feb 072017
 

The CIA release was part of its archiving of all 25-year-old ”non exempt” records.

A mass publication of declassified CIA documents reveal the extent of United States’ intelligence interest in New Zealand during the height of nuclear tensions between the two countries.

The database of previously-confidential documents, published by the CIA this week, contains reports which delve deep into New Zealand’s domestic and international affairs

Swelling anti-nuclear sentiment in the South Pacific during the 1980s was the predominant focus of CIA analysts at the time, and this focus shifted to the political fallout after the 1984 election.

Our prime ministers, race relations and stroppy kinship with Australia were also of considerable interest to US intelligence officials.

A 1982 intelligence report for the US director of intelligence flags the growing movement for a nuclear ban in the South Pacific – and the nuclear-nation was concerned their naval influence could be dented

“Such restrictions would impede movement of US warships in the vital lanes between the United States and Australia and New Zealand.”

Reports show the CIA were well across developments in “maverick” Vanuatu and neighbouring Fiji, who both refused American warships in 1982.

“However overdrawn, anti-nuclear sentiment in the area is genuinely felt and not easily modified,” the report advises.

At the time, the US thought Australia and New Zealand would diplomatically advocate for nuclear ships on a political level.

But there was concern that these efforts might be “diluted” by public sentiment in both countries.

New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was a likely – if at times tacit – ally for US nuclear interests in the region.

As anti-nuclear sentiment in the Pacific built, many reports about the impending July 1984 election in New Zealand were filed about the prospect of a Labour victory.

“Muldoon faces major obstacles in his bid for a fourth term,” one report says.

Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was the subject of a candid CIA biography.
NZ ON SCREEN
Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was the subject of a candid CIA biography.

Any renegotiation of ANZUS under a Labour government led by David Lange would have “serious implications” for defence co-operation, and while NZ officials promised a compromise, the CIA was far from assured.

“We are not so sanguine.”

At the time, 40 per cent of the US naval fleet was nuclear-powered.

The CIA said Lange was charismatic but unable to unify the Labour party of the mid-80s.
file
The CIA said Lange was charismatic but unable to unify the Labour party of the mid-80s.

Behind closed doors, Lange conceded that he considered nuclear propulsion – but not nuclear weapons – safe. One CIA report speculates he had failed to convince his caucus of the same.

And, it wasn’t just the Labour party which presented concern for US intelligence officials.

Consideration was given to property magnate Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party, which looked to split the conservative vote.

The CIA archive has millions of pages that can be searched by the public.
AP
The CIA archive has millions of pages that can be searched by the public.

The historic 1984 election saw Lange’s Labour party come into power, and responding to public concern, barred American ships from New Zealand ports.

A president-approved memo to top US government officials in February of the following year illustrates New Zealand’s fall from grace in the eyes of the US.

“New Zealand knows that it cannot expect to continue to receive preferential treatment and consideration in the economic area which it might have enjoys as a closer ally.”

Though, it was stressed as important that no perceivable economic sanctions be implemented.

Directions were given that an “interagency group” promote the US viewpoint in New Zealand.

“In the meantime, the people of New Zealand are still our friends, and the door remains open to the return of an old ally.”

The “port access issue”, or barring of US warships from our ports, remained the status-quo until November 2016, when the USS Sampson visited New Zealand and aided the Kaikoura earthquake recovery effort.

And with that, an old ally returned.

Muldoon v Lange

“For nearly a decade, Muldoon has dominated New Zealand politics … they have continued to vote for this ‘man they love to hate’,” a 1984 report on the New Zealand political climate says.

The US, who considered Muldoon a supporter of ANZUS (a military pact between Australia, New Zealand and the United States), was long-wooed by US leadership.

When Muldoon visited the US in 1981, a briefing note encouraged American president Ronald Reagan to compliment the Prime Minister with a “candid” discussion on a international summit.

“The fact that you had taken him into your confidence on this matter would be helpful in giving him the stature he seeks.”

The same briefing advised offering “an expression of hope” that Muldoon will win the 1981 election – which he did.

In a candid 1984 biography of Muldoon – one of the New Zealand’s most divisive leaders of the modern era – the agency’s East and Southeast Asia desks discussed his abrasiveness and combative style as a National party stalwart.

This abrasiveness was not typically a New Zealand trait, the report said.

It expanded on Muldoon’s sought “stature”, saying he “fancied” himself as a “senior statesmen” in the realm of international finance.

