Ian Wood: This is side 6 of the special Watching Brief series on the role of the CIA in Australian and New Zealand politics. This side of the cassette is an addendum to the other 5 parts of the series. It features an excerpt from each of Watching Brief editions 38 and 39, 1986. It focuses on Christopher Boyce and moves by the Christopher Boyce Alliance and some ALP backbenchers for an inquiry into the role of the CIA in the downfall of the Whitlam government.
Jane Lanbrook: This November marks the 11th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 and circumstantial evidence gathered since then points to the likely role of American and Australian intelligence agencies in the undermining of Whitlam’s reformist Labor government. In fact, moves are now under-way to press for an inquiry into the role of the American Central Intelligence Agency in particular. Ian Wood reports…
Ian Wood: After blocking supply bills in the Senate in the early 1970s the then Liberal and Country Party Opposition under Malcolm Fraser pried on every miscalculation or impropriety of the Whitlam government leading in 1975 to a political crisis over the passing of the budget. Although the Senate never voted to actually reject the Whitlam budget it did defer the money bills three times.
Inside Parliament: I don’t think people realise yet sufficiently around this country just what a brink of pessimists we’re coming to because of the unprincipled and absolutely unprecedented action of the spokesman who historically posed as ‘The spokesman for Law and Order’ and I give notice to you Fraser that if they are going to…
Ian Wood: The stalemate lasted some months with several Liberal Senators becoming increasingly concerned over the constitutional legality of voting against supply for an elected government.
Inside Parliament: …that the Australian Trade Union movement may very well think about withholding supplies from them….[Shouts…]
Ian Wood: The Senate never did actually vote on the supply bills. Instead, in an unprecedented move the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, sacked the Whitlam government.
Announcer: [People shouts of “WE WANT GOUGH”, “WE WANT GOUGH” in
the background] The Governor-General of Australia who by this my proclamation dissolves the Senate and the House of Representatives. Given under my hands on the great seal of Australia on the 11th of November 1975 by his excellency’s command, Malcolm fraser Prime Minister, John Arthur Governor-General. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.
Ian Wood: Not only was Whitlam dismissed, but Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser was placed in power as a caretaker Prime Minister until an election to be held less than four weeks later.
Gough Whitlam: The man the Governor-General appointed as caretaker Prime Minister didn’t have a majority in the House of Representatives and didn’t have a majority in the Senate either…
Ian Wood: Whitlam’s dismissal created the greatest political furore Australia had ever seen. In dealing with the Constitutional Crisis the Governor-General, in the first instance, is supposed to take advice from his Prime Minister and while many questioned the future of the Whitlam government in 1975 and believed that an election was eminent, few expected that the Governor-General may unilaterally replace the Prime Minister of an elected government with the leader of the minority Opposition, then Malcolm Fraser.
Crowd: WE WANT GOUGH, FRASER OUT, WE WANT GOUGH, FRASER OUT.
Ian Wood: And so, Australia’s internal political crisis was resolved with the Liberals sweeping to power in the December 1975 election. But was it internal? Almost two years later on the eve of the trial in America of former intelligence worker Christopher Boyce it was revealed that a CIA telex had been sent to ASIO headquarters in Australia just two days before the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
Kelly Johnson: It was sent by Ted Shackley, who was the head of the East Asia Division of the CIA, to ASIO in the days prior to November 11th. It was essentially an order to ASIO to shut Whitlam up or get rid of him because on the afternoon of November 11 he was planning to announce in Parliament that Pine Gap was run by the CIA and the CIA were extremely reluctant to have this information released.
Ian Wood: Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance. In May 1977 in America former intelligence operative Christopher Boyce was put on trial accused of spying for the Russians. He was convicted and sentenced to the legal maximum of 40 years jail. Several years later Boyce escaped and was eventually recaptured after being on the run for 18 months. Boyce had been a telex operator in 1975 for a private security company, TRW, in California which had close links with the CIA. His job was to send and receive telexes between agents in Australia and CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Boyce’s story incidentally was told in the film THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN. Well, Channel 9 in Sydney were good enough to give us permission to re-broadcast key parts of an exclusive interview with Boyce by Sixty Minutes’ Ray Martin in 1982 in which Boyce explained how the CIA’s deception of Australia was the key reason he began selling information to the Russians.
