Did the CIA interfere in Australian politics during Gough Whitlam's government? Former spy Christopher Boyce speaks out in an explosive Dateline interview.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

In the 1970s, Christopher Boyce's name became inextricably linked with the political tensions of the time when he was jailed for selling classified US information to the KGB in the Soviet Union.

The spy's story was also made famous by the movie, The Falcon and The Snowman, but in recent decades Boyce has been off the radar.

Mark Davis tracks him down to the mountains of Oregon, where he's been living in virtual anonymity since his release from prison.

In an explosive interview, Boyce recounts his time working for a CIA subsidiary that provided satellite equipment to the spy base at Pine Gap in central Australia.

And he makes claims that during the time of Gough Whitlam's troubled government, the CIA was interfering in Australian politics and its trade unions.

The story, first screened in February 2014, was shown again on the Best of Dateline in February 2015.

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Transcript

Mark has our first feature story tonight and as with Edward Snowden it is about a man who is no stranger to secrets or powerful intelligence agencies. He sold classified information to Russia and spent decades in prison as a result. Not only that - he spoke out about what he said was CIA interference in Australian politics and Trade Unions in the Whitlam era. He has been silent for decades but Mark tracked him down in the United States.

REPORTER: Mark Davis

It's a freezing day in central Oregon, but not cold enough to keep Chris Boyce inside. He's known around these parts as the Falcon guy, but federal authorities know him better as a spy, prison escapee and a bank robber.

CHRIS BOYCE: I saw a lot of killings. I saw a lot of blood. I stepped in blood and tracked it around down the tiers. Escaped, shot at, chased, it's a whole lot of bad memories to try to forget. I do see an occasional psychologist and they're always trying to get you to plough that stuff back up. I rather just leave it buried, you know.

Chris Boyce was arrested in 1977 for selling CIA documents to the Russians. He worked on the CIA's Pine Gap project in Australia, and at his trial claimed he turned renegade after witnessing US intelligence subversion of Australian politics, the details were suppressed and he spent almost 25 years in jail - Ten of those years in solitary. It takes more than a cold day now to keep him from flying his Falcons.

CHRIS BOYCE: All right, buddy. Almost a quarter century totally. I want you to go up today. A third of my life locked up. Part of the way I stayed - I kept my mind in solitary was remembering back to all my Hawks and Falcons I flew as a kid. Going to have some rocks. I would just mine each memory and live in memory and imagination. I never thought I'd be sitting on a point like this looking at a river. I thought it was over. I wanted you to come here and see this particular spot. I come here often, and this is just a very special place for me. This is my church.

REPORTER: It's a calming place, and you were certainly an angry young guy.

CHRIS BOYCE: You know, you're not so smart when you're 21 years old. You're not that wise, and, yeah, I was mad as hell and full of myself and preposterous in a lot of ways, you know. Decided to start my own one-war against Central Intelligence - what sense does that make - you know?

In this interview and in the days that follows, Chris Boyce reflects on the price he paid for his crimes.

CHRIS BOYCE: I regret the banks I robbed - that was unconscionable.

The reason he turned so savagely against the CIA and NSA.

CHRIS BOYCE: But I wanted to cause damage, I thought that my Government betrayed me long before I betrayed it.

And the central role that Australia played in tipping him into his one-man war.

CHRIS BOYCE: I don't regret that I spoke about American deception of Australia. My job, I don't regret that I spoke about CIA interference in Australian Labor Unions, I don't regret that, I think these things were all things that needed to be said.

And today he says more about these issues than he was ever able to more than three decades ago.

CHRIS BOYCE: I'm actually surprised they're letting us have this interview, that they let you in the country.

Boyce's life story was told in the 1985 espionage movie The Falcon and the Snowman. It explores his relationship with a childhood friend Daulton Lee, a drug dealer who turned his skills to smuggling documents to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico, documents which Boyce had snuck out. Boyce, through his father's intelligence connections had secured a job in the telex room at TRW, a CIA contractor supplying surveillance satellites for the Pine Gap facility in Central Australia.

