australia since 1980, and were actively seeking information on expatriates or Australian citizens who were critical of Libya or Gaddafi. The possibility of violent repercussions against those critics was not lost on ASIO.89

Ibrahim Sager, the Libyan People’s Bureau’s media and information officer, established a revolutionary committee in Melbourne, most members of which were Australian citizens of Lebanese descent. ASIO monitoring in late 1983 revealed that he was involved in establishing another revolutionary committee among Libyan students studying in Western Australia.90 Eventually, four revolutionary committees were established in Australia, to organise Libyan students to monitor student activities and to harass, coerce and intimidate anti-Gaddafi dissidents.91 ASIO monitoring also revealed that several members of the group discussed the 60 Minutes reporter Jana Wendt, who had been critical of Libya and Gaddafi on several occasions, threatening to use violence against her. With such growing cause for concern, ASIO sought to monitor the activities of the Libyan People’s Bureau closely.92

In considering the Libyans, questions were raised as to the nature of the relationship between the Egyptian-born imam at the Lakemba mosque in Sydney, Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly and the Libyan People’s Bureau. Meanwhile, in February 1984, Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Libya after a police constable was shot and killed by a machine-gun burst fired from inside the Libyan People’s Bureau in London. Libya’s actions raised concerns in Australia of similar actions. Surprisingly, Hilaly publicly praised Libyan dissidents who attacked Gaddafi’s headquarters in Libya in May 1984.93

The Libyan People’s Bureau also made large donations in 1985 to the Islamic People’s Congress in Wollongong to propagate Gaddafi’s political and social philosophy, the Islamic religion and culture.94 ASIO observed that the small number of Libyans in Australia and their wide dispersal reduced the possibility of Libyan-sponsored state terrorism in Australia. The United Kingdom, Canada and the United States had decided to impose strict entry conditions following violent intimidation among the student population. Libya, therefore, was reported to be looking to Australia as an alternative for training its students. Concerned about the implications, ASIO suggested that a significant increase in Libyan students in Australia would greatly enhance the risk of violence.95

Ironically, the shutting down of Libyan People’s Bureaus in other Western countries meant allowing the Libyan People’s Bureau to stay open in Australia. Acting on advice from international partners, ASIO fought against the Hawke Government’s desire to close the Libyan People’s Bureau. Wrigley was able to defend the need to keep coverage going because it had become all the more significant: it allowed ASIO to gather important and otherwise inaccessible information that it could share with its international partners. Indeed, ASIO operations confirmed Libyan atrocities, and the information gained helped prompt international action against Libya.96

A senior officer in R Branch was involved in arranging access to technology that enabled the Organisation to gain a better understanding of what the Libyans were saying in Australia. The Libyans were on ASIO’s list of targets, and this provided an opportunity to acquire cutting-edge technical expertise.97 The method of access involved what was seen at the time as revolutionary technology.98

In April 1986, the Director-General, Wrigley, was called before the Security Committee of Cabinet to advise on ASIO’s coverage of the Libyan People’s Bureau, the value of the coverage to ASIO and others and the possibilities for its use in the future.99 Wrigley was able to advise them of ASIO’s significant coverage—the greatest on this target in the West.

A series of warrants was executed against the Libyan People’s Bureau between 1985 and 1987. These operations went smoothly and provided significant intelligence dividends for ASIO.100 One officer recalled that the other Australian intelligence collection agencies were surprised at what ASIO was able to achieve.101

To some ASIO officers, even those working on the Libyan intelligence target, such operational activity was invisible. One agent handler, for instance, recalled how he could never figure out how others in ASIO knew what they knew about the target. This was the need-to-know principle at work.

I was running an agent. I was told that this agent had met a senior member of the Libyan Peoples Bureau. I never could work out how we knew he’d done that, and how we knew who he’d seen. As the Case Officer … no one ever told me that we had this [additional coverage]. But it is just an example of how things were run.102

Compartmentalisation of information meant that details of operations like these were strictly controlled. Agent handlers, exposed to the vagaries of human interaction in sometimes dangerous circumstances, were seen as not needing to know the full picture lest they inadvertently disclose too much.

