The information just released suggesting William Sutch really was a KGB agent means I've personally known two potential spies during my sojourn in New Zealand.
Plus, before leaving Britain, I was briefly billeted with the widow of a German agent caught and executed for spying on the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flo in World War I. My landlady believed the 1939 British movie The Spy in Black was inspired by her late husband's exploits.
Bill Sutch I knew in Wellington through my contacts in the arts coterie. As Secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce, Sutch was a powerful and influential public servant, who very early in his government career encouraged the benefits of design, believing that quality industrial design was central to economic prosperity.
As a budding young designer, I was certainly in unison with his thinking and we spent many hours discussing the importance of creativity in countries such as Denmark, seen at the time as leading the world in furniture and craft design.
Among his achievements towards the arts, Sutch assisted in the setting up of the Wellington Architectural Centre, which at the time was an oasis for contemporary thinking in creativity.
Later, he was the obvious choice to chair the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council.
In 1953 he commissioned the architect Ernst Plischke to design a family home in Brooklyn, a breathtaking modern design in the European tradition, filled with light and in complete contrast to the staid post-colonial buildings of the era.
While he was certainly left of centre in his political philosophy he left no particular insight about his personality other than appearing totally out of kilter intellectually and aesthetically with the somewhat ponderous style of the public service and politicians of the day.
The only clue I recall concerning his interest in Soviet affairs was long discussions he had with my late wife, Hildagard, who hailed from East Berlin.
I remember joking with her at the time that she had better be careful, because he might recruit her to go back behind the Iron Curtain to spy on the Russians. Little did I realise I could have been partly right, but had the allegiances back-to-front.
Imagine my surprise when Sutch was charged under the Official Secrets Act for supposedly passing information back to the Russians. The history of the case has been well documented with a jury finally acquitting him in February 1975.
In circumstances sounding remarkably familiar, the SIS didn't come out of the affair very well, with a report that the agency had burgled and unlawfully bugged Sutch's office.
Sutch died in September that year, his illustrious career damaged beyond repair by the claims. Now, 40 years on, papers released by Churchill College at Britain's Cambridge University clearly suggest Sutch was indeed a KGB agent, recruited in 1950 and given the codename "Maori". The file with the NZ material says the KGB recruited an "ex-high-ranking official in state machinery" born in 1907 who had a PhD and retired in 1965. That profile is a match for Sutch.
For a person who seemed to be above the humdrum of daily politics, it seems mystifying that Sutch with his well-honed sense of intellectualism would have wasted his time scampering around darkened Wellington streets passing bits of information to Soviet agents, but perhaps the thrill of playing cloak and dagger games was enough stimulation.
My second encounter with a presumed spy happened right under the noses of my former newspaper, the Auckland Star. A couple of weeks after the Rainbow Warrior bombing in Auckland, a female arrived at the editor's door, with British experience and excellent credentials as an experienced international journalist.
She was immediately employed and joined the newsroom team. She appeared to be in her late 20s, smartly dressed, and quickly slipped into the background of a busy newspaper. I dated her a couple of times, as was the habit of the marauding cartoonist with an eye for the ladies, but found her very reserved. I noticed she tended to work very late. I would sometimes find her studying news reports way past midnight as they clattered their way into the newsroom via the telex machine (computers were still some years away).
She left as suddenly as she arrived, after about 12 weeks, saying her father was ill in London. I went to her flat with another reporter to see if she needed any help packing up, but she'd already gone.
Her flatmate mentioned she was a bit of an odd person and thought she also worked for a French magazine, because she made a lot of late-night phone calls to France and spoke fluent French.
That seemed to be the end of the matter until three years later, when I was in Paris. I had just stepped out of my hotel on the Avenue George V when, to my surprise, walking towards me was the Star's former reporter, in a French military uniform accompanied by two Army officers. When I called out she stopped briefly, clearly recognising me, then quickly walked on.
Years later, I told a friend working in Australian intelligence about the episode. He laughed and told me the French DGSE had dropped several agents into New Zealand after the Rainbow Warrior Affair to report back on the activities of local media and public reaction.
"You mean we had a scoop spy story right under our noses, and missed it?" I groaned. "Trouble with you New Zealanders, you're all too trusting when it come down to cloak and dagger stuff," he said. In view of latest allegation about the late William Sutch I tend to agree.