THE HILTON OPERATION
THE HILTON OPERATION
For Constable Terry Griffiths, the worst thing about the Hilton bombing was that the blast did not render him unconscious. His intelligence recorded it all: the bright orange flash; the sound of glass shattering all down George Street; the flying shrapnel; the cries of the maimed; the grimaces on their faces; the pieces of flesh. Two garbage workers at the back of the council truck were blown apart. One of them, William Favell, was hurled fifty metres through the air. Half a dozen other people were seriously wounded. One, a policeman named Paul Birmistruw, would die ten days later. Terry Griffiths himself was so horribly injured, he can remember being convinced he was going to die. After an operation that barely saved his life, he woke up to find his large bowel hanging out of his body. He stayed that way for two months. Shrapnel had torn a hole in his foot, ripped open his leg, and punctured his body.
Griffiths wasn't even supposed to have worked that night but the NSW Police Department had cancelled all police leave for the CHOGRM conference. Griffiths arrived at the Hilton Hotel sometime after 11PM on 12 February 1978. The shift seemed routine. A few VIP limousines pulled in, dignitaries got out, then disappeared up the escalators into the Hilton Hotel. The only unusual thing was the overflowing rubbish bin outside the hotel. The police joked about how odd it looked to have all this rubbish lying around on the ground outside a luxury Hotel which was hosting such an important gathering of Commonwealth leaders. It was only when he began his own investigation into the Hilton bombing that Terry Griffiths came to realise that the overflowing rubbish bin was no joke.
Two earlier shifts of garbage workers had been prevented from emptying that bin, that was why it was so full. That garbage bin was the only one in Sydney not emptied that weekend. Someone connected with the security operation for the Hilton knew there was a bomb in that bin. For fourteen dogged years, Terry Griffiths has campaigned for a royal commission into the Hilton bombing. In that time he has witnessed an endless procession of cover-up and frame-up by the police. But now Terry Griffiths is closer than he has ever been to his goal. On December 9, NSW parliament unanimously called for a royal commission into the Hilton. The resolution was moved by the shadow Attorney-General, Paul Whelan, and supported by the Attorney-General, Peter Collins, and the Independent, Mr. John Hatton. Emphasising the need for a royal commission, the three men held a joint news conference, at which John Hatton said it was reasonable to suspect that ASIO had planted the bomb. Now only the Federal Attorney-General, Michael Duffy, stands in the way of a royal commission. (2) The morning after the bombing, Superintendent Douglas, the NSW policeman in charge of the operation, was asked why the bin was not searched. He replied "I did not think it was necessary".
He said that NSW police had been sent overseas to train in anti-terrorist tactics, but had not been considered necessary to search the bins. As an ex-NSW police officer, Terry Griffiths finds these comments incredible. The bin with the bomb in it was in one of the most sensitive security areas; it stood only a few metres away from the spot where Malcolm Fraser officially welcomed every head of state. On the 18 November 1972 NSW police permanent circular number 135 was released. The subject: Instruction for the Guidance of Police Dealing with Bomb Threats and the Discovery of Explosives or Suspected Explosive Devices. This outlined official NSW police procedure for dealing with bombs. Not only does this give prominence to searching rubbish bins, but on page 3 figure two, centre left, there is a conspicuous drawing of a rubbish bin. If NSW police received overseas training in anti-terrorist tactics, it certainly wasn't from the New York Police Department. A journalist called Graham Beaton interviewed Inspector Howe of New York's bomb squad on the 14 February 1979 in the Daily Mirror. The inspector said: "Bins would be at the top of our search list. And we would send in the dogs. If they didn't have dogs in Sydney, I feel rather sorry for them. If we had twelve dignitaries staying in one Hotel in New York, we would organise a sweep. First the sniffer dogs, Alsatians trained to detect the slightest trace of dynamite, gunpowder, etc. would go through the area. Then they would go through it again. Rubbish bins would be top of our list. In would go our lookout squads. They would be posted around the building so no one without a special pass could get in. They would be posted round the hotel Q in the lift well, on top of the building, and at every door. We would also have a lookout outside perhaps looking from across the road. Then we would send in the dogs again. They're wonderful in this kind of work. We wouldn't be without them."
