Part Four of our series on the CIA’s role in Australian politics includes Whitlam Cabinet Minister Clyde Cameron; Victorian Labour MP and author of the book Rooted in Secrecy Joan Coxsedge and co-author Jerry Aaron, former CIA agent Ralph McGehee, and journalist with The Tribune newspaper, Denis Freney.
Clyde Cameron: Lionel Murphy was attending a meeting of world leaders in the fields of finance and commercial interests in which a top American businessman, who has a very close connection with the CIA, made the statement that `we’ [meaning the corporate world] have no trouble with governments, we can manage them, we can handle governments, but the difficulty always is handling the Trade Union movement’.
Jane Lanbrook: Welcome to the second half of Watching Brief this week. I’m Jane Lanbrook and today part 4 of our series examines the CIA’s role in Australian politics. Producer Tony Douglas looks at the Agency’s continuing attempts to subvert Australian and New Zealand Trade Unions. The CIA with vast sums of money at its disposal has resorted to bribery, contributed to campaign funds, established front organisations and most importantly has fully financed trips to the United States for local trade union officials. Once there the officials undertake training programs organised by the Agency. Former Whitlam Minister Clyde Cameron looks at the first of this, the so-called `Leadership Grants.’
Clyde Cameron: Leadership Grants have been grants to trade union leaders in which they are invited to go to America for up to six weeks at a time, funded and given the first class hotel accommodation with first class return fares in order to brainwash them into inculcating in their thinking process, at the least, that private enterprise is the only way to go. And we can look at the list of the trade union leaders who have been invited to go to the U.S. and we can see a general pattern of right-wing people, people that we perhaps say on the centre-left who might be swung over to the right, being invited to go to America. I’m not suggesting for a moment that all of them have been brainwashed and that all of them have had their views subverted but the Americans must believe that they are getting good results because they continue to do it.
Tony Douglas: The Leadership Grant Scheme really took off when the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Tom Doherty, was invited to the United States. At the time the AWU, covering most rural workers, had a huge membership and virtual control of the Queensland Labour Party. During the 1950s and the 1960s the union was still all powerful and didn’t even bother affiliating with the ACTU until 1967.
Clyde Cameron: Tom Doherty, I remember, when he was General Secretary of the AWU went on an extended tour in America as a guest of the CIA and while he was there they made a point of having him introduced to J. Lansdowne who had been a former communist but who had turned coats, so to speak, and had gone over to the administration, and J. Lansdowne asked Doherty to give him the names of the union leaders in Australia who ought to be invited to America under these so-called Leadership Grants. And Doherty supplied him with the names of a lot of people and whilst he was talking to Lansdowne, Lansdowne explained to him that no American Labour attaché can ever be appointed unless he has been verified by me and you can bet your buttons on it that ninety percent of Labour attachés are working either as direct agents of the CIA or in conjunction with them.
Tony Douglas: Do they get involved in actual union elections through the Labour attachés?
Clyde Cameron: Yes, of course, they do. They pay for costs of how to vote material, they pay for the cost of posting, how to vote material to union members when elections are held and in the 1964 elections for the South Australian branch of the AWU. I can speak for South Australia and I presume that it happened elsewhere in all the other branches as well. But in South Australia every AWU member on the roll had posted to him from Melbourne how to vote material telling him to vote against the Mick Young-Don Cameron-Clyde Cameron ticket. And the proof of that did come from the Labour attachés’ offices in Melbourne and it was given subsequently by one of the people who had been working with the council.
Tony Douglas: The use of American Labour attachés in Australia by the CIA has largely ceased. The United States Embassy in Canberra has one Labour attaché compared to the six or seven they used to have working out of consulates in all Australian capital cities. Jerry Aaron, co-author of Rooted in Secrecy, looks at the critical role played by successive Labour attachés in Melbourne, home of the ACTU, the Arbitration Commission and the Labour Left.
Jerry Aaron: Some of them were quite clearly connected with the CIA. One of the more interesting ones is a chap by the name of Edward McCale and he, before that, was Assistant Director of the CIA Radio Free Europe and he was a representative of the USIA, US Information Agency, in London and he was a Labour attaché in Johannesburg. And then the operation there, or the cooperation of McCale with the trade union leaders was very close indeed. And after McCale returned to the US, he came back again in 1979, and he had been full of discussions which you may or may not regard as genuine where he spoke with Australian trade union leaders and discussed the state of the trade union movement in the United States with them, ostensibly. Another one was a chap by the name of Bob Bockenshaw [?] and both McCale and Bockenshaw were very closely connected to Bob Hawke. Bockenshaw was serving in Melbourne as a Labour attaché in 1962-64, he met Bob Hawke, and Hawke later on became a house guest, six years later, when he went to Washington on a visit. Bockenshaw officially retired from the CIA in 1976. There are quite a few others. A chap I know, Arthur Purcell, who also served in Victoria as a Labour attaché has an interesting history: he was a marine in Turkey, Holland, Tanzania and Monrovia. He completed a labour course in 1964, he served in Bolivia as a Peace Corps Director and in the Philippines and Peru as a labour political officer. Evidently in those countries they can make it much more plain that they are there to do a political job rather than anything else.
