Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Dotcom, spies and plausible deniability

September 25th, 2012

Well, John Key promised us a different style of government than what we’d had from Helen Clark. No more of that being on top of every detail in every portfolio. Do that, and people not only get sick to death of you (no one likes a know-all) but you can held responsible for knowing what’s going on in every dark corner of your administration, and that can take its toll on your popularity, too. For a number of reasons, Key is just not a detail kind of guy.

But does that make the job any easier? Not at all. Because every week the list of “need not to know” subjects seems to get longer. Last week, Key decided that he needed not to read what was in the Police report on John Banks and his mayoral campaign contributions, lest he should find something that would inconveniently require him to revisit the issue of Banks’ credibility, or lack thereof. Long before that, there was the need to be kept out of the loop about the imminent Police raid on Kim Dotcom’s moment until the very, very last moment. And now to cap it all off… there has been the need not to know that the very security organization that reports to him – the GCSB – was carrying out surveillance illegally on Dotcom, at the behest of the FBI. Who knew? Who knew that our biggest security service seems to have been working more closely with agents of a foreign power than with its own Minister? Not John Key, even though most of the time, he (as Minister of the Security Services) is the guy supposed to be signing off the GCSB’s surveillance warrants. Is it plausible to try and insulate yourself from knowledge of the actions of the very organisation for which you have oversight responsibility?

One can only imagine the relentless thirst for plausible deniability around the Cabinet table in this administration. The Christchurch rebuild? Don’t tell him about it. Literally, don’t tell him, Gerry. Bill, you and Treasury have finally got a plan for economic growth? I really don’t want to know – just tell me its cost neutral and spare me the details. In the Dotcom case, the fact of illegal surveillance only came to light in court papers to do with Dotcom’s extradition proceedings, and it seems to have been only at that point that the GCSB informed their Minister, and thereby triggered an investigation by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor. It should be quite an exercise. What did the Prime Minister not know, and when did he not know it?

As yet, it is unclear whether the information provided to the Americans by the GCSB extended beyond locating the whereabouts of certain individuals. Probably more, but who knows? It is unclear whether Dotcom’s lawyers will be told its full extent – if they aren’t this would surely prejudice his right to a fair trial – or whether Paul Neazor’s full findings will eventually be made public.

The context for the actions against Dotcom are significantly different than what existed during the previous decade. What we saw in the 2000s under the Clark government was a covert effort by the NZ Defence Force to pursue a special relationship with the United States in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, regardless of the avowed independent foreign policy stance of the government of the day. That was the main thrust of the evidence collected by Nicky Hager in his book Other People’s Wars. Currently though, New Zealand has a conservative government actively engaged in seeking a special relationship with the Americans, and the task of collusion is therefore far easier to pursue. One can readily see why the GCSB might have had – or thought it might have had – a green light to do whatever would please the Americans, and enhance the wider relationship.

The formalities do have to be gone through, though. The need to restore even a smidgeon of public confidence in the neutrality of the security services makes it imperative that full disclosure of Neazor’s findings should occur. As things stand, there is an unsavoury looking trail here leading from corporate entertainment chiefs to US Vice-President Joseph Biden, and radiating back outwards to the FBI/NZ Police operation against Dotcom. To date, that hyperactive collusion in January between our Police and security services and those of a foreign power operating on our soil has resulted in search and seizure actions deemed by the courts to have been illegal – and those transgressions have now been compounded by an admission of illegal domestic spying. As yet there is no sign of anyone taking any Ministerial responsibility whatsoever for the series of screw-ups that has marked the Dotcom affair from the outset.

That lack of responsibility is partly due to the fact that everyone involved appears to have remembered not to forget not to tell Key beforehand what was going on. When it comes to some aspects of government, this Prime Minister appears to think it is smarter to be kept ignorant, thereby enabling him to stay inside a cone of plausible deniability. Given the level of (in)competence of those reporting to Key, one can readily see why.


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    1. 18 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Dotcom, spies and plausible deniability”

    2. By donna on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Who knew?
      Bill English, apparently:

      What can this mean? How come Mr English didn’t know Mr Dotcom was a NZ resident? How come our incompetent super spies didn’t tell him? Why did Mr English fail to mention this to the PM?
      This is beyond incompetent: this is a major major failing of our external spy agency and the government that’s supposed to be overseeing it for the benefit of New Zealanders. Heads should roll but i won’t be holding my breath…

    3. By CnrJoe on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      aaah – the spending of offshore held political capital on his sons sports fixture comes into focus now – The Minister of ‘I’m not here’ leaves Bling to sign the papers?

