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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

SOMERTON MAN: The Background, was ASIO involved?



This is the first of 5 posts on 'The Background', each will address aspects that may have a bearing on the Somerton Man case and that have generally been overlooked or perhaps not considered to sufficient depth.

This first post looks at the question: 
'Could the South Australian Police have fabricated evidence in the Somerton Man case?' Let's start by looking at the formation of ASIO and why it came into being..

March 16th. 1949
ASIO Formed



Justice Geoffrey Sandford Reed
First Director General of ASIO

From the ANU website, a brief overview of Reed's appointment and the early months of ASIO, the following is an extract from that web page:

'From May 1941 Reed was chairman of the South Australian National Security Advisory Committee. The Federal government appointed him to undertake a number of security-related inquiries: he investigated the lack of co-operation between civilian and military intelligence agencies, heard (1943) charges against Lieutenant Colonel R. F. B. Wake, head of the Queensland office of the Commonwealth Security Service, and examined (1944) breaches of national security regulations in Hobart. In 1945 he carried out an inquiry into the court-martial and detention system in the army, and chaired a royal commission into the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Two years later he headed a royal commission into allegations of improper payments to the Tasmanian premier (Sir) Robert Cosgrove. In December 1948 the Commonwealth solicitor-general (Sir) Kenneth Bailey sought Reed's suggestions about a 'new security service'.

Reed's appointment for a twelve-month term as Commonwealth director-general of security was announced on 2 March 1949. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization came into existence a fortnight later when Reed received a charter from Prime Minister J. B. Chifley setting out his authority and responsibilities. The principal reasons behind the decision to establish A.S.I.O. lay in a serious but unsolved Soviet espionage case, and increasing allied (especially British) pressure for Australia to address its security shortcomings. Chifley's government was also influenced by widespread industrial unrest fomented by the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Australia. Reed faced a difficult and politically delicate task. He set about his job in a dedicated and methodical manner, his integrity and bipartisan approach winning him the early confidence of his political masters.

The new organization made its presence felt within a few months. By June 1949 the prime minister had authorized the first telephone-interception operations and on 8 July C.P.A. headquarters in Sydney was raided at A.S.I.O.'s direction. Reed was successful in obtaining money and staff. A.S.I.O., modelled on its British counterpart, Military Intelligence 5 (M.I.5), grew rapidly. (Sir) Robert Menzies, who replaced Chifley as prime minister in December 1949, became a strong supporter of the service, and Reed's term as director-general was extended until 30 June 1950.'
Those with an interest in the happenings in Australia as far as Intelligence and security were concerned during the years 1948/49 can find a series of links here..

I found the foregoing information most interesting firstly because of the dates and secondly because of the mention of a 'serious unsolved Soviet espionage case'. Were they referring to the Venona leaks or to another, unnamed, case that became known after December 1st. 1948? In a later post, we will  refer to those possibilities.

Was there an ASIO involvement with the Somerton Man case? 

From a timeline perspective, it was certainly possible that ASIO could have been involved especially given the fact that one or more of the newly recruited ex Police Officers, came from South Australia, including Ray Whitrod.  Mr Whitrod had joined SAPOL in 1934 being appointed as a detective in 1937, he left the Police service 1941 to join the Air Force as a Navigator serving in Europe and Africa. At the end of hostilities, he rejoined SAPOL. Mr Whitrod has always been referred to as an 'Honest Cop'. It would be interesting to know which other SA Police officers may have also joined ASIO in 1949.

It is worthy of note that another founder director was a man called Robert Frederick Bird Wake, appointed by Justice Reed, it is generally thought that Wake was, in reality, the man in charge of operations from day one of ASIO. Wake, a Lieutenant Colonel, was, in 1943, accused by General Blamey of being an incompetent who made use of 'lewd' women as agents and who had lost the trust of Australia's American Allies. He was exonerated following an enquiry by Justice Reed and went on to be head of Commonwealth Security Services in Queensland from which post he was recruited into ASIO. We will revisit Colonel Wake in a later post.

Why this Post?

The purpose of this post is to ascertain if possible, whether or not the Police service at that time had the capability/inclination to create or perhaps even modify additional evidence in the Somerton Man case.

As you will read below, one author certainly seemed to think so.

There are a number of books relating to the History of ASIO and amongst them, there is one entitled:

'The Australian Security Intelligence Organization: An Unofficial History' more here..


The following extracts from the book I found to be very interesting:

You will note that the author has a certain perspective about ASIO and, in particular, has words to say about the techniques and experience brought to the organisation by some of the ex-Police recruits. 

These 'attributes' were put to great use no doubt but they also give some credence to the thought that there was intrinsically something 'not quite right' about the evidence in the Somerton Man case.




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