Foreign espionage in New Zealand

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Foreign espionage in New Zealand, while likely not as extensive as in many larger countries, has nevertheless taken place. The Security Intelligence Service, which has primary responsibility for counter-intelligence work, states that there are foreign intelligence agents working in New Zealand today.

Potential objectives[edit]

New Zealand's relatively small population, economy, and military mean that espionage against New Zealand is unlikely to be a priority for foreign intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, the New Zealand government asserts that a limited amount of espionage does take place. Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has stated that "it would be wrong to assume New Zealand was free from foreign threats [or] that New Zealand may be too small and unimportant to be of great interest to hostile foreign-intelligence organisations".[1]

One potential reason for foreign interest in New Zealand might be its close intelligence links with larger Western nations — as part of the UKUSA alliance, New Zealand receives more information than it might otherwise be expected to hold. Foreign intelligence agencies might therefore see New Zealand as a "back door" into the intelligence worlds of the United States or United Kingdom. At times, New Zealand's allies appear to have been concerned about this point — the United Kingdom in particular voiced concerns about possible Soviet infiltration, such as in the case of Paddy Costello (see below).[2]

Also of potential interest was New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation, which prompted a rift between New Zealand and the United States. Soviet defector Oleg Gordievsky alleges that the Soviet Union was interested in New Zealand's policy, and attempted to promote it in Europe,[3] perhaps in the hope of weakening the United States' position in the nuclear arms race. The Soviet Union was frequently accused of encouraging those elements in New Zealand which it saw as beneficial to its interests — the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party was one alleged beneficiary, as were certain militant trade unions.

On occasion, foreign spies may be active in New Zealand for reasons not connected with the country itself — the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was aimed at Greenpeace rather than New Zealand, and China is sometimes alleged to target New Zealand-based Chinese democracy activists and Falun Gong members more often than it targets the New Zealand government. It is also alleged that New Zealand has been used as a "training ground" for other operations — it is a developed, English-speaking country, but was seen as less dangerous than more major targets.[3]

Alleged espionage activity[edit]

Soviet Union[edit]

Throughout the Cold War, a number of people in New Zealand, both Soviet citizens and New Zealanders, were accused of working for Soviet intelligence agencies. Many were diplomats connected to the Soviet embassy in Wellington. The SIS was active in monitoring the activities of Soviet diplomatic personnel, conducting surveillance of the embassy compound and trailing vehicles which left it. Occasionally, diplomats were expelled on charges of espionage or interference in New Zealand political affairs.

Among the expelled diplomats were Ambassador Vesevelod Sofinsky and embassy officials Sergei Budnik and Dmitri Razgovorov. Sofinsky and Budnik were both accused in the 1980s of giving covert assistance to the Socialist Unity Party, while Razgovorov was accused in 1975 of being an agent handler for local sources (notably Bill Sutch, below). Later, in 1991, Anvar Kadyrov was expelled after illegally attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport. The "Mitrokhin Archive" claims that many Soviet spies were active in New Zealand, possibly using it as a relatively "safe" training ground for activities in other English-speaking countries.

Probably the best known New Zealander accused of being a foreign spy is Bill Sutch, a prominent diplomat and economic advisor. He was observed on several occasions meeting Dmitri Razgovorov, a Soviet diplomat, and in 1974, the SIS accused Sutch of passing information. He was acquitted in court the following year, and died shortly afterwards. The question of his guilt or innocence was, and still continues to be, a matter of considerable public debate. Another New Zealander accused of working for the Soviets was Paddy Costello, a senior diplomat — information from the Mitrokhin papers is the primary source of the allegations. He is sometimes cited as the reason Morris and Lona Cohen, both Soviet spies, were able to obtain New Zealand passports, although others claim the passports could easily have been obtained without assistance. These accusations have been challenged by author James McNeish in The Sixth Man: The Extraordinary Life of Paddy Costello.

Other countries[edit]

In 1982 a group of exiled Albanians living in New Zealand, Italy and the USA attempted to infiltrate the iron curtain country of Albania. Their purpose was to assassinate the leader Enver Hoxha, and start a civil revolution from inside Albania. It has been said that the CIA were financing the operation, as part of their undermining of the soviet communist regime. From all accounts the mission was discovered by Albanian forces and all of the participants were killed in a fierce machine gun battle. The prime minister Hon Rob Muldoon was questioned by the media when the story leaked that New Zealand citizens were involved. The story was quickly given a media gag by the government, NZSIS and police. In 1985, agents of the DGSE, the primary foreign intelligence agency of France, bombed the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. Most of the crew evacuated, but one person was killed. Two of the agents were captured, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to prison. This remains the most well known incident of foreign spies working in New Zealand, and the only terrorist attack committed in New Zealand by a foreign government.

In 2004, two Israeli citizens pleaded guilty to an illegal attempt to acquire a New Zealand passport, in a case similar to that of the Soviet Anvar Kadyrov. They were fined, given a short prison sentence, and finally deported. The government has claimed that the men were Mossad agents, although the Israeli government has not officially confirmed this. (A statement in 2005 appeared to contain a confirmation, but the Israeli government later said this was a misunderstanding).

Chen Yonglin and Hao Fengjun, two officials of the People's Republic of China who defected to Australia, have claimed that China undertakes substantial espionage work in New Zealand. The New Zealand government declined to comment, and the Chinese government denied the claims.

WikiLeaks cables[edit]

A recent report on Stuff.co.nz by Tracy Watkins reveals U.S. cables obtained by WikiLeaks that indicate senior New Zealand Defence Ministry officials have been spying for the U.S., secretly briefing the United States embassy on Cabinet discussions about the Iraq war.

See also[edit]

References[edit]