No doubt NZ trio were spies - author

Last updated 00:00 02/08/2007

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Prepare to be shaken, not stirred by revelations that three controversial New Zealanders undoubtedly spied for Russia, the author of a new book says.

Aucklander Graeme Hunt, whose book Spies and Revolutionaries, was due to be released this week, said his research found Bill Sutch, Ian Milner and Paddy Costello were spies.

"The book for the first time removes any doubt about the loyalty of the three quite prominent New Zealanders," he said.

He expected opposition, particularly from Sutch supporters who refused to believe Dr Sutch was anything other than a hard-working public servant, and not a Communist sympathiser.

Dr Sutch, Secretary of Industries and Commerce until forced to retire in 1965, was tried for spying in 1975.

He walked free after a five-day trial, largely because the jury was not told details of the "secrets" Sutch was purported to have passed to the Russians.

Hunt said his research had shown Dr Sutch and Milner were "fellow travellers" – a term for communist sympathisers who were not paid up members of the Communist Party but who "were acting in the interests of Russia."

He said Dr Sutch collected dossiers on people which could have been extremely damaging.

"It could have been the sexual proclivities of MPs – whether they were philanderers – or journalists and other public officials.

"It was the sort of information the Russians routinely collected, not just from New Zealand but from right around the world, which they could use for blackmail purposes, to influence people in high places, to provide a dossier of information which could be used at some time in the future."

Hunt said while Dr Sutch was well known in New Zealand, Costello had an international reputation and his spying activities were well documented in the files of the KGB – the Russian secret police.

Costello was born in Auckland in 1912 but when he was 20 he enrolled at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in England.

He was to become the most important New Zealand spy recruited by the Soviet Union, Hunt said.

He joined a secret communist cell at Trinity College after being recruited by Anthony Blunt. He knew Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and John Cairncross – "that quintet of horrible spies, the so-called tight five of the Cambridge spies in England".

In his book Hunt said Costello, who spoke Russian and a host of other languages, was listed in a 1953 KGB list as a "valuable agent" in Paris.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service had no doubt he was spying for the Soviet Union.

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Milner, the son of Frank Milner, headmaster of Waitaki Boys High School and a former Rhodes Scholar, was named as one of six suspected spies in a report to Parliament in 1955.

H is discussions with the Russians had been closely monitored.

The report said he had probably passed secrets to the Russians when an official in the Department of External Affairs in Canberra in 1945 and 1946.

He enrolled at New College at the University of Oxford in 1934, two years after Costello.

His Rhodes scholarship was the epitome of deception to satisfy the aspirations of his imperialistic father.

He joined the illegal Communist Party in Australia in 1941 and was active in a variety of Communist fronts, "which left little doubt where his sympathies lay," said Hunt in the book. "There is no romanticism attached to Communism," Hunt said.

"I grew up in the Cold War era and we grew up seeing Communism as being an alternative choice and we probably all knew somebody who had some dalliance with the party.

"It is not much of a brand to have now. No one wants to call themselves a Communist now, not even the most ardent left-winger.

"It has completely fallen from grace. It represents oppression, deceit, destruction and lies and the ruination of many economies."

He said the brand was worthless.

"With that, the credibility attached to some of those defenders of Communism and also to some of those defenders of Sutch has disappeared too," he said.

- NZPA

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