Postcard from - Dirty Secrets

The local library had a copy of Meredih Burgmann's book Dirty Secrets . I heard about it last year, so I borrowed it to see what it was like.

The book is 20+ chapters, each written by a different author. All the authors were active in a variety of left-wing political organisations during their youth, and they have written a chapter based on the reading of their recently released ASIO file.

The reactions to the contents are mixed, but there are some constants in there too. Some are amused, others annoyed or upset. The view that comes over strongly is that ASIO at the time were a mix of thorough and almost incompetant. There are lists of attendees at meetings, and lists of car number plates related to the attendees. But there appears to be no analysis, no recognition that the groups represented were usually political rather than truely subversive. None advocated violent overthrow of the government, they just represented a different political view.

This appears to be a common issue with intelligence agencies worldwide. In the west, you get spied on if you hold left-wing views, in the eastern bloc, if your views aren't far enough to the left.

The book is clearly a very focused view of ASIO as it was 30 years ago seen through the eyes of people who feel their privacy was invaded. I found it interesting, but ultimately tedious, perhaps because, not having grown up in Australia, I'm not familiar with most of the names. The reported content of the files in question, which varied in size from a few pages to three large volumes, didn't come as much of a surprise. But I was disappointed to see that ASIO appeared to have fallen into the US trap of spending more resources on collection than on analysis, but again, not particularly surprised.

I'm glad that I had the opportunity to read the book, but even more glad that I didn't buy it. I get a lot out of reading about the impact that intelligence agencies have on world events, and how they behave in their own country, but for me there was nothing new here.


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