National Archives of Australia

1960s October 2011

Legal Resident: transcript

Narrator: On Thursday 7th February 1963, the evening newspapers across Australia carried banner headlines over the story that unmasked Ivan Skripov to the world as a Soviet spy. Skripov was declared persona non grata, that is, no longer acceptable to Australia, and within seven days he and his family left the country. Now his story can be told in the hope that it will alert Australians that this country holds secrets that the Russians want.

Mr Skripov, as mentioned earlier, was one of the first arrivals. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO, left Mr Skripov alone for over a year while he explored his new environment. He visited all the standard tourist attractions, including Taronga Park Zoo, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Coogee and other Sydney beaches.

At the end of the year he knew all about Canberra and Sydney, and he was quite convinced ASIO had forgotten him. But they hadn’t.

They were there at Taronga Park Zoo to photograph his first clandestine meeting with ‘Sylvia’ – the Australian woman who helped to unmask him.


Actress: I am ‘Sylvia’. When I first met Ivan Fedorovich Skripov in March of 1961 I didn’t know that he had been in Australia almost two years. I didn’t know what he was really doing. In fact, I never knew his name was Ivan Skripov until he was declared persona non grata. I simply knew him as John.

There was a good deal I did not know and over the months the officials of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – known as ASIO – who monitored my contact with Skripov from the day I met him, had to explain it to me. The beginning was simple enough because I did know what a diplomat was and something about what diplomats do. Our meetings for the first year or so were uneventful and ASIO couldn’t quite decide what Mr Skripov wanted. He gave me 425 pounds, which I handed to ASIO, and presents for Christmas. We had almost given up hope when Mr Skripov finally showed his true colours by giving me some red capsules and a small bottle of fluid to bring up secret writings test. His instructions were most meticulous.

He told me I would receive a friendly letter through the post from time to time signed by ‘Theresa’. On the reverse side of the letter there would be important instructions for me printed in secret ink. To bring up the secret message I’d need, as well as the capsules and the fluid, a kettle of boiling water, a rubber glove, some cotton wool, a tumbler and a teaspoon.

I had first to put three teaspoons of the liquid into a glass, then dissolve one capsule in it. The liquid is colourless, suspiciously like vodka as a matter of fact. I was told, before applying it, to steam the letter but I think Mr Skripov must have got his instructions from Moscow mixed up because it works just as well if you don’t steam the letter first. The glove is necessary when handling this liquid because if it gets on your skin it will turn it purple. The letter is swabbed, then steamed again.


Actress: Watch now as the secret writing appears in the top left-hand corner. Actually, his first letter was only a test so I could practise bringing up the secret writing.

Our meetings continued at night after the second test. The run you are looking at was photographed at Coogee. They were hair-raising for me because I never knew when or if Mr Skripov would find out about me. But he didn’t, and we finally struck a real thing.

This message sent me to a grave in a Sydney cemetery, and here under a gravestone I found a small packet to be brought to Mr Skripov.

Narrator: ASIO opened this packet before it was passed on and through a series of still photographs taken at the time we propose to show you how ASIO goes about this delicate business.

This is the fully wrapped package. The first fold of the paper is carefully turned back. The package is measured and photographed. The outer wrapper off, there was a plastic wrapper secured by rubber bands. This plastic wrapper was a bag, and inside was this further paper wrapper. Inside again was a wallet. Inside the wallet was an ordinary Canadian passport issued to a Mr Andrew Huha, who was born in Czechoslavkia.

And loose inside the passport was this photograph. This is a high-ranking officer of the Soviet illegal intelligence network just like Rudolf Abel and Gordon Lonsdale. Possibly, he was living in Australia late in 1962, but we don’t know what his name was. When his picture was put in Huha’s passport, he could travel as Andrew Huha. If you knew this man, or have seen him, let the security service know.

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