Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the Kitteridge inquiry into the GCSB

October 2nd, 2012

This sounds cosy. The second inquiry to be launched in the past ten days into the GCSB – this time, into its capabilities, performance and governance – will be carried out by Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Isn’t it a small world? That would be the same department that used to be headed by Simon Murdoch, who was the GCSB chief when the illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom was launched. So, if there is any retrospective blame-laying to be done here, Kitteridge will be required to pass judgement on her old boss. Not that blame appears to be on the agenda:

Kitteridge will review the systems, processes and capabilities underpinning the GCSB’s collection and reporting; build capability and provide assurance to the GCSB director that the compliance framework has been reviewed, improved and is fit for purpose; and establish new, specific approval processes for activity in support of police and other law enforcement agencies.

If she does feel the tiniest bit inclined to go into criticism mode, there would be blame enough for everyone to take a share. I loved that bit of her brief that goes “establish new, specific approval processes for activity in support of Police…” Translation: always assume that the Police are idiots, and double check everything they tell you. And tell the politicians even less in future than they currently get told. Reportedly, the PM met 16 times with the new GCSB head, Ian Fletcher, this year and – apparently – the illegal nature of the Dotcom surveillance never arose once, until very, very recently. Is that a compliance framework fit for purpose? I guess it depends on what the real purpose is.

Not that we will be left any the wiser at the end of all this. The results of the Kitteridge inquiry – which is expected to take three months – will not be made public, so public confidence in the security agencies will have to depend solely on the last week’s feeble and manifestly inadequate effort by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, Paul Neazor.

Not that Neazor was to blame, much. The inadequacy seemed inevitable given that Neazor is forbidden by law to investigate either Ministerial responsibility or GCSB operational matters. The public though, has a right to feel pretty aggrieved about being left in the dark. It pays these clowns, after all. As things stand, the public is being allowed to see only the report that can’t address what it wants to know, and it won’t be allowed to see the report that will (presumably) address the relevant questions about the GCSB’s role, and performance. Hey, we paid $74 million into the GCSB last year. Don’t you think that gives us taxpayers some right to be informed about what they’re up to, allegedly on our behalf – and whether they’re any good at it?

Fletcher, BTW, has a background of interesting relevance to the Dotcom case. While Fletcher’s early career was spent in the NZ diplomatic service, he was appointed in 2007 to head the British Patents Office, and in that job got to enact the so called Gowers Review of Intellectual Property that sought to modernise Britain’s copyright laws.

The Gowers Review contained some liberal features. It opposed, for instance, extending the time period a work is kept under copyright, which is a goal that the US is reportedly once again seeking to achieve in the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations.

The Gowers Review however, also strongly advocated cracking down on illegal downloading and counterfeiting. In the person of Ian Fletcher, the Americans could hardly find a security agency chief in the developed world more conversant with the copyright issues raised by Dotcom’s business activities. Surely, isn’t this knowledge something that New Zealand should be tapping? Is Fletcher’s peculiar expertise – and his GCSB staff – being called in to evaluate the potential threat to New Zealand’s creative industries and to business innovation by the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – and if not, why not? Arguably the TPPA has far more serious and long term implications for New Zealand’s economic security than the activities of one German-born entrepreneur. If the GCSB then published its findings on the TPPA, it might even go some way to restoring public confidence that the agency is working for all New Zealanders, and not mainly for the global brotherhood of spooks.

Alas, what the GSCB and SIS do – and for whom they do it – is likely to remain a mystery. No one would want to open the door to political abuse of security service operations by an over-zealous Minister, and Prime Minister John Key did point out those dangers yesterday. Yet the opposite tactic – of having no independent oversight of SIS and GCSB operations at all – seems equally dangerous. In that vacuum, the security agencies are being invited to function as laws unto themselves, free to define their own diplomatic, commercial and security goals, and operating behind a self-serving cloak of secrecy.

Why do we need a far more publicly visible inquiry into the GCSB and the Dotcom affair? Because the track record shows that when the SIS or GCSB screw up, they are inclined to defend those mistakes to the death – eg the Zaoui case – rather than dispel the mystique of expertise on which their existence depends. With Zaoui, the Wikileaks cables showed that as early as 2005, the government expected to lose the case. Yet to save face, it kept on with the charade until mid 2007.

Similarly, the Kitteridge inquiry bears the hallmarks of being primarily a face-saving exercise, and a means of getting Dotcom’s illegal surveillance off the front pages. One can safely bet that the GCSB’s annual budget will not be reduced, in its wake.

ENDS

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    1. 5 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the Kitteridge inquiry into the GCSB”

    2. By mh on Oct 2, 2012 | Reply

      we still share data with the US and UK. We can’t be seen to be too inept. Both the US and Australia have prevented China’s major spy sauce Huawei from getting too much of a foothold in thier communications network,unlike NZ who for some reason that worries me has signed them up for mutual co-prosperity.It is not as though it is a retaliatory action on our initiative over some grudge or perceived slight.

    3. By Robert M on Oct 3, 2012 | Reply

      The Kitteridge affair will penetrate the inner workings of the GCSB bases as much as Key and Fletcher throwing kitty kitty a roll of wool on the Tangimoana front lawn.
      The really interesting journalistic expose would be a study of the role the Anzus pointsmen Simon Murdoch and Dennis McLean played in the systematic attempt to reconstruct the pre 1984 Anzus relationship which was already absurb by 1984 because there was no way a small low spending on defence NZ could play a triple role of a blue water frigate combat capable navy, a strike air force and a combat army. Clark of course claimed the crown jewel was the intelligence service, which product she feasted over. If only she still had steam cartridge powered BAE Canberras to survey her political enemies from higher than a U2.
      Worst of the McLean Murdoch product was the disastorous relentless fight for the Anzac frigates-poor quality german export frigates, noisy and too fragile to deploy in the Southern Ocean.

    4. By Joe Blow on Oct 5, 2012 | Reply

      Yeah, even a non-public inquiry by someone truely independent would be better than this!

    5. By clairbear on Oct 6, 2012 | Reply

      If as everybody is quickly pointing out the PM is the Minister responsible for the GCSB and one thing has gone wrong out of supposedly many hundreds of things that go on each and every day. So being the Minister responsible I would expect that he would be the person to ensure an enquiry and or several enquiries if he feels the need to be carried out to ensure processes and procedures are correct, especially as it seems he has had the biggest personal impact from the lapse. He will have to look at his own lases as well.

      So the same old usual suspects are calling for an independent enquiry – I wonder how many independent enquiries would be going on if everyone that was called for went ahead. I would expect an independent enquiry to be undertaken if say loss of life was involved – or maybe if several perhaps 5 to 10 such failings had been seen to occur. However despite the numerous articles and comments being written these failings are all stemming from the one single issue; it was rather minor from a practical sense, not a massive impact and so it is quite correct that the Minster should carry out the enquiry in-house.

      We have to differentiate between News-entertainment, Political spin and the normal day to day work (including the odd mistake) that government departments do.

      I would need to see a far more significant set of issues before I would want to be putting my hand into my tax back pocket to set up an independent enquiry on this one.

    6. By Joe Blow on Oct 8, 2012 | Reply

      @ clairbear

      The point is that the only oversight this country has of its intelligence agency has been found not only asleep at the wheel, but absurdly nonchalant about the whole affair.

      I have no qualms with calling this matter “serious”. In fact, I would go as far as calling it a fatal flaw in our system of democracy.

      I think an independent inquiry would be the least we could do to restore faith in our democratic institutions when the governance of this country conjures up images of a toddler trying to play PS3 for the first time…

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