INSIDE THE SIS (SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE) HEADQUARTERS
This particular gross violation of the "privacy" of the New Zealand Intelligence Service occurred in the later 1980's. Since we all know that the Governments of the world never stick their noses into our business, I suppose I should apologise for sticking my nose into theirs ;)
Again let me set the scene. At the time, the SIS Headquarters was situated in Taranaki Street Wellington. A new SIS Headquarters was nearing completion and so the old building was being stripped of any necessary equipment/building materials before it was demolished. The person in charge of the building contract was a very good friend of mine, whom I shall refer to as Mike. Mike did not work for the SIS, but was contracted by them to head up the team that stripped the interior of the building. When Mike started the job, most, if not all of the sensitive equipment/files etc had been completely removed from the building. His job was to merely strip the salvageable material remaining in the building.
I knew Mike through my boyfriend Keith. They both played in a band at that time and were best friends.
At the same time that Mike started work on the SIS Building, he was looking for a new place to hold band practice, as the place they were using was no longer available. On the ground floor of the SIS Building, Mike found the perfect spot for band practice - it was an extremely large room, with a section housed at the back of the room, which was sealed off with sound proof walls/glass and so Mike thought this was "spot on" and approached the person who had contracted him for the job in the first place, to ask permission to use this area.
To my utter amazement they agreed and handed Mike the keys so that he could access the building after hours!
Now I didn't normally attend band practise... but the thought of having "free reign" of the SIS Headquarters was just too tempting to pass up. So I arrived with my boyfriend around 7.30pm and they set up their instruments and got underway - I was "mighty" glad the room was soundproof and that I could sit "outside" although in the same room and not hear a single note they played ;).
After an hour of watching them belt out music that I couldn't hear, they finally stopped for a break and we all got talking about the job that Mike was doing on the building. I asked him if he'd come across anything odd or "big brother-ish". He then started to tell us about an odd thing that had happened that very day. He had been taking wooden panels off a wall and the drill had slipped through alot deeper than he'd meant it to, and as it had slipped, it "clinked" on something on the other side of the wall. Mike peered through the hole where the drill had gone and he could see a jar of marmite! For people who don't know what Marmite is, it's a very popular breakfast spread here in NZ. Mike was puzzled as to what the hell a jar of Marmite was doing sitting "in" the damm wall. He gave the jar a poke with the drill and shone a torch through the hole - he couldn't move the jar much but managed to see another jar behind it which was Marmalade!
Now for all intents and purposes there shouldn't have been there, there was "nothing" behind the wall (or so he thought!). There was no door, no opening whatsoever there that he could see.
Well of course that really peeked my interest so I wanted to see what he was talking about. At first he didn't want to go, as he'd given his word that they would stay right where they were - they were only allowed in that room and no where else. Well I sure hadn't given my word ;) so I thought I'd just find the damm thing myself! Mike realised it was a bit of a hopeless task trying to talk me out of it, so he reluctantly joined Keith and I, and took us to the place he was talking about.
I shone the torch through the small hole in the wall and sure enough there definitely was a jar of Marmite there. I stood back from the wall and examined it for any signs of entry but couldn't see one. Then I started tapping on the wall to see if it made that "hollow" sound which meant that indeed there was something behind it. I tapped from one end of the wall to the other and half away along I definitely heard the familiar sound change which indicated that behind the wall there was indeed a "hollow".
Mike and Keith were becoming rather bored with my tapping and banging and told me to "give it up" so they could return to band practice. I'd just about given up hope of finding the entrance when I decided to run my hand along the bottom of the wall that was jutting out and immediately I felt a little switch there. A smile broke over my face and the guys knew that meant I'd found it. I pulled back on the switch and the wall make a "click" sound as a section of the wall moved an inch towards me. I pulled back on it and it swung around with very little ease.
What confronted us was amazing! Tucked away where no one could find it was a complete apartment with all the trimmings! The door opened up into the main living area; to our right was a complete kitchen, with cupboards - which of course contained that jar of marmite. To the left was a single bed and to the left of that was the bathroom and toilet.
"FASCINATING" I thought! In the living area which we have entered into there was two comfortable chairs and a coffee table that still had a bunch of magazines on it. We stood there talking to each other about what we thought the place had been used for. I thought that maybe it was used to house political asylum seekings; it certainly wasn't a rough sort of place, it was extremely comfortable, so whoever did stay here had all their needs met (later on I was going to find something totally opposite to what we were seeing there.. something that would shock me to my core and still does to this day).
After having a good look around the apartment I decided that I was going to explore the entire building. Mike nearly had a fit at this and tried to talk me out of it... but my mind was make up - I was in the SIS Headquarters and no one was going to stop me exploring it.
So again reluctantly Mike and Keith decided they might as well go with me than leave me on my own so we moved out into the hall way and made our way down a flight of stairs to the next level below us. I choose to go down instead of up, as I thought if they had anything to hide, it would surely be underground and not up where the SIS Office's would have been. As it turned out, I was right.....
