I’m Jane Lanbrook. Last week, in part 4 of the series, we looked at the CIA’s attempt in 1983 to split the New Zealand Federation of Labour through the activities of the short-lived Labour Committee for Pacific Affairs. This move to split the unions was seen as a last ditch attempt to destroy Labour movement unity at a time when the Labour Party, with is anti-nuclear policy, was heavily favoured to win the 1984 elections. This week we look at attempts being made to destroy the Lange Government against the background of heightened American interests in the South Pacific and the CIA’s previous record of interference in New Zealand politics.
Tony Douglas: Since the Lange Government announced its nuclear ships ban it has been publicly pressured by the United States and its allies to reverse the policy. But are there indications that the Reagan administration, having failed to change the New Zealand government’s policy, are planning, through the CIA, to change the government? One person who thinks so is former CIA agent Ralph McGehee who visited New Zealand recently.
Ralph McGehee: I’ve certainly seen indications that it is involving itself. I can’t state 100 percent but certainly I have seen indications. The first thing you do, of course, you create an enemy and all over the United States and over New Zealand you see the editorials all saying that ‘the Russians are coming to the South Pacific’. You have to create an enemy so you can discredit anybody who is opposed to your policy. So with this strong thing that `the Russians are coming’ then anyone who is soft on nuclear issues, nuclear free issues, and soft on defence can be labeled `pro-communist’, `pro-Soviet’ or `communists’ themselves. Then you have the attempts to penetrate the media. USIS, the United States Information Service, has been sending back a stream of media types, academicians, politicians and Labour types to the United States for red carpet treatment and when they come back their opinions towards American policy has changed for the better, if you will, and one would suspect the hand of the CIA in some of that. You have the attempts to establish Labour unions in New Zealand, right-wing think tanks, united with the issues that `the Soviets are coming.’ Now if I were relating the scenario for the elections next year what I would do is to attempt to split the Labour party by various techniques, dirty tricks, forging documents and leaking documents. Before I left New Zealand, four documents of the Lange Government had been leaked to the media. One of the documents related to its policy towards unions, a very divisive document. Well, you have the same thing in the Whitlam overthrow. Documents were being leaked all over the place and it was instrumental in the removal of two Cabinet ministers. Well, the same thing seems to be happening in New Zealand. But as the elections approaches you can anticipate forged documents being released, poisoned pen letters to further divide the Labour Party, to divide the Labour Party and to divide and conquer if you want. There have been reports that the National party, the opposition party, has gone to the CIA for funding and this is very standard part of a political operation. If I was doing it, I would split the Labour party, fund the National party and maybe just before the elections keep `the Russians are coming’ thesis going to keep the pot boiling. But just before the elections, a document would be released that would implicate prominent members of the Labour party in relations with the Soviet embassy. Then, when that’s documented with prominent media coverage, you need media operations … when the elections are held that document has had an impact on the votes. Then after the votes, the election is over, the National party wins, then a commission is set up to establish the links of the Labour party members with the Soviet embassy and over a period of two years nothing develops, it’s just a device to deceive public opinion. At the same time I would try to destroy the peace movement. I would do that by penetrations of the peace movement who would try to divide and conquer, who would label effective members of the peace movement … do what we call `put on a smith jacket’. In other words to say that a person is working for the police or for the intelligence services, just to discredit him and destroy his effectiveness. Or in a case of a parade the peace movement might call, just at a critical moment, the penetration agent would pull out the New Zealand flag and burn it to make sure that the media coverage was all focused on that rather than the real intent of the peace movement in the parade. And all the various dirty tricks would be used to not only destroy the peace movement, to destroy its credibility, but also to divide the Labour party and to support the alternative party.
Tony Douglas: In McGehee’s scenario the creation of a Russian threat is the first step in bringing undone the Lange Government and its nuclear ships ban. Perhaps this goes a long way to explaining the story of the mystery nuclear submarine which appeared inside the territorial waters of the Cook Islands between the 17th and 21st of February this year (1986) and led to weeks of speculations, alleged leaks and innuendo in the New Zealand media. The Cook Islands, to the northeast of New Zealand, are about four hours flying time from Auckland. While the Cook Islands were granted self-government in 1965 they still rely on New Zealand to defend them. The first sighting of the submarine was made by two Cook Islanders when they were traveling on an inter-island flight. Three days later there was a second report of sighting by two Tahitian fishermen. At this stage, the New Zealand Air Force moved in and sent two Orion aircraft in search of the submarine. New Zealand peace researcher Allan Wilks takes up the story.
