Australians 'sent to spy for Britain'

AUSTRALIAN spies have been seconded to Hong Kong to conduct widespread bugging and other technical dirty tricks for the British Government's Secret Intelligence Service MI6, a former top spy claimed.

A former controller with Australia's secret overseas spy service, ASIS, told the South China Morning Post in an interview yesterday that some of the operations performed for the British in Hong Kong ''appalled'' him.

''We know of things they did and we just shook our heads,'' the former ASIS agent, a scientific expert who quit the service 10 months ago, said in Canberra.

He said espionage operations in Hong Kong were performed by ASIS ''tech-ops'', who were seconded to MI6 in London and then sent to Hong Kong to illicitly secure sensitive commercial and political secrets for Britain's use.

''In Hong Kong they were working for the British, one of the most aggressive operations in the world. I'm sure the Australian authorities did not know what they were doing,'' the agent, calling for an overhaul of ASIS, told the Post.

He said he knew of details which demonstrated jobs done by ASIS spies in Hong Kong had commercially benefited the British to the detriment of Australia.

The Australians bugged many offices in Hong Kong for MI6, an agency which regards the territory and China as pivotal to its spying operations.

He said he understood there were still Australians working in the territory for MI6, but he believed their work would cease now that its nature and political ramifications were public.

Hong Kong's most visible spy station, Chung Hom Kok, near Stanley, is a listening post for microwave telephone lines and radio traffic in the region. It is run by the British Government's clandestine Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham in western England.

Revelations by the former deputy head of ASIS counter-intelligence and controller for Indo-China, Burma and India - who appeared on the leading Australian television investigative programme Four Corners on Monday night with a former colleague - caused a furore and sparked calls for a Royal Commission.

''Australia's national interest may have been compromised by the deployment of ASIS resources in pursuit of objectives that benefited only other countries,'' the Federal Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman, Andrew Peacock, said.

But Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, said he had confidence in the supervision of ASIS. He refused to talk about the claims that ASIS in Hong Kong and elsewhere had acted as an arm of MI6.

The former controller of the MI6 spy network, Baroness Park, revealed three months ago that MI6 viewed China as a ''major target'' and that Hong Kong was an extremely important spy station.

A United States Ambassador and former CIA station chief in Beijing, James Lilley, said at about the same time that MI6 had a reputation for working very closely with industry - planting agents or exchanging commercial information.

Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck, the former acting chief of British Forces in Hong Kong who resigned last September to take up a directorship of the British Chamber of Commerce, said it was news to him.

''There are no spies or members of the security services lurking around British companies in Hong Kong that I'm aware of,'' he said.