    4. By lyndon on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      And teh GCSB blame the cops

      “GCSB sought assurance that all the persons of interest were foreign nationals. OFCANZ gave that assurance”.

      Thing is, that’s actually correct. But Dotcom is also a resident, which is kind of important here.

    5. By Robert M on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Heeln Clark, McNamara and Bill English always operated or at least from fairly early on on the basis of plausible deniabiltiy. Given NZ is a small isolated nation where intelligent polititicians generally prefer to no no nothing, hear nothing, ask nothing and find nothing about the activities of the nations defence forces and intelligence services, it is not surprising that Key knew nothing and didn’t even sign ( apparently English did).
      The Key, English position and the po faced hurt by the media and lawyers that they wern’t informed of the bugging of Dot Com is also plausible here because of the public and politicians ignorance that he emails of anybody of political significance expressing interest in defence matters or say cyber warfare or copywrite burning or any citizen showing plausible understanding of defence issues are automatically trawled thru by Ecelon computers and intelligence agencies of the West, when set of by many trigger words or entries.
      The claim the GCSB does not analyse NZers emails or phone calls is only a subtle subterfuge and legal technicality- because the five parties of the fist- in particular the four minor parties NZ< UK, Aus and Canada's own security external agencies and communication bureaus do not analyse their own subjects doco's and emails they use the agents of the other fingers of the fist to study the data and voice tracks, often the follow up domestically will be by human agent of the friendly powers , British, Australians or Canadian visitors in NZs case.

    6. By Sridhar on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Sounds like National is digging its own grave, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of that.
      2014 – bring it on.

    7. By jack on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Key knew, the fall guy is English. English wouldn’t do anything without talking to Key first. Key is the minister of secret services.. Another blatant lie by Key and he’s looking to point the finger.. Key has to be the most incompetent Prime Minister I have seen.. he is suppose to work in the best interest of New Zealanders. What do you expect from a Wall Street Derivative trader who had a big hand in the GFC.

    8. By Joe Blow on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Interesting stuff! Hagar’s probably writing a book about this as we speak!

      I think that Key’s announcement was planned to forestall criticism.

      Imagine if the public had learnt that he didn’t know before he discovered it himself.

      Looks like yet another overly zealous screw up by the powers at be. They’ve been sitting there with all that funding to catch terrorists in NZ that don’t exist, watching too many movies on TV wishing the bad guys were here, and then suddenly they’re summoned by none other than the FBI!

      Well they’re on TV now! Just like the movies! What a joke!

      It’s like the Ureweras in cameo…

    9. By peterlepaysan on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      Actually,if one is to be believe Michelle Boag on “the Panel” on natrad with moragh, new zealanders are so isolated, innocent and naive our police force and gcsb are so naive the current fiasco is utterly understandable.

      She actually sounds like Helen Clark defending John key.


      I doubt that Clark would have condoned incompetent police or gscb.

      Boag thinks it is ok for incompetents to run our police and gcsb because we are a small insignificant country.

      I doubt she would let incompetents run any of her businessess on the basis that we are small innocent country.

    10. By Debsisdead on Sep 25, 2012 | Reply

      So much misinformation is being pumped out by the intelligence services directly and through cut-outs like Buchanan it is hardly any wonder that peeps can’t see the wood for the trees.
      First off lets put Buchanan’s “it was the coppers wot done us in m’lud” excuse to bed.
      GCSB has been running for a few decades now and they have one just one iron clad determining criterion about who they can spy on. That is only foreigners, never citizens nor NZ residents, it is inconceivable that they don’t have a set of rigid guidelines setting out the process and protocols for determining who is and who isn’t a resident. This will not involve ringing the local constabulary to ask them for an opinion, it will set out exactly how they must determine residency by investigating an individual’s immigration status with Immigration, who do have computers which keep up to date details of every non NZ born person in NZ’s ‘status’.
      Secondly doesn’t it seem somewhat incredible that the coppers, GSCB, SIS, solicitor-general et al get caught out the first time they pull this stunt of ‘near enough is good enough’ when doing the paperwork to obtain warrants?

