The Spycatcher Trial: Turnbull teams with communists

30th November, 2015

The Spycatcher case saw Malcolm Turnbull come to prominence as a critic of, and litigant against, the Conservative British government of Margaret Thatcher. In the process he allied himself with communists, the far-left, and the British Labour Party. On the 1st of January of 1986 Turnbull and Bruce McWilliam had opened a new legal practice, called ‘Turnbull McWilliam, Attorneys and Solicitors’.1 Only weeks later, he was approached by Paul Hamlyn, a wealthy, left-wing book publisher, who was a major donor to the British Labour Party (including the largest single donation to Labour in British history).2

Hamlyn wanted to publish a book called “Spycatcher” authored by Peter Wright, who was a bitter former MI5 intelligence officer now living in Australia. The book contained sensitive information which could threaten British national security, and was blocked from publication in Britain. Further, the then Conservative British government of Margaret Thatcher successfully argued for an interlocutory injunction from the Supreme Court of New South Wales,1 which also prevented publication of the book in Australia, at least until the resolution of legal proceedings.

200px-SpycatcherIn 1955, when Wright started work with MI5, he had signed a Declaration promising to adhere to the British Official Secrets Act, which prohibited former MI5 members from revealing any official information in order to maintain national security and protect undercover agents.3 Nevertheless, the leftist Hamlyn was determined to publish the book and officially hired Turnbull on the 5th of February, 1986.2 Asked what he would want in return for abandoning the case and withdrawing the book from publication, Hamlyn replied: “Nothing less than a dukedom would do.”

Note: Turnbull had left the bar in the early 1980s,15 and was therefore under no obligation to take this case.

Turnbull backs Communist Front Groups

In pushing the case for Spycatcher‘s publication, Turnbull tried to use the case of Cathy Massiter to argue that MI5 was a criminal organisation. Massiter was a leftist sympathizer who defected from MI5 and told the media that MI5 was surveilling groups like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) and some trade unions.

Massiter2Turnbull says:

“I had told the judge that I proposed to rely on [Massiter’s] allegations to assist my making out a case that MI5 was a criminal organisation which should be given no assistance by the courts.” 4

Of course, MI5 had very good reason to carry out surveillance activities on such groups, given their known communist links and nefarious policy objectives. For instance, an open Communist Party member, John Cox, was Chairman of CND from 1971-77, and the NCCL was involved in supporting the paedophile liberation movement.

There was also a revolving door between these organisations and the Labour Party. For instance, Patricia Hewitt was General-Secretary of NCCL in the 1970s and was now, in 1986, Press Secretary to British Labour leader and Opposition Leader, Neil Kinnock. Turnbull frets about Hewitt being surveiled, but we now know that she had called for the age-of-consent for sexual intercourse to be lowered to 10 years old.

Nevertheless, Turnbull backed Massiter, and referred to these groups as merely “anti-war” and “civil libertarian” organisations, saying they:

“…could not, on the wildest and most paranoid view, be regarded as dangerous subversives menacing the Constitution.”5

He suggested MI5 were trying to suppress legitimate political dissent. Does Turnbull think supporting communism and legalising child sexual abuse are legitimate policy positions?

Turnbull even took on leftist rhetoric in denouncing MI5’s surveillance of trade unions as MI5 “fighting the class war….on the side of the bosses and reaction”.5

He also initiated contact with Kinnock,6 and they very closely co-operated in waging a public relations war against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government over the case. The London Times newspaper reported that there were at least eight phone calls between Kinnock and Turnbull during the trial. Turnbull even boasts of writing Kinnock’s questions for Question Time, saying in his book, The Spycatcher Trial (1988):

“…Kinnock rose to ask a question of the Prime Minister. It was precisely in the form we had discussed.” 6

thatcher_kinnockWriting in the June 2009 Quarterly Essay, journalist Annabel Crabb says:

“The vast majority of legal advocates would not think of contacting a politician directly during a trial in an attempt to create helpful political pressure. But [Turnbull] did not hesitate; within weeks, he had got through to the British Labour leader and given him a brisk set of riding instructions on how to bring down [certain members of the British Conservative government].”

Kinnock was accused of treachery6 for co-operating with Turnbull, and Turnbull responded by publicly defending Kinnock, attacking his Conservative critics as “unfit to be MPs“, and denouncing Thatcher as an un-democratic leader6 running a “smear campaign”7 against Labour and Kinnock. This is the same Margaret Thatcher who won three straight elections, and would’ve won more had the left-wing of her own party not stabbed her in the back over her opposition to the European Superstate.

Turnbull even suggested Thatcher might support perjury in order to win the case.It should be noted that, throughout the Spycatcher case, Turnbull only had one enthusiastic supporter13 among British Conservative MPs, his “old friend”14 Jonathan Aitken. Aitken was a Thatcher-hating ‘progressive’ who was subsequently sentenced to 18 months prison for perjury, the very crime Turnbull suggested Margaret Thatcher might be willing to commit.

