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the listening post


Adelaide: who was in town, November / December 1948?

Alf Watt. 

Communist. Suspected of espionage. Known to internees. Contacts in Woomera. Lived in the Glenelg area at the time of the Somerton case.

Jessica Harkness. 

Jewish convert. Lived in Melbourne when ex-internee Kaldor was resident. Language teacher. Lived in the Glenelg area at the time of the Somerton case. Directly linked to the Somerton Man.

Tibor Kaldor. 

Jewish. Internee. Language teacher. Lived in Melbourne when Jessica was resident. Visitor to Adelaide at the time of the Somerton case. Found dead in a city hotel. Suicide.

Possibly had internee contacts in Woomera.

The Somerton Man. 

Found dead in the Glenelg area. Possible murder. Directly linked to Jessica Harkness.

Possible internee.


And lastly, an observation from Byron Deveson:

I note that a “listening post” was established in Glenelg only a couple of hundred yards from 90a Moseley Street. I also note that the contents of the NAA Archives 1949 file dealing with the Communist Party of South Australia Glenelg Branch appear to have been returned to ASIO.

Gough Whitlam listening to Chinese chatter.

The Listening Post by Gough Whitlam.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. B Deveson #

    In June 1949 ASIO (newly established in March 1949) was conducting surveillance on Semyen Ivanovich Makarov who was reckoned to be EFIM in the Venona traffic, the KI resident in the Soviet embassy in Canberra. The newly formed ASIO followed Makarov as he sailed back to the Soviet Union aboard SS Stratheden. ASIO tailed Makarov when the ship docked in Melbourne on the 24th June and then when it docked at Adelaide. Makarov easily shook off his tail (Ray Whitrod and Ernest Redford) in both Melbourne and Adelaide (Ball and Horner. page 305).
    I can’t imagine that Makarov was just sightseeing in Melbourne or Adelaide. And, why did Makarov deliberately lose his tail? Surely, if he was not up to something it was to his advantage to lead the ASIO tails all around town, wasting their time. Also, by his actions Makarov was revealing to ASIO that he knew he was being tailed. So, I feel that Makarov was meeting contacts in Adelaide.
    There is evidence that a high level “illegal” was operating in Adelaide in the early 1960′s.
    In 1962 the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation “ASIO” found that the Russian ambassador to Australia, Ivan Fyodorovich Kurdyukov “Ivan Skripov”, tried to have a state of the art high speed radio transmission device delivered to somebody in Adelaide. From memory Peter Wright mentioned the high speed “squirt” transmitter, which was probably to be used to transmit to Russian satellites passing overhead (ie very low transmission power required, particularly if used with a directional aerial, which would have made detection by the Australian authorities difficult, particularly in an area with a lot of radio noise such as a city suburb).
    The “Ivan Skripov” case is unusual, even by espionage standards, because the ambassador was directly involved, and because the need for clandestine radio communications implies extreme urgency of the information being transmitted. The only other case that I am aware of at this time where the Russians were found to give squirt radio transmitters to agents was the Portland spy ring case. Unfortunately, ASIO decided to prematurely abort the case because they were so interested in discovering the technical details of the high speed sending device. Rumours at the time suggested that workers at Woomera had been interviewed by ASIO. There was also evidence that Soviet submarines were active in the Great Australian Bight, probably monitoring rocket launching activities at Woomera.
    Recently a suspect has been named:
    Horace Allan Pile b 22nd February 1923 Coolac, Vic died 5th August 1971 at St Kilda
    father Allan Reginald Pile 1895-1979 mother Annie Arnall 1897-1947

    I note that Pile joined Alf Watt in Adelaide and, like Watt, was a member of the CPA Central Committee.

    October 12, 2016
  2. ellen #

    Perhaps Australia was a good source of Uranium in the early sixties. It has been conjectured that the reason for JFK’s assassination had been his refusal to provide resources for the development of Dimona in Israel.

    October 13, 2016
  3. Perhaps there was another reason why two ex-internees travelled from Melbourne to Adelaide where they both committed suicide within two weeks of each other.

    October 13, 2016
  4. Byron, what sort of hardware installation does a suburban listening post need?

    October 13, 2016
    • B Deveson #

      I am not an expert on the subject and my knowledge of the area is very limited, but my understanding is that “Listening Post” is a military term for a static position near front lines that collects information about the enemy; listening for sounds of enemy activity, observing enemy activity, intercepting enemy communications for example. Describing the Somerton drill hall set up as a “listen post” rather than as a “watching post” suggest two things to me. First, that there was some military input (also supported by the fact that a drill hall was used as cover), and second, that the main function was radio or telephone interception, and/or coordination of watchers with portable radios. This view is supported by the fact that “sound resistant partitions” were installed. From memory part of the drill hall was still being used for public or semi-public purposes in 1949.

