JOHN PILGER: The Forgotten Coup Against ‘The Most Loyal Ally’

John Pilger reports on a new development in the Anglo-American coup in which the CIA overthrew a democratically elected ally in Australia in a demeaning scandal in which sections of the Australian elite colluded.

By John Pilger
Special to Consortium News

The Australian High Court has ruled that correspondence between the Queen and the Governor-General of Australia, her viceroy in the former British colony, is no longer “personal” and the property of Buckingham Palace. Why does this matter?

Secret letters written in 1975 by the Queen and her man in Canberra, Sir John Kerr, can now be released by the National Archives. Kerr infamously sacked the reformist government of the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, and delivered Australia into the hands of the United States.

Today, Australia is a vassal state bar none: its politics, intelligence agencies, military and much of its media are integrated into Washington’s “sphere of dominance” and war plans. In Donald Trump’s current provocations of China, the U.S. bases in Australia are described as the “tip of the spear”. 

There is an historical amnesia among Australia’s polite society about the catastrophic events of 1975. An Anglo-American coup overthrew a democratically elected ally in a demeaning scandal in which sections of the Australian elite colluded. This is largely unmentionable. The stamina and achievement of the Australian historian Jenny Hocking in forcing the High Court’s decision are exceptional.

The Truth of the Coup

Phuoc Hai, South Vietnam. 26 August 1967. Troops of 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) wait for a huge U.S. Chinook helicopter to leave the ground before returning to base after Operation Ulmarra. The Chinook lifted the soldiers to Nui Dat from the fishing village which had been searched for Viet Cong (VC) activity. (Wikimedia)

Gough Whitlam was driven from government on Nov. 11, 1975. When he died six years ago, his achievements were recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. The truth of the coup against him, it was hoped, would be buried with him.

During the Whitlam years, 1972-75, Australia briefly achieved independence and became intolerably progressive.

The last Australian troops were ordered home from their mercenary service to the American assault on Vietnam. Whitlam’s ministers publicly condemned U.S. barbarities as “mass murder” and the crimes of “maniacs”. The Nixon administration was corrupt, said the Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Cairns, and called for a boycott of American trade.  In response, Australian dockers refused to unload American ships.

Whitlam moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement and called for a Zone of Peace in the Indian ocean, which the U.S. and Britain opposed. He demanded France cease its nuclear testing in the Pacific. In the UN, Australia spoke up for the Palestinians. Refugees fleeing the CIA-engineered coup in Chile were welcomed into Australia.

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An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”.

Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”.

In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.

Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the U.S. in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” for the CIA.

Whitlam’s gathering enemies took note. U.S. diplomatic cables published in 2013 by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.

Gough Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should no longer be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO, which was then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the U.S. bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon wrote: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”

Alarm in Washington rose to fury when, in the early hours of March 16, 1973, Whitlam’s Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, led a posse of Federal police in a raid on the Melbourne offices of ASIO. Since its inception in 1949, ASIO had become as powerful in Australia as the CIA in Washington. A leaked file on Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns described him as a dangerous figure who would bring about “the destruction of the democratic system of government”.

ASIO’s real power derived from the UKUSA Treaty, with its secret pact of loyalty to foreign intelligence organisations – notably the CIA and MI6. This was demonstrated dramatically when the (now defunct) National Times published extracts from tens of thousands of classified documents under the headline, “How ASIO Betrayed Australia to the Americans.”

Pine Gap

Australia is home to some of the most important spy bases in the world. Whitlam demanded to know the CIA’s role and if and why the CIA was running the “joint facility” at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. As documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed in 2013, Pine Gap allows the U.S. to spy on everyone.

“Try to screw us or bounce us,” the Australian prime minister warned the U.S. ambassador, Walter Rice, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.

Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House… a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”

Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally” he witnessed. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and was spying on phone calls and Telex messages.

In an interview with the Australian author and investigative journalist, William Pinwell, Boyce revealed one name as especially important. The CIA referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.

Kerr was not only the Queen’s man and a passionate monarchist, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of The Wall Street Journal in his book, “The Crimes of Patriots”, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”.