Inspector Howe's comments about the importance of sniffer dog teams underlines another concern about the security operation outside the Hilton Hotel. Terry Griffiths has a letter from the ex-corporal in charge of the Dog wing, Keith Burley. In that letter Keith Burley states:
The bin that exploded not searched. It was the only bin in Sydney that was not emptied that weekend. The sniffer dog teams were called off. The most charitable thing that could be said about the security operation outside the Hilton for the CHOGRM conference, was that it was unbelievably incompetent. A more likely explanation is that whoever was in charge of security for the Hilton knew all about the bomb because they ordered it placed there.
The Hilton Operation Begins
There has always been a strong suspicion that ASIO were involved in the Hilton Bombing. To understand the reasons for this suspicion it is necessary to understand the crucial significance of the Hilton Bombing in the development of Australia's political police Q ASIO, the State Special Branches and the military intelligence groups.
Throughout the Cold War, the political police in Australia had seen their role as being concerned with the surveillance of subversives. As opposition to the Vietnam War grew, the political police were used extensively against the growing anti-Vietnam movement. In turn, this mass movement saw the political police as a major threat to Australian democracy. The Campaign against Political Police was born out of the Vietnam Moratorium movement.
This campaign reached its climax in February 1978 when a series of extraordinary political upheavals confronted Australia's political police with the gravest crisis in their history. At this time, the Hilton Bombing provided the means whereby the Australian political police redefined their role from being anti-subversive to being anti-terrorist.
In November 1977, Don Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia, asked Justice White to investigate the nature and extent of security records kept by that state's Special Branch. The release of this report would have catastrophic repercussions for security police throughout Australia. The report demonstrated the extent of political police surveillance of "subversives". More importantly, it showed that this concept of "subversive" was extraordinarily broad. Files were maintained on all ALP candidates and elected members; on all members and activities of the ACTU; on demonstrators and participants in peace movements (even prayer meetings for peace were watched and recorded); and on all members of the South Australian Council for Civil Liberties. Long before the Council was formed, the public utterances of prominent citizens who advocated any form of civil rights and liberties were recorded and indexed. In all, files had been established and built up on a staggering 40,000 people.
According to Justice White, the concept of "subversive" covered everyone with opinions to the left of an arbitrary centre point chosen by someone in Special Branch. Justice White continued: "I have no doubt that the arbitrary centre point was established by Special Branch with the assistance of ASIO."
Another aspect that disturbed Justice White was Special Branch's complete lack of skill in intelligence gathering. They collected gossip and rumours, and after a while this gossip became accepted as fact. Justice White referred to the files as "a mass of records . . . relating to matters, organisations, and persons having no connection with genuine security risks . . . material which I know to be inaccurate, and sometimes scandalously inaccurate, appears in some dossiers."
The South Australian Commissioner of Police, Harold Salisbury, strongly urged that the Government not publish Justice White's report as the effects of publication would be "volcanic", with ramifications that would extend to all state Special Branches, ASIO, and foreign intelligence sources. However, on 17 January 1978, Don Dunstan sacked Police Commissioner, Salisbury for misleading him on the extent of Special Branch files, and published the report.
This event, one month before the Hilton bombing, sent the intelligence community into convulsions. On the same day, Dunstan wrote to Prime Minister Fraser to tell him that South Australian police would no longer act as intermediaries for ASIO. All but two of South Australia's Special Branch were transferred to other units, and those two were retained to help with the destruction of all records that were not to do with genuine security risks. The ramifications of these events were exactly as the sacked Police Commissioner Harold Salisbury had predicted: they shook the secret police in Australia as no other events had. On 20 January , the West Australian opposition called for an Inquiry into its Special Branch, and the next day, the Melbourne Age echoed this concern editorially. In an editorial on 19 January 1978, the Australian commented on the South Australian affair: "It is the size of the surveillance that is disturbing . . . Clearly the latitude given to Special Branch has been immense. It is worthy of a banana republic. It is not worthy of an Australian state."
