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CIA files reveal US keeping tabs on NZ

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 19/01/2017

The United States' spy agency kept tabs on New Zealand's exposure to communism in the latter half of last century but didn't think it would take hold here.

The Central Intelligence Agency has released about 13 million pages of declassified documents following lengthy efforts by freedom of information advocates in the US.

Nearly 4000 documents, from the latter half of last century, contain some reference to New Zealand and are made up of either CIA reports or news clippings. Some information is redacted.

Some of the references are passing or unexplainable, such as an official report on the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which says CIA radio broadcasts prompted a flood of requests from New Zealand for prizes of ballpoint pens.

An earlier 1949 briefing says the New Zealand Communist Party had less than 1000 members and its influence was small, largely confined to the unions.

A number of the files cover the Rainbow Warrior bombing and fallout, the Labour government's economic reforms of the 1980s and New Zealand's ban on nuclear-armed warships.

The CIA reports said a Labour government would project its anti-nuclear stance throughout the South Pacific, which would inhibit the movement of the US naval fleet, which was 40 per cent nuclear-powered at the time.

However, there do not appear to be any publicly available reports on public servant William Sutch, who was acquitted of being a Soviet spy after being seen handing a package to a Soviet embassy official outside a public toilet in Wellington.

A 1987 reports notes that despite New Zealand's ban on nuclear-armed ships, the country was unlikely to warm to Soviet overtures as its activities increased in the South Pacific.

There is also a report on growing racial tensions between European and Maori in the late 1980s.

"Although the risk of racial violence is small, tensions are likely to increase as the slumping economy swells unemployment among the Maori, and as public resentment builds against Maori demands."

The files are available from the website:

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