How ASIO was caught on the hop

The Sydney Morning Herald/January 1, 2008

Federal cabinet linked Ananda Marga to the prospect of violence against the Indian prime minister three months before bombers targeted Sydney's Hilton Hotel, where he was staying for a regional meeting of Commonwealth leaders.

Documents made public today by the National Archives in Canberra suggest also that Australian security and law enforcement agencies were convinced that the Indian-based Ananda Marga - through its military wing, the Universal Proutist Revolutionary Federation - was behind a 1977 series of violent actions against Indian officials in Australia.

And yet ASIO claimed no forewarning of the Hilton bombing on February 13 , 1978, in which two council workers and a policeman died when a bomb planted in garbage bin outside the hotel exploded as it was emptied into a garbage truck. The bombing is generally regarded as if not the first, then certainly the most prominent terrorist attack to occur on Australian soil.

It took 11 years for charges to be laid, and then the cases against the two Ananda Marga defendants - each initially convicted - were subsequently ridiculed.

Cabinet papers show authorities had enough information to alert them to the Hilton threat, but that they appear not to have heeded their own advice.

In late 1977, the administrative services minister, Reg Withers, told cabinet that proposed government restrictions on the sect might precipitate "further acts of violence against Indian government representatives in Australia".

The heightening of police protection of Indian officials - and India's visiting Test cricketers - "does not in itself halt the continuing threat of the violent element within Ananda Marga to attack Indian establishments in Australia", Senator Withers said in a previously confidential briefing of fellow ministers.

A government taskforce had given "urgent further consideration to action to restrict and endeavour to halt activities" by Ananda Marga "in the light of the

knowledge that the Indian prime minister [Morarji Desai] is expected to visit Australia" the following February.

Much speculation endures about who was responsible for the Hilton bombing, even though Evan Dunstan Pederick, an Ananda Marga member, confessed to the bombing 11 years later, and was sentenced to 20 years' jail on three counts of murder and one of conspiracy.

In 1991, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal cast doubt on Pederick's evidence, and he was released from jail in 1997, after serving eight years.

Despite a 1994 conclusion by the ASIO watchdog - the inspector-general of intelligence and security, Roger Holdich - that the security agency was "genuinely shocked" by the Hilton bombing, having "received no clear warning" from its infiltration of Ananda Marga or phone tapping, the investigatory roles of ASIO and the then NSW police special branch into the bombing have been questioned.

Four months after the bombing, three Ananda Margists, or sect followers, were arrested by NSW police while allegedly en route to bomb the home of the National Front leader, Robert Cameron. Tim Anderson, Ross Dunn and Paul Alister were subsequently convicted of conspiracy to murder the ultra right-wing leader, and each was sentenced to 16 years' jail.

Having served six years, the so-called Yagoona Three were pardoned after a judicial inquiry cast doubt on the evidence of their key accuser, the police informer Richard Seary.

Three years later - in 1989 - Anderson was charged with the Hilton bombing on the claim by the notorious criminal Raymond Denning that Anderson confessed to him in jail. The next day, Pederick walked into a Brisbane police station, confessed to planting the bomb, and claimed Anderson planned the atrocity.

Anderson's conviction for the Hilton murders was quashed by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in 1991.

In his cabinet submission, Senator Withers canvassed the banning of Ananda Marga and urged talks with its leaders to discuss "the consistent pattern of violence or threats of violence associated with members of Ananda Marga, and the apparent link between the possible UPRF and Ananda Marga".

Ananda Marga "incidents involving violence" in 1977, suggested Senator Withers, included a knife attack at the Air India office in Melbourne, and the assault of an Indian military attache in Canberra.

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