Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Alister McIntosh's 'Best' Diplomat: Ken Ross Argues That Paddy Costello Was Never a Soviet Agent, as Often Alleged, but Was in Fact One of New Zealand's Most Brilliant Foreign Service Officials

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Alister McIntosh's 'Best' Diplomat: Ken Ross Argues That Paddy Costello Was Never a Soviet Agent, as Often Alleged, but Was in Fact One of New Zealand's Most Brilliant Foreign Service Officials

Article excerpt

Paddy Costello was Alister McIntosh's best-ever diplomat. Costello's intellect was too original and sceptical to be an agent for any other power than New Zealand. A communist when a student at Cambridge, his subsequent four years fighting had matured him ahead of becoming a New Zealand diplomat in 1944. Costello's misfortune from the perspective of Britain's MI5 security organisation was that he fell in love with and married a tough-minded British communist. McIntosh read Costello accurately and got him to work brilliantly, but had to let him go: while Peter Fraser had confidence in McIntosh on Costello, his successor as prime minister, Sidney Holland, aid not.

'in war and peace, he [Costello] rendered New Zealand valuable service. Whether he also served another master will remain a mystery. His intellectual brilliance has not been surpassed among his colleagues then or since' (Malcolm Templeton, 1989) (1)

In 1945 and 1950 British security officials (MI5) argued that Paddy Costello, then a New Zealand diplomat, was a security risk. When MI5's Costello file became public in April this year, it laid bare the cut-and-thrust between MI5 and Alister McIntosh, the head of New Zealand's Department of External Affairs, over Costello's security rating.

Costello's and McIntosh's correspondence displays fleet-footed insight, repartee, wit and wisdom--more so than in any of the other letters McIntosh has given us in his papers at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Perhaps these exchanges do not have the historical importance of those made public in Ian McGibbon's Undiplomatic Dialogue: Letters Between Carl Berendsen & Alister McIntosh 1943-1952 (1993) and Unofficial Channels: Letters Between Alister McIntosh and Foss Shanahan, George Laking and Frank Corner 1946-1966 (1999), but they show Costello was a shining diplomatic star for McIntosh.

The 'Paddy' left by McIntosh at the Turnbull is found in more places than the Costello folder in the McIntosh Papers. He confided to numerous others his enjoyment of having Costello in his team--'the most brilliant diplomatic officer we have', he told Jean McKenzie in 1949. (2) The correspondence between McIntosh and McKenzie, the head of New Zealand's legation throughout Costello's Paris posting, from October 1950 until 30 September 1954, is particularly illuminating on Costello. (3)

The McIntosh-Costello and McIntosh-McKenzie correspondences are my prime source for the argument made in this article. Drawing on them enables a shrewder rebuttal than has been made till now to the contention that Costello was a Soviet operative while a New Zealand diplomat. The odds that he was are substantially lengthened by this material and, as MI5 s material now public fails to nail Costello when a New Zealand diplomat, it seems a dusty file somewhere in John Le Carres Moscow Centre is the only possibility to clinch that Costello did fool McIntosh.

Yet because of MI5's concerns Costello was to be the single biggest personnel headache McIntosh handled in his 23 years at the head of New Zealand's diplomatic service. Despite MI5's strictures, McIntosh always contended that the British had misread Costello. McIntosh's correspondence at the Turnbull, when supplemented with the 29 McIntosh interviews the Turnbull holds, helps us better understand his confidence in Costello. (4)

Insightful observations

The insightful observers of Costello have been Ian McGibbon, with his entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, (5) and Malcolm Templeton, in three short contributions. (6) External Affairs Review, April 1964, contains a one-page obituary of Costello; of which two paragraphs, contributed by 'a member of the Department', give the rare quality of insight that only McIntosh could have scribbled down.

In a considered perspective of the espionage world, published in the New Zealand Herald m August 1981, Sir William Gilbert chided then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon for his comment that Costello may have been a Soviet spy. …

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