Soviet mole penetrated Australian intelligence, says former officer

ASIO AustraliaA Soviet double spy was able to penetrate the senior echelons of Australia’s intelligence agency during the Cold War, according to a retired Australian intelligence officer who has spoken out for the first time. Molly Sasson, was born in Britain, but worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from 1969 until her retirement in 1983. A fluent German speaker, Sasson was first recruited during World War II by the Royal Air Force, where she worked as an intelligence officer before transferring to the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. At the onset of the Cold War, Sasson helped facilitate the defection to Britain of Colonel Grigori Tokaty, an influential rocket scientist who later became a professor of aeronautics in London. But in the late 1960s, Sasson moved with her husband to Australia, where she took up a job with ASIO, following a personal invitation by its Director, Sir Charles Spry. Upon her arrival in Canberra, Sasson took a post with ASIO’s Soviet counterintelligence desk, which monitored Soviet espionage activity on Australian soil.

Aged 92 today, Sasson spoke publicly for the first time on Australia’s ABC News television network about her life and times. She told the reporter that she had “no doubt at all” that ASIO had been infiltrated by at least one Soviet-handled double spy in the 1970s. “If we put on an operation, it failed”, she said, adding that the Soviets “always seemed to be a step ahead of us. There must have been a tip-off. It can’t have been otherwise”, said Sasson. The 92-year-old former intelligence officer recounted one specific operation involving a Russian diplomat named Vladimir Dobrogorsky, who was believed by ASIO to be an intelligence operative. According to Sasson, ASIO counterintelligence officers were monitoring Dobrogorsky and knew the precise time and place that he was scheduled to meet with an Australian informant in downtown Canberra. However, not only did the meeting not occur, but Dobrogorsky left the Soviet embassy in the Australian capital that morning, never to return.

“I am convinced that someone within ASIO tipped him off”, said Sasson. Not only that, but when she and other ASIO officers expressed their concerns about the possible existence of a mole inside ASIO, senior agency officials dismissed them. At one point she was told to “not open this can of worms”, she told ABC News. The former ASIO officer added that the chief of the United States Central Intelligence Agency station in Canberra shared similar concerns with the ASIO’s leadership, but that they too were dismissed. Soviet intelligence operatives were notably active in Australia and New Zealand during the Cold War, as it was believed that intelligence agencies in the two Pacific Rim countries offered an easier path toward accessing British and American government secrets, due to the so-called Five Eyes agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

KGB officer who handled Aussie double spy is now Putin crony

A KGB intelligence officer, who handled an Australian double spy during the closing stages of the Cold War, now holds several prestigious corporate posts in Moscow and is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lev Koshlyakov, 69, is director of corporate communications for two Russian airline companies, including the state carrier, Aeroflot, and a member of the prestigious Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. But from 1977 until 1984, Koshlyakov served as the press and information officer for the Russian embassy in Australian capital Canberra. Intelligence sources, however, told The Weekend Australian last week that Koshlyakov’s diplomatic status was in fact a cover for his real job, which was station chief for the Soviet KGB. During his stint in Canberra, Koshlyakov is believed to have handled an especially damaging mole inside the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), who was allegedly recruited by his predecessor, KGB station chief Geronty Lazovik. Canberra was alerted to the existence of the mole in 1992, when the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with Britain’s’ Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), briefed Australian officials on information acquired from Russian defectors. Soon afterwards, a government-commissioned report produced by Australian former diplomat Michael Cook described Koshlyakov as “one of the most dangerous KGB officers ever posted” to Australia. Eventually, Koshlyakov was assigned to a desk job by the KGB, after his cover was blown in Norway, where he was also serving as KGB chief of station. The Norwegians expelled Koshlyakov in 1991 after accusing him of espionage activities that were incompatible with his official diplomatic status. Since his retirement, however, Koshlyakov has done well for himself, having been appointed to senior corporate positions —some say with the personal backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. As for the ASIO mole he allegedly handled in the 1980s, The Australian reports that he was forced to retire in 1992, after he was identified by the CIA and MI6. There was insufficient evidence to try him, however, so he “lived out his retirement in Australia” looking nervously over his shoulder, says the paper.

Australia tries to stop ex-spy from testifying in international court

Australia and East TimorBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
The government of Australia has confiscated the passport of a former intelligence officer who was preparing to testify at an international court that Canberra engaged in illegal economic espionage. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, is preparing to hear a case brought against Australia by the government of East Timor. The small island nation accuses Australia of bugging the offices of key Timorese officials in an attempt to acquire inside information on a crucial energy deal. East Timor claims that a group of Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officers disguised themselves as a refurbishing crew and planted numerous electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government office. The information collected from the listening devices allegedly allowed Australia to gain an upper hand during negotiations that led to the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty. The treaty, signed in 2004, allows the two countries to share the revenue derived from the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field, sections of which are claimed by both Australia and East Timor. But the Timorese side now claims that Canberra gained an unfair advantage in the CMATS negotiations through its bugging operation, and is asking for the treaty to be terminated. Sometime last week, Australian authorities found out that the East Timorese side had secured the cooperation of an ASIS whistleblower, who was prepared to testify at The Hague about the details of the bugging operation. The unnamed whistleblower, who is believed to be a former director of technical operations at ASIS, was prepared to tell the court that the operation was both “immoral and wrong”, because it was designed to benefit the interests of large energy conglomerates and had nothing to do with Australian national security. On Tuesday, officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is the country’s domestic intelligence agency, raided the offices of Bernard Collaery, who is acting as East Timor’s lawyer in the case. The raiders took away legal documents that disclose the identity of the ASIS whistleblower. Shortly afterwards the former ASIS official was questioned by Australian authorities, who then proceeded to confiscate his passport, so as to prevent him from traveling to the Netherlands. Read more of this post

