ASIO’s poor record

By Sasha Uzunov

The alleged use of Australian passports by Mossad–Israeli intelligence—agents in a recent Middle East assassination suggest an impotent Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is responsible for our domestic safety. But ASIO has a poor record in tracking down the bad guys.

In 2006 The Australian reporter Cameron Stewart revealed that Chinese communist spies were running rampant in Canberra so much so that ASIO increased it recruitment of agents.

Columnist John Birmingham has taken the mickey out of ASIO’s slick new job ads in search of nosey, latte-sipping spies.–cufflinks-and-matching-tie-pin/20100224-p39q.html

It is both tragic and comical but ASIO has a poor record in catching the bad guys. The 1970s infiltration of Australia by then Yugoslav communist spies is a classic case.

Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic communist federation founded in 1945, modeled on the Soviet Union, and fell apart in 1991 into various independent nation states.

Yugoslav intelligence (UDBa) later known as SDB, together with Yugoslav military counter-intelligence (KOS) were largely pre-occupied with silencing dissident Croats, Macedonians, Serbs and Albanians living in Western Europe, North America and Australia, who were agitating for independence from Yugoslavia.

UDBa was so ruthless and efficient it at one time rivaled the old Soviet KGB and Mossad in liquidating opponents. In Munich, West Germany, a whole section of a cemetery was set-aside for Croats assassinated by UDBa.

Communist strongman Marshal Josip Broz Tito ruled Yugoslavia until his death in 1980 and during the height of the Cold War managed a great balancing act between East and West. He was seen as an indirect ally of the West after his infamous split with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1949.

A number of Australian left-wing politicians, including Victorian State MP Joan Coxsedge, began to allege that ASIO was turning a blind eye to extremist Croatian elements, who were secretly training on Australian soil to undertake terrorist attacks on Yugoslav territory or upon Yugoslav diplomatic missions in Australia.

In this atmosphere of terrorism mania during the 1970s Australia’s Croat community were looked upon as the bad guy.

No doubt this was not helped by the fact that a sizeable number of Croats during World War II had collaborated with the Nazis. However, a large number had also fought against the Nazis as Partizans, including Franjo Tudjman later to become President of independent Croatia in 1991. But UDBa began to target the émigré Macedonian community in Australia, which had no history of large-scale Nazi collaboration, in fact the opposite.

Then there is Federal Attorney General Lionel Murphy’s infamous ASIO raid on 16 March 1973.
So much has been written about Murphy’s raid on ASIO. The controversial politician used the pretext that he was being kept in the dark by ASIO about alleged émigré Croatian terrorism on Australian soil aimed against the Yugoslav government. ALP Prime Minister Gough Whitlam said the Murphy raid was a mistake which hurt his government.

On 27 June 2007, I applied under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the media briefing notes of George Negus, Murphy’s Press Secretary and later celebrity war reporter, hoping if they could throw more light on the raid. But I ended hitting a bureaucratic brick wall.

We now know that the alleged Croatian terrorism on Australian soil was the work of UDBa. In 1991 legendary ABC TV investigative reporter Chris Masters dropped a bombshell on the Four Corners program.

Masters filed a story about The Croatian Six case. An agent provocateur set up members of Australia’s Croatian community in 1979. Six Croats were imprisoned on false charges of wanting to plant bombs in Sydney. Masters tracked down the agent provocateur, Vitomir Visimovic, who was an ethnic Serb living in Bosnia but had passed himself off as a Croat.

In fact, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police (successor of the Commonwealth Police) and the infamous and corrupt New South Wales Police Special Branch were all aware that Visimovic was an UDBa operative but suppressed the information during the trial of the Croatian Six. Moreover, the alarming thing was the Australian authorities let the man depart the country. This was during Malcolm Fraser’s tenure as Prime Minister.

Masters’ older brother, fellow journalist and Rugby League Legend, Rugged Roy Masters wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on November 25, 2005:

“It is fashionable now to be a Croatian Australian, what with nearly half the Socceroos, including captain Mark Viduka, of Croatian background, plus Tony Santic, the owner of Makybe Diva, the triple Melbourne Cup-winning horse, and Andrew Bogut, the basketballer making a big impression in the United States.

“But when a young Scottish-born girl named Shirley, raised in north Queensland, started going out with Nikola Stedul, a Croatian-born cane cutter, in the early 1960s, her sister was horrified, asking, “Does he carry a knife?”

“Croatians were the bogymen then,” Shirley, who married Stedul in 1965, said. “Like Muslims are today.”

