Canberra, Australia — An intelligence scandal has broken here that has implications not just for Australian domestic politics but also for this country's relations with its neighbors, with the United States, and with China.
Australian intelligence groups have been staggered by the publication in a weekly newspaper last week of top secret documents which criticize them for handing over to the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) material which was damaging to Australian politicians.
The reports also detail Australian intelligence gathering methods in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. And they indicate the extent to which US intelligence was aware of the Chinese attack on Vietnam in February 1979.
The Chief Justice of the High Court held a special court hearing last week to issue temporary orders restraining the publication of any further documents by the newspaper, the National Times.
The paper claims to have in its possession ''thousands of pages of classified documents that give a remarkable insight into Australia's defense, intelligence, and foreign policies.''
Included in the material is a top secret report written several years ago by a judge who conducted a royal commission investigation into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The National Times claims it shows that members of ASIO handed over potentially damaging information to American authorities about prominent Australian figures during secret visits to the US over many years. It claims the information ranged from accusations of subversive tendencies to concern about personal peccadillos.
The paper says, ''The information gave the CIA the opportunity to work against the people who had earned ASIO's disdain in ways which ranged from blackmail to efforts to block their careers.''
It says the royal commissioner concluded that the practice of briefing the CIA had been ''highly improper'' and not in Australia's national interest.
He warned the government that the Australian intelligence services should operate on the principle that while there might be countries friendly to Australia, there was no such thing as a friendly intelligence service. In this case he concluded ASIO had let itself be used improperly by a foreign intelligence service.
The newspaper claimed the judge had also concluded that there was circumstantial evidence that the Soviet Union had had a highly placed agent in the Australian intelligence services. But, it added, the judge had found ASIO to be in such a state of disarray that the evidence could be consistent either with the presence of a Soviet ''mole'' or simply with bad management.
ASIO was also criticized in the report for breaking into the home of a member of the Liberal Party.
The paper claims Australia was not told of discussions between Chinese Vice Premier Deng Ziaoping and US authorities in Washington in January-February 1979.
It was, however, told of Deng's discussions with Japanese authorities in Tokyo. Australia was also restricted in the information provided to it under what was supposed to be a joint communications intelligence gathering network which the US, Britain, and Australia operate.