The issue had assumed such importance that in the week following Salisbury's sacking, The National Times devoted a special issue to the South Australian controversy and the role of the Special Branches in Australian politics. It was called The Political Police - The Extraordinary and Disturbing Behaviour of our Special Branch Police. Federally, ASIO was now embroiled within the burgeoning crisis; there were calls for it to destroy all files no longer relevant to security; and federal cabinet decided to appoint a committee to investigate the relationship between ASIO and the state Special Branches. Strong laws were proposed to curb ASIO's excesses.
The Special Branch controversy widened to include New South Wales, when Don Dunstan detailed an episode that revealed that ASIO files had been given to the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Peter Coleman. A Sydney journalist claimed that ASIO files on five prominent left-wingers had been made available to him by Coleman in 1971. These files were to be used in a magazine called ' The Analysis ' which was to prepare articles on the basis of information supplied by ASIO to discredit radical individuals, in particular members of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee. One of the files had been prepared by South Australian Special Branch for purely political purposes.
This seemed to be a damming example of the political misuse of intelligence information: Secret Police files were to be used as a party political weapon. It confirmed deeply held left-wing and ALP fears that the secret police were a secret arm of the conservative parties. The Privacy Committee of the NSW parliament began examining the files of NSW's Special Branch on Jan 23. On February 9 (four days before the Hilton Bombing) Premier Neville Wran announced that a judicial inquiry would be held into the links between NSW Special Branch and ASIO, and also into the connection between them and the leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Peter Coleman. The inquiry was to investigate the allegations that Coleman was involved with a scheme to use ASIO documents to discredit people. It threatened to become a major political scandal. The establishment of this Inquiry was due to be announced on February 14, the day after the Hilton Bombing. It was on this day that the sniffer dog squad was called off.
It seems it was at this stage that the Hilton Operation began. Someone very high up in the security forces decided that the political police could rescue their position with a publicity stunt. A bomb was going to be found in a rubbish bin outside the CHOGRM conference at the Hilton Hotel. It was to be planted Saturday morning before the heads of state arrived. It would be discovered after a warning phone call on Monday morning. The press were to be alerted too. A blaze of pro-political police publicity would follow. All that had to be done was to keep people away from the garbage bin.
The Warning Phone Call
The Hilton Operation ran strictly according to plan up until 12.30AM on the Monday morning. Two garbage pick-ups were prevented by the NSW police. Whoever planted the bomb was well aware of the garbage collection times. Another garbage collection was due at 1AM Monday morning. At 12.30AM the warning phone call was made. (Terry Griffiths says another police officer told him the warning phone call was made by a Sergeant in Special Branch who had been observing the scene outside the Hilton in a red torana, a police observation car. The warning phone caller rang the police switchboard and asked to speak to Special Branch. It was 12.30AM Monday morning. Normally, Special Branch would not be there at that hour, though the phone caller seemed to believe they would be. (Indeed, the same person called back an hour later at 1.30Am and again asked to speak to Special Branch.) After the phone rang a few times, the police telephonist transferred the call to the sergeant in charge of the CIB, Cec Streetfield. The Hilton Operation had begun to unravel.
What Streetfield did on being informed of the bomb, is one of the mysteries of the Hilton. What he did not do is notorious: he did not warn the police outside the Hilton over the police radio. Streetfield testified before the Hilton Inquest in 1982. According to Terry Griffiths, he told a pack of lies. According to Streetfield, the phone caller said: "Dere is a bomb in der bin outside der Hilton Hotel." The phone caller then rang the Sydney Morning Herald and told them they might be interested in what was about to happen outside the Hilton Hotel. The Hilton Operation continued to fall apart. The garbage collection truck was running twenty minutes early that night. They arrived outside the Hilton at 12.40AM before the bomb was found.
