John Ellis: Spying on the spies

  • Posted on: 2 September 2016
  • By: Staff Writers

Veteran photographer and CICD founding member John Ellis recalls being subject to secret service surveillance during the Cold War.

During the 1960s and 70s, I began photographing secret service agents who were spying on peace groups and other left-wing organisations. I became angry at the Police Special Branch, Commonwealth police and ASIO agents, who were photographing us at public events. Another reason for me doing this was that it seemed reasonable, as has happened in other countries, that security police would infiltrate our groups. If I had photos of them it would immediately alert us. My security files (ASIO, Commonwealth Police and Victorian Special Branch) were released 30 years after I first began photographing security agents. In September 2007, I received my first batch of files. They covered the period from 1969 to 1976.

However, I was told by the National Archives in Canberra (the organisation that deals with these requests) that certain files relating to my activities have been refused on the grounds that they are considered to be a threat to national security!

Long lists of names of people attending rallies, their car number plates and phone numbers, a list of magazines I subscribed to and their cost, plus my letters to newspaper editors were included. There were many copies of minutes from CICD committee meetings, giving details of who spoke and campaign strategies, etc.

“After reading the files it was obvious that my fears of CICD being infiltrated were well founded because the files revealed that ASIO had inside information on the workings of CICD. Also a journalist contact named the informant to me. At this stage I’m hesitant to reveal my source or the name of the accused informant in CICD during those turbulent Vietnam war years. I am sure that the accusation is true although I have resisted the temptation to visit the person and put the accusation. I believe the partner was also involved at some level. It was an affront to have a government agency infiltrating peaceful anti-war organisations and no doubt the situation today has increased such activities.

I have two folders on ASIO in my files including more information on the suggested CICD informer.