Operations such as these provided ASIO with a volume of information on Libyan activities of security interest in Australia and the South Pacific, particularly as Libya sought to establish a Libyan People’s Bureau in Vanuatu.103 In light of what was discovered about Libyan activities, and contrary to ASIO advice, Cabinet decided to close the Libyan People’s Bureau in Canberra in early 1987.104 ASIO was able to monitor the reaction to that decision among the Libyan officials and their supporters. ASIO also identified that the Libyans provided a large sum of money to be passed on to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. Access to this information was justified, as it provided reliable and timely advice to the Government on developments surrounding the departure of the Libyan officials in June 1987.105 Reports arising from these operations were passed to the Office of National Assessments, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, as there was ‘considerable Australian Government interest in this subject’.106

Bill Hartley and Robert Pash

Given the nature of Iraqi and Libyan politics, Australian diplomatic relations with these two countries were, not surprisingly, rocky. What was surprising to many, however, was that the former Victorian ALP secretary, Bill Hartley, was a paid but unofficial ambassador for Iraq and Libya.107By March 1983, when ASIO was asked for a report by the new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, it considered Hartley to have done more for the Arab cause than any other person in Australia. As part of his work for Libya and Iraq, he was of some use to the Palestinians as a publicist and an advocate for recognition of the PLO. What was less well known was the level of financial support he received from both Iraq and Libya. The Iraqis, ASIO observed, paid him as a correspondent for the Iraqi News Agency, but also made substantial payments to reimburse him for expenses. In the meantime, the Libyans also reportedly paid him a large sum of money for his services to the Arab Libyan–Australian Friendship Association.108

The Deputy Leader of the Victorian Opposition, Robert Maclellan, a Liberal MLA, raised the matter of Hartley’s activities with ASIO in February 1984. Recognising the political sensitivities involved, the Director-General, Harvey Barnett, took up the matter with the Attorney-General Gareth Evans. Barnett explained that he intended to send two ASIO officers to interview Maclellan and examine documents he held concerning Hartley. Barnett told Evans that as far as ASIO was concerned, ‘we were damned if we did it and damned if we didn’t’. Barnett recorded that: ‘The Attorney-General laughingly agreed.’109 Barnett was concerned to avoid ASIO being implicated and politicised in a ‘Get Hartley’ campaign.110

Hartley was expelled from the ALP in 1986, due to his role on behalf of the Libyan Government. ASIO noted from other sources that Hartley’s activities continued after his expulsion, and he remained a significant supporter of Libyan and Iraqi interests in Australia.111

Over a year later, in November 1986, the Libyan Government appointed Robert Pash, an Australian citizen, as director of the Libyan Arab Cultural Centre in Melbourne. Pash, who had been active for several years as leader of the small pro-Libyan Australian People’s Congress in Queensland, was seen by ASIO as ‘a more active propagandist than his Libyan predecessors’. Pash published magazines, gave media interviews, and travelled extensively, including leading an Australian delegation to a conference in Libya on ‘Peace in the South Pacific’.112

Following the closure of the Libyan People’s Bureau in Canberra in May 1987, Pash assumed an increased role in activities on behalf of Libya. He actively sought to establish his credentials as Libya’s representative in Australia, establishing links with a number of revolutionary and national liberation groups and individuals within and outside Australia while also maintaining his links with Libyan officials in Libya and Malaysia. ASIO therefore continued to monitor him closely.113

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), like Al Fatah and the PFLP, had first drawn ASIO’s attention in the mid- to late 1960s. The 1973 visit of Al Fatah operations officer Abdulhamid Abdulla Azzam (discussed in Volume II) had been facilitated by the prominent SSNP member in Melbourne, Edmond Melki. More importantly for ASIO, a man called Aboud Aboud moved to Australia from Lebanon in November 1972, and with some force and intimidation established his leadership over the local branch of the party.114