Allan Wilks: It seems that the plane took off at midday that day and they actually obtained a clearance to fly directly back to New Zealand. But then, instead of flying back to New Zealand, they diverted them through the other side of the island and they started flying a path back and forth in the area where the submarine had been seen just that morning and they discovered the submarine within an hour or two and so they radioed back to New Zealand and another Orion was sent up and for the next two and a half days they kept that submarine under continual surveillance and, apparently, they were dropping sono voi into the sea all the time and the sono voi picked up the noises of the engines and so on made by the submarine and from that they were able to recognise it as a nuclear submarine, because nuclear submarines make different noises than diesel submarines obviously, and they were also able to identify the nationality of the submarine.
Tony Douglas: What kind of technology did they have with this sono voi, how do they operate and how could they discover it was a nuclear submarine and identify which nationality it came from?
Allan Wilks: Well, the sono voi is a cylindrical object which is dropped from the aircraft and it contains a hydrophone, a microphone that works in the water, and the hydrophone just picks up the noises that is made by the engines and the propeller and then the voi itself has a little radio transmitter and it transmits those noises back to the aircraft where they listen to them and tape record them and analyse them on video screens and it’s very obvious that a nuclear submarine is going to sound very different from a diesel submarine because you sort of get the pounding of the diesel engines if it is a diesel submarine whereas if you listen to the noises from pumps and valves and turbines it is a nuclear submarine. And then, apparently, different classes of submarines have quite distinct sound signatures, as they call it, you know, it’s like … if you’ve got your eyes shut and you listen to cars go past the chances are that you can tell the difference between the noise made by a [Morris] Minor and a Jaguar and the same thing applies to submarines so it’s quite easy to identify a particular noise that is coming from an American submarine rather than a Russian submarine and, apparently, that is what happened in this case. Initially they were quite positive that they identified the submarine as an American submarine. Now, this has never been admitted publicly but I got it from people in the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands government was told three days afterwards by the New Zealand government that it was an American submarine that had been detected there.
Tony Douglas: Soon after a political game of ducks and drakes began in the New Zealand media with much speculation as to the identity of the submarine. On March 4, Allan Wilks after putting together the facts went public claiming that the submarine was probably American. This drew a sharp response from the Chief of Defence Staff, C.U. Jamison, who asked Wilks to produce his evidence.
Allan Wilks: That was also somewhat unprecedented for the Chief of Defence Staff to enter into a public debate on his own accord and he challenged me and demanded that I produced my evidence that it was an American submarine. And this was rather interesting because at that stage I hadn’t particularly claimed to have evidence. I had simply concluded, from the public information, that it appeared to be the behaviour one would expect from an American submarine that was trying to masquerade as a Soviet submarine. And I heard afterwards that the reason why the Chief of Defence Staff came out like that and demanded that I produced my evidence was that he was trying to track down a suspected leak within the Ministry of Defence. He figured that if I was saying that so confidently then I must have got information from someone within the Ministry of Defence to the effect that it was an American submarine.
Tony Douglas: Well, talking of leaks … all sorts of leaks started to appear in the New Zealand media about it being a Soviet submarine. Now, from about what date did these leaks start coming out that it was a Soviet sub and do we subsequently know where those leaks came from?
Allan Wilks: The leaks started coming very soon after we broke the story. Maybe I should say a little bit more about the leak. The first thing we got here about was that New Zealand aircraft were searching for a submarine. And then the story went completely dead and no journalist offered to pick up one or anything like that and several days afterwards I decided it was time to start inquiring about it and that was when we found out that a submarine had indeed been detected and the government was refusing to say whose it was. But it was very soon after that one or two journalists started to be fed what was supposed to be leaks and none of the journalists have admitted who they were getting the leaks from at all. They said that they were getting leaks from `trustworthy sources’. One journalist said that he got his leak from a `Western embassy’ which was not the United States embassy. You still haven’t thought that one out. But the leaks, the alleged leaks got more complicated as the public story got more complicated too and the final leak was to the effect that it very definitely was a Russian submarine but the Chief of Defence Staff did not want journalists to report this because he didn’t want to be seen as pressuring the government on this issue.
Tony Douglas: But the New Zealand government was pressured on the issue. In fact, Mr Lange changed his position on the submarine three times in the space of a month. On March 10, he declared he knew the identity of the submarine, was prepared to reveal whose side it was and would deliver a protest to its owner if the Cook Islands wished to. Four days later Lange did an about face saying he wouldn’t reveal its identity. And on April 7, just over three weeks later, said that he didn’t know its identity but intended to find out. Why the change of story? Allan Wilks again.
