Friday, November 05, 2021

I spy, with my little eye, ... something beginning with ... U (UFOs) ... or was it F (Flying saucers)?

Back in March 2021 I was checking out some new books at a local book shop when I noticed one called With my little eye - The incredible true story of a family of spies in the suburbs by Sandra Hogan.  Checking the back blurb had me hooked straight away. The name "Dudley Doherty" was mentioned.  I had been aware of his name for decades but realised I couldn't publish it, as he was an ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) agent and it was an offence for Australians under the ASIO act to name an ASIO agent's name (living or dead), unless the government released the name.

I first learnt of Dudley Doherty via Stan Seers, the former president of the Brisbane, Queensland based group the Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau, during the 1980s.  He had written about his encounters with the man from ASIO in his own memoir UFOs - the case for Scientific myopia(1983).

I wrote an account of what Stan Seers described in UFO Sub Rosa Down Under, my 1996 on-line supplement to my book The OZ Files - the Australian UFO Story:

In 1959, after a clandestine car park rendezvous (between DD & Stan Seers), to initiate a covert relationship, the agent, D___D___, got down to the nitty gritty. He wanted Seers to “play ball” with ASIO, on a strictly confidential basis. The agent stated that in the event of any really “hot” UFO information - landings, contacts, etc., he would if necessary put Seers in direct telephone communication with Prime Minister Bob Menzies. 

Stan Seers reacted, “I recall thinking how hilariously stupid the whole affair sounded, and remember having some trouble for a minute or so keeping a straight face?” 

When Seers subsequently told D__ that he had discussed the covert “offer” with the rest of the QFSRB committee, the ASIO man was furious. The upshot of this was that it appeared the agent virtually successfully destabilised the group. Within a year Seers resigned, only to be coached back two years later. But still the group “found it impossible to completely shake off the attentions of the man from ASIO.” He remained in close contact with the group for eleven years, until his death in 1970. 

The abiding theme was that the ASIO man was only interested in data acquired by covert means. The intelligence ethic demands that quality intelligence is only acquired by clandestine means. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and often such information serves the purpose of placing upon previously innocuous events a sinister aura and consequently sometimes leading to an incorrect interpretation by the intelligence analyst. The whole thing snowballs until the clandestine version bares little resemblance to the reality of the original event. 

As Seers cogently states in his book: 

“The one surprising feature of all this rank stupidity on the part of the powers that be is the proven fact that all research groups have always been more than happy to pass on to them any material, or information, that came their way. On one occasion ASIO requested from the Queensland group the loan of all 37 pages of their copy of the Boianai sighting reports for microfilming. When the loaned material was returned, a free microfilmed copy (still in my possession) came with it” 

Stan Seers, privately, told me the real name of the ASIO agent – Dudley Doherty. Some other members of the group regarded the affair a little differently, but the general essence of the strange dynamic was correct. British writer Timothy Good described the episode in his book Above Top Secret(1987) and in the updated edition Beyond Top Secret (1996), in which he actually named Dudley Doherty. He did not have the restriction of the ASIO act applying to him.

Dudley Doherty provided the “intelligence” that informed an ASIO file on the Queensland group – which was a typical assessment of the era. The informing mantra was “the red threat” – the communist bogey – and as the parents in law of the group’s secretary has some left leanings, it apparently drove the ASIO monitoring of the group.  During that period the group had innocently driven the unwarranted attention of ASIO because they sought information from Russian sources about contemporary reporting that Russian scientists were divided over whether the famous 1908 Tunguska event was the result of some natural astronomical source or it involved an extraterrestrial spaceship.

The 2014 publication of the first volume of the official history of ASIO – The Spy Catchersby David Horner actually described parts of the significant work of Dudley and Joan Doherty did in their ASIO roles, removing the restriction on Australian researchers of using their names. 

This allowed author Sandra Hogan to provide an account of the human side of an ASIO family – a fascinating story and well worth reading. There is little about UFOs or flying saucers in the book, but it does describe the early flirtation that Dudley Doherty, his family and his children had with the flying saucer mystery. This is told from the delightful perspective of the recollections of the children, in particular Sue-Ellen.  On whether their parents Dudley and Joan Doherty believed in UFOs, quite possibly the book suggests, but the kids later joked their parents “had been looking for communists in outer space.” Back in those days it didn’t take much to come under the watch of ASIO, and the Doherty family led by Dudley, who clearly also had ASIO driven agendas, helped feed the contemporary ASIO mantra, that people and organisations with unusual objectives had to be watched, just in case it wasn’t saucers from “the red planet”, both rather more pedestrian “red” or “pink” threats in earthly guises. Other UFO groups in Australia also got some unwarranted attention from ASIO, but none to the extent of Queensland’s UFO group. They had Dudley Doherty and his family of lovely “spies” to help tilt at cosmic or earthly “bogies” that might be lurking in the cosmic obsessions of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  

There were many other “UFO threads” that seemed to attract ASIO interests over the years, but I wanted to attract your attention to the wonderfully told story in Sandra Hogan’s book With my little eye, that gives a moving, funny and poignant story of an Australian family, who through the father, then mother, had become “foot soldiers in Australia’s battle against Soviet infiltration during the Cold War” – a compelling and intimate story that also invokes a potent tale of alienation of a non-UFO kind.  


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