KGB ‘ran two Australian politicians as agents’ in 1970s: document

Geronty Lazovik (left) in 1971By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Soviet intelligence recruited and ran at least two Australian elected politicians as agents for the USSR in the 1970s, according to a confidential account authored by an Australian counterintelligence officer. The report’s author is allegedly an unnamed former employee of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is tasked with counterespionage. Australia’s Fairfax Media, which claimed yesterday to have accessed the report, described it as “an unusually candid document”. It allegedly describes Soviet intelligence activities on Australian soil during the last two decades of the Cold War and names known Soviet intelligence officers operating in Australia at the time. Among those named is Vladimir Yevgenyevich Tulayev, described in the confidential report as “a hard-eyed, well-dressed thug” who was “aggressively involved in intelligence operations in Australia”. The document also names Geronty Lazovik, considered by AFIO as a “definite agent runner”. Australian counterintelligence described Lazovik as a far more refined operative than Tulayev and kept tabs on him as he developed and cultivated “a wide range of contacts” across Australia’s Federal Parliament. The report suggest that Australian Labor Party politicians, aides and lobbyists were among Lazovik’s “contacts” in Australia, though it does not explicitly name them as agents of the Soviet KGB. Arguably the most important allegation made in the report is that another KGB operative in Australia, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Aleksyev, was able to recruit and run “two Australian politicians as agents” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The document states that Aleksyev was able to handle the two alleged recruits “using tradecraft of a fairly high order”, suggesting that he was perhaps one of the KGB’s most successful known case officers in Australia. The confidential report alleges that the ASIO leadership approached the Australian government with information about the operations of the KGB officers. Read more of this post

Australian civil servant accused of spying denied access to evidence

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy IAN ALLEN | |
Australia’s Federal Court has rejected a bid by a senior civil servant to view the evidence the government is using to accuse him of espionage. Until September of 2011, Dr. Yeon Kim was a career civil servant with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). His specialization in international trade policy required a security clearance, which Kim had possessed since 2001. But in 2011, he was sacked and had his security clearance revoked for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with officers of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The Australian government accuses Kim of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a third man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, said that he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. For several months now, Kim has been contesting the Australian government’s legal case against him in the Federal Court. His legal team recently requested that the Court annul two certificates issued by the Australian attorney general, designed to bar the defense from accessing evidence against Kim. The certificates were originally submitted by government prosecutors during an earlier Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing. But the Court declined the request, saying the defense waited too long to challenge the certificates. In issuing the ruling, Justice Lindsay Foster said Kim’s legal team should have requested that the certificates be declined during the original hearing. The judge censured Kim’s defense lawyers for “stand[ing] by and watch[ing] while the certificates were [originally] deployed”, adding that it would undermine the integrity of the legal process to allow the certificates to be challenged at this late stage. Read more of this post

Australia fears Asia backlash over PRISM surveillance revelations

The government of Australia is concerned that American whistleblower Edward Snowden may leak classified information that could damage Australia’s relations with its Asian neighbors, including China and Malaysia. Early this month, Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Information provided by Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian suggests that Washington routinely shares PRISM intelligence with Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. These four countries, along with the United States, are signatories to the so-called UKUSA agreement, a multilateral accord for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, which was established secretly in 1946. Australian media reported on Wednesday that the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security had been briefed by senior intelligence officials on Australia’s role in PRISM. The Sydney Morning Herald said that David Irvine, Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and Ian McKenzie, who heads Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, were among those who briefed the parliamentary Committee. Its members were reportedly told that the disclosures about PRISM were likely to damage Canberra’s relations with several Asian countries, in ways that are difficult to predict. One unidentified Australian intelligence official told The Herald that Snowden had “very wide access” to classified information held by the NSA, and that some of it probably includes “much detail of communications intelligence cooperation between the US and Australia”. One source went as far as to say that Snowden’s disclosures have already “damaged […] Australia’s intelligence capabilities”. Read more of this post

Chinese hackers ‘stole blueprints’ of Australian spy agency’s new HQ

ASIO's new headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Chinese government hackers allegedly stole the master blueprints and other highly classified technical information relating to the new headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The state-of-the-art building, which is located at the shore of Lake Burley Griffin in Australian capital Canberra, has so far cost taxpayers in excess of AUD $631 million (US $608 million). Although it remains under construction, the new headquarters is said to feature the most sophisticated security features of any government building in Canberra. But a report aired on May 28 by Australian television’s Four Corners investigative program, alleged that a Chinese government agency managed to steal the building’s blueprints. The program claimed that the highly classified blueprints were stolen when hackers mounted a sophisticated cyberattack on a private-sector contractor involved in constructing the ASIO’s new headquarters. Four Corners suggested that the cyberattack, which was “traced to a server in China”, also compromised the building’s communications diagram, server locations and physical security systems. The revelation will undoubtedly add to the stream of public criticism about the project, which has been severely plagued by budget increases and construction delays. As recently as 2010, the government was insisting that the project was “progressing on time and on budget, with completion scheduled for mid-2012”. Today, however, the building’s budget has gone over by AUD $171 million and the building is expected to open its doors no earlier than the fall of 2013, with some commentators suggesting that it could be 2014 before ASIO’s personnel are able to start moving in. Read more of this post


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