“The Steduls, who live in the Melbourne suburb of Altona, after being adrift in Europe for 30 years because the Australian government would not renew Stedul’s passport, warn the new anti-terrorism laws will create more problems than they are likely to solve. They claim a possible outcome is a society divided into the privileged and the proscribed, creating fertile ground for home-grown terrorism.

“Paradoxically, the police and security agencies will be more efficient but the population will be less secure,” Stedul, 68, says.

“The Steduls accuse ASIO of conspiring with the Yugoslav secret police to prevent them returning to Australia and co-operating with a paid assassin, Vinko Sindicic, who fired six bullets into Stedul as he leaned through a car window outside their Edinburgh [UK] home on October 20, 1988.

“Two bullets entered his mouth and four were fired into his body, one nicking his spinal cord, causing a slight limp.

“Sindicic was arrested at Heathrow Airport after a neighbour had recorded the registration number of the hire car from which he had shot Stedul.

“The assassination attempt and the resulting trial, where Sindicic was sentenced to 32 years’ jail, were given widespread publicity, and a film was produced for Scottish television. At the trial it was revealed that Sindicic had been in Australia in 1978, working with another Yugoslav agent on a plan to link Croatian political activists with terrorism.”

Television reporter Sarah Ferguson, the wife of ABC TV Lateline host Tony Jones, rehashed some of the discredited claims of Croatian terrorism on the now defunct Channel Nine program Sunday:

“The post-war migration boom brought not only cultural diversity, it brought ethnic divisions and old-country politics and foreign agents. It also spawned the first manifestations of domestic terrorism, a threat ASIO failed to deal with because the offenders were anti-communist Croatian nationalists.”

(The Spying Game, 2 April 2006, Sunday program)

Ferguson did not interview Chris Masters about his 1991 expose nor did she speak to anyone from the Croatian community.

Beacause my parents were Macedonian migrants to Australia, I naturally developed an interest in UDBa’s activities. I began to investigate the infiltration of the local Macedonian community by UDBa. My quest took me to Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia in 1993, which broke away from Yugoslavia together with Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1991. I spoke to Aleksander Dinevski, a former high-ranking official within the Interior Ministry, responsible for both the Police and Security Services.

Dinevski revealed he had read a number of files that confirmed UDBa had monitored and infiltrated Australia’s Macedonian community.

On 6 January 2006 I received a curious email out of the blue from Dr John Schindler, Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy, United States. Naval War College:

“I encountered your recent article discussing UDBa terrorism and was intrigued. I’m doing research into the topic of Yugoslav state security (UDBa, later SDB) anti-émigré operations during the Cold War, including assassinations.

“I’ve found some information you cite, including the ASIO scandals of the 1970s, but as an American I must confess some of the cases you cite (eg Croatian Six) were new to me. Have you published anything else on this topic? Any thoughts on where I ought to be looking for more info on UDBa operations in Australia?”

I explained to Dr Schindler that the Australian authorities, in particular ASIO, had turned a blind eye to UDBa operations on Australian soil or had tried to hush things up.

In 1974 Dr Blagoja Sambevski a Macedonian dissident living in West Germany was assassinated by having his skull smashed in ala Trotsky style by an UDBa hit man in a Munich train station. In 1981the hit man entered Australia on an unknown task but was quietly told to leave by immigration officials.

Mr David Perrin, a Liberal Victorian State MP for Bulleen, in 1990 accused in parliament the Melbourne-based and tax-payer funded Australian Yugoslav Welfare Society (AYWS) of being a front for Yugoslav intelligence.

Professor Nikola Zezov, an academic at Saints Kiril and Metodi (Cyril and Methodius) University in Skopje, has bravely explored Macedonia’s controversial communist past within Yugoslavia.

He is co-author of the 2005 ground-breaking book “The repressed and repression in contemporary Macedonian history” (Represijata I represiranite vo sovremena Makedonska istorija). He was given access to 14,000 intelligence files. He concluded that one in five Macedonians living in communist Yugoslavia (1945-91) were paid informers for UDBa. This is an alarming figure on par with East German communist intelligence, the Stasi, and its hold on the population.

In March 1993, Stevce Pavlovski, Macedonia’s Public Prosecutor told me in an interview he would not open an investigation into communist crimes because he would end up having to imprison fifty per cent of Macedonia’s old communists.

It is surprising that no Australian big name investigative reporter or scholar has ever bothered to access the old UDBa files held in the newly independent states of Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro (Crna Gora), and Kosovo. They must contain a goldmine of information on Australian politicians and journalists!