He was a staunch ally of the US and generally satisfied with market access but a Labour victory could cause difficulties with the US-New Zealand relationship. The report writer’s biggest concern was the closing of ports if Labour won the next election (they did).

On Muldoon, he was politically dominant, atypical, and combative with a capacity, the report said.

“He is a tough taskmaster and devastates any associate who is not in full command of the facts of the matter, according to political observers.

“Unable to come up with policies of its own to cure New Zealand’s economic ills, Labor sees political benefit in identifying with a fear of nuclear contamination that is widespread and growing in New Zealand and which spans the political spectrum.”

Just as the prospect of a Labour election win in 1984 was not welcomed, Labour leader David Lange was not favoured by US government figures.

Described as a “charismatic orator”, in a later report, Lange was seen as inexperienced and unable to unify a factional Labour party cabinet except on the anti-nuclear issue.

There’s speculation Lange’s hard anti-nuclear stance was somewhat accidental.

“His penchant for speaking off the cuff in press interviews inched him into a trap from which he could not extricate himself.”

Calling the Lange government’s economic reforms a “calculated gamble” the CIA analysts were not convinced it would pay off, saying sustained growth was unlikely.

“If the economy splutters – for whatever reason – the Labor party will be held responsible in the next election.”

Maori radicalism

In a fascinating report into racial tensions in New Zealand, a 1988 memo from the Office of East Asian Analysis, described the land claim battles as iwi leaders fought for the return of ancestral land.

Relations were strained between Maori and Pakeha, the report said.

“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.”

European New Zealanders were “complacent” in their view of race relations, but Maori activists were challenging the country, an underclass had developed in Auckland, and free market economics were likely to widen the income gap.

“Despite Wellington’s efforts to defuse racial tensions through economic and legislative reforms, the Maori underclass will most likely expand as the Maori population grows, suggesting that racial tensions will persist.”

Maori radicalism was another component and the visit of trade union leader Syd Jackson to Libya – then an international pariah – caught the CIA’s attentions.

“We believe, nonetheless, that the Maoris’ growing political influence could have an indirect effect on Wellington’s foreign nationals…According to the US embassy in Canberra, Australian officials are concerned that racial strife could eventually undermine Wellington’s traditional Western outlook and weaken support in New Zealand for defence and foreign policy links to Australia.”

US on ANZAC

CIA analysts also made some on-the-money comments about New Zealand and Australia’s relationship.

In the 70s and 80s, the anti-nuclear movement and the contentious issue of US warships and port access were high on the agenda.

In one document, the New Zealand stance led to the distancing of trans-Tasman relations with Canberra. Australian officials were worried a failure to find a resolution could spell the end of relations between the US and the two Pacific countries.

Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke had been criticised as being overly accommodating to the US and was at some risk of being seen as “carrying messages for Washington.”

“This distancing stems from Australian dismay over the antinuclear policies of Lange’s government, particularly its ban on port calls by nuclear ships.

“[Australian PM Bob] Hawke believes Lange’s unyielding stance threatens the ANZUS relationship with the United States and also encourages antinuclear agitation from the left wing of his own Labor Party…Canberra will continue to consult with Washington but will hold back from any approaches to Wellington that could be taken as interference.

“Australian annoyance with Wellington is obvious to all but the New Zealanders…Canberra, nevertheless, finds it politically imperative to take a low-key approach to Wellington. The New Zealanders are quick to see as patronizing any attempt by their larger neighbour to discuss bilateral issues.”

In the Muldoon biography, the writer likened Australia and New Zealand to a bickering family.

“New Zealand places great importance on relations with its large neighbour, despite the almost familial irritants that crop up between them.”

What are the CREST files?

CREST stands for CIA Records Search Tool. The CIA released a searchable archive of some 12 million pages this week, the largest collection of declassified records accessible online.

Previously, documents were available to the public from four terminals at the national archives in Washington, but now 930,000 documents are available on the agency’s electronic reading room.

A freedom of information group, MuckRock, and journalists have been calling for online access for years. MuckRock sued the CIA in June 2014, and in early 2015 a MuckRock user began fundraising to manually scan and digitise the records himself.

The CIA relented, and published a digital archive this week.

It is part of a regular archive process whereby all relevant “non-exempt” 25-year-old records are reviewed, declassified and archived. A trove of material includes reports, analyses, and memos on foreign relations, war crimes, the paranormal, and projects investigating telepathy.

JOHN EDENS AND THOMAS MANCH
Last updated 18:10, January 19 2017

Find this story at 19 January 2017

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