Between 1981 and 1986, the Australian Government made efforts to deport Aboud, but he rallied support from the local Middle Eastern community and lobbied effectively to prevent his deportation. During this period, the SSNP was reported to have about 980 members in Sydney, 300 in Melbourne, 50 in Adelaide and 30 in Wollongong. But a split within the party emerged, with a strong group in Sydney opposed to Aboud while many in Melbourne still supported him. Aboud accumulated enemies and only remained the national leader until May 1987. Fearing for his safety, in February 1988 he returned to Lebanon to take up a position on the Higher Council of the party. Aboud was eventually replaced in Australia by Ghassan Cheikh Muhammad Ezzedine, who had arrived in the country in February 1989.115 Not surprisingly, he became a person of interest to ASIO.

ASIO continued to pay close attention to the SSNP, assessing that it could be engaged in ‘acts of foreign interference’ on behalf of the Syrian Government. ASIO, which considered the party to be involved in activities carried out on behalf of and directed by a ‘foreign power’ as defined by Section 4 of the ASIO Act 1979, saw its aggressive activities as evidently threatening to other members of the Middle Eastern community. Having acknowledged that, however, ASIO officers recognised that with the exception of plans to bring people into Australia from overseas covertly, there was no evidence the party acted clandestinely or deceptively in Australia. But its history of acts of communal violence in Australia, directed at promoting violence between the party and other Middle Eastern groups in the Australian community, provided compelling motives to continue monitoring.116 Reports of a camp at Easter in 1989 involving weapons training and tactics for street fighting reinforced these concerns.117 The party therefore remained on the list of groups seen as prejudicial to security in terms of ‘promotion of communal violence’.118

Croatians

As the account in Volume II makes clear, Croatian separatist groups presented what ASIO described as a ‘long-standing terrorist problem’, and in 1983 were still of major concern to the Organisation, particularly with respect to politically motivated violence. The focus on Croatian extremists had triggered the infamous Murphy raid on Headquarters ASIO in March 1973 (discussed in Volume II), and worries over their capabilities and intentions persisted through the 1970s and into the 1980s (discussed in Chapter 6). As of May 1983, ASIO counted eighteen explosive attacks involving Yugoslav targets, although the assessment avoided specifically blaming Croats for them. It did note, however, that Croats had participated in two armed incursions into Yugoslavia ‘and may have been planning a third in 1978’. The assessment recalled the foiled plan to carry out simultaneous bomb attacks on a water pipeline and tower, travel agents, Yugoslav clubs, and a theatre during a performance by visiting Yugoslav musical artists in 1979 (see Chapter 6). But ASIO saw a ‘cooling of passions’ and therefore assessed the threat in May 1983 as ‘low’.119

In light of this apparent cooling, at a seminar on the Yugoslav target, ASIO decided to turn its attention from Croatian separatist groups to the YIS.120 But in May 1984, ASIO learned that Franjo Turk, a senior HRB member who had been the subject of intensive operational activity,121would be holding an HRB meeting at his house. Acknowledging that ‘our coverage of the HRB has not been as good as it could have been’, some ASIO officers considered the possibility of more detailed coverage,122 suggesting that this would ‘settle once and for all whether or not Turk’ and the HRB generally were ‘worthy of ASIO’s attention’.123 Others similarly argued that the HRB remained ‘the only separatist group in Australia which could be classed as extremist’ (because of its past activities) and Turk was its Australian leader.124

In spite of the earlier attempts to use its special powers to cover Turk’s actions, ASIO continued planning for a renewed focus on this key HRB target. Operational activity to cover the proposed meeting (the first known meeting in eight years) might provide an insight into the roles of senior HRB members, HRB activities, plans for violence, and contact with overseas Croatian separatists.125 An assessment carried out on 9 October 1984 concluded that while difficult, the operational activity was possible.126 But after further consideration, the Acting Assistant Director-General (S Branch) decided that ASIO did not have a sufficient case to prove that the HRB was operational, and decided not to proceed.127 The focus therefore shifted back to the YIS.