      Such abuse of process is endemic whenever a process isn’t regularly scrutinised, as warrants are not in NZ.
      Lawyers and their clients rarely bother, firstly because one application to the high court to query a warrant costs more than 90% of criminal defendants spend on their entire defense. Secondly, even if an accused does show the paperwork wasn’t done right for a warrant, NZ judges don’t care.
      e.g. the Tuhoe travesty where the defense demonstrated exactly the same ‘carelessness’ regarding warrants. It didn’t make a jot of difference. The govt prohibited the accused from having a jury trial and even though the charges were mostly found to be not proven, the government appointed judge handed down a sentence which was several orders of magnitude more severe than anyone else has copped for the same offences. Even repeat offenders get much less and the Tuhoe martyrs were first offenders.
      The only real difference with Dotcom is he has the resources to scrutinise every step in the prosecution process & with a motive for doing so. US courts do pay attention to whether evidence was improperly obtained and if it was they frequently act to prevent the tainted evidence from being used.
      Kiwis need to demand a wide ranging investigation into out law enforcement processes. Miscarriages of justice are becoming more frequent, especially now that the sociopaths in Wellington have introduced a ‘plea bargaining’ process designed to work hand in glove with restrictions on the types of defence legal aid will fund, along with a tightening up of bail procedures.
      Many innocents will correctly adjudge that nodding their head to something that they didn’t do will cost them less time in the slammer than pleading not guilty and eventually being acquitted.
      Most of us don’t seem to mind. After all it is only ‘unwhites’ that are likely to cop the rough end of this pineapple.

    11. By Neil Kirkland on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      Put together what you have said together with this news and it looks increasingly doubtful that non-rich, non white New Zealand citizens of Aotearoa will be able to access justice…

    12. By Robert M on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      The GCSB’s main base is at Wahopai in Malborough and they may have a secondary communications intercept base in the Manawatu on the coast at Tangimoana. The GCSB’s will be staffed by a lot of computer and electrical boffins and engineers, almost certainly people who hardly ever read the news part of newspapers and were unlikely to ever heard much of note about Dot.Com let alone his fireworks display celebrating his rather extraordinary acqusition of a NZ residency certification. It is unlikely the fireworks recieved much if any converage in the local newspaper in Blenheim or Palmeston North. The key positions in reality if not officially at the GCSB bases are almost certainly held by citizens of the USA, UK or Australia who will have no interest of knowledge of dot com.
      The police are fairly ordinary NZers to whom the idea that Dot Com could have aquired NZ residency would be incomprehensible, obscene and more and essentially unnoticable. Dot Com was after all a fairly notable criminal who have lived mainly in the Germany were he was born. These attitudes aren’t praiseworthy or desirable but reflect the NZ reality.
      In terms of English and Key, I suspect Dot Com simply was notable either in their conservative poll driven world. They may have realised the issue by the time of Panneta visit but by then it was too late and convinient to ignore for a week.

    13. By ames otton on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      Looks to me the PM was educated at the Richard Nixon school of denial or was that the John Banks selective memory loss programme.

    14. By steve on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      this government, like most others are blatant liars, time they were reminded who they work for…US

      where’s the vote of no confidence when its needed…sack the lot and put the next lot on notice to perform FOR the people not AGAINST us

      come on winnie step up now if you have the balls

    15. By Kevin Hester on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      HaHa, who on earth would believe Michele Boag on anything

    16. By Kat on Sep 26, 2012 | Reply

      One question, why oh why do we Kiwis vote for such incompetent politicians such as Key & co??


    17. By clairbear on Oct 2, 2012 | Reply

      I think this managing by denial has just become a good way to let the journos, the bloggers and the opposition have their fun and try and score a few points on things that will not be remembered in the 6 weeks before the election when most independent people make their minds up. Those that are partisan made their minds up at the announcement of the results at the last election, and are in our electoral process kind of irrelevant. i.e. they cannot be swayed by argument. Nowadays if you fart in public people are crying for heads to roll, people to be fired etc reminiscent of the “Crucify him” chant. So yes Key knows people have stuffed up, he even knows he has stuffed up, but if you want to stay in power under the rules that we have given them you just have to roll with those punches and wait until it is the right time to deliver the counter.

      Are we so naive as to expect a politician not to obfuscate or for a left wing blogger, or a right wing one to select their material to portray their specific position.

      I am quite comfortable with the fact that a problem has been outed and I am sure procedures put in place to either fix the problem or ensure that they do not get caught again.

      Kind of strange that so much has happened around this one German New Zealand resident though?? Makes you wonder what information was given about him. All intelligence people information share nowadays it is the only way to keep track of the bad guys i the modern world. I think some people have been lead astray with info given in bad faith.

    18. By peter on Oct 18, 2012 | Reply

      Excellent journalism,and website. Kudos

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