Horner, David: The Spy Catchers: ASIO

Horner, David

The Spy Catchers: the Official History of ASIO, 1949-1963, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 2014; available electronically

David Horner’s book is the first of three volumes on ASIO. (The next two volumes are by John Blaxland.) ‘For the first time, ASIO has opened its archives to an independent historian. With unfettered access to the records, David Horner tells the real story of Australia’s domestic intelligence organisation, from shaky beginnings to the expulsion of Ivan Skripov in 1963.’ (blurb)

The book is reviewed and discussed in detail for Honest History by Ernst Willheim. Other reviews have been by Jack Waterford, David McKnight (along with Frank Moorhouse’s Australia Under Surveillance), Michelle Grattan, Robert Manne and Jeff Sparrow (along with the Meredith Burgmann collection, Dirty Secrets). The book was launched by the Attorney-General.

How dangerous [asks Ernst Willheim in his review] was secret surveillance to the fabric of Australian society? Which was the greater threat, a few communists or a secret organisation keeping dossiers on academics, writers, journalists, trade union leaders and others and creating a climate of fear and intimidation? Does Horner’s work confirm what so many of us have always suspected, that our secret agency ASIO was undermining the fabric of a free and democratic society, that ASIO was, in truth, subversive rather than protective?


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