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Maire Leadbeater on her SIS Personal File

Activist Annals
Maire Leadbeater on her SIS Personal File.

Maire Leadbeater was a leading peace and anti-nuclear activist for decades (and is still an Anti-Bases Campaign [ABC] activist and regular attendee at Waihopai spybase protests, indeed she was arrested at one). Courtesy of being a child of leading Communists (Jack and Elsie Locke*), she had been the subject of her own SIS Personal File since she was ten years old and for more than 50 years thereafter! This fact in itself attracted major media attention when it became public knowledge in January 2009. Maire has written a very detailed article about the historic Security Intelligence Service (SIS) spying on the Philippines Solidarity movement revealed in her Personal File (Maire was a leading activist in that movement in the 1980s and into the early 90s) and that can be read online at http://scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0903/S00145.htm. *Murray Horton’s obituary of Elsie Locke (who left the Communist Party in 1956, and was one of the most famous peace activists in NZ for many decades), is in Peace Researcher 23, June 2001, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/elsobit.htm .The Locke family has received Elsie’s SIS Personal File. Ed.

SIS First Spied On Maire When She Was Ten

In my teenage years I liked to make long phone calls - no e-mail, tweets, or text messages in those distant times. If ever there was a bit of static or an unusual noise on the line I would joke that the SIS was listening in. Ours was a very political household but the plans and schemes I shared with my friends were of the intense personal nature typical of most young people. Now that I have obtained my SIS records under the terms of the Privacy Act, it seems that the spies were spared the tedious task of listening to phone calls. The information obtained by the SIS (and its forerunner, the Police Special Branch) was instead obtained largely from “sources” who attended meetings and events and occasionally carried out a surveillance operation. The first entry in my file is a report stating that I delivered a copy of the Communist Party paper Peoples’ Voice newspaper to a resident of Bangor Street in central Christchurch. I was ten years old.

It was the era of the Cold War and under the heading of "Counter-subversion" my parents Jack and Elsie Locke were persons of “security interest”. When I went along with either or both of them to watch an Albanian movie or even a social evening of the William Morris cultural group an SIS source was often present. The source duly recorded the attendees, the nature of the activity and added in some “spice”, often amounting to little more than a précis of some semi-malicious gossip. The Housewives Union and the William Morris group were closely scrutinised as “Ancillary organisations” relative to the Communist Party. It seems that it was enough that some members of these groups were past or present members of the Communist Party. Or that a cultural group should choose to name itself after the 19th Century British socialist design and architectural guru?

In the event the spies could find no evidence of any plots to overthrow the Government or any other threat to peace and order. So it seems they went determinedly on documenting minutiae in the hope that a conspiracy would be unearthed sooner or later. Ironically there is a bonus in this slice of history. The reports brought back warm memories of taking part in junior drama, sharing my Mum's joy in Kiwi folk songs, remembering long forgotten family friends.

Beyond the personal there are also some invaluable records of some of the seminal meetings from the early days of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In 1959 the Nobel Laureate, Professor Linus Pauling, toured New Zealand to highlight the dangers of nuclear testing and radioactive fallout. The persuasive Professor was an important inspiration to the anti-nuclear movement then, just as Dr Helen Caldicott was a couple of decades later. I am proud to note that I distributed pamphlets at the entrance to Christchurch’s Civic Theatre along with my Mum.[1]

My early SIS records include a smattering of reports on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, from the early 1960s when I was closely involved in both organisations. There are notes of attendances at some meetings and lists of office holders, but with little comment or elaboration. This was also an important time at the beginning of the anti-apartheid and anti-Vietnam war movements, and my involvement is noted. Was I the secretary in 1965 of the Christchurch Anti-Apartheid Movement as suggested in one report? I think it was probably the Student Anti-Apartheid Committee as I have a Christchurch Press cutting from September that year showing a group of us standing outside Lancaster Park with a banner “Support Black Sth Africa - Boycott Apartheid Rugby”. We staged an all night vigil - the coldest demonstration I ever took part in.