Tony Douglas: The use of Labour attachés and ‘Leadership Grants’ aren’t the only avenues the United States has used to build a strong pro-American block inside the Australian Labour movement. For instance, the NSW right-wing has been very supportive of the Australian trade union program conducted by the Harvard Foundation. This program is supported by multinational business interests with its chairman being Brookes Wilson of Coppers International. Its list of trustees include a Who’s Who of Australian business with some prominent politicians on both sides of the fence also involved. As well as that, there are some leading members of the trade union right-wing represented. For instance, there are four knights of industry among its trustees: Sir Peter Ables, Sir Garrick Agnew, Sir Tristan Antico and Sir Warwick Fairfax. Also amongst the trustees are avowed opponents of the union movement like Hugh Morgan of Western Mining. There is also Bill Dicks and Chap Chapman, managing directors of Ford and GMX in Australia, as well as Bob White of Westpac. Two prominent Liberal frontbenchers, Andrew Peacock and Ian McPhee are also there. And so is Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Ralph Willis and Barry Unsworth. Labour MP and co-author of Rooted in Secrecy Joan Coxsedge visited the United States in 1983 and went to Harvard University to find the Harvard Foundation.
Joan Coxsedge: What I found out was very interesting. I made the quite startling discovery that there are in fact two Harvard Foundations. One Harvard Foundation is genuine and is situated right in the middle of the university and it is involved with university affairs. But I spoke with the people there and they were quite bewildered by my conversation because I found that they didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked about a mysterious body paying for our trade unionists. So what I then did was to hunt around until I found the other Harvard Foundation that is funding the Harvard university trade union program and they had a very small office, I think it was on about the third floor of nondescript building. The person who runs the Harvard Foundation and Harvard trade union program is a man called Joe O’Donell, the Executive Director, and to show the links with other right-wing organisations back in 1977 he was actually brought to this country by Enterprise Australia to come out here and put us on the right line as far as trade unionism was concerned. But it’s a costly cause and when Australians take part in it, as they do with other trade unionists from around the world, the tuition alone is 2,500 dollars and this has probably gone up since then. The cost of their room is 1,250 dollars, their books are 200 dollars, the meals vary. And so you would say each participant would have to pay around about 5,000 dollars and that’s very substantial. And, you know, you could argue that the people who are taking part in this … some very powerful people that are taking part since it started in 1964 and some are witting and some are perhaps unwitting and it’s interesting just to go back and have a look at the graduates of the Harvard trade union training program: back in 1964 we had Ralph Willis, 66 Barry Unsworth, 68 Joe Thompson, 69 Iron Workers Secretary Ronald Davidson, 71 John Radcliffe, then we had John Blakehurst Society of Engineers in 72, John Bannon Transport Workers in 73, and then in 75 John McBeen, we had a John Morris from the Liquors Industries Workers Union in 78 who is now a senator, we had Gary Weaven [?] in 78 who is now working for the ACTU but at that stage was working for the Australian Municipal Officers Association. Gordon Baze [?] from the Queensland Vehicle Building in 79, Michael Alfield from Sydney in 1979, John Bedden in 79 [must have been a good year], Kenneth Oath [?] from the NSW State Secretary and Federal Secretary of the Tramways Union, Errol Hother who is a very well know trade unionist from Queensland in Spring 80, Donald McDonald from the Professional Divers of Australasia in 1980, we had Raymond Evans in 1980, Tony Bella in 1980 from the Victorian Trade Hall Council, we had Robert Briskie in 81 and a G. Peter Mitchell from the Vehicle Builders Federation in 81, and then later in 1981 we had Ian Duffy from the NSW Iron Workers Union and Michael Eason.
Tony Douglas: The Harvard Trade Union Program for 1987 is now asking for applicants. In a letter from NSW Labour Council Secretary and 1975 graduate Jack McBeen, dated the 8th of September 1986, unions are asked to consider nominating suitable applicants. Included in the letter are some details about the training program itself and a list of previous graduates. McBeen says the course is worth over 6,000 dollars. Also attached is a letter from the secretary of the program in Australia to Michael Eason, himself a graduate of the course and now Assistant Secretary of the NSW Labour Council. In part it says, and I quote: “Having experienced the many benefits that the program has to offer would you please consider fellow trade unionists who may wish to benefit in a similar manner to yourself.” Well, one of the benefits Eason may have enjoyed was becoming Australian Secretary of the short-lived Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs. The Committee was short-lived because its activities and links with the CIA were exposed in newspaper articles in 1973, both here in Australia and in New Zealand. One of the journalists involved was Denis Freney of The Tribune. I asked Freney who set up the Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs?
