Ian Peacock ASIO – A top ASIO counterespionage officer was exposed as a KGB mole who stole and sold highly classified intelligence to the Russians for at least five years. Four Corners forensically linked decades of investigations to identify the man. The shocking treachery threatened Australia’s security with the US and UK, vital Five Eyes intelligence allies.
Australians haven’t known the mole’s identity for nearly 30 years. According to foreign intelligence analyst Neil Fergus, the individual “was a critical [KGB] asset”. The ASIO mole was the feared Russian spy agency’s only backdoor to American and British intelligence secrets for at least two years in the late 1970s.
“This was gold for them,” Fergus remarked. ASIO colleagues didn’t suspect the mole. His name was Ian George Peacock. After 30 years, Peacock was betrayed. He was a World War II RAAF fighter jet pilot, one of the first ASIO recruits, and a member of a top surveillance unit that tracked Russian agents.
After several years in Rome, Peacock returned to Australia with his family and worked at ASIO’s NSW headquarters in Kirribilli on Sydney Harbour. Former coworkers said he was a good golfer, smart, and popular. By the late 1970s, he was supervisor-E (espionage) with top-secret security clearance.
ASIO was struggling to change. Judge Edward Woodward replaced its military-style leadership. “The old and bold” like Peacock were frustrated that the organization had lost direction. As tertiary-educated officers rose through the ranks, Peacock’s career looked to plateau. “Somehow, somewhere along the line, something happened, something happened to him, something really big or something snapped,” recalled spy author Harry P. Russell, a former Peacock colleague.
“We pick these up. He went unnoticed. I’d suspect him, but not initially. Former Canadian intelligence officer Dan Mulvenna said Peacock “fits the profile of an individual who was disappointed with his career and how it unfolded for him and he was to a certain extent, somewhat bitter about that”. Peacock joined the enemy in 1977. Spy agencies fought the Cold War at its height. It was dangerous. “Every action had consequences,” Neil Fergus stated.
The Soviets wanted the Five Eyes intelligence alliance’s secrets. Australian National University emeritus professor Paul Dibb stated the Soviets “saw us as a possible weak link into Five Eyes”. “The Soviets were desperate to know about Pine Gap and CIA assessments of the USSR.”
An anonymous parcel arrived at the Soviet embassy in Canberra in 1977 offering Five Eyes secrets for payment. Sample documents were enclosed. Gerontiy Lazovik was the recipient. The embassy’s second press secretary was Lazovik. He was confident and dressed in Western style, making friends with Canberra’s public employees, journalists, and diplomats. KGB station chief in Canberra. Lazovik delivered the mole’s package to Moscow, where Oleg Kalugin, a legendary KGB spymaster, received it.
Russians suspected the ASIO mole’s approach was a trap. “Initially we had, as it happens usually, some suspicions whether there was a plant or double agent, someone who would get us involved in a major scandal,” Kalugin told Four Corners in 2004. In Moscow, Kalugin gave the materials to the Soviet Union’s prized British defector Kim Philby, a member of the Cambridge spy ring who defected in 1963. Philby verified the paperwork.
The KGB recognized its important asset. Moscow spies rejoiced. Their mole is MIRA. It’s “peace”. Yuri Shmatkov, a highly trained KGB agent-runner, was given the mole. Dan Mulvenna said ASIO personnel who examined the treachery respected Shmatkov’s dedication. Spies and Spymasters, Mulvenna’s next book, examines Five Eyes KGB moles, including the ASIO traitor.
“Shmatkov confided to someone I know that he had difficulties running the mole, that there were some disagreements about who’s in charge,” Mulvenna added. Moscow ordered Shmatkov to control the vital new mole. He transported himself from Canberra to Sydney in the boot of an embassy car. Shmatkov would do a “dry-cleaning run” while Soviet consulate workers exercised at Bondi Beach. He would then gather the mole’s secrets. “Dead letter box” drops were used. High-security documents would be hidden around Centennial Park. Shmatkov would retrieve the documents and leave big cash payments.
Moscow often sent diplomatic pouches with more money. It read “TOBACCO”. “It was huge amounts every five or six weeks. “That suggests a year’s worth of meetings,” Mulvenna added. Peacock gave his KGB handlers knowledge of Cold War-era Australian actions against Soviet targets.
Yuri Andropov, who subsequently became Soviet leader, was constantly briefed on the ASIO mole’s actions. Profiles of Soviet personnel in Australia warrant operations against them, and ASIO surveillance operations and rosters were stolen and supplied to the Russians.
The intelligence allowed the Russians to foil nearly every ASIO counterespionage attempt for years. In a typical case, ASIO had just started bugging the residence of a Soviet military agent in suburban Canberra when he was unexpectedly moved to the Soviet compound, safe from further eavesdropping.
Despite meticulous preparation, former ASIO counter-espionage operatives remembered their operations failing year after year. Russell said that Sydney’s operations planning to reveal Soviet espionage “took a lot of resources, a lot of time and effort, 25/7 you’re on call”. It failed eventually. It failed. I worked with smart, imaginative people. “Our operations were stonewalled,” he claimed.
Former officer Gary Michael called it “very frustrating”. “You think your operation is going to hit pay dirt and it just turns to dirt.” Nobody suspected Peacock. He also sent Russia Five Eyes intelligence documents. He was well-connected. “Everything about Australia, the US, cooperation, political plans, agents planted in the Soviet embassy, surveillance squads—everything,” Oleg Kalugin stated in 2004. ASIO received its first concrete tip in 1980, despite years of traitor rumours.
When Gerontiy Lazovik returned to Moscow in 1977, MI6 notified it that he had won an award for “intelligence recruitment in Canberra.” Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB-MI6 super spy, provided this information. The Order of the Red Star and Lazovik’s recruit, an Australian intelligence officer, were later disclosed.
ASIO’s internal investigations section investigated the tip-off and wrongly determined that the mole was in another Australian intelligence agency or government department. Even though intelligence indicated it was an ASIO mole, this blunder hampered the spy agency’s judgment for a decade. ASIO’s Peacock retired in 1983. His last KGB job was to find a new mole, which earned $50,000. ASIO is still unsure if he succeeded. Former colleagues claim he provided detailed briefings to the Kremlin on KGB recruit ability.
“That’s what he would’ve been doing,” Harry P Russell stated. “They would’ve been giving chapter and verse not just on me but on my family, friends, everything I did, my vulnerabilities [in case] they could recruit me.”Traitors do. That’s why they’re paid well.” After the Cold War and many KGB defections, ASIO found its mole in the mid-1990s.
KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who fled to the UK in 1992, provided the most crucial information. MI6 gave ASIO an explosive memo from this material. The mole’s KGB handler wrote to Moscow officials. The mole’s retirement and other important details were in the note. The Mitrokhin archive is redacted at ASIO’s request. Peacock was retired and playing golf on Sydney’s northern beaches when ASIO discovered his identity. ASIO sought a confession for years to assess national security damage.
Peacock constantly disputed the charges and refused to participate in their probe. Secrets died with him in 2006. ASIO’s mole investigation and KGB successor search have been kept secret. Secrecy has fueled rumours and ruined innocent officers’ reputations.
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