Spy was identified through psychic, author says
One of the weirdest espionage cases in Australian history just got weirder.
A US intelligence officer is writing a book about how a psychic was used to track bumbling Canberra spy Jean-Philippe Wispelaere during a secretive operation more than a decade ago.
Scott Carmichael, an author and senior security and counter-intelligence investigator at the US Defence Intelligence Agency, worked on the Wispelaere case in 1999. He is writing a book about how he used a psychic to identify Wispelaere after the former Australian Defence Intelligence Organisation analyst tried to sell stolen US documents to Singaporean embassy officials in Thailand.
While Wispelaere had given his email address to the embassy during negotiations to sell 1382 classified documents for hundreds of thousands of dollars, US authorities were not sure of his identity or whether he would make contact with the embassy again.
The Australian National University graduate eventually did make contact. He was then tricked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into travelling to the US, where he was arrested, and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2001.
The 41-year-old was released earlier this year and snubbed Australia, the country where he was raised and where his mother still lives, for Canada, his country of birth.
Mr Carmichael stated, via email, that the use of psychics to identify ''unknown subjects'' had been common among US intelligence agencies in the 1980s and was used until 1995.
It had been phased out by the time of the Wispelaere case, but Mr Carmichael said he decided to get in contact with psychic Angela Ford to conduct an operation that was not authorised by DIA.
''The agency was out of the psychic business,'' Mr Carmichael said. ''It seemed that I was out of luck. But I persisted. It was a purely personal endeavour to determine whether Angela could develop - through paranormal means - useful information about the walk-in event.''
Ms Ford said in an email that she had been told little detail about the case during her contact with Mr Carmichael, but had been able to establish that the man had called himself Baker, was an Australian, and was muscular and aged in his 20s.
She determined Wispelaere had tried to sell US documents at the Singaporean embassy in Bangkok, but she was confused as to why he had said he was involved with US imagery when he was an Australian.
Wispelaere, a steroid abuser and gym junkie, had used the name Jeff Baker when he approached the embassy, and had claimed to be an American.
''I was working many cases at this time and I was kept in the dark on all of them,'' Ms Ford said.
''I couldn't know anything about the cases I was working on because that would be cheating.''
US Naval Institute Press publicist Judy Heise confirmed Mr Carmichael was preparing a manuscript on the Wispelaere case and had previously had a book published by the company. She also confirmed his position with the DIA.
Clive Williams, a former intelligence analyst and army officer, said he was not aware of psychics ever being used in Australian operations. The visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, and adjunct professor at Macquarie University's Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, said he did not think the US had ever had much success with their psychic programs.
Professor Williams said he often found the published accounts of those who had worked in intelligence agencies questionable.
''Wispelaere's espionage case was not very complicated. In fact, it was quite straightforward from an investigative perspective,'' he said.
''Wispelaere was a low-level imagery analyst who should probably never have got through the security vetting process.
''There is a cottage industry of writers who claim that bin Laden is not dead, the Israelis were behind the World Trade Centre attack, etc. Of course, it is often very hard to prove the opposite case and may be limited by releasability of information.''