The secret to success

23 April 2015

ANU historian collects prestigious spy-writing award for first official history of Australia’s Secret Intelligence Organisation.

Professor David Horner, from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, has been acknowledged at a British hotel once used by the Secret Intelligence Services as its headquarters.

Horner’s page-turning book, The Spy Catchers, took out the St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award in London on Wednesday night.

Covering the period from 1949 to 1963, The Spy Catchers is the first official history of Australia’s Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The first volume, released in late 2014, sheds new light on a conspiracy theory that ASIO and the government engineered the Petrov defection, specifically to embarrass the Labor Party and keep it out of power.

The book also outlines tactics ASIO used in counterespionage, from embassy bugging to surveillance of local suspects.

The ‘warts and all’ history overturns many other popular myths about the top secret organisation.

“David Horner knows his craft and has produced a hugely impressive account of ASIO’s work, which is greatly deserving of this award,” judges of the St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year prize said.

The hotel, which is in walking distance of Buckingham Palace, has long held a connection with British espionage.

During the 1930s, the Caxton Street building in which it is located, was used by officers of the Secret Intelligence Service (today M16).

During the Second World War, Special Operations Executive used part of the hotel for their first headquarters.  Others to have worked from the building include the Security Service (M15), which at one stage occupied the top two floors.

Horner was granted unfettered access to ASIO’s archives while researching The Spy Catchers, the first of three volumes of the official history of the internal security organisation.

The second volume, covering 1964 to 1975 and the Vietnam War, will be released in 2015. The final volume, covering 1976 to 1989 and the end of the Cold War, will come out in 2016.

Horner also holds the honour of being the only author of two official Australian histories.
The St Ermin’s prize grants Horner £3000 and a stay at the hotel. Other guests are well-advised to keep classified information hush, hush.


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