CHRIS BOYCE: I was brought up in a very conservative household, but then as I grew up as I went through high school and started into college, we went through the Vietnam War which obscene and the assassinations and all the race riots, and...

When he joined the project, Chris Boyce was already developing a distaste for American intelligence agencies, but it was information he saw on Australia that turned him the most.

REPORTER: But the trigger point seemed to be the Australian material?

CHRIS BOYCE: Yes, one of the first things the project security director, Rick Smith, ex-CIA guy, told me that part of my job was going to be deceiving Australians in that there was an executive agreement between Australia and the United States to share all the information that was in Pine Gap but that we were not, in fact, doing that. We had stopped doing that.

DATELINE 1988: Pine Gap, it's the most important United States base in Australia. It's also the most secret, so sensitive the US Government officially refuses to even confirm its existence.

Pine Gap was the anchor for the main American satellite used for monitoring Russian and Chinese communications. Intercepted messages were transmitted to the secret facility south of Alice Springs. The intercepts were then forwarded to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and to Boyce's company, TRW, in California.

CHRIS BOYCE: We were actually operated the satellite from our facility. So my job would be to come in at the crack of dawn and open up the vault and go in and receive all the traffic from Langley from all the from around the hub, from Pine Gap, from Canberra. And I would decode it, print it up, and then I would distribute it to where it was supposed to go in the project, you know.

But Boyce was instructed to send only selected material to Australian counterparts who were meant to be in the loop.

CHRIS BOYCE: This is going to be my job? Deceiving Australia?

Chris Boyce joined the Pine Gap surveillance programme in 1974, right in the middle of Gough Whitlam's time in Government. Whitlam was decidedly cooler on the US alliance than his predecessors and was wary of the American spy base at Pine Gap.

CHRIS BOYCE: Whitlam was viewed as an Australian Ho Chi Minh. He was taking Australia to socialism, you couldn't say Whitlam's name without the spooks in there looking nauseated. He was viewed as a threat to the project and when he started...

REPORTER: Because he closed down Pine Gap - right?

CHRIS BOYCE: Well, it hadn't actually been that he would. That's what was feared.

REPORTER: So did they discuss that.

CHRIS BOYCE: Yeah, that would be discussed at lunch in the Black Vault, the latest people coming back from Pine Gap, you know. We'd be sitting around shooting the breeze, and - but Whitlam was poking around Pine Gap, and he was even proposing not renewing the Pine Gap treaty, and if he had done that, if that had happened, then America's eyes in a strategic sense would have been closed.

What Boyce saw and heard at TRW monitoring the Pine Gap communications has never been fully explained. The gist of it became well-known from the movie's account. But the details that came up in his 1977 trial were almost entirely suppressed. Government lawyers repeatedly and successfully objected whenever Boyce began to explain what he saw as CIA meddling in Australian affairs in 1974 and '05. When the Whitlam Government was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, at the end of 1975, the act confirmed to Boyce, all that he had been hearing about American infiltration of Australian politics.

REPORTER: Tell me what happens the day of Whitlam's dismissal, what was the mood?

CHRIS BOYCE: It was a party, it was jubilation. The wicked witch was dead, you know. He was gone, nothing more to worry about. And it was just a sense of relief because they really did think he was going to close it down. He was going to turn off our eyes, and they were worried, you know.

REPORTER: But is there anything to suggest that they were expressing more than mere opinion? Did you have suspicion that there was action being taken against his Government, you know, destabilising.

CHRIS BOYCE: Yes, I thought your Governor-General when he finally pulled the plug on Whitlam, I thought he was a CIA flunky. I thought - he was greatly admired in the project. I mean, the CIA resident there, Joe Harrison, was walking around calling him "our man Kerr" and I'm like, great, you know. To me that was a coup, you Australians can call it whatever you want, but that's - I cannot sit here and prove it, but I believe it.

