Bad spies

Stuff reports:

Spy boss Ian Fletcher has apologised to Prime Minister John Key for his agency bungling its report to Parliament on the level of its surveillance.

The Government Communications Security Bureau () was forced to release an amendment to its annual report, which saw an increase in the number of interception warrants and access authorisations for the 2012-13 financial year.

A total of 11 interception warrants were in force for that year, up on the original amount which was reported at seven. Five interception warrants were issued, corrected from four.

A total of 26 access authorisations were also in force, compared to the originally-thought 14, and 11 were issued rather than nine.

A spokeswoman for Key said the prime minister was “unhappy” about the error and had received an apology from Fletcher, the GCSB director.

“The prime minister has been advised that the error stems from GCSB mistakenly counting the number of operations rather than the number of warrants on issue.,” the spokeswoman said.

“There was no attempt to deliberately mislead,. Further, he has been advised by the director that steps have been taken to ensure the error cannot happen again.”

It isn’t a huge error in itself. 11 issued instead of nine doesn’t change what we fundamentally know that the level is very low.

However the concern is that the GCSB doesn’t have a rigorous enough focus on checking and verification. Their annual report to Parliament is an important document and what goes into it should be vetted by multiple people. One person misinterpreting what should be reported, should be caught by someone else.

It isn’t good enough. These agencies especially need a very high level of confidence in their ability to understand the law.

What I’m not clear about is whether this error is long-standing or just occurred last year.

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