Defector kits, false moustaches and invisible ink: National Archives reveals spy trade tools

Friday, 29 November 2019

Often cloaked in myth, the real stories of spies are sometimes stranger than fiction.

For the first time in Canberra, the personal experiences of secret agents and the curious history of espionage and counter-espionage in Australia are publicly revealed in a new National Archives of Australia exhibition.

Spy: Espionage in Australia opens its doors at the National Archives in Parkes today, bringing the stories of Australia’s intelligence agencies out of the shadows and into the light.

On show are authentic yet quirky spy gadgets, compelling surveillance images and footage, historic top secret documents, material confiscated during raids, ASIO training films and a series of candid interviews with serving ASIO intelligence officers.

Featuring previously unseen records from the National Archives’ collection, objects on loan from international institutions, and items from ASIO and other security agencies, Spy takes visitors deep into the incredibly secretive world of intelligence, often challenging the popular image of spies.

‘We’re all familiar with popular culture and how it’s shaped society’s view on spies such as James Bond and Jason Bourne,’ says ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess. ‘I can tell you this world is nothing like that of the movies. I’m living proof that spies are normal people like me. I’m no Daniel Craig.’

Director-General David Fricker, who worked with ASIO for 10 years before joining the National Archives, says, ‘While there is a fun side to the exhibition, underlying its narrative are important issues that are on the minds of many Australians today. What are our intelligence agencies actually up to? How much surveillance are we subjected to? Are our liberties being sacrificed in the interests of national security?

‘The National Archives is responsible for the preservation of records created by our intelligence agencies. With the passage of time and as sensitivities diminish, we declassify as many of these records as possible. This allows all Australians access to the evidence of actions and decisions of our intelligence sector. And this is where the National Archives plays a crucial role in our democratic process – providing access to the original records that hold our public institutions to account.’

Spy will be on show at the National Archives in Canberra until 27 April 2020, then will tour nationally. Admission is free.

Available for interview

  • David Fricker, Director-General National Archives of Australia
  • Emily Catt, Exhibition Curator, National Archives of Australia

Contact information

Michaela Forster, Assistant Director Communications and Marketing
Phone: 0414 707 373

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