REPORTER: And who was saying that?

CHRIS BOYCE: Joe Harrison, the CIA resident, agent for the project. He worked for the CIA in the project. I mean, half the people there for ex-CIA, he was actually the resident.

REPORTER: How did you react to that? How did others react to that?


CHRIS BOYCE: I didn't consider Australia as an independent. Like an autonomous Alaska now.

After the Whitlam dismissal, Boyce's leaking of US intelligence material reached chaotic levels.

CHRIS BOYCE: I couldn't think of anything that would more annoy them that would be just cause them to choke than to take their NSA codes and get them to the Soviets.

The end came swiftly when he was arrested in 1977. Staring down a 40-year jail term, Boyce escaped in 1980 from Lompoc penitentiary, where he survived in the Idaho mountain ranges with bank-robbing forays in between for almost two years.

CHRIS BOYCE: I'm not a professional spy and I'm not a professional anything, I'm an amateur at everything I do or else I wouldn't be here right now sitting in this prison.

Soon after his recapture, 60 Minutes and Ray Martin secured the only interview with him from prison in 1982.

RAY MARTIN, SIXTY MINUTES: What you did has been described has the greatest security breach in decades.

CHRIS BOYCE: Serves them right.

RAY MARTIN: Serves them right.

CHRIS BOYCE: That's my feeling on it. I have no regrets.

The door was firmly shut after this interview.

RAY MARTIN: Did you want to be a martyr.

CHRIS BOYCE: I think it was a unique way to express myself.

And Boyce wouldn't be heard from again for decades. Since his release in 2003, Chris Boyce has lived until very recently in virtual anonymity with his wife Cait. Cait Boyce is a paralegal who in the 1990s took on the seemingly hopeless case of getting Chris Boyce released from what had grown after his escape into a 65 year sentence.

CHRIS BOYCE: I got out through the love of a woman. My wife, who was a parole represent, she got me out of prison. She literally talked me out of prison. I would feel sorry for the parole represents because she wouldn't give up. And the woman eventually saved my life and I finally had a life back and I just wanted it to be, you know, quiet, and peaceful. But my wife wanted to tell the story and I agreed to - that's a good thing.

Cait, Chris and author Vince Font have just written a book, American Sons, the untold story of the The Falcon and the Snowman about the decade-long struggle to get Boyce and his fellow accused Daulton Lee released.

CAIT BOYCE: I had a constant belief that I would get him out. Did I think I was going to marry him? Well, heck no, I wasn't going to marry anybody.

After his release, Boyce and Cait retreated into small-town America, where she continues with her legal practice.

CAIT BOYCE: I think it's been pretty good. We haven't really been - we haven't been shunned. There are no burning pitchforks in my front lawn which I'm pretty happy about. I sort of, at one point, expected that. But I don't know, I think we've been treated very well. Very well.

REPORTER: Since he got out, what has been the key to his personal rehabilitation?

CAIT BOYCE: Falconry.

REPORTER: So the Falcons aren't a Hollywood invention, they're...

CAIT BOYCE: Absolutely real. Yeah, I know, I live with him 24/7. There's blood in my kitchen. It never fails, he comes in and he has blood on him, it's disgusting.

CHRIS BOYCE: I started flying Falcons when I was 12 and flew them until - until the FBI came and got me. I think I was 21. And what I did was I reached back into every memory, the more I concentrated on Falconry, the more I thought about it, it's almost like I had a - I reached an ability to recollect every flight my Hawks and Falcons ever flew.

Today most of his time is spent with his Falcons, more often than not with this one bird - Higher Power who has spent almost its entire life in a small cage.

CHRIS BOYCE: He was in a breeding project and he was 6 years old and he never flown farther than 10 feet. And I just got him going, got him started. You know, they just wanted to get of rim, I said, "Way a minute, he's a Gyrfalcon, I'll take him." I started training him, teaching him things and just brought him out there, like this, let him get air under his wings, let him fly. .

