Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the GCSB’s practice of spying on New Zealanders

April 10th, 2013

It is hard to decide what is the most alarming aspect of Prime Minister John Key’s plans to expand the role of Big Brother. Or, as Key describes it, his “proposals to significantly strengthen the oversight regime across the intelligence community.” Is it the fact that the GCSB has apparently been behaving like a rogue agency for the past 10 years (at least) under successive governments, and has been carrying out spying on New Zealanders, even though it has repeatedly said it doesn’t? Incredible really, given that the GCSB legislation could hardly be clearer in forbidding the GCSB from spying on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents – even when, and one would have thought especially when it is offering “agency support” to the Police and to the SIS.

On the evidence contained in the Kitteridge report though, the GCSB cannot read their own legislation correctly but thought “what the heck” and broke the law as it is written. Some 56 possibly illegal operations involving 88 New Zealanders have apparently taken place since 2003. These, remember, are the same security agencies on whom we bestow extensive powers and the ability to operate under secrecy. That trust has clearly been misplaced. It turns out that the GCSB are part of the problem – of privacy violation – as much as they are part of the solution.

The GCSB’s evidently extensive role in providing “agency support” to the SIS (and Police) amounts to a de facto merger of the SIS and GCSB. Oh, Key’s plans to legalise the GCSB’s role in spying on New Zealanders will only occur, he says, with ‘proper’ oversight mechanisms. That’s no re-assurance. The current watchdog on the security services happens to be the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor. The inadequacy of that office and its lack of proper resources was already evident long before Dotcom, during the Ahmed Zaoui case. Back in 2007, here’s how I described the situation:

The Auditor-General, IRD and Treasury may be funded sufficiently to keep an eye on how money is being spent and recouped – but the agencies supposed to protect our rights as citizens have to get by on starvation rations and, in some cases, with a questionable level of independence.

The Police Complaints Authority, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Privacy Commissioner etc… all have obvious problems. Some totter along from one financial year to the next – underfunded, under-resourced and overlooked.

Even by these standards, the Office of the SIS Inspector-General is a special case, the kind of watchdog agency you’d expect to find down at the $2 shop. It is a part-time job with a part-time secretary, operated from a spare desk at the Chief Electoral Office [subsequently at the Justice Department] and with no in house expertise in the fields it is supposed to monitor.

In the Dotcom case, the inadequacies of our current oversight systems are coming home to roost. Yet significantly, the confusion supposedly being felt by the GCSB over whether its role as an “agency support” enabled it to spy on New Zealanders – in contravention of its legislation – has never inspired the Inspector-General to raise any red flags around that issue. No surprises there. In reality, the Inspector-General’s office is ripe for capture, and it has been set up to fail.

Surely, it is laughable to think that an elderly retired judge working part time and with no experience in intelligence and security issues – and with no support staff to monitor how these laws, practices and technologies are developing around the world – can keep a meaningful eye on the operations of our security services. The current powers of the parliamentary committee on security and intelligence matters are just as woefully inadequate. It meets briefly and irregularly, its members have no security clearance and thus no access to security information, and it cannot say a thing publicly about its deliberations.

As mentioned, Key’s plans to legalise GCSB spying on New Zealanders amounts to a virtual merger of the SIS and GCSB – and as yet, Key has offered no details about what he thinks “ proper oversight” would entail. It should not be his call. Agencies should not get to choose their own watchdog, and how long its chain should be. Parliament should be debating, and deciding, such matters – although of course, it would almost certainly do so along party lines.

The Fletcher affair has created a further, disturbing dimension. The very public dissent by former military chief /former GCSB boss Sir Bruce Ferguson over the relevance of a military background for the top GCSB job can be taken as an indirect signal of what is going on here. Namely, the cleaning out of the former military old guard at the GCSB, and the installation of a “change manager” in Ian Fletcher who has personal links to the PM. This amounts to a concentration of the security services, bringing them more closely in line with the PM’s policy agendas.