Kerr was also funded by the Asia Foundation, exposed in Congress as a conduit for CIA influence and money. The CIA, wrote Kwitny, “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige, even paid for his writings … Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.

Whitlam in 1968 (Flickr)

When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives.

One of Green’s first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors, described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.

The Americans worked closely with the British. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.”

In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”

Shackley in Saigon, 1972.

On Nov. 10, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier. Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam.

It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. Brian Toohey, editor of the National Times, disclosed that the warning carried the authority of Henry Kissinger, destroyer of Chile and Cambodia.

Having removed the heads of both Australian intelligence agencies, ASIO and ASIS, Whitlam was now moving against the CIA. He called for a list of all “declared” CIA officers in Australia. Something had to be done, and quickly.

The day before the Shackley cable arrived, Sir John Kerr visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA, where he was secretly briefed on the “security crisis”. It was during that weekend in November, according to a CIA source, that the CIA’s “demands” were passed to Kerr via the British.

 On Nov. 11, 1975 – the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister.

The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.

The destruction of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile four years earlier, and of scores of other governments that have questioned the divine right of American might and violence since 1945 was replicated in the most loyal of American allies, often described as “the lucky country”.

Only the form of the crushing of  democracy in Australia in 1975 and its cover up differed. Imagine a Whitlam today standing up to Trump and Pompeo. Imagine the same courage and defiance, imagination and principle. Well, it happened.

Abridged from “The Coup”, in John Pilger’s book, A Secret Country, Vintage Books, London. See also Pilger’s film, Other People’s Wars

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist and filmmaker based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: In 2017, the British Library announced a John Pilger Archive of all his written and filmed work. The British Film Institute includes his 1979 film, “Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia,” among the 10 most important documentaries of the 20thcentury. Some of his previous contributions to Consortium News can be found here.  

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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19 comments for “JOHN PILGER: The Forgotten Coup Against ‘The Most Loyal Ally’

  1. June 5, 2020 at 02:39

    John. Thank you for this very interesting article. I often produce monologues for the YouTube channel Caroline Stephens seeking the truth. I am thinking that at the same time that Gough was in charge pf Australia, the UK was being taken into the EEC on 1.1.73. Australia was supposed to have had a Referendum at this time. The UK had a Referendum in 1975 the same year as Gough was removed. Have you looked into this aspect at all? As the Brexit Campaign Manager for the Referendum and with 17.4m Brits voting for out together with my personal links with constitutional experts in Australia, I feel sure you may unearth something major.

    Thank you for what you are doing.

  2. bardamu
    June 2, 2020 at 14:20

    The time may have arrived for an institutional analysis of intelligence-agency authoritarianism conducted along the lines of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s late-80s Manufacturing Consent or, in some ways, like Edward Luttwak’s earlier Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook. At some point, understanding torture gulag and trafficking and also internecine conflict within Western oligarchies will require a working matrix of principles that might explain so-called “intelligence” institutions as full-time purveyors of conspiracy.

    Of course, a lot of information about the domestic operations of these agencies remains difficult to extract. But we might propose that the same institution does not operate in one way on Tuesday and another on Friday, nor in any way too drastically different in the foreign office than what it does in the home office. The fact that there are departmental differences (information gathering, with some value placed on accuracy, versus disinformation and black ops, with very different values) should not obscure the institutional coordination and symbiosis between these, nor the articulation involved in allowing them to relate yet operate separately, typically in relative ignorance of one another.

    Since this sort of operation must have central principles to coordinate, we should be able to look at the somewhat more exposed operations in foreign countries and infer from that central motivations and domestic operations as well, eventually approaching a fairly full picture. We should probably have a look at the sort of operation that Pilger describes here along with Phoenix and Contragate and the October Surprise and thereby inform ourselves more quickly of the sort of barrage of disinformation that accompanies elections and shifts in policy.

    • Bob Van Noy
      June 3, 2020 at 08:49

      Really excellent reply bardamu, thank you…

  3. Patrick Donnelly
    June 2, 2020 at 11:00

    And the Bali bombings…. at least we did not allow an atrocity in Oz…..

    What about Kevin Rudds removal?

  4. AnneR
    June 2, 2020 at 10:27

    Thank you Mr Pilger for this enlightening article. And, of course, one providing a window onto a depressingly familiar set of facts.