Christopher Boyce: I was brought up in a very conservative home, the right of Kubla Khan. As I got older, I came to see that most everything that I believed in was hypocrisy in this country. My Government was deceiving an ally, perhaps had been an ally for two world wars, English speaking parliamentary democracy. I thought it was indicative of, to what my country had sunk to.
Ian Wood: Christopher Boyce was a telex operator for CIA projects such as the top secret Rylite and Argus spy satellites which monitor military bases and missile launchers in China and the Soviet Union. Pine Gap near Alice Springs was a key link in the CIA spy satellite network and in the mid 60s an Executive Agreement was signed between Australia and America which was supposed to allow Australia to share this top secret information.
Christopher Boyce: When the Rylite project was first put in place, the Executive Agreement meant that all information was to be shared between the American government and the Australian government. And along came Mr Whitlam. When I went to work for the project, the initial security briefing that I had, I was told that, in fact, we weren’t going to live up to that Agreement, and that we hadn’t been. And that there was information that was being withheld. And also that the Argus project, which was the advanced Rylite project, was to be hidden from the Australians.
Ian Wood: Boyce worked in the highest security area at TRW, the black vault, and he remembers considerable concern amongst CIA and Security staff at TRW over the actions and policies of the Whitlam government in 1975.
Christopher Boyce: There was definitely conversations in the black vault and in the security area with members of TRW Security about the problem of Mr Whitlam. Mr Whitlam was not a popular figure at all, to say the least. The fact that inquiries were being made about the base. Mr Whitlam was, by wanting to know what was going on there and by publicising it, was compromising the integrity of the project. To their view, he was on the wrong ball club. Mr. Whitlam’s government was a threat.
Ian Wood: And what about the fall of the Australian Labor government? Was there any talk of how the government might have been undermined?
Christopher Boyce: There were references to your Governor-General by the Central Intelligence residents there at TRW in the Rylite project. They called Mr Kerr `our man Kerr.’ Joe Harrison said that in the security area, one time I overheard that.
Ian Wood: Well, once Whitlam had been sacked, was there any change in the US policy of not abiding by the Executive Agreement between the two countries or did the same deception continued and for how long?
Christopher Boyce: The entire time I worked for the people, and I imagine it continued right up until the point of my trial, until the Executive Agreement was renegotiated. There was a bit of celebration that Mr Whitlam had been canned. But my instruction as to what was to be sent did not change, no.
Ian Wood: In this interview with Channel 9 Sixty Minutes, Boyce also repeated allegations he made at his trial about CIA interference in Australian unions. In this excerpt, Petal is the codename for the TRW intelligence link where Boyce used to work, Pilot refers to CIA headquarters in Virginia, and twix is intelligence jargon for a telex message.
Christopher Boyce: We had hardware, software and personnel to ship out of Alice Springs, and there was worry over strikes at your airports. They had to do with pilots and air controllers. And there was an area that Petal had a definite need to know because strikes would wreck our schedule, and so in this one instance, a twix came from Pilot which said “Pilot will continue to suppress the strike, continue shipment on schedule”. My conclusion is, that either Central Intelligence directly or through intermediaries would had to have infiltrated the hierarchy of your trade unions at some level.
Ian Wood: Although CIA covert activity in Australia in 1975 was the key reason that Boyce decided to act against his own country it wasn’t the only reason. His employment at TRW coincided with the discrediting of the Nixon government over the Watergate affair.
Christopher Boyce: If Mr Nixon’s Government hadn’t gone in flames, I don’t think that this would have happened. But at the same time, it goes way beyond Richard Nixon and Watergate. I think that it’s just the whole general drift of where this government is headed. I think that this Government is a threat to mankind. You can’t protect freedom and liberties behind stock piles of chemical and biological weapons and nuclear weapons. My Government built atomic weapons, used them first, stock piled them first, moved our I.C.B.M.s first, which was a grotesque escalation, and now that the Russians have played catch-up for 20 years and finally achieved equality, the only policy to come out of the White House is build 17,000 more of the monsters. And to me that’s madness. It seems to me my government had betrayed me long before I ever betrayed them.