That centralisation of secret power and surveillance activities should be a worrisome trend for anyone concerned about civil liberties. The security services are not supposed to be at the beck and call of the government of the day. Fletcher –as the former head of what used to be the British Patents Office – has particular expertise in copyright law. Beyond the obvious relevance to the Dotcom case, copyright issues are also a prime feature of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks, and have been a focus of the protests being mounted against the TPP, worldwide – partly because of the implications that the extension of patents have for Pharmac.

Can it be entirely accidental that the new head of the GCSB brings extensive experience in such matters to his new job – whilst having no experience whatever in the GCSB’s traditional role of monitoring foreign (usually military) developments in the region that might pose a threat to New Zealand’s national security. Anyone involved in the campaign against the TPP would now seem ripe for surveillance, as part of the “agency support” to the Police and SIS in their monitoring of those critical of the government’s TPP agenda.

At the very least, any “proposals to significantly strengthen the oversight regime across the intelligence community” will have a chilling effect on protest and dissent. Plainly, the PM wants to clean out the old military boffins at the GCSB, to effectively merge the SIS and GCSB in some respects and to render the security services more readily able to spy upon New Zealanders. This is coming from a National Party that prides itself on being the champion of individual freedoms, and on being wary of the extension of state power.

On RNZ this morning, security analyst Paul Buchanan offered a useful alternative structure. Buchanan suggested making the Inspector-General a fully independent and properly resourced office responsible on an ongoing basis to Parliament, and not to a Minister. He also suggested making the parliamentary committee on security matters a genuine, properly empowered and resourced oversight body. Not a complete solution, but a good start. The real problem though, is the wilful blurring of the SIS and GCSB roles. The way ahead shouldn’t involve tidying things up to legalise the GCSB’s spying on New Zealanders. The GCSB should be being required to stay focused only on the foreign threats to our security.


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    1. 14 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the GCSB’s practice of spying on New Zealanders”

    2. By david on Apr 10, 2013 | Reply

      The alarm bells are ringing but no one is in the fire station to hear them.

    3. By remo on Apr 10, 2013 | Reply

      It actually appears a de facto merger of SIS, GCSB and Police, where the fudging of power, ‘needs of the day’ to ‘change the law’ when break of it by state power is discovered – without ‘due process’, is a psychology.
      And it comes from somewhere; is given mandate by something in the thinking of those thinking it.

      Beyond conjecture, it is KNOWN and understood the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are ILLEGAL WARS resulting in the egregious killings of well over a million souls. On-going.
      Therefore, by all counts, the makers of the WAR are International war CRIMINALS.
      Who would, in a just system, be tried as war criminals and incarcerated.

      Yet this is not the reality of the world we are living in, of the LAW we are living under. Which is where it pertains to us and this conversation.

      The ‘legal/illegal’ malaise so evident in GCSB/SIS/PM dealings, is mandated by the actions of the US superstate, allowing agencies of control – security/intelligence/Police etc; -allowing their responsibilities toward truth and justice to merge into that franchised by the ‘War on Terror’.con
      We must understand, when Bush and Blair let loose the dogs of war, they let them loose in all of us, and we all made our choices.
      ‘Western”civilized’ use of torture, brutal murder, covert actions, use of DU weaponry on civilians, mercenaries under ‘freedom army’ banner, the ‘right’ under NDAA of president nominated assassination, rendition:abrogation of human rights everywhere you look under Bush/Obama; ALL based on the LIES generated to create the WAR., translate back to us, here, in ATTITUDES our Security Services, Police, Military; Parliamentary and Local Council personnel offer toward their own communities and the law.

    4. By Graham on Apr 10, 2013 | Reply

      Was Tame Iti right, after all?

    5. By G Wislang on Apr 11, 2013 | Reply

      I imagine the judge in question was carefully picked for his decrepitude and incompetence.