    Another (as if more were really needed) reason that the monarchy in the UK should be (should have been decades ago) eradicated, and its members turfed off the public purse, forced to actually earn a real living and pay full taxes. (Brenda anyway has more than enough wealth salted away somewhere to feed the whole bloody island on a regular basis for quite a while.)

    Cannot trust the Brit upper classes/aristos (and I say that as someone born into the lower working classes of England) ever, at all, on anything. Nor the Tories, nor the Thatcherite so-called “Labour” party…. they all behave in very similar ways to the Kerrs (Curs?) of this world. A mix of vassal and imperialist, thus they are more than willing to hitch their mini-wagon to the back of the US eighteen wheeler. While forgetting that the British Isles are a tiny blob – blot really – on the planet.

    (The UK has its “Pine Gap” – or “Gaps” – too.)

  5. Stevie Boy
    June 2, 2020 at 10:02

    Unfortunately, what is true for Oz is also true for the other menmbers of the ‘Five Eyes’ – or is that ‘Five Ayes’ ?

    • Luther Bliss
      June 4, 2020 at 11:36

      >> In 1962, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Livingston Merchant, fuelled a plot among the Canadian Air Forces, Canadian journalists and others to dispose of Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Kennedy hated Dief largely for his anti-nuclear stance. <>“There are many intelligence studies being conducted right now on the dismemberment of Canada and the opportunity for the United States to acquire additional states,” says the source, an expert at a major think-tank who acts as an adviser to the White House and the CIA. “It is conceded within the intelligence community that Ontario would never come in but the feeling is that there are very good chances for British Columbia, Alberta and possibly Saskatchewan.” Canadians, he adds, are naïve about the “imperial American mind” and continuing U.S. expansionism.<<


  6. Skip Scott
    June 2, 2020 at 08:29

    A great view of Australia’s history that has obvious parallels today. The destruction of the Sanders and especially the Gabbard campaigns come to mind. The Empire will not go down quietly. These kinds of facts need to sink into the minds of the LEV folks out there obsessed with their TDS. They have been distracted by Theater to keep them from seeing the real source of our problems.

    Maybe Biden will form a consensus panel to guide us forward. Yeah, right! A smoother talking warmonger from column B will fix everything if his dementia doesn’t progress too quickly. Hope springs eternal.

  7. Tom Kath
    June 1, 2020 at 21:28

    Great stuff John ! Especially for someone like me here in Australia who still looks back on the Whitlam years as Australia’s “finest hour”. Until now, I never really knew WHY that was the high point in Australia’s history to date.
    As for the low points, they are getting ever lower with Assange now also betrayed by a nation of Kerrs.

  8. Sam F
    June 1, 2020 at 20:20

    Thank you, John Pilger, for this essential chapter of Australian history.
    The US people are just as unaware that anti-democratic secret agencies run the US pseudo-democracy with lies and excuses, waving the flag, praising the lord, and “defending democracy” by overthrowing democracy. Secret agents need only fearmongering, the product of tyrants as Aristotle warned, because in fact most hate and fear democracy.

    • Bob Van Noy
      June 2, 2020 at 08:45

      Insightful comment Sam F., thank you. Indeed we don’t know this history. As a long time researcher on CIA involvement in Vietnam I have been puzzled at how fluidly they moved their terrible dealings especially drugs from Vietnam to Australia. Thank you John Pilger for showing us the Australian side for perhaps the first time. It’s always the same group from Shackley to the Nugan Hand Bank…

