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

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3 Responses to Soviet mole penetrated Australian intelligence, says former officer

  1. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Fascinating insight – but of course; if history is to be believed, ASIO was compromised from it’s very inception. It is interesting that ASIO was set up by MI 5 long before the Cold War. The book ‘Spycatcher’ testifies to this albiet with some bias viewpoints. Some answers to Molly Sassons suspicions are to be found not in Australia but in Whitehall – London – (former) South Pacific MI 5 liason staff. At this time I seem to recollect that New Zealand’s affairs were also handled by the British office in Canberra hence why Australia was such an important target long before the Cold War(??)

    I’m sure Mrs Sasson knows roughly what department I am referring too – but even today it would be difficult to establish actual facts and even if one did so one would be greeted by howls of denial and the usual beaurocratic evasion from overpaid civil servants who are suposedly tasked with protecting us all.

  2. richard florence says:

    factual error: “Secret Intelligence Service (MI5)” is incorrect. SIS is MI6 and the Security Service is MI5.

  3. intelNews says:

    @richard florence: Good catch. Thanks for the correction. [JF]

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