OWEN WILKES' SIS FILE
A Bit More Released, A Decade After First Smidgen
- Murray Horton
There hasn't been much to report on this subject for years. It's been a decade since CAFCA received our Security Intelligence Service file (and we remain the only organisation to have done so). At the same time, numerous individuals, including me, did likewise. We tried to get the SIS Personal File on the late Owen Wilkes (you can read my obituary of him in Watchdog 109, August 2005).
The SIS released a tiny smidgen of it (they say that they hold six volumes on Owen). And that was the end of it as far as CAFCA was concerned. To get that, we had to work with Owen's brother, his only surviving blood relative, as he was (and is) the only person with legal standing to request access to Owen's file. But the indefatigable Maire Leadbeater has, much more recently, taken up the quest (you can read Maire's "Omega Campaign Of 1968/69: An Important And Well-Earned Victory, Flaws Aside", in Watchdog 149, December 2018. Owen features very prominently in that article - that successful campaign 50 years ago was where he made his name).
In January 2019 Maire rang me to say that she had secured some more of Owen's SIS file, also with the vital cooperation of Owen's brother, and immediately sent me the scans. Reading those documents led me to, straight away, ring Owen's ex-wife (the exact 1976 date of their legal separation is recorded in the file) to inform her that she is listed in it as "Relative Of Interest" (i.e. wife) and is therefore likely to be the subject of her own SIS file. Despite the fact that Owen has been dead since 2005, the SIS is still prepared to only release a tiny fraction of his six-volume file.
I checked this latest batch of papers against what CAFCA has had since 2009. A lot, but not all of it, is the same. It is interesting that the SIS Director, Rebecca Kitteridge, says, in her cover letter to Maire, that the reason for spying on Owen is no longer the mission of the SIS. There's an awful in it about CAFMANZ and CAFCINZ (CAFCA's predecessors i.e. the Campaign Against Foreign Military Activities in New Zealand and the Campaign Against Foreign Control In New Zealand. Owen was a founder of CAFMANZ, CAFCINZ and CAFCA).
Despite the redactions, it is possible to work out what and who some documents are about. For example, I intelligently guess that a 1986 one is from the SIS to the US Central Intelligence Agency (or, less likely, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) about an Australasian speaking tour that I, on behalf of CAFCINZ and then CAFCA, spent three years (1984-87) - unsuccessfully - trying to organise. The proposed speaker was Philip Agee, former CIA agent turned whistleblower, author and anti-imperialist campaigner par excellence (my obituary of Agee is in Watchdog 117, April 2008).
This is my favourite passage in this latest batch of Owen's file: "In his extensive writings both here and abroad in support of his campaigns, WILKES has been variously described as an entomologist, New Zealand physicist, military strategist, and scientist. In fact, he 'dropped out' from Canterbury University after passing five units of a science degree. He does, however, have a well-developed flair for ferreting out, from obscure but unclassified sources, what would appear to constitute classified information, and it seems he has continued to exploit this special skill in Norway". He was the "ferret" to whom the New Zealand, and global, peace movement owes a huge vote of thanks.
Mention of Norway brought back memories. In 1978, I and my then partner (a fellow CAFCINZ founder and first Chairperson of CAFCA) accompanied Owen on a "spy trip" through Norway's northernmost province, the one bordering the former Soviet Union, which gave me my first glimpse of the sort of domes with which I've become so familiar at the Waihopai spy base during the last 30 years. You can read all about it in the subsection "'Spying' Cases In Norway And Sweden", in my 2005 Watchdog obituary of Owen, cited above.