An academic colleague of mine visited the Soviet Union (in the 1980s) on some sort of exchange program to do something geological with scientists in Moscow. While staying in an academy of science hotel, he was having a quiet drink by himself in the bar of the hotel when a woman with two men came into the bar. Then ensued an altercation of some sort between the two men, who subsequently left. Then the woman came over to my colleague and started talking to him in excellent English. After this obvious ruse, when he finished his drink, my colleague then excused himself and went to his room. After he returned to Australia, he contacted the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and was interviewed by someone in a trench-coat (!) to whom he related the story.

Back in the early 1990s, I was on a similar exchange program between the Soviet Union and Australia, and as part of the exchange, a Russian geologist had visited us in 1990. However, between the time the Russian visited us and the time I was supposed to visit him, the Soviet Union fell in a heap and the financial arrangements also fell in a heap. After considerable discussion between my organisation and the government department, the Australian government agreed to pay all the expenses, so the trip was then organised. I was to spend nine weeks in total in Russia and Kazakhstan, visiting scientists in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St Petersburg and Alma Ata (as it then was; now Almaty). I did not suffer any obvious ploys like that witnessed by my colleague. However, for a few days before I left for Russia, there was a light blue car, with a single occupant (I couldn’t see if he was wearing a trench-coat), parked on the opposite side of the street, a few houses west of ours. I initially presumed he was from ASIO simply checking who was coming and going at our place, to see if we had any ‘dodgy’ visitors prior to my departure. However, he could have been from Russia; I simply don’t know.

Now, Mike Burgess, head of ASIO, when delivering his annual threat assessment, said that an unnamed former Australian politician, was successfully cultivated by an international spy ring “several years ago”, once suggested bringing a prime minister’s family member into contact with their foreign handlers. In his speech, Mike Burgess has described an overseas intelligence service that considers Australia a “priority target” and runs a group of operatives ASIO has dubbed the “Australia team”, or “A-Team”1.

After, Burgess gave his speech, the Liberals came out and said that Burgess should name the culprit. The Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton has demanded ASIO reveal the identity of the former politician and if Burgess doesn’t identify him, then “there’s a cloud hanging over everybody else”. Dutton said he would “put my money” on it being a former NSW Labor politician and the country concerned being China. Even the former treasurer Joe Hockey called for the person to be publicly outed. He said Burgess risked impugning “anyone that has ever served in politics”2. I would argue that it is not the fact of a former MP selling out to a foreign government, but the corrupt behaviour of the recent crop of Coalition parliamentarians which impugns anyone that been in politics (I hesitate to use the word ‘served’).

Subsequently, Alex Turnbull, the son of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said he may have been the target of suspected Chinese intelligence agents3. This seemingly scared the bejesus out of the Liberals, as it is unlikely that a Labor politician would be offering to introduce a spy to those opposed to them. With his realisation, the Liberals quickly changed their tune and agreed that the traitor politician’s identity should not be made public, with Dutton saying he will (now) respect the decision of Burgess not to name them. This may be due to Mike Burgess saying that publishing the name might expose sources4, but the fact that Alex Turnbull suggested he may have been the ‘family member’ mentioned by Burgess, does make you wonder.

In another coincidence, Di Sanh “Sunny” Duong was a well-known member of the Australian-Chinese community with business connections and a long-term Liberal Party member who once stood as a political candidate. However, he was living a double life, secretly liaising with Chinese intelligence operatives to fulfil grandiose plans to influence Australian leaders. Despite his denials, a county court found him guilty of planning to commit an act of foreign interference, and sentenced him to gaol for two years and nine months. The case centred around a media event where Duong stood next to former federal minister Alan Tudge, and presented a $37,450 donation to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. This was alleged to win favour with Tudge, who Duong foolishly believed could one day be prime minister5.

So, a traitor politician, whoever he may be, gets to live a quiet life, the spying threat having been “neutralised” according to Burgess. I have wondered what would have happened to my academic colleague if he had given himself over to the honey trap and been used by Soviet intelligence over subsequent decades, and had been nailed by ASIO. This traitor politician gets to live a quiet life while people who actually did something for this country, such as whistleblowers, are in court facing possible years in gaol if convicted. It shows you how privileged politicians are, and how the system made by them with the assistance of their donors, suits them, to the detriment of the rest of us.

