“We must be careful to avoid seeking intelligence simply for its own sake”

1 Aug 2014

Newly released documents reveal the intelligence community in the early 1970s through the eyes of a former senior bureaucrat

In August 1974, prime minister Gough Whitlam announced a sweeping inquiry into Australia’s intelligence services. While the existence of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had become widely known after Russian diplomats Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov defected to Australia in 1954, the other arms of state security were all but unknown outside the tight-knit intelligence community.

Whitlam chose a NSW Supreme Court judge, Robert Marsden Hope, as royal commissioner, and Hope chose one of Australia’s most respected diplomats, Sir Keith Waller, as one of a number of consultants to assist him. At Hope’s request, Waller provided a detailed assessment of the intelligence services, a redacted copy of which I have obtained under the Archives Act. His views, published here for the first time, provide a rare perspective on the shadowy world of intelligence – the perspective of a senior “consumer” of the agencies’ findings who had been working with spies on and off since the 1930s. They also foreshadow changes in intelligence gathering that would occur over the next four decades…

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Photo: National Archives of Australia L63248

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