    6. By Joe Blow on Apr 11, 2013 | Reply

      Good point Graham.

      I wonder how many of those 88 individuals reside in the Ureweras…

      [I just got spell checked! That was weird! Your site’s never done that to me before. Is that your site Gordon or something I’ve accidentally downloaded?]

    7. By Elaine Hampton on Apr 11, 2013 | Reply

      We are losing this country!
      Merger of the SIS and GCSB and the Police, laws to prevent dissent and protest, dumbing down of education, transfer of wealth to the rich from the poor, pork barrel politics.
      My God, lets hope she is on duty,

    8. By JamesVRL on Apr 12, 2013 | Reply

      Joe Blow – if it’s Google Chrome you’re using, perhaps it’s something that automatically downloaded?


    9. By Tricyclist on Apr 12, 2013 | Reply

      Should the proposed legislation to legitimise spying NZers be passed, the first NZ to be put under surveillance should be a certain John Key. perhaps then we would all find out what he is really up to.

    10. By Mr Been on Apr 12, 2013 | Reply

      Para 81d. of Kitteridge report states “GCSB … is also subject to the Official Information Act ”


      All documents relating to 88 unlawfully spied upon NZers held by GCSB with identifying particulars redacted pursuant to Privacy Act and NZ security considerations.
      The Fourth Estate, Bob Woodward, The NZ public, et al applicable applicants. Scoop, Stuff. Gordon Campbell…

      Come on Kiwis don’t let this one slip through the shredders…MARCH!

      Saddle up the horses, we got a posse…”Ignorance of the law is no excuse for the Crown either too..” Prosecute.

    11. By Joe Blow on Apr 14, 2013 | Reply

      Thanks for that JamesVRL.

      @ Mr Been

      Have you got the link to a copy of the Ketteridge report online? I haven’t been able to find it.

      Anyone else found a copy? Anyone know how many of the 88 individuals (or 56 incidents) were illegally spied on under this government compared with the Clark government?

    12. By lyndon on Apr 15, 2013 | Reply

      Report link:

    13. By Joe Blow on Apr 15, 2013 | Reply

      Thanks Lyndon.

    14. By clairbear on Apr 18, 2013 | Reply

      I would suggest the the practical security threats to New Zealanders – has definitely moved away from the threat from foreign powers as being the most likely threats to the threat from international organisations that are non-nationally aligned.

      in fact though this Dotcom person is I believe quite harmless – he form part “Pattern wise” of where I expect the most likely security threats to come from in the near future.

      Look at the pattern – we have an individual of high wealth and influence, who no longer lives according to his nationality, but rather moves to various locations around the world depending on his needs, who controls via modern communication, machines located in other places in the world.

      As I said no problem with him (it seems) – it is this pattern that worries me. Look at what international organisations like Amazon, and Starbucks are doing – sure legitimate businesses – but they operating seemingly without regard to national boundaries.

      Imagine what will happen should these sorts of organisation or some like them have more sinister ideals.

      The need for military experience is probably still there – but we have moved in terms of security risk as much as we have from the time where soldiers, used to dress up in bright uniforms and stand in long lines and face each other and take turns at shooting each other. In those days you could see your enemy – now they are hidden. And why should a person just because they are resident in or a citizen of NZ not for reasons of ideal or greed take part in working with these multinational sinister organisations.

      Surely if NZ no longer had a safeguard against potentially harmful people living and operating from NZ across the globe, then this would be exactly the type of place they would come to. e.g. The Mossard wanting nice pretty NZ passports. Pretending to be NZ citizens.

    15. By Joe Blow on Apr 20, 2013 | Reply

      @ clairbear

      Rather ironically Dotcom is the ultimate libertarian. And ironies of ironies ACT is lead by an ex-National stalwart who is as conservative as they come. If Dotcom successfully fights off extradition he should start his own far right libertarian party or perhaps resurrect ACT… that’s what they need: a true libertarian… hell maybe we should consider him a threat!

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