The Yugoslav Intelligence Service

For much of the Cold War, Yugoslavia comprised six republics—Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia, as well as two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, each with their own histories and dissidents. The Yugoslav state apparatus regarded dissidents, particularly Croatian separatists, as a threat to the integrity of the state, and sought to monitor and control such elements in the diaspora in a number of countries, including Australia.128 As part of its efforts to understand what was happening domestically, ASIO remained concerned about the work of the YIS, which combined the Yugoslav State Security Service (Sluzba Drzavne Bezbednosti or SDB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (Sluzba za Istrazinvanje or SID). ASIO was aware that the SDB sought to penetrate ‘Yugoslav separatist communities in Australia’, to identify anti-Yugoslav Government émigrés and to ‘neutralise’ their activities. ASIO believed the SDB was responsible for the assassination of 28 separatists overseas, and that it planned at least two such acts in Australia in 1981 and 1985.129

With enduring concerns about the SDB’s intentions, ASIO sought to obtain information and assistance from members of the émigré community, and began to pay particular attention to Yugoslav officials in Australia.130

In one instance, ASIO became aware that the First Secretary at the Yugoslav Embassy in Canberra from 1984 to 1988, Zeljko Barbir, was an SDB officer involved in running informants—five of whom had been exposed. ASIO decided to conduct intense operational activity against Barbir. It made contact with Barbir but he repeatedly denied any involvement in intelligence activity. Nonetheless, ASIO’s secondary purpose of disruption was achieved—Barbir dramatically reduced his intelligence activities, an outcome which proved ‘clearly beneficial to Australia’s national interest’.131 When the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted strongly, denying the allegations, ASIO briefed the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs on the background. They agreed that no response would be given unless demanded, in which case the Australian Embassy in Belgrade would state simply that the ‘complaint had been noted’.132

In another instance, operations were mounted against Mate Kuvacic, the Consul-General of the Yugoslav Consulate-General in Melbourne, whom ASIO assessed to be an officer in the SDB. He was known to be in communication with a number of contacts monitoring the Croatian separatist community.133 Information obtained from these operations helped identify one of Kuvacic’s informants and confirmed Kuvacic’s intelligence role. In concluding their assessment, ASIO advised the Attorney-General that the information obtained assisted the Organisation in its investigation of the SDB and enabled it to deploy its resources ‘more effectively’.134

ASIO had good cause still to be concerned about Yugoslav actions, particularly in light of how two events unfolded. The first incident occurred in August 1988, when red paint was daubed on the Yugoslav Consulate-General in Melbourne. An officer in the Australian Protective Service noted the registration of a car nearby, which Victoria Police traced back to a known informant on the SDB. The second incident involved the delivery of a suspicious package to the Yugoslav Consulate in Perth in September 1988. The Yugoslav authorities responded in a cavalier manner, only reluctantly agreeing to evacuate the premises when the police arrived. The surprisingly calm response, coupled with the timing of the incident, a few weeks before the visit to Perth of the Yugoslav Ambassador, led ASIO to believe it was a ploy by the YIS to heighten police and security force interest in the Croatian émigré community. ASIO also knew of two other fake bomb incidents associated with the YIS in Germany and Switzerland. With the worsening Yugoslav economic situation and heightening ethnic tensions in Yugoslavia, ASIO predicted that such actions would continue to occur.135

ASIO’s confidence in its judgements was aided by a successful operation against the Yugoslav Embassy in Canberra.136 ASIO would remain concerned about YIS actions until the end of the Cold War and beyond, culminating in the war in Yugoslavia and its eventual fracturing into separate states.