      Sparticus-Educational dot com/JFKnuganbank.htm

    • Diki Discreet
      June 3, 2020 at 22:00

      I think it’s important to see more stories regarding Australia’s subservience to The Empire. Well along with the motherland UK of course. It’s important to note we have a big difference in policies compared with our friendly neighbor New Zealand. For instance 2003, NZ Pm Helen Clark criticized the Invasion of Iraq without an explicit United Nations mandate, and her government opposed New Zealand military action in the Iraq War. Conversely, our Pm John Coward, supported the Neo-cons throughout their invasions on Iraq and Afghanistan. As I said in a previous post Our Government has become “PissWeak” to use an Aussie term . Fattened by capitalism. In Australia we can apparently recycle and replace our leaders at will. It’s a revolving door. In the liberal party we went from Abbot to Turnbull, Turnbull to ScoMo in 3-4 years. That’s 3 different PMs.
      Before this, the labor party had power. We went from Rudd PM to Gillard PM. Then a few years later back to Rudd again. This was handled on the inside of politics. “We “the people did not have a choice who was actually leading the party. Once the party is voted in, it seems the people have no power to chose who will govern this farce of a democracy. It’s a revolving door like most corporate systems where the buck stops only when it reaches the silk pocket linings of those that dealt the cards to begin with.

      I do wonder what would have happened if Gough’s rein was not assassinated by the USA, Kerr, and the new lackey who took the reins in 1975. Apparently he reached a form of peace with Gough Whitlam after making him public enemy no .1. But how can he ever make peace with the Australian people after what has happened to the country politically since 1975.? Put simply, If Australia wants respect it needs to take a stand similar to Gough and Helen. The head Gangster in the USA does not respect us! He only uses Australia politically for numbers and as a sign of strength Globally.
      Overall though, I think it’s more likely Australians will trade one bully for another. We will vote for whatever pays the best. Then advertise it as an important next step. Here comes the Pivot to asia…
      What a joke. It must be funny for those who are making the rules though. A never ending laugh.
      I must go now for it’s time to brush up on my Cantonese and Mandarin.

  9. Buffalo_Ken
    June 1, 2020 at 17:07

    Australia. Australia, Australia, Australia.

    Somehow, I think it is all going to be resolved there as well as perhaps New Zealand.

    Those are two places I would like to visit if those countries can live up to their reputation.

    Some reputations are diminishing, but if there is a flicker of flame left in the ideals, then they will rise again!

    Everything today happens quick. Let me say from personal experience.

    Peace is what we need.

    • D'Esterre
      June 2, 2020 at 21:43

      Buffalo_Ken: “Those are two places I would like to visit if those countries can live up to their reputation.”

      That depends upon what you’ve heard about us.

      I live in NZ, and like many fellow citizens, I have family in Oz. I am (to boot) a boomer, so over a lot of years I’ve witnessed events in both countries. Including, of course, the sacking of Whitlam.

      It is fair to say that neither country is on the same path that would’ve been followed, had the CIA and MI6 regime change not happened. Both countries are the lesser for it.

  10. A Guy in NH
    June 1, 2020 at 17:00

    “In Donald Trump’s current provocations of China, the U.S. bases in Australia are described as the “tip of the spear”.”

    Mr. Pilger, please do not forget that the provocative declaration of the “Asian Pivot” and construction of, and deployment of US armed forces to, the joint operations base in Darwin both occurred under Pres. Obama’s watch.

    As a foreign leader famously said, it really doesn’t matter who is the occupant of the Oval Office; US foreign policy stays the same, driven by forces more powerful than the president of the day.

  11. bjd
    June 1, 2020 at 16:47

    Would be interesting to investigate (possible) parallels with today’s US – German relations.

    • evelync
      June 2, 2020 at 13:43

      And for a window on Canada too, perhaps, is the riveting Canadian docudrama “Agent of Influence” with Christopher Plummer as the Canadian ambassador to the Soviet Union.
      FWIW available on YouTube Movies

      “From Ian Adams’ book of the same name, “Agent of Influence” is based on a real story of the intrigue surrounding the mysterious death of one of Canada’s most accomplished foreign diplomats, John Watkins.”
      during the Lester B Pearson years….1963-68
      after some documents were made public around the turn of this last century…

      Thank you John Pilger for your work.

    • D'Esterre
      June 3, 2020 at 05:12

      bjd: “..investigate (possible) parallels with today’s US – German relations.”

      Germany is, of course, still an occupied country. That by itself would change the dynamic, I’m guessing.

      Though I note that Germany has a history of long-serving Chancellors; to the best of my knowledge, the US has never tried to have any one of them removed.

    June 1, 2020 at 16:19

    Good piece on an important topic, how the US runs coups not just against foreign governments it doesn’t like but even against allies it doesn’t like.

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