Two successive KGB residents (station chiefs) in Canberra. Photograph of Ivan Stenin (right) during the handover to his successor Geronty Lazovik (left) in 1971.
Russia used its embassy in Canberra to intercept Australian intelligence and political communications, targeting the capital's main telecommunications tower, the Defence Department, Australian electronics firms and the Tidbinbilla space tracking station, according to confidential accounts of ASIO counter-espionage in the Cold War obtained by Fairfax Media.
A detailed listing of Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officers by a former ASIO counter-espionage expert highlights defence technology as a primary intelligence target for GRU officers over more than three decades. The ASIO officer's account highlights the posting of GRU signals intelligence specialists to Canberra following the construction of the Black Mountain telecommunications tower, as the Soviet embassy was well placed to intercept microwave transmissions. Russia mounted antennas on the embassy roof to intercept the traffic.
The Soviets also maintained a keen interest in "satellite tracking and the US 'joint' facilities''.
The document lists numerous espionage cases including that of Vladimir Fedorovich Dobrogorskiy, a GRU officer who was "a clever agent runner who did a lot of counter-surveillance everywhere''.
Posted to Canberra as a trade official in the mid-1970s, Dobrogorskiy was frequently sighted near important facilities in Canberra including HMAS Harman, Russell Hill and ANZAC Park West "where it appeared that he was monitoring something from his car''.
A separate declassified ASIO report from 1975 also reveals that Dobrogorskiy "cultivated an official from the Tidbinbilla tracking station''. "[Dobrogorskiy] saw the official on a number of occasions over … 16 months, using secure communications, counter-surveillance tactics and even offering the official money for his services (the offer was refused)," the ASIO case summary states.
Dobrogorskiy was interested to establish whether there was any exchange of satellite tracking personnel between Tidbinbilla and the newly established US-Australian joint defence facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs.
ASIO's counter-intelligence branch prepared a 43-page brief recommending the Russian's expulsion, but he departed Australia "in odd circumstances" before action was taken.
Following the Combe-Ivanov spy scandal in 1983, Australian security caught a GRU officer named Ryabtsev trying to obtain advanced computer chips that were subject to export controls. But in the aftermath of the embarrassments of the spy scandal, ASIO director-general Harvey Barnett was unable to persuade the Hawke Labor government to take action.