If he wanted duck dinners, Boyce could get a better hunting bird than this.

CHRIS BOYCE: Here, put it on him, here he goes.

But he's persevered in getting Higher Power into the air.

CHRIS BOYCE: See how he turns on us?

REPORTER: Yeah.

CHRIS BOYCE: And he mounts up above us?

REPORTER: Yeah, so he keeps circling you, yeah?

CHRIS BOYCE: Yeah, he thinks I'm going to flush something or throw out a lure.

Teaching him to chase ducks on a good day, but more likely to swoop on a lure.

CHRIS BOYCE: How is that?

REPORTER: That's cool.

CHRIS BOYCE: Did you have a good flight. It wasn't his wings that needed fixing, it was his head, it was his mind. He had to get his mind flight that he was a Gyrfalcon and eventually he did it where he's become...

REPORTER: It's got to occur to you he was in solitary all his life.

CHRIS BOYCE: Like I was for 10 years actually. His whole live. He'd never flown. Kind of broke my heart see him sitting there. And I don't know what they would have done to him. Put him in a zoo or something. I wanted to let him come out and fly, and so to be honest with you, healing his mind did a lot to healing mine, actually. So we're pals.

Clinton Rann, a fellow Falconer is one of Boyce's few human pals. Today, they're checking Clinton's trap-lines.

CLINTON RANN: When I was a kid, I seen his movie, and inspired me about Falconry, that's how I got into Falconry. I saw The Falcon and the Snowman and I thought that was really cool. I didn't know anything about what the story was about. You know, just here is a guy with birds, that's, that's so cool. And when I heard he lived here. I thought, I'll go meet this guy. I mean, the guy's done his time, he's paid his debt to society, and, you know, that's how I feel. I mean, there are some people that, you know, look at it as traitor or, you know, what it is, but 90% of people that I have ever come across don't really have an a bad thing to say.

There are limits to how much Chris Boyce wants to talk about the intelligence material after all these years. The consequences are still high.

CHRIS BOYCE: I just not going to bang my head against walls anymore. Doing this interview is about as far as I'm going to stick my neck out. My problem is that if I get convicted of anything, I go back to prison forever. You know, so I tip toe through life.

But issues concerning Australia still clearly rile him.

CHRIS BOYCE: Sometimes I would be really mad at Australians, you know. Here you were, allies, and we were screwing you.

REPORTER: Were you disappointed that there wasn't more of a reaction in Australia as to what you had to say about material you'd seen?

CHRIS BOYCE: I was really suspicious of the reaction in Australia actually. Because I remember the head of your Labor Unions, Bob Hawke, immediately after - in the middle of my trial, get up and I remember the articles was brought to me that Bob Hawke had denied that there was any CIA interference in your Labor Unions. I - I immediately assumed that man was corrupted. And then he was elected Prime Minister, I was mortified.

Boyce's view of Bob Hawke is not based on inside information, but is a response to Hawke challenging Boyce's portrayal of Australian trade unions - a subject matter that still agitates him after all these years.

CHRIS BOYCE: You don't seem to stand up for your own independence, it seems to me. And that bothered me.

The Whitlam Government wasn't just beset by conservatives and the forces of capital. The trade unions caused enormous damage and instability to his Government, possibly with sinister motives if Chris Boyce's suspicions are correct.

CHRIS BOYCE: I was sitting there one day in the vault and I received a Twix, and I previously sent an inquiry for some of the project managers that had dealt with the shipment of our hardware and software and personnel to Pine Gap and shipment from Pine Gap back and there were threatened strikes that we heard about. So we were asking for clarification and instructions, should we go ahead and ship? Was the strike imminent? And the message that came back was, "Continue to ship as scheduled. The strike will be suppressed." So I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, you know, not only are Whitlam's days numbered, not only is he going, but we've also infiltrated and corrupted - CIA has - Australia Labour Unions somehow. Strikes were supposed to follow and somehow they didn't.

