Time for the revisionists: Denis Lenihan suggest that it is time to reassess the relationship between Alister McIntosh, Paddy Costello and the Department of External Affairs.

The release in 2017 of the MI5 files on Desmond Patrick Costello and his wife Bella not only threw new light on them but also on Costello's professional relationship as a diplomat with Alister McIntosh, then head of the New Zealand Department of External Affairs. The new material does not reflect well on McIntosh, showing him to be ready to go to almost any lengths to keep Costello (and others) in the department in the face of adverse security reports by MI5.

What follows draws not only on those files but on other material released earlier (some of which equally does not reflect well on McIntosh) and my previous writings on Costello (for which see kiwispies.com, which also contains details of sources). It discusses the relationship between McIntosh and Costello in particular from 1944, when Costello began in External Affairs, until 1954, when he was obliged to resign, but also until Costello's death in 1964, during which time he continued to cause McIntosh concern. By the time of his own death in 1978, McIntosh had changed his mind completely about Costello. The conclusion suggests that the time is ripe for a reassessment of McIntosh and of the department in his time.

McIntosh's difficulties with Costello began in 1944, when Costello's character and conduct in Exeter before the war, where he was lecturing at the university college, were brought to McIntosh's attention by the UK high commissioner in Wellington. The high commissioner had received a report from the Dominions Office which had in turn received information from MI5. McIntosh put to Costello the two main points: his association in Exeter with a student later convicted of an offence under the Official Secrets Act, and his wife's activities in the Exeter branch of the Communist Party. While Costello's reply was unsatisfactory, McIntosh took no further action on it, despite having promised the high commissioner that he would do so. Nor did the UK authorities follow the matter up.

McIntosh also indicated to Costello that he was 'entirely satisfied' with the vetting he had carried out on him before he entered External Affairs; but he admitted to Michael King in 1977 that the mistake he made in taking Costello on was not getting him properly vetted.

Costello caused McIntosh further difficulty at the Paris Peace Conference in 1946. Costello proposed that New Zealand support a communist-bloc resolution requiring the forced transfer of 200,000 Magyars from Czechoslovakia to Hungary, which was rejected in horrified terms by the prime minister, Peter Fraser ('an action which... would come as a grave shock to the moral and religious conscience of our people here'). Although full details of the episode remain to be uncovered, McIntosh had later to reassure Costello that Fraser still had the fullest confidence in him, as McIntosh himself did.

Drunken episode

McIntosh's confidence was diminished, however, at least temporarily, after Costello's visit to New Zealand in 1950, when he was found drunk in an Auckland street on his way back to London. Having been admonished by Prime Minister Holland, no less, Costello was allowed to proceed to his posting in Paris. McIntosh was then in London, but when Costello met him there, he told Costello that his career in External Affairs was finished. Costello asked for more time to get another job but in McIntosh's words to Michael King in 1978 'it dragged on and on and on and by that time, of course, he'd gone back to his communist friends'. A major reason why it drag ged on and on was because McIntosh proteced Costello, as we shall see.

Arising from the drunken incident, the New Zea land Police began making inquiries about Costello and also turned up a substantial profile on him drawn up by the Security Intelligence Bureau, ending--like the bureau itself, effectively--in 1943. Sub-Inspector Nalder of the Special Branch went to see McIntosh in November 1950 and made a note of the...

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