The Ananda Marga

The Ananda Marga, which had featured prominently in the late 1970s (as discussed in Chapter 4), remained of concern for ASIO, which assessed elements of it to be violence-prone and most likely responsible for knife attacks on Indian diplomatic and commercial representatives, an arson attack on the Indian High Commission, and the Hilton Hotel bombing. ASIO noted that overseas, the Ananda Marga had been held responsible for the deaths of at least eighteen defectors, as well as for bomb attacks, robberies, a hijack attempt and at least six assassination attempts against Indian politicians. But as the group was leaderless in Australia, it was seen as dispirited and fragmented, representing only a low terrorist threat.137

While ASIO maintained sources and surveillance targeting the Ananda Marga, it had no coverage requiring a warrant between May and 3 September 1983 when Attorney-General Evans signed a new warrant. In doing so, he warned the Director-General that the case was a ‘very marginal one’ and that ASIO would need to make a better case in the future.138 Coverage continued until the Ananda Marga line was disconnected on 24 November 1983 owing to non-payment of its telephone bill.139 Beyond that point ASIO, expended little effort in pursuing this target further.

Irish republican support groups in Australia

ASIO was aware that funds were collected in Australia for republican groups in the Republic of Ireland and Ulster, including the Irish Green Cross and the Prisoners’ Dependants Fund. But ASIO could find no evidence that the money collected went to Irish terrorist groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, although it recognised that this was possible given the common cause of the recipient groups. ASIO surmised the money was raised through the sale of Irish republican literature and through holding social functions.140

A range of Irish republican groups were identified as falling under the umbrella of the Australian Irish Republican Movement, but reports indicated there was friction and a lack of coordination among these small Irish support groups.141 A group called Australian Aid for Ireland (AAI) convened in June 1983 with about 30 representatives of the various Irish republican groups that previously met under the Australian Irish Republican Movement banner. In 1986, during Queen Elizabeth’s official visit to Australia, AAI was active in organising vocal demonstrations against her, resulting in some media attention that raised AAI’s profile. ASIO observed that the AAI would never develop into a mass movement among the Irish minority in Australia. By 1989, Sinn Fein and the Provisional Irish Republican Army regarded Australia as an important source of funds, with indications that $3000 were raised per month for the Irish republican movement in 1987. The conclusion reached was that AAI was the most important Irish republican support group in Australia.142 It would remain on ASIO’s watch list to the end of the Cold War and beyond.

Vietnamese irredentism

As the Vietnamese community in Australia expanded, it drew on refugees predominantly from the former Republic of South Vietnam, which had been overrun by the North Vietnamese armed forces in April 1975. Not surprisingly, a number of irredentist groups formed among the expatriate community that were hostile to the communist government of the SRV. ASIO took an interest in these groups insofar as they displayed ‘extreme’ tendencies of hostility towards the SRV and posed a potential threat to visiting official delegations and sponsored students in Australia.

ASIO maintained a list of about a dozen Vietnamese community groups, several of which were known to support anti-SRV activity in Australia. Group names gave away much of their intent. The Association for the Restoration of National Independence, for instance, wanted an independent South Vietnam and was reported to have been involved in attacks on SRV students in Canberra. Another group, the National Movement to Support Resistance, collected funds from Vietnamese communities around Australia to finance resistance in Vietnam. There was also a range of Vietnamese ex-servicemen’s associations, but ASIO noted that individuals with extreme views appeared to be constrained by the majority of members, who held moderate views.

