Legal Resident

Excerpt from the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation film on counter espionage

Watch: Legal Resident [21.71mb]

Title: Legal Resident
Subtitle: Excerpt from the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation film on counter espionage
Date: Circa 1963
Content creator: Cinesound Productions
Keywords: espionage, spies, intelligence organisations, national security, Cold War, international relations, diplomats, Soviet Union
Record creator: Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Central Office
Reference: A8703, 1279737

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Narrator: In this shot of a crowded Australian city street at five o’clock in the afternoon, any one of these hurrying workers going home could be a Soviet illegal resident.

Emil Goldfus living quietly as an artist in New York was one. His true identity: Colonel Rudolf Abel of the KGB [Soviet Union intelligence service].

Gordon Lonsdale holding an office job in London was another. His true identity: Konon Molody of the Russian intelligence service.

For five years the Soviet embassy in Canberra stood vacant until the Soviet Union decided to re-establish diplomatic relations in 1959, and of course their legal residency as well.

Mr Skripov, as mentioned earlier, was one of the first arrivals. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO, left Mr Skripov alone for over a year while he explored his new environment. He visited all the standard tourist attractions, including Taronga Park Zoo, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Coogee and other Sydney beaches.

At the end of the year he knew all about Canberra and Sydney and he was quite convinced ASIO had forgotten him. But they hadn’t.

They were there at Taronga Park Zoo to photograph his first clandestine meeting with ‘Sylvia’ – the Australian woman who helped to unmask him.


Actress: I am 'Sylvia'. When I first met Ivan Fedorovich Skripov in March of 1961 I didn’t know that he had been in Australia almost two years. I didn’t know what he was really doing. In fact, I never knew his name was Ivan Skripov until he was declared ‘persona non grata’. I simply knew him as John. There was a good deal I did not know and over the months the officials of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – known as ASIO – who monitored my contact with Skripov from the day I met him, had to explain it to me. The beginning was simple enough because I did know what a diplomat was and something about what diplomats do. Our meetings for the first year or so were uneventful and ASIO couldn’t quite decide what Mr Skripov wanted. He gave me ₤425, which I handed to ASIO, and presents for Christmas. We had almost given up hope when Mr Skripov finally showed his true colours by giving me some red capsules and a small bottle of fluid to bring up secret writings test. His instructions were most meticulous.

He told me I would receive a friendly letter through the post from time to time signed by 'Theresa'. On the reverse side of the letter there would be important instructions for me printed in secret ink. To bring up the secret message I’d need, as well as the capsules and the fluid, a kettle of boiling water, a rubber glove, some cotton wool, a tumbler and a teaspoon.

I had first to put three teaspoons of the liquid into a glass, then dissolve one capsule in it. The liquid is colourless, suspiciously like vodka as a matter of fact. I was told, before applying it, to steam the letter but I think Mr Skripov must have got his instructions from Moscow mixed up because it works just as well if you don’t steam the letter first. The glove is necessary when handling this liquid because if it gets on your skin it will turn it purple. The letter is swabbed, then steamed again.


Actress: Watch now as the secret writing appears in the top left-hand corner. Actually, his first letter was only a test so I could practise bringing up the secret writing.

In March 1962 Mr Skripov asked me to go to a water meter near Sydney Harbour Bridge. Here is a part of the secret recording made as he gave me instructions:

Ivan Skripov: You go out along the brick wall.

Actress: I know that, yes. I know that wall.

Skripov: Yes. So Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Pavilion and so the lookout will be then on the left-hand side, you see, that’s [inaudible] Sydney Harbour Bridge if you [remember?] where we met. So you go around…there’s the grass there…green, yes, there’s a lawn, see and a palm tree and so on, then …