Ian Wood: So does Boyce see himself as a traitor?
Christopher Boyce: I have no problems with the label traitor, if you qualify what it’s to, and I think that eventually the United States Government is going to involve the world in the next world war. And being a traitor to that, I have absolutely no problems with that whatsoever.
Ian Wood: Christopher Boyce, interviewed by Ray Martin of Sixty Minutes in 1982 and many thanks to Channel 9 in Sydney for the use of that material. And now, back to Kelly Johnson, who formed the Christopher Boyce Alliance a year ago to question not only the influence of US intelligence services in Australia but also the anomalies involved in Boyce’s trial. Why were his lawyers, who had top security clearance, not allowed to view the evidence against him during the trial? Why did the prosecution concentrate on his leaking to the Russians of the Pyramider file now thought to have been a worthless red hearing? And why was he given a 40 year jail sentence when the average for his type of crime is less than 20 years? Kelly Johnson explains why she formed the Christopher Boyce Alliance and details her current campaign for a formal inquiry into allegations of CIA activity in Australia leading up to the Whitlam dismissal.
Kelly Johnson: Well, I was drawn to Boyce’s story because of the Whitlam connection and the more that I looked into Boyce’s story the more it became apparent that Australia’s sovereignty and what I see as the injustice inflicted on Boyce are inextricably linked. There have been two documents compiled by an American academic which show that the conviction was false and that the information Boyce was convicted on was actually freely available in the public arena. When you combine that with the evidence which shows that the CIA meddled in Australia’s domestic affairs is really a story that can be ignored and shouldn’t be ignored.
Ian Wood: Well, what was the specific information that he was convicted on?
Kelly Johnson: It was a project that was called the Pyramider file. The Pyramider was a project for a new type of satellite that allowed direct communication between spies and the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Ian Wood: Well, since the Christopher Boyce Alliance was founded in Australia what sort of actions have you taken?
Kelly Johnson: The Christopher Boyce Alliance has presented petitions to the Australian Parliament calling for an inquiry into the allegations of CIA activities in Australia and expressing concern about Boyce’s allegations and about Pine Gap being a CIA-run project and expressing concern in general about the massive secrecy surrounding the functions of the bases. I’ve also held a major press conference releasing the documents compiled by the American academic showing the false conviction. The most recent action is a press conference to be held in Canberra on November 11th in which I will be presenting statements signed by ex-Whitlam Cabinet Ministers calling on the government to investigate all activities the CIA has been involved in Australia. And supporting those statements will be one signed by present Caucus members expressing their favour at having such an inquiry.
Ian Wood: What’s the juice of the statement that the ex-Whitlam Cabinet Ministers have signed?
Kelly Johnson: They are acknowledging their awareness of the persistent rumours of CIA involvement in the dismissal, acknowledging their awareness of specific allegations made by Christopher Boyce during his trial in 1977, acknowledging their awareness of the Shackley Cable and their awareness of statements made by top ranking CIA officials which in effect admit CIA involvement in the Whitlam coup.
Jane Lanbrook: Ian Wood there reporting on the campaign by sections of the peace movement for an inquiry into the role of the American CIA in the downfall of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. He was talking to Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance and you also heard extracts from an interview with Christopher Boyce in Sixty Minutes. Many thanks to Channel 9 for permission to re-broadcast that material. In Canberra on November 11th Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance and Labor Parliamentarian Peter Staples held a press conference to call for an inquiry into allegations and other evidence of CIA involvement in Australian politics, especially events leading up to the sacking of the Whitlam government on November 11, 1975. Ian Wood reports.
Ian Wood: The public campaign conducted by the Christopher Boyce Alliance to open an inquiry into CIA involvement in the downfall of the Whitlam government gained momentum on remembrance day November 11 this year with half a dozen ALP Caucus members stating their support for an inquiry. Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance.
Kelly Johnson: Well, so far we have signed statements from Oli Sakarov, John Scott, Russ Colman, Bob Brown, Peter Milton, Peter Staples and Bruce Childs.
Ian Wood: But most significant were the statements released at the press conference supporting an investigation and signed by six former Whitlam Cabinet Ministers.