In fact, the violence directed at SRV students was assessed as largely the result of ‘impulsive unilateral action’ by a minority of the Vietnamese refugee community or the work of Vietnamese acting out of a sense of bravado rather than political frustration. Drawing on various reports, ASIO considered that almost all Vietnamese community leaders, including those of the more radical groups, were opposed to the use of violent tactics in Australia, as it would ‘jeopardise any support they might have within the Australian community’.143

Australian National Action

Multiculturalism and the diversification of the sources of migrants to Australia also generated a backlash, with the creation of right-wing groups such as National Action. By the mid-1980s, National Action had branches in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane. It opposed non-white immigration to Australia and attempts by the Australian Government to bring about a multicultural society. The group had contact with like-minded organisations overseas, and actively supported South Africa’s pro-apartheid policies through a front group, the South African Defence Campaign of Australia. From early to mid-1986 onwards, a number of acts of intimidation and violence showed that these groups were fomenting politically motivated violence.144

Physical acts of violence were suspected to have been performed by National Action in Sydney, for instance. These included attacks in 1984 against members of the Greek community who were also members of the International Socialists; firebombing a vehicle owned by Combined Union Against Racism campaigner Bronwyn Ridgeway in 1985; wilful damage of a church and planting a hoax bomb in an Asian restaurant in 1986; and a shotgun attack on the home of the African National Congress representative in Australia, Edwin Funde, in February 1989.145

Similarly, in Adelaide, National Action sent threatening letters to members of political parties and non-government aid organisations; slashed tyres at anti-apartheid meetings; and in mid-March attacked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Chris Hurford, throwing rocks through the front window of his house and painting a racist slogan on his front fence. There was a similar attack against a private residence accommodating an Asian student, and an arson attack on a multicultural centre. National Action members were implicated in several of these acts.146

In light of these developments, ASIO increased the tempo of its operational activity against the leading National Action figure in Adelaide, Michael Brander. ASIO justified this on the basis that it needed to obtain information on the extent of National Action members’ involvement in intimidation and violence in Adelaide. This was intended to provide forewarning of planned acts of violence, to gather information on earlier acts of violence and to obtain details of contact with other National Action branches and other like-minded groups.147

ASIO’s operational activity focused on obtaining membership details and information on links with other organisations. ASIO’s coverage of National Action clearly demonstrated its members’ ‘proclivity for acts of violence and promotion of communal violence’ as well as their (anonymous) harassment of their left-wing targets.148

After a while, ASIO became aware that Michael Brander and National Action national secretary James Saleam were concerned that their telephone conversations were being intercepted.149

In the meantime, National Action attracted media attention in October 1988 following a reported weekend ‘gun attack’ on the office of Federal Liberal Senator Baden Teague, who was chairman of the Opposition’s immigration policy committee. Not surprisingly, Brander, the National Action chairman in South Australia, publicly denied responsibility for the attack.150

National Action again attracted attention on 30 January 1989, when Saleam made allegations on the ABC radio program PM that someone working for ASIO had passed information to National Action on anti-apartheid activist Eddie Funde. As a result of his accusations, Saleam was interviewed on three occasions by ASIO officers, who concluded that a Customs officer was the likely culprit. That officer was subsequently investigated.151 Between April and October 1989, several National Action members, including Saleam, were arrested and convicted for the shooting attack on the house of Eddie Funde. These events strengthened ASIO’s assessment of the group’s propensity for violence.152 Meanwhile, ASIO also monitored other groups with weapons.

New Caledonia weapons trafficking

In January 1985, the AFP advised ASIO’s NSW regional director that a French citizen, Jean Bondaletoff from Noumea, was under investigation in connection with drug trafficking, but during the investigation Bondaletoff was discovered to be in possession of an order list from Noumea directing him to purchase weapons and ammunition. Being short-staffed and seeing the matter as not yet developed enough to warrant its full attention, the AFP handed the operation over to ASIO, which placed Bondaletoff under surveillance a couple of days later. During this surveillance, Bondaletoff was observed purchasing $24,000 worth of arms and ammunition at one gun shop and another $45,000 worth of goods at another shop—all paid for in cash. The items purchased included rifles, carbines, sights and substantial quantities of a variety of ammunition in total weighing about one tonne.153