REPORTER: So you had a green pass basically to get through Australia, you could get through strikes, airports, docks...

CHRIS BOYCE: Yes, in that instance. Right.

REPORTER: Trucking, whatever it was. Your gear was safe. That's your understanding.

CHRIS BOYCE: Completely.

REPORTER: It's a very serious allegation. At any time, did members of the Australian Government or the opposition ask you for details about that allegation?

CHRIS BOYCE: Never. Never.

REPORTER: Did that disappoint you? Did its surprise you?

CHRIS BOYCE: Yes. It was like you didn't want to know. Or you already knew.

Chris Boyce's days of talking about Australian issues are largely behind him. He's got more important missions with Higher Power.

CHRIS BOYCE: I'm a 60-year-old geyser now, and I'm - that's the past for me. Other people can do that. I will fly my Falcons, and I run my dogs, and fish. I wasn't necessarily out to help Australia. I didn't think Australians were helping themselves actually. I just wanted to gouge CIA and do the most damaging thing to them that I could. I hate to say it, Mark, he's awful fat.

REPORTER: Too well fed. He's just sitting there watching us.

CHRIS BOYCE: I loathed the surveillance state, I still do.

A more pressing problem for Boyce today is getting Higher Power into the air.

REPORTER: It might get his interest up if he sees the duck take off the pond.

CHRIS BOYCE: Or we might have to wait for about two days.

The only hope is to get a look of ducks into flight.

CHRIS BOYCE: Yeah, I don't know if this is going to work!

REPORTER: He seems quite happy.

At 61, Chris Boyce carries his regrets heavily - the cost to his family and father, to himself, to the victims of his bank robberies. But he carries almost no regrets for what he says as striking a blow against the invasive nature of his country's intelligence agencies, a problem even bigger now than it was then.

CHRIS BOYCE: Our civil liberties are being trashed, and I'm really glad that Snowden and Manning have released these things. I think - I think Snowden's a very brave man. I think he's kind of a hero, and the volume of things that he's revealed just astounds me, I could only take out as much as I could put in a potted plant, you know. He just downloads hundreds of thousands of documents.

REPORTER: And it seems that your views about the Intelligence Agencies, hasn't changed.

CHRIS BOYCE: Yeah.

REPORTER: You're still like the angry young man on that on those issues.

CHRIS BOYCE: I'm very pessimistic about it, I don't think anything is going to stop it. It's almost like the enemy are the people themselves. You know, like the movie, it will be the tail that wags the dog, and I think it already is. If I was going to tell Snowden something, I would tell him that they will never stop trying to get their hands on him. They will relentlessly pursue him, and when they get him, they're going to do to him exactly what they did to me, and they're just going to grind him down. They're after you and they'll never stop looking. They'll never stop coming after you. So that all the rest of the people that think like Snowden, the surveillance state wants those people to live in fear. So they want people afraid so that they don't do what Snowden did.

I'm going to go there fast. You come along at a pace you can do. But, you know, I think there'll be another Snowden. I think that it's just a matter of time somebody else, for whatever reasons, will step forward. Look how far away we are from our truck! That a boy! He can still fly, fly pretty good.

If there's any hope to control the surveillance state, that's it, because certainly Congress is never going to make any meaningful reform. I just don't believe it. Even an old 6-year-old Gyrfalcon that's been locked up in cages all his life can realise his potential. That a boy.

ANJALI RAO: Mark Davis reporting there. And Bob Hawke was approached for an interview for this story. He declined, other than to reiterate his 1977 position that there was no CIA interference in Australia's trade unions.

Reporter/Camera
Mark Davis

Producer
Donald Cameron

Fixer/Additional Camera
Joe Kline

Editor
Micah McGown

18th February 2014