The first thing we explored was a rather strange, narrow hallway/corridor which seemed to lead on and on and on without any doors to other rooms leading off it. It was rather like a maze and if you had looked at it from above you would have seen how it curled around and around until it finally opened up into a small room. The hallway was made of what I thought was most probably concrete and it was painted white - there were rows and rows of wires running all down both sizes of the hallway which kept on going and wound themselves around the small room at the end of the corridor.
There was nothing left in this room. It was completely empty but the wires hadn't been stripped away, they had been left there. The room was approximately 15 ft x 7 - not a big room but still an extremely odd one to be secreted away like it was. I thought perhaps it might have been a communications centre, somewhere that was completely soundproof that's for sure... ummm another thought crossed my mind that if anyone had been kept in here there was no way anyone would hear them. Not a nice thought, but one that crossed my mind none-the-less.
We then moved on to have a look around that particular floor. Nothing unusual there, so we went down to the next level.
We went from room to room and came upon the largest freezer I'd ever seen in my life. Heaven only knows what they kept in their but it was HUGE! If you can imagine the biggest deep freeze you have ever seen, well this was at least 6 times that size. It was as long as the room itself and and about 7 foot wide. I have no idea what on earth they would have keep in that monster - if it was merely food then they must have had months worth in there.
Next we moved to the back of the building, still two floors underground. I nearly missed seeing what was going to be the "find" of the entire exercise! That particular part of the building had no electricity left on, so we were using torches and in some cases lighters to see our way. We entered into a room which lead no where and I nearly turned around to walk back out again when my torch passed over a doorway half the way up the wall! I just stood there looking at it - how odd to have a door 3 foot off the ground! I opened up the door and peered inside... I couldn't see a thing as it was just completely blackness. The floor of that room was gravel and as far as my arm could reach inside it was still gravel - so I hoisted myself up and entered the room itself.
What I found there absolutely shocked me and it's something that I will never forget. What I had entered was a large (and I do mean LARGE), shooting gallery! It was enormous! There were 10 lanes that seemed to go on forever to where the targets were still sitting, riddled with bullet holes. The guys climbed up inside the room with me and we started looking around.
Now when you climbed up and entered the shooting gallery - the layout was as such. To the right was where the lanes ended and where the targets were sitting. To the left was there the SIS Officers would have stood and aimed back down at the targets. But the room was much bigger than that! Immediately behind the spot where the SIS shooters would have stood firing their weapon rounds, were a series of what I can only describe as dungeons. They had been carved straight out of the rock wall and there were three of them. The smell over human urine and faeces was overpowering.
These dungeons were the crudest things I'd ever seen. The first dungeon had two walls that were carved out of the rock leaving two sides open which had rusty old bars across it. This was like something you'd see in medieval times not something I expected to see in the 1980's!!! The floor was damp and smelled rancid - there was a couple of old urine soaked sacks that had been thrown on the floor, which must have been the only things the prisoners had to sleep on. I was disgusted, outraged and revolted all at the same time. How DARE they keep human beings in such a despicable place. I tried to imagine what it must have been like living in those damp cold cells, with no light and then being forced to listen to the SIS Officers practicing their weapons target. Or were "they" used for target practice? Who were the people that the SIS kept there... WHO WERE THEY?
I thought to myself "Whoever they were, they would not have been alive to tell the story."
Standing there looking around at the firing range and the dungeons gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to stick around that's for sure. Then I heard Mike give us a yell - he was at the back of where the three dungeons were and had found a trap door which he'd opened. I went over to have a look and there was a ladder than lead straight down into pitch darkness. I looked up at Mike who had this expectant look on his face .... I said "NO WAY" "there isn't a hope in hell that I'm going down there". He left a faint grin cross his face and replied "what - don't you trust me to hold the trap door open." Too bloody right I didn't trust him to keep the door open.... Besides god only knows what we would find down there and I'd seen enough for my liking already. Mike shrugged his shoulders and was about to close the trap door - in doing so he leant right over it for a final look down inside - unfortunately he leant a little too far and his check book and wallet fell out of his pocket and went sailing on down into the black abyss.
If a picture paints a thousands words then the look on his face told me a thousand thoughts. The blood drained from his face as he realised that he would have to go down there and retrieve them. It was now my turn to tell him that I would "of course" keep the trap door wide open for him!
He really had no choice as we couldn't leave any tell tail signs that we'd even been there - and a wallet and check book definitely couldn't be left there! So down Mike climbed onto the ladder - I shone the torch on the ladder and Mike as steady as I could, and keep reassuring him that I would NOT close the door on him and that everything was going to be ok. He reached the bottom quite slowly and I saw him bend down and scoop up his belongings... then he looked up and me to make sure I was still there and still holding it open for him. He raced up the ladder like his arse was on fire.... it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
On his safe returned to the surface we all decided to get the hell out of there and made out way back to the ground floor to pack up our music gear.
Mike continued to work on the SIS building until it was cleared of all they had requested. Neither Mike, Keith or myself ever went back for any further exploration. The building was demolished and the SIS Headquarters is now safely housed in a new area of Wellington City. I can't help but wonder how many floors are underground... do they still have a firing range... and do they still keep prisoners in appalling conditions surely breaking every human rights accord there ever was.
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