The Hilton Fallout
The blast transformed the Australian political climate in favour of Prime Minister Fraser's beliefs in strong security measures, against the softer "civil liberties" line adopted by Wran and Don Dunstan. The public debate over security matters would be now totally overshadowed by the psychology of terror and terrorist danger. The newspaper headlines, which for the past month had been taken up with the Special Branch issue, were now dominated by the Terrorist Threat. Images of sinister, hooded men in balaclavas - the "terrorists" - stared from newspaper pages. Against a background of bullet holes, they clutched their machine guns tightly. The Hilton Hotel bombing was "a political baptism", the papers declared. Terrorism (the "Cowardly killer that knows no innocents") had "come to Sydney". The Sydney Morning Herald said, "Australia this week had a new and shocking experience. It was our first full taste of Twentieth Century terrorism."
The Herald declared the Hilton Hotel Bombing an "ugly new dimension" in "reckless political violence". The day after the Bombing, the leader of the Country Party in New South Wales, Mr. Punch, called for a widening of the powers of Special Branch. "Terrorism in Australia is now a fact of life" conceded Neville Wran.
For the political police, the newspaper beat-up of the Terrorist Threat was an amazing transformation in their political fortunes. In the aftermath of the bombing both Wran and Dunstan backed away from their decisions to investigate the links between ASIO and Special Branch and retreated from their threats to abolish Special Branch. In both cases, the Bombing was a major factor. Wran announced he would not proceed with the inquiry to investigate the links between ASIO and the leader of the Opposition, Peter Coleman. The Canberra Times reported Malcolm Fraser had pressured Wran to abandon the inquiry "in the light of the bombing". Dunstan decided to maintain his state's Special Branch, claiming that tragedies like the Sydney bombing established the need for a genuine security branch. A damaging chain reaction had been aborted. The attacks on Special Branches were stopped. ASIO stocks, which were at an all time low, before the bombing, rose dramatically.
Three weeks after the bombing, a new bill was tabled that gave ASIO vastly increased powers. ASIO's new powers included the interception of mail, telegrams and telexes; the use of bugging devices; legal break-ins and searches. Disclosure of ASIO agents identities was to become a criminal offence. ASIO's illegal violation of rights were to become legal violations of rights.
In this regard, the Hilton Operation was an unqualified success. But something had gone incredibly wrong. The bomb had exploded when it had been picked up by a garbage truck. Three people had been killed. Public pressure on the police to solve the crime was enormous. The newspapers demanded that the culprits be found. Many were suggesting that the security forces themselves had organised the bombing. Someone needed to be made the patsy. Within a year of the bombing, there were two bombing conspiracy cases in NSW which were widely regarded as frame-ups: the Ananda Marga trio and the Croatian Six. (6)
"There are many questions that have been asked for thirteen and a half years," says Terry Griffiths, "and they have been officially avoided. We would like to find out who was the person who told police to wave the garbage men on. As a policeman and a victim I would like to know why permanent circular 135 of 1972 was not adhered to. Why wasn't the rubbish bin searched? Why wasn't that area Q which was top security Q constantly combed by the security forces? Why were the military Q in particular the Dog Squad Q not where they should have been? Why were they withdrawn?" "It seems that the normal routine anti-terrorist procedures were not followed."
Was the Hilton Bombing the result of a remarkable series of bungles and coincidences? Terry Griffiths believes not. He believes there is a simple explanation for why the Dog Squad were called off; why the bin was not searched; why the garbage trucks were waved away. Security forces involved with the operation knew there was a bomb in the bin. It was going to be discovered just before the garbage collection arrived. That was the purpose of the warning call. ) Terry Griffiths is particularly critical of the 1982 Hilton Inquest and the numerous attempts by the police to accuse members of Ananda Marga for the bombing.
