More insights into ASIO: Vol 2 of the Official History

ProtestYears_ASIO copy

The Protest Years
The Official History of ASIO 1963-1975
By John Blaxland
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $49.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781925266931

This is the companion volume to David Horner’s The Spy Catchers published in 2014. The first book covered the period 1949-1963, encompassing the Petrov defection. Now John Blaxland has taken up the story. Blaxland is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University and writes about military history, intelligence, security and Asia-Pacific affairs. His most recent book was The Australian Army: From Whitlam to Howard published by Cambridge.

This second book continues the story of Australia’s domestic intelligence organisation during the turbulent years from the end of the Menzies era to the downfall of the Whitlam government, a topic that has been much in the news of late.

It’s reassuring in the preface to read that the work is based on unfettered access to the files held in the ASIO archives, which is not to say that these are the only sources for the author.

As to topics, a quick check of the index reveals what we already know: the government’s and therefore ASIO’s, preoccupation with the activities of the Communist Party of Australia during the period.

For the first time the circumstances surrounding the alleged role of ASIO in the demise of the Whitlam Government are revealed, and the question of the CIA’s involvement in Australia is explored. The extraordinary background to the raid on ASIO headquarters in Melbourne by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy, and Australia’s efforts at countering Soviet bloc espionage, as well as the sensitive intelligence activities in South Vietnam, are exposed.

This is indeed a ground-breaking political and social history of some of Australia’s most turbulent years as seen through the secret prism of ASIO. This is an important publishing milestone in Australian history, no doubt inspired in its inception by the substantial histories of MI5 and MI6 in Britain.

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