      “Constructing a sound resistant partition for PMG listening post at Drill Hall, Somerton, SA. 1949-1949.” NAA Item barcode 679493

      I note that a search for “listening post” brings up 274 files in the NAA collection, but only one of these mentions the PMG (Post Master General). The PMG was the Australian Commonwealth organisation that ran the post, telegraph and telephone services, and also controlled radio communications in Australia in 1948-49.

      The following site describes the sort of equipment that would have been used in the Somerton watching post in 1949.

      I think in 1949 radio and telephone interception methods were fairly simple. For radio interception a radio operator would scan through the RF spectrum (mainly short wave) for any suspicious broadcasts. If a suspicious broadcast was heard the operator would note the frequency and record the message (by hand in 1949; recording equipment was probably not available in Australia in 1949). ASIO thought they were thoroughly modern when they used a crude wire line recorder (called a “minphon” instrument from memory) in the Petrov case five years later. If circumstances permitted an attempt would be made to try to locate the transmitter by means of triangulation. In the case of a telephone intercept, in 1949 an operator would listen in on any calls and make a written copy of the conversation. A listening post could also be used to record conversation captured by a bug placed in a house. By 1949 there was a cunning and simple method available to the authorities that allowed them to bug a house provided there was a telephone installed (and we know there was a telephone installed at 90a Moseley St). The authorities would simply “fault” the line to make it seem that the telephone was faulty. The owner would complain to the PMG who would then send a telephone technician around. All that had to be done was the removal of an insulating washer in the telephone handpiece and the microphone in the telephone would be working even when the receiver was on the hook. The telephone line would then be tapped at some discrete distance away from the target, and, bingo! All the conversations within hearing distance of the phone in the house could be heard at the listening post.
      Incidentally, it was probably the exposure of this telephone bug trick, and others, in Peter Wright’s book “Spy Catcher”that so annoyed the British Government.

      October 13, 2016
  5. B Deveson #

    I should add that the radio interception work requires aerials, generally several, and these are usually a give away. However, if the transmissions were close by then hidden aerials would probably work OK. From memory somebody said two or three years ago that around 1949 there was an array of aerials on the Somerton Post Office roof. The feed from these aerials could be transferred by land line to a listening post.

    October 14, 2016
  6. ellen #

    Do you really think the two internees committed suicide? I think just one.

    October 14, 2016
  7. Thanks for that, BD, much appreciated. Ellen, given that the inquest couldn’t decide on how he died, I’m a little AC DC on suicide as well.

    October 14, 2016
  8. Byron, worth mentioning that in 1948, the SA Police updated their radio room and equipment. On another point, the use of sound resistant partitions was intended to stop others listening in to the operators or their equipment. That would indicate that perhaps they thought they were dealing with a sophisticated opponent who may have had the right equipment. Pretty much as Peter Wright describes in his book, a good resource.

    October 14, 2016
  9. Gordon, we’re dealing with the Portland drill hall in Glenelg aren’t we?

    October 14, 2016
  10. I am pretty sure there was one at Somerton Park as well. I think there was also a Signals presence at Keswick Barracks.

    October 14, 2016
  11. B Deveson #

    the drill hall in question was in Somerton, less than 200 yards from 90a Moseley Street.

    October 14, 2016
  12. B Deveson #

    The Somerton drill hall was situated on the corner of Scarborough and Gordon streets, Somerton Park, and was about 500m (not 200 yards as I remembered) from 90A Moseley Street (ie Jestyn’s residence in 1949).

    October 14, 2016
  13. ellen #

    Poor Kaldor was trapped. The Soviet Union was ruthless in mopping up their spies abroad. I read The Lost Spy by Andrew Meier about a New York intellectual spying for the Soviets murdered in 1947 on Stalin’s orders. Loyalty was repaid with brutality.

    October 15, 2016
  14. ellen #

    How far away is it from where SM was found and the hotel where Tabor Kaldor was found?

    October 15, 2016
  15. About 10+ k’s.

    October 15, 2016
  16. ellen #

    Two spies? Maybe a spy and a patsy who had two tickets, one of which wasn’t used because of
    a miscommunication.

    October 18, 2016
  17. ellen #

    Could Boxall have dropped the Rubaiyat in the Hillman to warn Jessica that Tabor was dead and that the spy ring was in jeopardy? Her phone number was on it. How could she have confused poetry books? Someone else must have put her number on the book so that she could be contacted and instead the police were called….or the police were already aware.

    If I found property in my car, with a local phone number, I would call the phone number rather than the cops.

    February 19, 2017
  18. But Ellen, The telephone number was, according to Detective Brown and re-affirmed by Professor Abbott, in tiny writing. In fact, it was in the right top quadrant. Not easily seen, hidden in plain sight.

    February 19, 2017
  19. ellen #

    I still wouldn’t call the cops. The only reason that the Rubaiyat was connected to the case at that point was the slip of Tamam Shud found in a pocket in a missing persons case six months prior. I would probably drop it off at the local library.

    February 20, 2017

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