There is a gap in my SIS records from 1970 to 1983. It seems the spies lost sight of me when I left Christchurch, got married, and took a new surname. Then it took them another year or two to figure out who I really was as was noted in May 1986. “Keith James Locke (PF) .. is indeed the brother of Maire Frances Leadbeater (PF) (nee Locke)…” [2]. The annotation PF indicates that the named person has their own Personal File.

I have written elsewhere about the SIS surveillance of the Philippines Solidarity Network. Compared to the effort devoted to keeping tabs on the Philippines work, peace activities do not seem to have been of such intense interest to the spies. True to form, however, the later reports appear to indicate the spies were still interested in recording internal controversy such as a 1990 dispute about sanctions in the Gulf Crisis Committee. They also made “who’s who” accounts of committee members of CND, representatives at a Palestine Human Rights Conference, attendees at the Auckland Peace Forum and the people present at a 1987 barbecue at John Minto’s home!.

One of the most comprehensive records is of a large public organising meeting held at Auckland University on April 18th, 1983.[3] That is one meeting that remains clear in my memory because of the very varied participation and the sense of purpose that was generated that night in small workshops. This was a crucial meeting to consolidate Auckland’s famous network of neighbourhood peace groups. At its height the network linked close on 90 groups.

Reporting On Internal Peace Movement Controversy

I was also intrigued to note a record of internal peace movement controversy that followed the release of the Defence Review Committee Report, (known as the Corner Report, after the Chairperson, Frank Corner).[4] The peace movement was shocked that the peace activist appointee, Kevin Clements, assented to the report’s pro-ANZUS* conclusions. An early copy of the Committee’s report found its way from the Prime Minister’s Department to several Labour MPs who in turn ensured that leading peace movement figures were informed. Kevin Clements was subjected to telephone calls with “varying degrees of abuse” and was “variously told that he had sold out, betrayed the movement and been dismissed as a friend”. My negative views (hopefully not abusive!) were conveyed by a fellow CND member. *ANZUS was the cornerstone military treaty between the US, Australia and NZ. The nuclear free policy, introduced by the 1984-90 Labour government, led to NZ being expelled from ANZUS, which remains the status quo today. The treaty continues, between the US and Australia. Ed.

Looking back, this reaction seems unnecessarily punitive, but at the time, there was bitter disappointment among the “rank and file”. We believed that Kevin Clements had been appointed because of his pacifist and anti-nuclear credentials, and should have defended the view that our nuclear free stand was more important than an outdated alliance. However, the same SIS file note paraphrases a conversation with Prime Minister Lange. Mr Lange met with Kevin Clements a few days after the storm broke and found him “tired and shaken by the experience”, but suggested that Kevin’s resolve was unshaken. David Lange concluded that Kevin had been able to approach his task with an open mind, as Lange had advised him to do at the time of his appointment.

When the Report, and its ambiguous conclusions, became public it was clear that the Committee had relied heavily on opinion poll data and on an analysis of submissions which included coupon submissions from a pro-ANZUS newspaper advertisement. The Prime Minister was among those subsequently expressing concern about the methodology and interpretation of the opinion poll. As I look back at the Corner Report and news coverage and articles that followed it, I marvel at the energy and commitment that went into this debate about defence and our nuclear free status. If the controversy helped to fuel our subsequent campaigning for nuclear free legislation that was a plus surely?

Professor Kevin Clements has recently returned to New Zealand after holding prestigious academic posts in peace and conflict centres in America, Britain and Australia. He is the first appointee to the Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. The last reference to me held by the SIS as at 3 October, 2008, was a reference to the fact that I was planning to participate in a peace march in September 2002, probably against the impending war in Iraq. My activism has not ceased but it would seem SIS scrutiny has, for which I am grateful.


[1] District Office, Christchurch, P.F./ Locke, Marie (sic) 4 December, 1959

[2] From Headquarters to District Office Northern District Keith James Locke (PF) , 2 May 1986

[3] Miscellaneous Peace Groups “Public Peace Forum Coalition” To Headquarters (Counter Subversion) from District Office Northern District, 9 May, 1983

[4] Note for File “Peace Movement” 6 August, 1986

This Article appeared in the latest issue of Peace Researcher, the newsletter of the Anti-Bases Campaign.

ENDS

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