"Det Sgt. Jackson, one of the police involved at that 1982 Hilton Inquest, stated at the recent Anderson trial that the police knew that some of Seary's evidence was false."
Special Branch agent Richard Seary claimed at the Inquest that Ananda Marga members Ross Dunn and Paul Alister had confessed to him they were the Hilton bombers. Sgt. Jackson said it was well-known by the police at the time that Alister was in Adelaide at the time of the bombing and could not have been responsible for putting the bomb in the bin. Yet no one told the coroner who concluded there was a prima facie case against Paul Alister for being the Hilton Bomber. Terry Griffiths believes the conduct of the 1982 Hilton Inquest should also be investigated at a Royal Commission. "I believe there was evidence that that Inquiry was a huge cover-up and the police were part and parcel of that cover-up."
Griffiths is also very critical of claims made this year that another Ananda Marga member was responsible for the Hilton Bombing. The Sixty Minutes programme alarmed him because it appeared to me to be an unofficial ASIO public relations exercise. Years after the Hilton Inquest; after the trial of Tim Anderson and his acquittal; notorious Special Branch informer, Richard Seary and an unnamed ASIO agent called "Ron" alleged a new unnamed Ananda Marga member was the mastermind of the Hilton Bombing. Griffiths points out it has taken these men fourteen years to come forward. "We go from 1979 to 1991 with all those avenues to have those matters aired and for the evidence to be investigated by the court and not one mention of this suspect."
On the use of Seary as a reliable witness, Griffiths was scathing. "I don't think it was correct to put Seary up as a credible witness when it is a matter of public record that he has no credit with the courts in this state. Justice Wood said his evidence was not credible. When a judge says he is not a credible witness, I think it is remiss for anyone to put him forward as a credible witness and I don't think that should be done. The way that programme was put together it seemed like it was a staged reply to the questions that Ted Mack was asking in the Federal Parliament."
"Who are the people who cancelled the dog squad? Why haven't we been able to subpoena key personal like Superintendent Douglas to give evidence at any previous court case. They are the people we should start questioning first. These things have never been brought into evidence. We have had all this stupidity about Ananda Marga, and yet we don't even know what type of explosives were used in the bombing. "
"We have always had somebody who is charged, convicted and then freed - made the patsy for it. Now we have a new patsy for the Hilton Bombing. It doesn't gel with me. In my opinion it was a media event that went wrong, and in my opinion there is more than enough evidence to suggest that members of our own security force were responsible for the bombing."
Published on February 13, 2003, to commemorate the 25th anniversary
Who planted the bomb that killed two garbagemen and a police officer? The courts jailed the wrong man and after years of false imprisonment Tim Anderson was set free. Evan Pederick, who said he did it and offered himself up for jail, later said perhaps he was mistaken about his confession and now is studying to be a Church of England priest. Police who were shown to have falsely claimed they arrested men with a bomb, kept their jobs, their bravery medals, their promotions and their salary increases.
Did the Ananda Marga cult do it?
Can we ever name the Hilton bomber/s?
Behind the Hilton bombing
Bombs, Bliss & Baba the spiritual authobiography behind the Hilton bombing, by Paul Alister. A new book on the Hilton bombing, from a person/spiritual perspective by one of the three originally implicated in the bombing. Also the author of this site. Complete chapters on the arrest, imprisonment, trails and Hilton Inquest can be read here.
Other good books to read on the Hilton case are:
If you want to know all the latest in Australian prison activism, visit the Justice Action site,by Breakout Design & Print, exercising good corporate citizenship.
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This Bulletin article was published Aug 2005: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/site/articleIDs/
This is interesting also: http://www.anarres.org.au/essays/terorism.htm