In calling another old friend to testify, former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Turnbull further revealed his political orientation. As he recounts the trial in his book The SpyCatcher Trial, Turnbull heaps praise upon Whitlam, saying he is a “living legend” and “much-loved elder statesman” who:

“…compares so favourably to his drab successor, the Liberal Malcolm Fraser…” 9

US Communist Bill Schaap – Turnbull’s “Expert Witness”

One of the intelligence “experts” Turnbull called to testify on his side of the argument was Bill Schaap,10 a radical communist American lawyer. Schaap was a high-ranking member of the American National Lawyers Guild (NLG), which was a communist front group. Within the NLG, Schaap even led a faction that was in favour of the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), and he legally represented members of the communist militant Weather Underground Organisation (WUO).

Schaap was also an key associate and close friend of the communist, CIA defector and alleged Soviet and Cuban spy, Philip Agee. Schaap served as a contributing editor of Agee’s infamous CounterSpy magazine, which published the identity of CIA officers operating overseas. This sort of exposure badly hurt anti-communist CIA operations, and placed in danger not only Americans doing covert work but also all the foreign citizens who had associated with them, whether as anti-communist collaborators or just in daily life.

US Communists Philip Agee & Bill Schaap

In December 1975 one CIA officer who had previously been outed by CounterSpy, Athens Station Chief Richard S. Welch, was assassinated by a group of Greek communists. The resulting controversy caused CounterSpy to go out of business, but 18 months later Schaap became a founding editor of its re-named successor, called ‘Covert Action Information Bulletin’ (CAIB).


The new magazine was initially issued free-of-charge and contained no advertisements, but its funding source was unclear. According to Soviet documents obtained by former senior Soviet archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, the magazine was an “initiative of the KGB“. Indeed, the first issue of the journal was launched in communist Cuba, at a press conference during the communist ‘World Festival of Youth and Students‘ in July/August 1978. Schaap and Agee were both in attendance.

Agee admitted that the magazine was part of a “worldwide campaign to destabilize the CIA through exposure of its operations and personnel“, and its most famous column, titled “Naming Names“, was dedicated to revealing names, addresses and other information about undercover CIA agents running anti-communist operations in foreign countries. Agee urged people to:

“… organize public demonstrations against those named – both at the American embassy and at their homes – and, where possible, bring pressure on the government to throw them out. Peaceful protest will do the job. And when it doesn’t, those whom the CIA has most oppressed will find other ways of fighting back. We can all aid this struggle, together with the struggle for socialism and the United States itself.”

Despite knowing about his involvement with the ‘Covert Action Information Bulletin’ Turnbull praised Schaap saying his “credentials were outstanding” and that he “is a highly intelligent and charming man”.10

Turnbull attacks the Law Lords

Eventually both the Australian High Court and the British Law Lords (the highest appeal court in the UK for most domestic matters) ruled the book could be published, but the reasons varied. Lord Keith, for instance ruled that all possible damage to British national security was already done, due to the book’s widespread dissemination, and he called Turnbull’s client, Peter Wright, a traitor to Britain, saying:

“Those who breached confidentiality, such as Mr Wright, are guilty of treachery just as heinous as that of some of the spies he excoriates.”

The other Law Lords were also scathing, with Lord Goff saying Wright “would reap profits from his breach of duty, safe in his Australian haven.” and Lord Griffiths saying “Mr Wright’s betrayal of trust is offensive, and would outrage all loyal members of the security services.”

Turnbull’s response was to call the Law Lords ruling “disgraceful”,11 “inappropriate”12 and “lacking objectivity”.12 He specifically attacked Lord Keith’s comments about Wright being a traitor:

“That’s an allegation which, if Lord Keith made in Australia, outside of a privileged environment, would see him facing a very uncomfortable action for defamation. It’s an extremely defamatory allegation… You see, this is the sort of language that has no place in the judgements of courts.”

It should be noted that the Australian secretary of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Michael Codd, testified that allowing the publication of Spycatcher, or similar works, in Australia “may seriously damage Australia’s national security”. He said if the intelligence agencies of Australia’s allies think their information is not secure in Australia, they won’t allow ASIO access to it. Such information-sharing relationships, he said, were:

“…of great value in the protection of Australia’s national security, including protection from terrorism.”

When you put this alongside Prime Minister Turnbull’s present-day weakness and appeasement with regard to terrorism, a disturbing picture emerges that should deeply concern all patriotic Australians.


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1. Turnbull, M. (1988). The Spycatcher Trial. (p. 1). London: Heinemann.

2. Ibid, pp. 12-13.

3. Ibid, p. 11.

4. Ibid, p. 37.

5. Ibid, pp. 120-121.

6. Ibid, pp. 116-118.

7. Ibid, p. 153.

8. Ibid, p. 143.

9. Ibid, p. 149.

10. Ibid, pp. 157-160.

11. London Times. (14th Oct, 1988).

12. Associated Press. (13th October, 1988).

13. Turnbull, OpCit, p. 165.

14. Ibid, p. 38.

15. Manning, P. (2015). Born to Rule: The unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull. (ch. 3). Melbourne University Press.