Denis Freney: It was set up by the US Information Agency which put up 300,000 dollars and by an organisation called the U.S. Youth Council which then worked with the AFL-CIO which is sort of the US equivalent of the ACTU and it went on from there. Essentially, however, despite the sort of rather strange way it was funded it was run by the AFL-CIO with a fellow called Larry Speck who was on the US Youth Council. I’m not sure what the US Youth Council is, except that is a government-funded body. So who he was and what all added up to I really don’t know, except that, as we’ll see, it had CIA connections.
Tony Douglas: When was it set up and for what specific reasons was it established?
Denis Freney: Well, it was set up in 1983. The basics, I know, was to get selected right-wing trade union officials from around the Pacific but particularly from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, PNG and the other island nations of the South Pacific together to discuss … supposedly to discuss common interests and also to organise tours of trade union officials over there.
Tony Douglas: Who were the founder members of the Labour Committee on Pacific Affairs?
Denis Freney: Well, there were a whole range of people who had all sort of CIA connections. The program, the actual education side of the program, was handed over to the Georgetown International Labour Program which is turn part of the Georgetown University and its Centre of Strategic and International Studies. Now The Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has as one of its directors a Ray Cline, who is a former Deputy Director of the CIA. The other person, though, was Roy Gudson, a person who has CIA connections and links with the very far right in the US. For instance, he wrote a book which was co-authored with a fellow called Ernest Lefevre, The CIA and the American Ethic, which tried to praise the CIA as the embodiment of the American way of life and so on and so forth. Gudson was also the son of a Labour attaché in Britain who was very strongly suspected of being CIA officer and he set up a similar organisation between British and other European trade unions and the American trade unions. So there is a whole range of people who have been directly involved in them including a former [US] ambassador to New Zealand who was quite honest about what the whole operation was about.
Tony Douglas: Yes, well he was asked in fact if the claims of Jim Knotts as head of the Federation of Labour in New Zealand whether the Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs was an attempt to split the Federation of Labour in New Zealand, what was Henning’s reply to that?
Denis Freney: Oh, Henning sort of admitted that in fact they had worked behind the scenes, of course, he didn’t try to deny it. But I think that the evidence is such that there is no doubt that one of the primary aims of LCPA [The Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs] was to form first of all … the first object was to get together a solid right-wing inside the FLNZ [The Federation of Labour in New Zealand] which currently hasn’t got an organised right-wing like we have in the ACTU. For instance, in the ACTU you’ve got the NSW right.
Tony Douglas: What was the chain of events in New Zealand? Who did they try to recruit into the NZ Committee and why did it fall apart?
Denis Freney: The Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs was a fellow called Gart Fraser who was a Secretary of the Food Workers Union. And they had other people like Henry Boul [?] who was a former secretary in the Engineers union and later became appointed to the Arbitration Court, and Bob T. [?] from one of the white collar unions. The main person was Fraser. However, now he wasn’t a very sensible choice perhaps because Fraser has not got a very good reputation perhaps as one of the brightest people around the trade union movement in New Zealand.
Tony Douglas: There is a lot of talk that this committee was set up because it looked very likely that a Labour government was to be elected in New Zealand and, as you said, it was backed by a union movement that didn’t have any organised right-wing and a nuclear ship ban was very much on the cards.
Denis Freney: Yes, I think that was a primary thing. I think that it was also to tackle the raising anti-nuclear feeling of the whole of the South Pacific, you know, but specifically in New Zealand yes, that’s precisely the set up just as it became more apparent that it was probable that Lange was going to win the elections and so they needed to intervene and they have continued to intervene at all sort of levels but maybe in a less obvious way.
Tony Douglas: Let’s look at some of the personnel on the Australian committee of this Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs. For a start, Michael Eason?
Denis Freney: Michael Eason is a young guy who is university trained. Originally, he sort of flirted with the left but has become one of the main people in the NSW right-wing machine. Eason was the Australian secretary of the committee, a branch of the Labour Committee on Pacific Affairs, and spent quite a bit of time going around with some of the Americans involved, going around the South Pacific trying to get or select trade union leaders from the South Pacific involved in this operation. He played a very important role in fact in it. Now he would have been well aware of the sort of people who were involved on the American end, although he tried to defend himself … and John McBeen tried to defend themselves at some stage by saying `oh, well, all the union people over in America are just sort of really Liberal Democrats, you know, Kennedy democrats.’ And the reality is, of course, that the tours they organised were tours were they were given the Reaganite line.