*Honey trap. A method used in espionage whereby an agent enters into a romantic or sexual relationship with a civilian and seeks to leverage that intimacy to coerce or blackmail the target, either to discover secret information or to egg them on, to obtain positions of power or influence.




  • Laurie Pullman says:


    I assumed it was Gladys Liu.

    My first thought was Sam Dastyari but the time line didn’t look right and I’m guessing that’s the conclusion that Peter Dutton leapt to. While I got a certain amount of amusement from the scenario where someone had to tell the esteemed Leader of the Opposition why this is not a can of worms he wanted to open, the Alex Turnbull’s statement would explain it just as well.

    It makes me feel better to think that our Chinese “friends” are sufficiently incompetent to think Alan “I Can’t Recall, Your Honour” Tudge was getting anywhere near the leadership.

    • admin says:

      I have no idea who it is, but I just found the juxtaposition interesting, if meaningless. I wondered if it was ASIO’s way of telling us who it was without actually doing so.

      • Laurie Pullman says:

        I don’t think its meaningless, I think its illustrative of how law enforcement treat the politically connected differently to the hoi polloi.

        Its also illustrative of how the Liberals will jump on anything they think might be politically advantageous without stopping to think through the implications (I wonder who the minister responsible might have been…). Cue embarrassing back pedaling the following morning.

        On a tangent: a friend of mine once interviewed (successfully) for a job at The Attorney General’s Dept (the popular and obvious euphemism for ASIO at the time). I’ll ask him about trench coats because that really would be the icing on that story.

        • admin says:

          I meant meaningless in the sense that Tudge may not be the culprit. However, he may be. We may never find out. The trenchcoat story was a source of great mirth at the University department I was attending at the time.

  • JON says:

    I’m very supportive of our security agencies newfound voice in publicly calling out foreign actors with (at least potentially) malign intent, although very great care would obviously need to be given to protecting sources. Nothing gets a politician’s attention more than knowing someone’s watching AND you can simultaneously send a broad message to those actors without causing major diplomatic tension. I have little doubt Burgess would have briefed the govt and sought some feedback prior to going public.

    But three points spring to mind: (1) Lobbying on behalf of various OS interests has gone on since the year dot. Whether the dupe understood he/she was being groomed and the possible implications, or was warned by ASIO, we don’t know. Frankly looking at some of the conservative (esp) and Labor rabble in our parliaments it’s not difficult to think they hadn’t given the national interests any consideration at all. Yes, they all get briefings about security issues and the risks associated with financial supporters” and “delegations” etc (we certainly did), but that’s quickly forgotten by people with questionable thinking ability and ethics (to wit, officials of the last government), especially when the prospect of political donations are dangled as a carrot.

    (2) It was reported that current foreign interference laws (2018?) were not in place at the time (which gives a small clue for interested sleuths), nor did it appear that the person involved had broken any existing law. Since ASIO would not publicly release “evidence”, the person involved would be battling to shake off public perception – infllamed by the usual suspects – irrespective of whether it was deserved or not. Dutton and Hockey’s responses are typical conservative knee-jerk dog whistling. There’s good reason why personal acts are only linked to political parties in particular circumstances.

    (3) National security agencies around the world often make judgements (and mistakes) based on culture, and histprically it’s not rare that these lead them to overlook or downplay some threats while enhancing others. We generally only hear about these things when it ‘hits the fan’ or when books are written by retired intelligence officials. I may be completely wrong but I’m inclined to think there’s invariably some selective lily gilding in what ASIO says publicly.

    it surely can’t be anyone involved in Port Darwin takeover because security agencies gave the green light to the Chinese deal despite American misgivings. I’m loath to post anything wikipedia based but there are some good links in this article, including one brief opinion about how bad the economics were for the NT:

    • admin says:

      I don’t have any doubt that many politicians are too dim to realise when they are being paid, groomed or even blackmailed into doing what a foreign government wants. So may of them are so self-centred they would be quite capable of believing the horseshit fed to them by their handlers, provided the latter made it sound like it was for the good of Australia

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