Norman Kirk's gift to his Beehive successors: Ken Ross notes an important intelligence assessment legacy of the ill-fated Labour leader's brief prime ministerial role.

AuthorRoss, Ken

'Norman Kirk was by far the most impressive New Zealand Prime Minister I have known. He was a heavyweight. He had "gravitas".'--Lee Kuan Yew (1999) (1)

On 31 August 1974 Norman Kirk's death cut short his prime ministership: his 21 months in the role clearly marked out his forte as a deep engagement in global affairs. Among Kirk's important accomplishments was to be the creation of the External Intelligence Bureau (EIB), from which he had expected to read high-calibre assessments. Although, the bureau only came into being eight months after his death, it became his gift to those who followed him into the prime minister's suite for the next 35 years. Renamed, more aptly the External Assessments Bureau (EAB) in 1988, the bureau served those prime ministers capably until 2010.

This article touches on some episodes and personalities behind the intelligence assessments that have long been prepared for prime ministers in Wellington. That story starts before 1974: but Kirk's boosting of the bureau to become a credible assessment agency is a highlight.

The beginning

In the final months of Peter Fraser's prime ministership he signed off the formation of the New Zealand Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO). It was an organisation that could only have modestly handled the assessments task for its three-year life, given that it was essentially a one-man operation--Vic Jaynes, the director. (His chief adviser, Alister McIntosh, had assured Fraser there was minimal cost involved.) McIntosh saw the JIO as Wellington's credibility within what is now loosely tagged the Five Eyes framework. The prompt for the JIO was a meeting held on the sidelines of the 1946 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting in London: that occasion began the process from which emerged the post-war 'Five Eyes' intelligence co-operation scheme, to become a central component for Wellington's assessment capability. New Zealand's representatives at that meeting were Walter Nash, the deputy prime minister, and Foss Shanahan, the deputy head of the External Affairs and Prime Minister's departments. (2) The four Commonwealth countries--Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand--agreed then to co-ordinate their intelligence collection, particularly sharing their electronic 'catches'. Washington was soon integrated into the arrangement.

In the next quarter-century, two individuals in Wellington were at the fore of New Zealand's contribution to the Five Eyes arrangement. The first was McIntosh--his importance in the development of New Zealand post-war diplomacy, which encompassed the intelligence partnership, has been extensively covered by Ian McGibbon in the recently published history of New Zealand's foreign service. (3) Among his counterpart mandarins in London and Washington McIntosh was highly respected. (4)

McIntosh's initial best 'currency' to share was Paddy Costello's late-1940s diplomatic reporting from the New Zealand legation in Moscow. That he, McIntosh, moved easily in those circles can be illustrated by his accompanying Walter Nash, the New Zealand prime minister, to Moscow in April 1960. Immediately afterwards, while Nash had cups of tea and conversation at 10 Downing Street and the White House, McIntosh passed across the trip report that would have impressed his and Nash's interlocutors in those capitals, which he wrote on arrival back in London, including the discussion with Khrushchev (thirteen foolscap pages) and the impressions of the Soviet Union (twelve pages). (5) Copies of the two documents are in McIntosh's papers at the Turnbull Library, along with the biographies, prepared for Nash by the Wellington JIB, of numerous prominent Soviet officials. (6)

Jaynes's role

For 30 years until his retirement in 1980, Jaynes headed the work of crafting and managing assessments. In 1953, the JIO became the Joint Intelligence Bureau (New Zealand), which with a slight boost in staff numbers operated until April 1975. Then it was folded into the new EIB that also incorporated the foreign ministry's Research Division. Throughout that first quarter-century the Wellington assessments framework was modest: no more than a handful of mostly inexperienced analysts assisted Jaynes and the analysts seldom stayed long (most moving overseas to do postgraduate study). Utilising Jaynes's written recollections, David Filer has outlined the institutional developments of this period. (7) Jaynes's fortitude and skill are apparent: developing the new bureau...

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