From The SIS Archives

- Murray Horton

Watchdog 120 carried a very long and detailed article by me entitled “SIS Spied On CAFCA For Quarter Of A Century” (May 2009, I fully intended to follow that up with an article about the contents of my NZ Security Intelligence Service Personal File, which I received after CAFCA received its file (and it remains the only organisation to have received its SIS file).

What’s more, CAFCA’s file was actually informative. By contrast, my Personal File – like those received by everyone else – was heavily redacted. The SIS had learnt its lesson after releasing the CAFCA file. But you know how it goes, life intervened and I never found time or got around to it. So, that article never happened.

But I did get the chance to write about a tiny part of it, in late 2017, for a most unlikely outlet – namely the online publication for the old boys of my Christchurch high school (Shirley Boys’ High School). Among old boys of my vintage (1964-68) I am known as the co-writer of “the book about China”. Having contacted the school about something else, I was invited to write about that. Here is a slightly edited version of what I wrote, which will give you a flavour of the paranoia of the spies in the 1960s.

“Among the papers in my office is my NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) Personal File, which spanned several decades until the spooks decided I was no longer an enemy of the State (does that make me a has been?). It's very reassuring when you get old and forgetful that you needn't worry about remembering details of your life, because taxpayers' money was spent for decades by spies to carefully record it all”.

“The single oldest entry is a May 1967 Christchurch Star clipping headed ‘Boys Write Own History Of China’. It details how myself and lifelong friend and SBHS classmate, Paul Harrison, wrote a 100,000 manuscript on the history of modern China in the summer holidays after our School Certificate exams (as you do. We were 15 and 16 respectively). That clipping was added retrospectively after the SIS opened its file on me (in 1969)”.

“The spies had underlined the following quote from Paul: ‘Generally we have sympathised with the Communist Party during the period when it was gathering supporters, but the Communists have become corrupt since they came to power’. In the 1960s, Communist China was NZ’s mortal enemy – whereas today, Capitalist China is, apparently, our economic salvation”.

“The article pays credit to our History teacher. It also credits Paul’s long suffering late mother who typed it up. And why did that particular story get into the Star? Because the then Editor, was on the Board of Governors and the then Headmaster - who was a genius at publicising SBHS -  drew it to his attention”.

“Paul and I also appeared in the NZ Woman's Weekly, which was part of the Star group of publications. But there is no trace of that clipping in my SIS file - obviously women's magazines were beneath the dignity of our top secret newspaper clippers (I wonder if James Bond had to spend his apprenticeship clipping newspapers?)”

“So, what happened to the manuscript? Neither of us knows, nor was it ever published (thank God).  Paul is now a highly respected academic at the prestigious Stanford University in the US. When I showed him the clipping in the file, his only response was: ‘God, it’s that photo of me with the dorky glasses’. However, it would appear that fashion crime is not sufficiently heinous to get you spied upon. There is no SIS file on him”.


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