Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock yesterday disclosed that Australian intelligence experts have unearthed a network of electronic listening devices in the Australian Embassy in Moscow.
Peacock said Australia regarded the incident as evidence of "hostile intent" by the Soviet Union toward Australia, and said protests were lodged with Soviet officials in Moscow and with the Soviet Embassy here following the discovery in June.
Soviet Ambassador Australian Alexandar Bascov and Soviet officials in Moscow claimed that the Soviet Union was not responsible for the listening devices and that they had been placed in the embassy by someone else, according to Peacock. Australian officials yesterday said the Soviets were blaming the Chinese, who formely occupied the embassy building.
Peacock said the government retaliated by canceling the visit of a Soviet scientific team and proposed talks between the two nations on political and trade matters.
Peacock's disclosure was made to the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Australian Parliament. He said the devices were found when he and Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser were both in the United States.
The revelation was apparently triggered by recent newspapers accounts that the Soviet ambassador had been called on the carpet over the bugging of unidentified Australian government offices.
Peacock told the House that the Soviet explanation "was unconvincing and that Australia is forced to believe that the devices were installed by or on the orders of the Soviet government."
A secret shaft contining sophisticated listening and transmitting devices also was discovered in June at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. U.S. officials have also protested to the Soviet government about microwave radiation that has been beamed at the embassy. Some officials have speculated that the microwave bombardment could be connected to intelligence-gathering activities.
There has been further speculation that the electronic equipment discovered in June may have been planted in the U.S. Embassy during or after a fire there in August 1977. Australian officials noted that there was also a fire in the Australian Embassy last year and that Soviet workmen helped repair the building.