Allan Wilks: The Prime Minister’s office, I’m pretty sure, was initially told that it was an American submarine. The military were very worried about this, that they were upsetting and embarrassing an ally by having discovered the submarine and so they were searching for ways of getting out of this admission. Subsequently, and I think the United States government obliged by coming up with a denial that they had a submarine anywhere near that place at that particular time, and of course the United States was doing something quite unusual there because it’s like nuclear weapons the United States doesn’t normally admit to where their submarines are at sea at anytime. It’s the old `neither confirm or deny’ policy so that allowed them to introduce the confusion. Whether some particular pressure was put on the Prime Minister to change his story there or not, but it’s certainly quite remarkable the change that took place. At one stage, he was sort of joking about the whole business and saying that he was considering going against his own defence people and revealing the nationality of the submarine and then suddenly he made that change and said he wouldn’t say anything and then the other change was when, and this was a more gradual change, when the government started to say, you know, `maybe there wasn’t any submarine there at all. Maybe we just detected a fail or something or other like that.’ And that case, that change came about because of a report from the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO). Now, JIO as a matter of cause, apparently, is to see all our tape recordings and so on of submarines that are picked by Orions and on this occasion they analysed this reporting and they concluded, so it seems according to the leaks that have come out, they concluded that it was certainly not an American submarine and probably not a submarine at all. I would say that they have had the pressure put on them by the United States to diffuse the story.
Tony Douglas: I’m just having a look at the assessment of the Joint Intelligence office in Australia that they probably sighted a whale. Does that hold a lot of credibility? I mean, is there a possibility that there wasn’t in fact a submarine there at all?
Allan Wilks: Apparently it does happen that if you are using what they call an active sonar in which you create an underwater noise and then you listen for the echoes of that noise coming of objects that are in the ocean, that the echo of a whale can sound quite similar to the echo of a submarine. But in this case, it was not active sonar that they were using. The fact that they identified the engine noise and all that sort of thing indicates that they were using passive sonar, the kind of sonar in which you’re simply listening and there is no way you can mistake the song of a love sick whale for the sound of a diesel engine or a nuclear power plant.
Tony Douglas: Of course there were other elements to this story. The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Sir Tom Davis, a former employee of the United States Army and strong supporter of the Americans blacked out news coverage of the submarine in the Cook Islands from February 25 for 51 days and refused to comment even though the Cook Islands territorial waters had been violated. The leader of the opposition National party in New Zealand, Jim Bolger, refused even to be briefed on the issue. And the National party disarmament spokesperson, Doug Graham, checked with Cook Islands MP Vincent Ingraman about the identity of the submarine and when told it was American made no further comment. While the submarine episode appears to be an obvious set up what about the rest of McGehee’s scenario? Do members of the New Zealand government see it coming through as well? Here is government member and party whip Fran Wall.
Fran Wall: Oh, yes, I think there is a lot of truth in what he sees. The American diplomatic presence in New Zealand has been considerably strengthened in terms of quality if you want. Since this has happened they now have a professional ambassador there whereas prior to that it was a political appointment and the man they have there is a very good propagandist and in fact has a background which indicates that they are taking it seriously. There is a stream of American visitors through New Zealand, academics and politicians, who work both publicly and privately to try to change what we are doing. There is also a stream of New Zealanders invited over to the United States at the U.S. government expense who are briefed and given the American point of view on what we are doing.
Tony Douglas: Much of the concern centres on the appointment of career diplomat Paul Cleveland as United States ambassador to New Zealand in January 1986. We tried to interview the ambassador for this program but were told he was unavailable to talk to the Australian media. Perhaps that’s not surprising seeing he was a protegé of Marshall Green who was American ambassador to Australia during the Whitlam years and whose role in Australia in 1975, Greece in 1967, Indonesia in 1965 and South Vietnam in 1963 have been commented on in an earlier part of these series. Cleveland himself worked under Green in Indonesia in 1965 just before the CIA-inspired coup by the military. According to Cleveland, Green was, and I quote, “one of America’s greatest professional diplomats and I learnt an infinite amount from him”. Cleveland was also Green’s Special Assistant at the East Asian Desk in Washington from 1970 to 1973. Since then, Cleveland has held several senior postings in South Korea so he has much experience in representing United States interests in politically sensitive areas. But how do government members feel about his appointment. Fran Wall again.
