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Review of “Spy” by C. H. Kit Bennetts

  • May 7th, 2007

Published in Capital Times – December 2006

This book justifies its prominence in Wellington bookshops. If you get it for Christmas it will not be from the remainder bin.


In 1974 Kit Bennetts’ work resulted in the arrest of well-connected, high ranking left-wing retired public servant Dr William Ball Sutch for spying for the Soviets. I did not know the SIS man. Now Bennetts reminds me of how many of my friends thought they knew him well enough to believe they must drive him out of the country, though I think only George Rosenberg ever spoke to him.

The book is an embarrassing reminder of the anti-SIS credulity we shared.

My first student demonstration was in 1969, outside the SIS offices in Taranaki Street.. I recall our bemusement when Attorney General, Dr Martyn Findlay QC showed plainly he was on “our” side against the Official Secrets Act, yet authorised the Sutch prosecution. We were blissfully unaware of Findlay’s flakiness.

I’d forgotten how Dr Brian Edwards, Alister Taylor and other more inveterate conspiracy believers tried to make life such a misery for Bennetts’ workmates. I’d rather forget how many of my student generation’s beliefs have turned to mush.

For those who were not there, think “anti-globalisation” for a glimpse of the mindset. A mixture of slogans, fervour, myth and fragmentary facts create a secular political religion. The religion then justifies the universal appeal to young men of smashing things and causing offence to force others to your will. For the ‘intellectuals’ of my youth the transcendant causes were apartheid, and Vietnam. A generalised anti-establishment rage excused vandalism, assault and other offences against the despised ordinary people who did not share our faiths.

My friends spent days fundraising and fulminating against the SIS after Sutch’s acquittal, for its perfidy in pursuing him. I’d probably have been helping, if defence lawyer Michael Bungay had not intimated to me that Sutch was guilty the night he got Sutch acquitted (see As a new agnostic on that cause I ‘sifted’ out of action.

But even if I’d stayed a believer that Sutch was a victim of the vast right wing conspiracy, reading this book now would have been a duty. The other side should get a chance to make its case.

I picked up Henry Kissinger’s memoirs with that feeling of obligation. As an anti-Vietnam war demonstrator I’d shouted passionately against all I thought he stood for. So it was my duty to give him a chance to explain himself. Kissinger’s intelligence and the facts took over. I could not put his book down.

Bennetts is no Kissinger, but “Spy” gains a similar grip. Of course, for a Wellingtonian there is the fascination of revelation mixed with the mundane familiar. It is intriguing to be reminded of events in streets you know, that ought to have jarred the intellectual smugness of an entire generation, but did not.

As a vignette of its time the book is a worthy read. I noticed no errors in the ample references.

But it is also fun to read. Apt quotations begin each chapter. The spycatching tale buzzes along. Bennetts may not be a Le Carre, but the “Boys Own” breeziness rings true to me. I have yet to come across a high performing work team culture that could not be satirised as ‘gung ho’. 

I imagine our intelligence services people will resent Bennetts’ breach of the convention against former officers doing “show and tell” books. They may be consoled by the quality of this one.

Random House October 2006 $36.99




Hi Stephen,
I think I recognise you from the ACT AGM in Christchurch recently?

Cool site, good on ya, will be checking back.

  • Paul Leeks
  • May 16th, 2007
  • 5:19 pm

Hi there!!

Kit Bennets was my Commanding Officer at 41 Sqn(ATC) during the 1980’s.He is a top man,charismatic and I wish him all the best for his future.I am a former air cadet and he use to give me a hard time!(if in doubt blame Leeks and Young!!)

Paul Leeks

  • Davey
  • October 9th, 2009
  • 2:24 pm

you Mr Franks have just sold out to the right-wing. Given up. Now, you attempt to discredit the student movement of the sixties and seventies.

Already into the first few pages of his book and uses words about the soviets like “Badies” and “the enemy”. How objective is that?

There’s nothing worse than a once student radical compromising, relinguishing all their left-wing political views, then becoming a right- wing conservative libertarian

  • Davey
  • October 9th, 2009
  • 2:28 pm

‘I’d probably have been helping, if defence lawyer Michael Bungay had not intimated to me that Sutch was guilty the night he got Sutch acquitted (see As a new agnostic on that cause I ‘sifted’ out of action.’

It’s irrelevant what Bungay “thought”. Sutch was acquitted-fact. You base your future on the denfence lawyer’s opinion? Bungay’s opnion on guilt or innocence is, as you realise, not decisive at all.

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