Kelly Johnson: The signatures I have at present are from Moss Cass, Clyde Cameron, Jim Cavenagh, Jim Cairns, Jean McLeland and Kent Rett.
Ian Wood: What was the general response of all those former cabinet ministers that you approached?
Kelly Johnson: Well, interestingly, when I first approached them the vast majority were interested and quite happy for me to send on the information and send on the statement. However, attitudes change, people became reluctant, and I have to say I’m questioning why that occurred.
Ian Wood: Well, what about Lance Banner, Whitlam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence?
Kelly Johnson: Well, to begin with Lance Banner was interested. We had several discussions on the issue and then suddenly he said, `no, I cannot sign it for security reasons.’
Ian Wood: And what about Whitlam himself?
Kelly Johnson: Mr Whitlam began by indicating his concern for Christopher Boyce’s situation. However, he said he felt he was not in the position to put his signature to the statement because hefelt it vital that he retains complete control over what approach he takes on this matter. However, he did say that he was pleased other members of the cabinet had signed the statement.
Ian Wood: Kelly Johnson. Well, at the press conference ALP backbencher Peter Staples outlined why some Caucus members were also joining the call for an inquiry into the CIA’s activities in Australia, especially in 1975.
Peter Staples: What is of great concern to us is that the Boyce’s allegations, the Shackley Cable, and other numerous allegations and comments that have been made over the last 11 years have not been taken seriously in Australia and this general involvement of the United States’ operations in Australia is something that both the Christopher Boyce Alliance, myself and many other members of Parliament, both current and past, believe that needs to be investigated. We’ve circulated letters to former ministers in the Whitlam government, former Members of Parliament as well as to current Members of Parliament, asking them to support an inquiry, a full public inquiry into the activities of the CIA in Australia, particularly at that time.
Ian Wood: Then Kelly Johnson explained at the Canberra press conference why she felt an investigation was necessary.
Kelly Johnson: In 1975 when I was 21 years old I was aware of the Loans scandal, the Morosi scandal and the blocking of supply but largely dismissed them as the games that politicians played. On November 11th, my cynicism and complacency were rather shattered. In the United States, another 21 year old was experiencing extreme rage and frustration associated with the Whitlam government. Christopher Boyce had taken a job as a postal clerk at an electronics firm in California. Within 13 weeks he had been given an exclusive security clearance from the FBI, the CIA, the US Defence Department, and the National Security Agency and they gave him access to America’s most secret espionage operations. It was there that he discovered that the US was inflicting a daily betrayal, a daily deception, against Australia and that it was intent on toppling the Whitlam Labor government. Boyce lashed out by making contact with the Russians and it was during Boyce’s espionage trial in 1977 that Australia received its first confirmation of CIA involvement in Australia’s domestic affairs. Immediately following that, the Shackley Cable surfaced and its authenticity was confirmed in Parliament by Mr Whitlam. And to quote Mr Whitlam, he said, `In plain terms that cable revealed that the CIA had deceived the Australian government and was still seeking to continue its deception.’ In the same speech he also said, `I believe the evidence is so grave in its detail and so alarming in its implications that it demands a fullest investigation.’ The statements that have been signed today by ex-Whitlam Cabinet Ministers and by present Caucus members echoes those words and we have to address the question: Will we allow a boy to spend 68 years in solitary confinement without questioning whether he was denied a fair trial because of the implications it would have had on the Australia-US alliance.
Ian Wood: After the press conference I asked Kelly Johnson for more details of the connections between Christopher Boyce and the Whitlam government.
Kelly Johnson: Well, Christopher Boyce was working in a communications relay room from which information was coming directly from Pine Gap to the relay room and it was then passed on to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. And it was through this information coming from Pine Gap that Christopher Boyce had to prove that the CIA was intent on toppling the Whitlam Labor government.
Ian Wood: What sorts of specific information did Boyce come across that led him to believe that the CIA was involved in Australia and in trying to topple the Whitlam government?
Kelly Johnson: It began during Boyce’s initial briefing for the job in the relay room. He was told that although America and Australia had signed an Executive Agreement to share all information that Agreement was not being honoured and that there was information that was being withheld from the Whitlam government.