When questioned, Bondaletoff’s reasoning was contradictory: he said that the weapons and ammunition were intended to be despatched to New Caledonia ‘to stop the blacks taking over’, although he had previously said that they were for ‘training purposes’. Bondaletoff had a yacht moored at Gladstone in Queensland, which ASIO surmised might be used to ship the cargo to New Caledonia. ASIO’s Queensland regional director was advised that Bondaletoff and his three accomplices were known to authorities, as were the rumours of a plan to import arms into New Caledonia. Authorities advised ASIO that Bondaletoff was of French–Algerian extraction, ‘with a dubious past’, and his accomplices were also ‘known for their right-wing sympathies’.154

In early March, the cache was augmented with additional purchases and transferred to an isolated house on South Stradbroke Island, where they were packed into 44-gallon drums. ASIO sensed that, being so close to a navigable waterway, they could make their escape at short notice and therefore prompted the AFP to intervene.155

ASIO surveillance teams followed Bondaletoff around Brisbane for two weeks. ASIO’s Queensland staff worked particularly hard: one officer spent a night in the swamp watching the boat at Jacobs Well. Nothing could be done until the target actually got on the boat with all his weapons,156but ASIO’s actions were closely coordinated with the state police and AFP to ensure the operation went smoothly.

A few days later, the AFP moved in, arrested the four individuals and seized the yacht. The police found in their possession 40 pump-action shotguns, 27 self-loading rifles, nine bolt-action rifles, three M1 carbines, an armalite rifle, eleven telescopic sights and thousands of rounds of assorted ammunition. All four were charged in Brisbane’s Central Court on charges under the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978.157 The Attorney-General, Lionel Bowen, showed interest in ASIO’s report on the gun-running efforts, and remarked that ASIO had done ‘very good work’.158

Bondaletoff and his accomplices made newspaper headlines on 19 September 1985, when, after criminal charges were dropped and replaced with civil charges, their plot to drop off drums of weapons and ammunition off the New Caledonia Coast was revealed.159 Bondaletoff declared he had broken no Australian law, although he admitted he was willing to break New Caledonian law to take weapons.160 It was clear that ASIO had collaborated effectively with the AFP to disrupt a significant attempt at fomenting violence in New Caledonia. The incident also demonstrated the need for ASIO to remain vigilant for unusual matters that could arise at short notice and to ensure smooth handovers of responsibility with their AFP counterparts.

Reflections

The period from 1983 to 1989 witnessed a transformation within ASIO. As discussed in the previous chapter, the decline of communist subversion as a focus for much of ASIO’s efforts saw a commensurate increase in concern about the emergence and growth of identity extremism. Many groups falling within this category had been monitored by ASIO for a number of years before they came to national prominence. Others were monitored closely but generated only marginal concern, as the main terrorist activities with which they were associated occurred far from Australia’s shores. Several such groups would come to be more publicly known well after the end of the Cold War and the rise in domestic terrorism.

In hindsight, we can now see that on one level the Cold War was winding down. Communist groups simply lacked the revolutionary zeal of earlier times, and while the Soviet bloc countries continued their attempts at espionage unabated throughout this period, their local Australian counterpart groups withered to the point of irrelevance. It was partly for this reason that subversion declined in significance; although in large part, the decline in relevance of these erstwhile ‘subversive’ groups for ASIO was a consequence of the Government’s insistence that dissent and subversion were two different things.

Yet at the same time concerns over potential acts of terrorism had clearly increased. Extremist acts in Europe and the Middle East, for instance, indicated the dangers that could arise in Australia among groups associated with those involved in terrorist acts overseas. It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that ASIO should be tasked to monitor such groups for signs of increased capability to act and intent to do so. While an examination of events limited to the period from 1983 to 1989 does not reveal all that much of immediate consequence to national security, ASIO’s ongoing vigilance and the coverage it established during this period would pay dividends in the years that followed. Closely associated with the work of countering terrorism and violent extremism is what follows: the work ASIO performed in the realm of protective security.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!