ASIS – Favaro affair

ASIS – Favaro affair


During the lead up to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) paid a Dili-based Australian businessman Frank Favaro for information on local political developments. The leaking of his identity in late 1975 led to a confrontation between the then Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the head of ASIS, leading to the sacking of the intelligence agency director.

Government sources

Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Testimony to Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, 6 December 1999, p980.

“[In 1975 Foreign Minister] Willesee was advised by the secretary of his department to contradict a newspaper article about reports of alleged spying activities by our de facto consul in Timor, Mr. Frank Favaro. Willesee arranged for the Government Whip to ask him a question without notice and responded that Favaro did not represent the Australian government in Timor in any capacity whatsoever and was a private citizen. Afterwards the secretary and minister were informed that Favaro owned not only the hotel in Dili but kept an aircraft with Australian registration in Dili and was employed by ASIS. I got rid of the head of ASIS.”

Commentary and analysis

Whitlam seeks to set record straight on Timor, former Prime Minister E.G. (Gough) Whitlam launches Bill Nichol: “Timor – A Nation Reborn”, University of Sydney Co-Op Bookshop, 26 June 2002.

“Frank Favaro is described in documents 215, 244 and 275 and on page 846. The book should also acknowledge that he was an ASIS agent. (That’s why I sacked W.T. Robertson in front of Renouf and other departmental heads.) ….Hamish McDonald alleges that I sacked the head of ASIS on 21 October 1975 in a tirade which could be heard outside: “You’re fired. And you can forget about your super too!” Sure I sacked the head of ASIS. I had had to tell him twice to put an end to the work his agents in our embassy in Chile were doing to undermine Allende on behalf of the CIA. Earlier his agents had worked with the same ambassador to undermine Sihanouk in Cambodia on behalf of the CIA. In 1975 he employed an agent in Dili without my authority.”

Favaro Affair, and Favaro, Frank, Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations, R. C. S. Trahair, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. pp.74-75.

Updated: 13 March 2009