Ian Wood: What about the issue of CIA interference in Australian unions?
Kelly Johnson: Well, Boyce raised this specific instance where there was personnel, hardware and software due to be ship out to Pine Gap and there were strikes imminent in Australia amongst pilots and air controllers and these strikes would have caused unintentional disruptions at Pine Gap. Boyce then discovered a telex which came from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, stating that CIA had suppressed the strikes and the shipments could continue as normal. It may be questioned why Pine Gap was so important and why the strikes were suppressed. The covert surveillance facilities in use at Pine Gap were used to spy on the Whitlam Labor government. The CIA knew precisely what was happening on a day by day level in regards to the Loans Affairs and they knew at which point the CIA-fabricated telexes could be introduced to the Liberals and to the media to give the most impact.
Ian Wood: What about the famous Shackley Cable?
Kelly Johnson: The Shackley Cable arrived in Australia on November 10, 1975, after a briefing the CIA had given to the ASIO liaison officer in Washington on November 8. The reason for this was that Gough Whitlam had stated that Richard Stallings, who was a former director of Pine Gap and who supposedly was an employee of the US Defence Department, was actually a CIA employee. Whitlam had been challenged to prove this and he intended to give his proof in parliament on the afternoon of November 11 and this is the first time that Australia would have had confirmation that Pine Gap was a spy base and was run by the CIA and was spying on Australia and on other nations, friendly nations to Australia and the United States. The CIA became incensed that Whitlam was going to do this and there was much pressure put on Whitlam, particularly by Arthur Tange, to change his Hansard. Whitlam indicated that he would not change his Hansard. And then this cable from Ted Shackley, who was head of the East Asia Division of the CIA, came through indicating that the CIA could not allow Whitlam to make this disclosure. The Shackley Cable was in fact leaked in 1977, hard on the heels of Boyce’s allegations, and Mr Gough Whitlam has verified the authenticity of the cable in Parliament. And if I could just quite from Mr Whitlam, ‘In plain terms that cable revealed that the CIA had deceived the Australian government and was still seeking to continue its ‘deception.’
Ian Wood: The Shackley Cable also seems to indicate something that is perhaps even more ominous and that is the Australian security organisations were also involved and knew about the pressure from the CIA?
Kelly Johnson: Yes and in fact if I can again quote from Mr Whitlam, from a speech he made in Parliament, he said, ‘Implicit in the CIA’s approach to ASIO for information on events in Australia was an understanding that the Australian organisation had obligations of loyalty to the CIA itself before its obligations to the Australian government.’
Ian Wood: Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance. Well, it’s that evidence and the growing anti-bases campaign in Australia that its rekindling public interest in the role of foreign intelligence agencies in our domestic and political affairs, especially the American CIA. Peter Staples sums up at the press conference on November 11 in Canberra.
Peter Staples: This is not an anti-United States bash. The United States is recognised as a fundamental ally of Australia. I bring back to your attention Whitlam’s words from Hansard of 1977, while the first Boyce’s trial was in progress, and he said, `It is precisely because America is our principal ally that Australia must be satisfied that American agents are not acting in a manner contrary to our interest as a nation. Are we to let an ally get away with something that a rival would not be allowed to get away with? Alliances are not strengthened by covert operations or by condoning and covering up such covert operations.’ Other people who have made allegations about the CIA’s activities at the time of the dismissal include Ray Cline, former Deputy Director of the CIA; James Flynn, former CIA employee; James Angleton, of the CIA; Admiral Bobby Inman, former director of the NSA; and more recently in Australia, Ralph McGehee, formerly of the CIA himself. I think there is enough evidence to warrant a full inquiry at this stage, it has to be seen not only in terms of what happened in 1975 and perhaps the period before but certainly is has to be seen in terms of Australia’s sovereignty as a democratic nation.
Jane Lanbrook: Ian Wood there reporting on the call for a formal inquiry into CIA involvement in Australian politics, especially the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. Kelly Johnson of the Christopher Boyce Alliance, and Labor MP Peter Staples who were speaking at a press conference in Canberra on November 11, 1986.
Watching Brief is produced by Ian Wood and Tony Douglas for the Public Broadcasting Network of Australia.
End Part Six, which ends the series.