IN CHRIS MULLIN’S political thriller, A Very British Coup, Harry Perkins, the socialist prime minister, attempts to make Britain nuclear-free with help from a renegade boffin. (Watch a particularly chilling excerpt from the BBC television series here.) Sir Montague Kowalski, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, thwarts Ministry of Defence officials at every turn as they attempt to derail Perkins’ policy. Every one of the cold warriors’ objections is answered by Perkins with the information Kowalski makes available – information which all previous prime ministers have been denied.
Let’s imagine that New Zealand has (somehow!) elected a radical Labour-Green-Mana government with aspirations even more dangerous than declaring nuclear freedom. Let’s imagine that, following the exposure of extraordinary illegality on the part of the SIS and the GCSB, the new government has committed itself to decommissioning the Waihopai spy base and taking New Zealand out of the UKUSA Agreement.
Advising the Labour Prime Minister is a former senior intelligence official. Disgusted by the actions of his erstwhile colleagues, this boffin has made his inside knowledge of New Zealand’s national security apparatus available to the new prime minister.
High up in the Beehive, the prime minister and his boffin are considering how they might begin the dangerous task of detaching New Zealand from the Americans’ global intelligence network.
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BOFFIN: Before we begin, Prime Minister, have you been in touch with the young man I suggested?
PM: Yes, I have. He and his team were in here yesterday. They swept the whole floor – and the Cabinet Room upstairs.
BOFFIN: And …?
PM: And … it was just as you predicted. Listening devices everywhere. All gone now though, and his counter-measures are all in place and operating. We can speak freely here, Colonel.
BOFFIN: Excellent. But, just as a matter of interest, how long has it been since the last official sweep?
PM: Less than a week, Colonel. Any doubts I might have had about your warnings of a fortnight ago have been well-and-truly dispelled. So, now that nobody is listening-in, what’s our next move?
BOFFIN: You will have to move extremely quickly, Prime Minister. The sudden loss of their surveillance capacity will have alerted the Service that your government is not quite the sitting duck they were expecting. Even as we speak, they will be assessing the magnitude of the problem they face. You need to strike swiftly, before they recover their balance.
PM: Strike them? How?
BOFFIN: You’ve got yourself a new Police Commissioner. Can you trust him?
PM: Absolutely. He’s been feeding me information ever since the Ruatoki Raid in ’07. I’d trust him with my life.
BOFFIN: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, Prime Minister. What you will have to entrust to him, and to a few dozen of his most trusted officers, is the execution of simultaneous raids on your own Department, the SIS and the GCSB.
BOFFIN: There’s no other way, Prime Minister. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet lies at the very heart of what Rebecca Kitteridge, two years ago, called “The Intelligence Community”. The strategic thinking, the tactical decision-making, the practical coordination of resources – it all happens within your own department. You’re currently surrounded by at least seven separate national security related committees, all of them beavering away on behalf of our American friends and their allies. You have to shut them down.
PM: How the hell do we do that?
BOFFIN: You do it the way Lionel Murphy did it in 1973.
PM: Which was …?
BOFFIN: Lionel Murphy QC was the Australian Attorney-General in Gough Whitlam’s Labour Government. He had asked ASIO – their equivalent of the SIS – for information about a series of terrorist bombings believed to be the work of fanatical Croatian anti-communists, and the spooks had declined to supply it. So Murphy sent a detachment of Commonwealth Police, armed with search warrants, right into ASIO’s Melbourne headquarters. Unprecedented – anywhere in the English-speaking world. But, he got what he was after.
BOFFIN: There’s really no other way, Prime Minister. You need to know what they know, what they have been doing, what they’re planning – and the only way to secure that information is to march into the office of every single operative, order them to stand well clear of their computers, and seize everything. And, as that’s happening, you’ll also have to stand down your own departmental head and the heads of both the SIS and the GCSB. They must be made to surrender all codes, passwords, keys, cellphones – the lot. Our friends in the US and the UK must be left completely blind.
PM: And Waihopai? Tangimoana?
BOFFIN: Same procedure. Police in, GCSB personnel out.
PM: And – then what?
BOFFIN: Then Prime Minister, I suggest you have that young man and his friends ready to get to work extracting as much information as possible from the Echelon and Prism systems as they can before the Americans realise what’s going on and shut us out. Hopefully, they’ll be able to lay their hands on enough data to allow your government to strike a bargain with the other four eyes.
PM: A bargain?
BOFFIN: Yes, Prime Minister. You will put it to the Americans that since your government has already proved it can’t be trusted to preserve the integrity of the UKUSA protocols, the other signatories have nothing to gain by attempting to hold New Zealand to them. They should also know that, as a now former participant in the “five eyes” agreement, your government has in its possession information that could prove extremely prejudicial to the national interests and security of the United States and its allies. The New Zealand Government would not, of course, allow any of this information to become public … unless … unless something untoward should happen, either to yourself, or to any other member of your government.
PM: And you reckon this is the only way to get out of UKUSA?
BOFFIN: Well, Prime Minister, I haven’t been able to think of another way. Were you to follow the accepted, orthodox and very lengthy processes of policy formation and implementation, the Intelligence Community would have time to block, divert and, ultimately, undermine your every effort. There would be leaks, Prime Minister. There would be embarrassing revelations, based on information supplied by … persons unknown … and acquired, well, I’m sure you can imagine how they would acquire it. No government that is unwilling to act in the unorthodox and decisive fashion I have just outlined could ever hope to defeat its own intelligence community. Go back and study the files from the Kirk-Rowling Government, Prime Minister. Download and watch The Falcon and the Snowman.
PM: The what?
BOFFIN: It’s a movie, Prime Minister, based on the true life exploits of a couple of young Americans who stumble upon the truth of what happened to Gough Whitlam’s Labour Government.
PM: Which was …?
BOFFIN: Whitlam, God bless him, decided that he was going to shut down Pine Gap – Australia’s Waihopai – because he had begun to suspect that it was fundamentally compromising Australia’s national sovereignty. Well, these two young Americans, discovered what their country was willing to do to prevent that from happening.
PM: Which was what?
BOFFIN: Whitlam’s government was deliberately and fatally destabilised. His ministers were set up by CIA “assets” and discredited. Sensitive information was constantly and damagingly leaked to the press. Finally, when Australia had become virtually ungovernable, the CIA’s biggest asset of all, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam’s government and replaced it with one committed to remaining a loyal member of the UKUSA Agreement.
PM: Jesus, Colonel, you’re frightening me!
BOFFIN: You’re right to be frightened, Prime Minister. These are dangerous people. And the resources at their disposal in 2015 are greater, by several orders of magnitude, than they were forty years ago, in 1975. The defenders of contemporary capitalism are now arrayed with powers we can scarcely imagine. All of us should be afraid, Prime Minister. Very afraid.