Tony Douglas: What’s McBeen’s role in this Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs?
Denis Freney: McBeen was involved, how deeply involved we don’t know, but subsequently McBeen withdrew from it and I think it was one of the reasons why the whole thing collapsed. I think some elements in the NSW right realised that this was just not on to be so publicly associated with a group that had so many links with the CIA.
Tony Douglas: Let’s look at Gerard O’Keefe. What was his role and what is his background?
Denis Freney: Yes, well, O’Keefe is officially organiser of one of the International Labour Workers Union in the States. He’s an old time CIA agent. He was named as such by Philip Agee back in the fifties and sixties, always working through the trade union movement. He was in Latin America for a while, he was even in Chile when they were destabilising the Allendé government, and his role there was to develop whatever contacts he could inside the trade union movement to turn against the Allendé government and destabilise it, of course. There were a whole number of miners’ strikes which were very much influenced and supported by the CIA. And he was filmed by British Granada TV operating in Chile in this period and he was exposed, you know. Now, there are many many stories about O’Keefe. He has been around this part of the world quite a bit, he’s been in contact with the Clerks’ Union and with other far-right union organisations. And at one stage he tried to get into New Zealand back in the 70s and because of the reports, he was so notorious, the NZ Federation of Labour said ‘yes we were happy to welcome him if he categorically denies that he is working for the CIA’, and O’Keefe never would deny that. Now his connection is that he in fact was up to his neck in this whole Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs and in fact lectured chosen right-wing unions from here and New Zealand, Fiji, etc., who went over there, gave them lectures about how to run a good trade union.
Tony Douglas: Can you tell us something about these tours that people were taken on. For instance, lecturing in one of the tours in October 1983 was a person called Erwin Brown.
Denis Freney: Yes, they are lectured by people whose associations with the CIA go back a long while. Gerard O’Keefe was one, we already mentioned him. Erwin Brown is even more notorious, I mean, Erwin Brown goes back to the forties when the CIA decided that they were going to try to destroy the control of the Communist Party of France and Italy in particular over a lot of trade union movements and one of the most notorious things that Erwin Brown was involved in was the operation in Marseille where they used Mafia elements linked up with the Union Cause, which is the French Mafia, to try to drive the Communist Party out of control of the docks and they funded the Corsican Mafia to take over the docklands and, of course, Marseille became the centre of the heroin trade and that’s the whole story of the French connection. Basically they got control of the whole base of the unions in the docklands of Marseille because of the help of the CIA and the man in charge of the operation was Erwin Brown. And that’s been documented by people like Tom Braydon who was one of his workers or outsiders and he proudly said, you know, because he was still pro-CIA, that Erwin Brown did a great job in driving the communists out of Marseille harbour. So Erwin Brown goes back that far and he is probably the most notorious of the lot of the trade union officials and he’s been in Africa, he’s been in South Africa, he’s been in Latin America and he pops up again here because he’s an old man now lecturing these Australian trade unionists. But they also got lectured by people from the Reagan’s National Security Council. Now the National Security Council is in fact the body that gives the CIA orders. You know, it says `get rid of that government or we’ll invade that country. We’ll support that government’ in the case of countries like Chile under Pinochet and so on. So, yes, I mean, they were lectured by the National Security Council, they were lectured by the Arms Control bodies of the Reagan administration. The other important thing about the ICLPA was that it frankly said that these union officials got together because of common trade union and political interests. It was openly a political body and that’s another reason why it fell, you know, because they were too sweet in putting `political’ in it, they should just have pretended that they were trade union people getting together for a nice chat and how to win more for the workers.
Jane Lanbrook: That was part 4 of our series looking at the CIA’s role in Australian politics. Appearing on the program were Whitlam Cabinet Minister Clyde Cameron; Victorian Labour MP and author of the book Rooted in Secrecy Joan Coxsedge, co-author Jerry Aaron; former CIA agent Ralph McGehee and journalist with The Tribune newspaper Denis Freney. The program was produced by Tony Douglas. Next week the CIA focuses on the Lange Government and its nuclear ship ban. Well, that’s all on Watching Brief this week. If you’d like more information or cassette copies of the program or if you’ve got information that may be of interest contact us at Public Radio News Services, P.O.Box 103, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065 or call us in Melbourne at 417 7304. Watching Brief is produced by Ian Wood and Tony Douglas for the Public Broadcasting Network of Australia. I’m Jane Lanbrook and I hope you tune in again next week at the same time for Watching Brief, Public Radio’s National Environment Program.
End of Part 4