ON LINE opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate

by Sasha Uzunov
Thursday 9 February 2012

Mr David Irvine, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australia’s domestic spooks, has called for more spies from within the country’s Islamic communities, but can ASIO be trusted to do an efficient job? History shows that our counter-intelligence service has a poor record in thwarting foreign spies. Should Australia’s Islamic communities place their trust in such an organisation to do the right thing?

Terrorism-mania in Australia is nothing new; we experienced this back in the 1970s when émigré Croats were portrayed as the bad guy, a role now filled by Australia’s Muslims. In fact ASIO remains a laughing stock within the émigré Croatian and Macedonian communities for its decades long ineptitude in dealing with the then Communist Yugoslav secret police, UDBa, and its dirty tricks campaign against those two communities on Australian soil at the height of the Cold War.

I have spent 20 years researching UDBa activities in Australia and will soon complete producing a documentary film about UDBa in Australia, with a release date in early 2013. I have interviewed Croatian and Macedonian community leaders, Australian state police officers involved in counter-intelligence operations, and former spies both here in Australia and overseas. They all agree that UDBa ran rings around ASIO.

In one infamous case, ASIO recruited a “double agent” within Melbourne’s Macedonian community during the 1970s. This individual was also an agent of influence for UDBa. What benefit he gave to ASIO remains doubtful and only when the secret files are declassified will we know for sure.

But according to a Victorian Police counter-terrorism expert, the late Detective Senior Constable Geoff Gardiner, this “double agent” had an extensive list of criminal convictions ranging from illegal gaming, receiving stolen goods, selling liquor without a license to passing off a counterfeit cheque in 1978 in the name of Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda) Soccer club, then touring Australia from Yugoslavia.

This individual was employed as a public servant and never underwent a standard police check. According to Detective Gardiner, this individual was being protected at the very top.

Mr Aco Talevski, a former Macedonian Orthodox Church Community leader in Melbourne and a long standing human rights activist, revealed in a filmed interview for my documentary that Detective Gardiner had in the mid 1980s also tipped him off about the “double agent.”

We can only be grateful that such individual police officers with integrity existed in the state of Victoria and did not buy the ASIO or UDBa spin.

Across the border in New South Wales, corrupt Police with ASIO connivance arrested six innocent Croatians suspected of plotting to blow up Sydney’s water supply in 1979. The six were imprisoned on the testimony of a known UDBa agent provocateur who ASIO allowed to return to Yugoslavia.

The Australian taxpayer cannot have a vote of confidence that ASIO has picked up its game in fighting terrorism if it remains secretive and refuses to come clean over the whole Yugoslav episode dating back to the Cold War. ASIO refuses to hand over any documents relating to the Croatian Six case on the grounds of national security but more likely to hide its incompetence and political interference from above.

During the Cold War, Communist multi-ethnic Yugoslavia under the rule of strongman Marshal Tito used its intelligence service UDBa to portray émigrés opposed to the regime as bloodthirsty terrorists. Agent provocateurs infiltrated Croat and Macedonian organisations abroad and urged violent action against the regime, namely planting bombs against Yugoslav diplomatic missions.

This clever technique used to silence opposition abroad was created by the Tsarist Russian police in the late 1890s and later perfected by the Bolsheviks when they seized power during the October Revolution in 1917. UDBa would use the exact same technique, known as the TRUST operations.

In the 1920s, the Soviet Secret service, which began as the Cheka and evolved along the way as OGPU/NKVD/KGB, began to “lure émigré agents into the arms of the OGPU, including the Trust, an imaginary counter-revolutionary union of monarchists and social revolutionaries.” In other words, Russian dissidents living in Paris were fooled into returning to fight the Soviet regime but were executed on their arrival.

In the early 1970s UDBa managed to lure Croat nationalists back to Yugoslavia in a similar manner. UDBa also infiltrated some Macedonian organisations in Western Europe, namely Belgium, and Australia. In 1977 a leading Macedonian dissident Dragan Bogdanovski, with a large following in Australia, was kidnapped from France, drugged and smuggled out in the boot of a Yugoslav diplomatic car and returned to Yugoslavia to face trial and later 11 years imprisonment. Amnesty International adopted him as a cause celebrity.

The only prominent academic to undertake a serious examination of UDBa remains the American Dr John Schindler. So far dribs and drabs of ASIO files have been released under the 30-year rule and can be accessed at the National Archive of Australia in Canberra.

Dr Schindler’s discoveries reveal how Western governments turned a blind eye to UDBa because Yugoslavia, despite being communist during the Cold War was anti-Soviet. In other words political expediency trumped rule of law and justice. In this current war on terror what guarantees do we have that ASIO will adhere to the principles of justice when pursuing Islamic terrorists and not lock up innocent people?

If Mr Irvine wants to build trust within the country’s Islamic communities he needs to set the record straight with the Croat and Macedonian communities over ASIO’s past behavior. Otherwise will we be condemned to see innocent Muslim locked up on the word of agent provocateurs acting on their own agenda?