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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richards, George Ronald (Ron) (1905–1985)

by Frank Cain

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Ronald Richards, with Evdokia Petrov, 1954

Ronald Richards, with Evdokia Petrov, 1954

National Archives of Australia, A6285:3

George Ronald Richards (1905-1985), police officer and deputy director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, was born on 27 November 1905 at Nottingham, England, one of seven children of Thomas Henry Richards, bricklayer, and his wife Hannah, née Dakin.  After leaving school Ron worked in the mines.  At 21 he migrated to Western Australia to live with relations near Albany, and took employment as a road labourer.  In 1928 he joined the Western Australian Police Force.  On 17 April 1929 at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Kalgoorlie, he married with Church of England rites Clarice Edna Counsel.

By 1935 Richards was a detective constable with the Criminal Investigation Branch.  From September 1939 to October 1942 he was officer-in-charge of the Special Bureau and Aliens Office; in 1942 he was promoted to detective sergeant, third-class.  Seconded to the Commonwealth Security Service until November 1945, he was involved in arresting four members of the right-wing group, Australia First, the first persons to be tried in an Australian court on charges of having plotted to aid the enemy.   He also arranged surveillance and detained people thought to be members of the Communist Party of Australia.  Back at the CIB in 1946, he was promoted in 1949 to detective sergeant, first-class.

Appointed (1949) regional director in Perth of the newly formed Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Richards resigned from the police force.  In an operation codenamed Venona, ASIO was inquiring into leaking of information from the Department of External Affairs to the Embassy of the Soviet Union, picked up in Soviet diplomatic cables collected and decoded by United States of America intelligence officials between 1943 and 1949.  Richards was transferred to Sydney in 1950 and made deputy-director of operations for Venona, with the task of investigating the disclosures and the eleven Australians identified in the deciphered messages.  In November 1952 he was sent to London to work with Military Intelligence, Section 5, on Venona.

Named deputy-director, New South Wales, in 1953, Richards set in train the defection of Vladimir Petrov, a coding clerk and then third secretary at the Soviet embassy.  Since 1951 Petrov had been passing information to ASIO through its part-time agent, Dr Michael Bialoguski; Richards’s job was to induce Petrov to defect and to ensure that he handed over the papers from the Soviet embassy incriminating the spy ring named in the Venona documents.  He interviewed Petrov on numerous occasions in Canberra and Sydney, often in an ASIO car equipped with a wire recorder, and introduced him to Brigadier (Sir) Charles Spry, director-general of ASIO, to endorse the arrangements for obtaining the papers in return for £5000 and naturalisation.  Petrov defected on 3 April 1954.

Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies appointed a royal commission on espionage in May 1954.  Promoted to deputy director-general (operations) and controller of ASIO’s royal commission unit, Richards arranged for the submission of the relevant ASIO documents and the appearance of Petrov and his wife Evdokia.  He was called before the commission to be examined by H. V. Evatt, who appeared as counsel on behalf of several members of his staff, whose names were mentioned in Petrov’s documents.  The commissioners, however, withdrew Evatt’s leave to appear, thus sparing Richards from giving evidence.  No positive conclusions about the eleven Australians were drawn by the commission, which sat for nearly a year.  In 1957 Richards was appointed OBE.

Richards was Australia’s representative on the committee of security experts in the South-East Asia Treaty Organization and in May-June 1959 visited Thailand, Pakistan and the Philippines to discuss operational intelligence matters.  In 1961 he served as chairman of the counter-subversion expert study group of SEATO; he toured north-west Thailand and oversaw production of a report on the communist subversive threat to the treaty area that led to the creation within SEATO of an office of counter-subversion.  That year he represented Spry at the meeting in London of heads of the British Commonwealth’s security organisations, and toured intelligence services in Europe and North America.  He also visited ASIO officers stationed at immigration screening posts in Athens, Rome, The Hague, Cologne, Copenhagen and London.

In 1965 Richards was appointed ASIO’s senior liaison officer at Australia House, London.  Retiring from that post in 1969, he returned to Perth, where he enjoyed fishing, watching Australian rules football and playing golf.  Widowed in 1982, he died on 25 September 1985 at his Victoria Park home and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.  His daughter survived him; a son had died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Muirden, The Puzzled Patriots, 1968
  • F. Cain, The Australian Security Intelligence Organization, 1994
  • F. Cain, 'Venona in Australia and its Long-term Ramifications', Journal of Contemporary History, vol 35, no 2, 2000, p 231
  • West Australian (Perth), 30 September 1985, p 11
  • WA Police News, February 2002, p 42
  • A6980, item S202007 (National Archives of Australia)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Cain, 'Richards, George Ronald (Ron) (1905–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-george-ronald-ron-14450/text25540, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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