Fran Wall: New Zealand is aware of that connection and perhaps is slightly different here in that you don’t need a coup to overthrow a government, you need an election loss, after all the Americans did say they would change our nuclear policy, our anti-nuclear policy, and having failed to change that I suppose it’s logical to think that they would have an interest in a change of government here indeed. Firstly, Mr Cleveland is a very active propagandist and seems to be very caught up in his craft so I would imagine that the decision to send him here was a deliberate one.
Tony Douglas: Is that propaganda aimed at the New Zealand public in general or is it aimed at certain powerful groupings inside the bureaucracy or the New Zealand military or the New Zealand conservative opposition?
Fran Wall: It is aimed at both actually and the public is … there has been a very high rate of influx of American visitors who have come around the country and done lecture tours and talked to various groups and given media interviews. These have included politicians and academics. They are obviously aimed at changing public opinion on softening our nuclear issues and, in fact, I recall and I can’t remember whether it was the ambassador or another embassy official, somebody actually did state at one stage that that was their intention, that they wanted to inform or educate the New Zealand public on our policy. However, they also have been aiming at specific opinion leaders picking men through a very active program of exchange in the opposite direction and they take journalists over to the United States, they take politicians over, trade union leaders and run them through a briefing process over there.
Tony Douglas: Which organisations in New Zealand have rather been hosting these visits or have been producing this kind of pro-American propaganda?
Fran Wall: Well, the visits are arranged through the embassy. I mean, they have a politician over, he is here as an American visitor with that sort of status. There have been others though, for example, there is a newly apparent rise in the fundamentalist right in New Zealand and they have very actively hooked them to the American Law majority type of movement and they have brought visitors over to New Zealand and their criticisms of the government have not simply been on the so-called moral issues or lifestyle issues but also, of course, on our foreign policy as well.
Tony Douglas: Nobody should be surprised that the New Zealand Labour party is aware of these machinations. After all, the United States involved itself in the last New Zealand elections. Australian journalist Denis Freney looks at the record.
Denis Freney: Yes, well, I mean there was open intervention there by the Americans. I mean, the ambassador, they had a whole range of official visitors, people like Vernon Walters who is now Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations. But he was a former Deputy Director of the CIA and in fact was Acting CIA Director when the coup took place in Chile. And he came out and they had admirals coming out and so on. All making statements trying to sort of say, you know, ‘this is the end of our relationship. You can’t vote for Labour.’ In the lead-up during the election campaign there was open political pressure, there were leaked stories in the media, there was enormous amount of pressure to at least come in politically behind the National regime. On the other hand, there is also suggestions, and they have not actually been proven but suggestions, that the National party has been funded by the CIA or if not by the CIA then by U.S. government institutions.
Tony Douglas: The accusations of CIA funding for the National Party go back a long way. Fran Wall looks back to the watershed year of 1975.
Fran Wall: There was a very intense but effective television advertising campaign run in 1975 at the time of the defeat of the New Zealand Labour government which was purported to have been funded by an American-based agency with connections to the intelligence world. And, of course, the time the New Zealand government was thrown out was also the same time the Australian Labour government was overturned and I know that there has been a lot of unrest in Australia about the reasons for that.
Tony Douglas: But back to the present day, how do you deal with the destabilisation campaign that is happening now?
Fran Wall: I think you deal with it by having a public that is aware of what’s going on and it seems to me that there is quite a high level of public consciousness of the desire of other states to change our policy. Perhaps the mistakes the Americans are making is in assuming that our policy is in fact something that has been sort of rushed through and placed on the New Zealand public by the Labour government. That in fact is not the case, it’s totally the opposite. It is a very widely supported policy and has been for a long time and I believe it is one of the reasons why the government changed in the last elections and why Labour was voted in.
Jane Lanbrook: That was the fifth of our series on the CIA and its role in Australia and New Zealand politics. Appearing on the program was former CIA agent Ralph McGehee, New Zealand government member Fran Wall, New Zealand peace movement researcher Allan Wilks and Australian journalist Denis Freney. These programs were produced by Tony Douglas. Well, that’s all on Watching Brief this week. if you’d like more information or cassette copies of the program or if you’ve got information that may be of interest contacts us on Public Radio News Services, P.O.Box 103, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065. Or call us in Melbourne at 417 7304.
Watching Brief is produced by Ian Wood and Tony Douglas for the Public Broadcasting Network of Australia.
End of Part 5.