A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence and Gibson, 2016), 229 pp., $29
I’m old enough to recall a sketch in a university student revue from the early 1980s. It was about a new recruit to the SIS being outfitted with the required kit.
‘Briefcase,’ says the officer dishing out the kit.
‘Check,’ says the recruit.
‘Cold meat pies.’
‘Copy of Penthouse.’
Gales of laughter from the student audience, of course, as they delighted in the then recent (December 1981) embarrassment of an SIS officer’s missing briefcase being found in Wellington’s Aro Valley by a little boy, who handed it over to his journalist mum. It contained these particular items. They convinced students (and many other New Zealanders) that the average SIS officer must be (a.) a pathetic person with no taste, and (b.) a wanker in the most literal sense of the term. Doubtless this is untrue, but the image has been hard to shift. After all, in New Zealand most matters involving espionage or counter-espionage are on such a small scale that it’s hard to imagine our own spies ever indulging in spectacular James Bond heroics. We are more likely to be concerned about how much the SIS impinges on civil liberties. [Read more…]