Peace Researcher 38 – July 2009
It was no surprise to either
the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) or the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa
(CAFCA) when Rob Gilchrist was finally exposed as a Police spy and agent
provocateur, in December 2008. We’d known that as long as we’d known Rob i.e.
the ten years he’d been doing it. We didn’t have any proof or evidence but we
just knew. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.
Both our organisations have had long experience of spies attempting to
infiltrate us (indeed his arrival on the scene, in the build up to the 1999
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
When Rob’s then partner, Rochelle Rees, found his secret spying files on his computer (see her article, below, for details) ABC and CAFCA were listed among the numerous groups that Rob was tasked with spying upon. ABC sussed him out from the start and never gave him any entrée into the group; equally, he soon realised that our activities at the Waihopai spybase were not susceptible to his methods as an agent provocateur. Most importantly, in the decade of his spying career, ABC never did anything that the Police would have considered worth spying on. So the completely unexpected 2008 Ploughshares action which deflated one of the Waihopai domes must have come as terrible shock to the Invisible Men who are supposed to foretell such things. ABC wonders if Rob’s $600 weekly wage was withheld by the cops that week.
It was easy to pick Rob as a spy; he just looked and acted like one who had been sent by Central Casting. He bore an uncanny resemblance to another guy who had turned up out of nowhere in the 1980s, got involved with ABC’s predecessor, Citizens for the Demilitarisation of Harewood, and then vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. Going further back to the 1970s, the committee of what was then called the Campaign Against Foreign Control in New Zealand (CAFCINZ, now CAFCA), included an individual who perfectly fitted the classic profile of a spy. He came from nowhere, nobody knew anything about him, he had no apparent context and he had no politics. But he assiduously attended all our meetings, activities and protests and, being the classic helpful spy, offered to look after things like our mailing list (which in those days was a manual one, on index cards). He duly vanished and was next spotted by a former committee colleague, in a provincial newspaper photo, taking part in a Police fundraising run! He went on to a long career as a cop, retiring just a few years ago as a senior Christchurch detective (for the record, when we confronted him, by phone, he denied having been a spy when he was on the committee, saying that he only became a cop after leaving us. You be the judge). We wrote about it in the April 1980 Foreign Control Watchdog (without ever naming him) and that article was duly entered into the Security Intelligence Service file on CAFCINZ/CAFCA, with a note reading: "On page 3 under the heading of ‘Spying’ there is a valuable lesson here for Intelligence Officers in trying to arrange penetration of a target"! I’m glad that we were able to help the SIS with its spycraft training! (see elsewhere in this issue for articles about SIS spying on activists, including peace activists. The article on SIS spying on CAFCA, and many others, is in Watchdog 120, May 2009, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/20/06.htm).
spies fit that profile. The Watchdog
article details a guy, now dead, who was a member of the Christchurch branch of
the former Communist Party and a large number of Christchurch activist groups
in the 1980s and 90s and who did not behave like Rob and the other two that
I’ve cited. Mind you, he did leave a broad clue in the form of unpublished
memoirs which detailed his work as a paid SIS informer in
He Looked And Acted Like What He Was
ABC was only a peripheral target of Rob’s spying, he didn’t devote much attention to us, probably because we were not where the action was (our “exciting” arrestable actions at the Waihopai and Harewood bases occurred in the decade before Rob began spying) and probably because he knew we’d sussed him out as a spy from Day One. He certainly never tried that bullshit on us that he’d been in the Special Air Service (SAS) – he personally told me that he’d been in the Territorials. And that accorded precisely with his most unprepossessing appearance. He only ever came to one Waihopai protest, earlier this decade, and I vividly remember one of my colleagues asking: “Do you reckon Gilchrist more closely resembles Beavis or Butthead?” He turned up at that protest in a flash four wheel drive and when I commented on that, he told me that his father had died and that he’d inherited some money. I thought: “Yeah, right”, and when I was later sent his expenses claims to his Police handlers (air fares, hotels and rental vehicles, on top of his weekly pay) I thought: “Yeah, I was right”. At that same protest, he cut a fine figure in a Helen Clark mask and a dress, as part of the street theatre. Dressing up must come naturally to a spy.
He looked and behaved like a little creep, so it was no surprise to learn that encrypted files on his computer included the sexual orientation of named activists and a whole lot of other similar stuff to do with personal and sexual relationships within the targeted group. Not to mention nude photos of young women with whom he was sleeping and on whom he was spying (some taken covertly), which were sent, complete with derogatory headings, to his Police Intelligence handlers for their titillation.
Rob didn’t do any damage to us (or CAFCA) but
he did do considerable harm, both personally and politically, within various
other activist groups that he was able to infiltrate and manipulate. It is a
cautionary tale and we all need to learn the painful lessons. Peace Researcher is indebted to both