Information in CIA documents about New Zealand came from note-taking in diplomatic meetings and not spying, the US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert says.

"The characterisation of the US spying on New Zealand is mischaracterisation I think of what that's all about," Gilbert told the Herald.

"Everybody diplomatic meeting you walk into there are always note-takers and usually there are note-takers on both sides and there are even times when note-takers will compare notes.

"After every meeting they will write up what happened in the conversation so a broader audience will know and when you read what is written there, that is just note-taking from meetings or perceptions from people who got to meet different players of that era.


"I can categorically tell you that the United States does not spy on New Zealand and New Zealand does not spy on the United States."

A database put online this week reveals internal Central Intelligence Agency reports which detail the inner workings of New Zealand political parties, briefings on our Prime Ministers and the times New Zealand upset the most powerful nation in the world.

The database has been put online by the CIA after campaigning and legal action by a group called Muckrock, which was set up to help people file Freedom of Information Act requests.

Among the 13 million pages of records are almost 4000 CIA documents which reference New Zealand, dating from as early as a 1948, report on US claims to islands in the Pacific.

The most recent report discovered by the Herald is from 1988, when the CIA wrote of its perceived increase in "racial tension" as a result of Waitangi Tribunal findings.

Gilbert, who will end his time as Ambassador this week and return to the United States, said nothing written in the CIA documents was the result of surveillance.

"It's what happens in all meetings. Back when I was in business and working for global investment banks, I would always have someone in the meetings who would take notes.

"When I go and meet the Prime Minister today, there will be one person on each side who will be taking notes so that people remember what will be said and that will be kept so that the next Prime Minister and the next ambassador will know what the conversation was all about.

"The United States and New Zealand work together. We absolutely don't spy on each other."