National Archives of Australia

Issue 4 October 2011

What a gem! ASIO counterespionage on film

National Archives staff often unearth exciting or unusual records from among the millions of items held in the collection. These records are placed on the Archives’ Gems Register. ‘What a gem!’ showcases amazing finds from the Archives’ collection. In this issue, Your Memento presents Legal Resident – an ASIO training film from 1963.


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A Soviet diplomatic official with a legitimate presence in a foreign country was designated a ‘legal resident’. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union organised these legal residents throughout the world for the systematic conduct of espionage.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, more than 20 Soviet spies, working within the framework of the embassy’s diplomatic staff in Australia, were identified by ASIO. Ivan Skripov, First Secretary of the Russian Embassy, was one of them.

On 7 February 1963, the Australian Government declared Ivan Skripov persona non grata because of his preparations for espionage against the country. Skripov and his family were swiftly expelled from Australia.

This Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) training film, entitled Legal Resident, shows surveillance footage of Skripov meeting with an Australian woman he thought was his agent, but who in reality was working for ASIO. ‘Sylvia’ appears in the film and relates her involvement with Skripov, including details of the invisible ink he used to correspond with her.

According to the Hon BM Snedden, Attorney-General of Australia from 1964 to 1966, Legal Resident ‘shows beyond all doubt the need to protect Australia’s secrets from those who deliberately try to steal them’.

The Archives holdings cover a range of activities undertaken by ASIO since it was formed in 1949. This includes more than 200 surveillance and training films created or collected by ASIO, most of which date from the 1950s and early 1960s. The films were produced to assist with the security education and training of the public services, and deal with subjects such as protective security, physical and document security, the social approach to the recruitment of spies, and blackmail attempts.

Want more?

Many of the Archives’ records relating to Ivan Skripov, including his ASIO files, surveillance photographs and images of espionage paraphernalia, have been digitised and can be viewed via RecordSearch. Simply enter the keywords ‘Ivan Skripov’ in the basic search window.

Learn more about the Archives’ records on Australia’s security and intelligence

Read about ASIO films held by the Archives

Fact sheets on security and intelligence

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