Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harold Edward Jones (1878–1965)

by Jacqueline Templeton

This article was published:

Harold Jones, by Sidney Riley, n.d.

Harold Jones, by Sidney Riley, n.d.

Harold Edward Jones (1878-1965), intelligence officer, was born on 22 August 1878 at Beveridge, Victoria, seventh child of George Jones, railway platelayer from Liverpool, England, and his Melbourne-born wife Margaret, née McColl. Educated at state schools, and the Working Men's College, Melbourne, in 1896 he joined the engineering department, Victorian Railways. In 1904 he transferred to the Crown Solicitor's Office as a conveyancing clerk and in 1911 became chief clerk and senior assessor in the Federal Taxation Department. He served as a militiaman in the Australian Corps of Engineers Submarine Mining and Field Troop and in May 1910 as a lieutenant joined the Australian Intelligence Corps (Victoria) under (Sir) John Monash. He was promoted captain in June 1914.

In November 1914 Jones was appointed to head the Intelligence Section, General Staff, operating from the Attorney-General's Department. In January 1916 the section's internal security intelligence responsibilities were largely assumed by Australia's first civil intelligence body, the Counter Espionage Bureau, a branch of the British Counter Espionage Bureau (forerunner of MI5). Jones was promoted brevet major in October 1916 and when the Special Intelligence Bureau was created in February 1917 he was appointed assistant to the director, (Sir) George Steward. Steward's withdrawal later in the year coincided with an emphasis on counter-subversion, particularly surveillance of critics of the Hughes government, and a marked increase in Jones's influence. In November 1919, after a contest with the Department of Defence for control of internal security, the bureau was reorganized as the Commonwealth Investigation Branch and Security Section, with Jones as director. He was to create an agency independent of the States to deal with claims and other matters arising from the war and to investigate offences against the Commonwealth. He was also to continue, under cover of the C.I.B., the Special Intelligence Bureau.

In the tense aftermath of the war Jones deployed his agency in surveillance of communists and Irish nationalists who it was feared would manipulate the unemployed and returned soldiers to revolution. In 1921 he proposed that influential private enterprise be enlisted in an anti-communist propaganda campaign, primed with confidential intelligence in return for financial and organizational support. Extensive files were developed on left-wing individuals and bodies and on militant trade unionists to provide material for government prosecutions. The law was exploited to its limits to root out 'dangerous' elements. The C.I.B. was an integral part of the Attorney-General's Department, supported there by Sir Littleton Groom, Sir Robert Garran and (Sir) John Latham. Jones was the central authority for Australia (under the League of Nations covenants) for white slave traffic, protection of women and children and for obscene publications. He was responsible for investigating and recommending on applications for immigration and naturalization and developed a thorough system of literature surveillance. During the late 1920s European political refugees of the right and the left as well as criminal groups such as the Camorra Society attracted Jones's attention. From 1926 Jones organized and controlled the Commonwealth Peace Officer Guard. Transferring in 1927 to Canberra with the Attorney-General's Department, he was appointed chief of the Commonwealth Police. In 1925-33 he was attached for special duties to the chief of General Staff's branch.

Jones investigated right-wing paramilitary groups in the early 1930s when, alarmed by their potential danger to order, he advised the prime minister that military officers should be ordered to dissociate themselves. During the later 1930s surveillance was extended to the political activities of Nazi Germans and Italians and an interest was taken in the Japanese. Rivalry with military intelligence grew bitter after 1934 when the army mounted an extensive domestic security campaign. When the army took responsibility for internal security in 1939, Jones battled to preserve his territory. In March 1941 the Commonwealth Security Service, a wartime organization, was established in the Attorney-General's Department, leaving C.I.B. with non-security work. Jones, still reporting to MI5, refused to co-operate. He continued his inquiries and refused to relinquish security files and the London codes, transferred eventually in 1942 during his absence.

When Jones retired on 1 January 1944 he held the rank of honorary lieutenant-colonel on the retired list (1933). He was known as an unpretentious, methodical man who spent his leisure in rose and fruit cultivation, who kept his own counsel and shunned personal publicity or recognition beyond the O.B.E. he was awarded in 1925. In his youth he had won the Victorian amateur 100-yard sprint title and played interstate lacrosse for Victoria and football and cricket for Essendon. He was an honorary member of both the Canberra and Narooma Rotary clubs and served as a district governor of Rotary. He was twice married: to Elizabeth Amelia McKinery on 12 September 1905 in Melbourne, and to Beryl Olivia Dooley on 12 December 1957 at Bega, New South Wales. He died on 20 September 1965 at Moruya and was buried in Narooma cemetery with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife and two sons and a daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Laughlin, Boots and All (Melb, 1951)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Citizen General Staff (Canb, 1976)
  • R. Hall, The Secret State (Syd, 1978)
  • G. Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945 (Canb, 1980)
  • Canberra Times, 25 June 1978
  • F. M. Cain, The Origins of Political Surveillance 1916-32: Reactions to Radicalism During and After the First World War (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1979).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jacqueline Templeton, 'Jones, Harold Edward (1878–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Harold Jones, by Sidney Riley, n.d.

Harold Jones, by Sidney Riley, n.d.