Uncovering New Zealand’s ‘secret world’

State surveillance of New Zealand citizens is increasingly in the spotlight, but little has been written about how and why intelligence gathering began and developed in Aotearoa.

Professor of New Zealand Studies, Richard Hill

Marsden funding of $495,000 will change that, by enabling Richard Hill, Professor of New Zealand Studies at the Stout Research Centre, to produce a comprehensive history of covert intelligence gathering in New Zealand in the century after 1907, the year New Zealand joined the international security intelligence community.

New Zealand is currently the only Western country to have no academic study of the history of its security intelligence services.

The research to be carried out by Richard and his team will result in a book that will comprehensively analyse the ‘secret world’ in New Zealand, but leave its readers to draw their own conclusions on ethical and other issues involved in covert surveillance.

Richard will be working with espionage expert Dr David Burke of Cambridge University, independent military historian David Filer and Dr Steven Loveridge of the Stout Research Centre.

He says although the researchers will not be able to view all the relevant documents that exist, he is confident they will have access to the core material needed to write an informed history.

As to whether the book will contain any startling revelations, Richard says he genuinely does not know.

“The fact that official agencies have only recently begun to release documents on surveillance activities means that we are starting from quite a limited knowledge base. We will be seeking to uncover a number of activities and policies that we know a little about, their details languishing in files previously classified as ‘top secret’.

“But, if overseas studies are any precedent, there will be activities that we don’t know about. If we find some of these, as we expect, obviously they will be a revelation, as much to us as to our readers.”