Hager’s book

September 2nd, 2011 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

Two different takes on Nicky Hager’s latest book. John Armstong writes in the Herald:

Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.

Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.

Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.

With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.

This is particularly the case with regard to the “candyfloss” image the military has built around the deployment of New Zealand soldiers in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.

That image is of our soldiers acting more like peacekeepers armed with nothing more dangerous than a shovel.

The last couple of paragraphs do resonate with me to a degree. People forget that Helen Clark sent soliders into both Iraq and Afghanistan. With the exception of the SAS deployment (which she simply wouldn’t talk about), they were portrayed as just being engineers and builders who happen to be soldiers. Their role we were told was purely to help the locals, and nothing to do with those nasty wars.

Fair enough. But the Defence Force has sought to paint this deployment in a completely different light. Hager has cut through that pretence with the evidence to prove what has always been surmised – that the real reason for such deployments was not to help the inhabitants of Bamiyan but to impress the hawks in Washington.

Hopefully it is a mixture of both, but I’ve never doubted that Clark sending troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan was about keeping the US and to a degree the UK happy.

Vernon Small has a different take at Stuff:

A speed read of Nicky Hager’s latest book shows his usual impressive access to detailed documents and meticulous sourcing.

The insiders’ claims about ministers being kept in the dark may be true; the SAS in particular is obsessive about secrecy to the point that even a description of the ceremony farewelling Corporal Doug Grant was refused.

But the lens Hager uses gives a different view of New Zealand’s base at Bamiyan than one gleaned from a week-long visit there last month.

For instance, he claims that, despite media visits and hundreds of soldiers passing through the base, the military managed to keep secret the fact that they shared the Bamiyan camp with a United States intelligence base.

In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent.

I’ve said before that Hager has good research skills, but his failing is he sees (or portrays) everything as a conspiracy or deep dark secret.

It was not a surprise that New Zealand is plugged in to the US-Nato intelligence and communication system across the war-torn country. It is something this reporter was specifically briefed on, although with a request not to publish details for operational security reasons.

Suffice to say that, from my observations, the information Kiwi troops glean is far more extensive than anything that flows the other way. Was the CIA there? I don’t know, and Hager only surmises.

The links tell New Zealand forces where other coalition forces are operating and let them call in US air support, both key factors in a multi-national force. Problems getting air support were highlighted in the report on the attack that killed Lieutenant Timothy O’Donnell.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Hager also points to a lack of understanding among the public about the Kiwis’ role in Bamiyan; that coverage was all airbrushed PR spin showing “friendly New Zealand soldiers handing out gifts to smiling children, building schools and wells”.

He may have had a case in the early years.

But for almost three years now, after the 2009 attack on the base at Do Abe and the first Kiwi casualties caused the military to upgrade its armoured vehicles from Hiluxes to LAVs, there has been no shortage of coverage highlighting the risks and the dangers.

Far from trying to cover that up, the soldiers on the ground I talked to were eager for the New Zealand public to know they were fighting in a dangerous war zone.

I think this is right. Early on things were somewhat sugar-coated, but I think in recent years we’ve come to understand better how the Bamiyan mission is not some safe engineering operation.

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Kiwi Wikileaks

December 12th, 2010 at 11:32 am by David Farrar

Nicky Hager and the Sunday Star Times have had Wikileaks hand over to them 1,500 cables mentioning New Zealand.

The main article reveals that last August saw the US Government restore New Zealand to full intelligence-sharing status.

They have a 53 page pdf of the cables here.

A story on journalists who have got state department visits is here.

Another story on the anti-nuke laws.

Danyl at the Dim-Post has sorted some of the cables into separate text files, with keywords.

Simon Lyall blogs on how one cable explicitly names the Deputy Director of the NZ SIS, which is a breach of the NZ SIS Act 1969, specifically s13A(1):

Every person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000, who (except with the written consent of the Minister) publishes or causes or allows to be published in a newspaper or other documsent, or broadcasts or causes or allows to be broadcast by radio or television or otherwise, the fact that any person is a member of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service other than the Director.

I guess the Sunday Star-Times decided that a maximum $1,000 fine is not much of a deterrent.

Having googled the name of the Deputy Director, it is fair to say that his involvement in the intelligence community is not exactly a secret – however his current role is.

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Brash e-mails remain a mystery

March 8th, 2010 at 11:26 am by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Police have failed to find the source of the leaked Don Brash emails.

A police review of the investigation, involving almost 200 interviews, into the publication of the leaked emails from the then-leader of the National Party has been completed and the source of the emails could not be established. …

Almost 200 interviews were conducted with parliamentary employees, including I&T, security, messengers, cleaners and contractors, along with a number of other people, to corroborate information gathered in the original investigation.

Although no suspect leads were identified, the interviews did provide evidence of unsatisfactory security on the third floor both in terms of access to the floor and offices and to individual computers. These afforded opportunities for access to a range of documents, both hard copy and electronic.

We may never know the truth. I did ask Nicky Hager, when I last saw him, to consider revealing who did it and how, after that person/s has died, as he has a duty to history to reveal.

The Police have noted there was unsatisfactory security on the third floor. I believe the most likely way it happened was someone who does not work on the third floor, got in there and swiped the e-mails. It would have taken around two minutes to stick a flash drive in a PC and copy the Outlook file over.

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Nicky’s new powers

January 6th, 2010 at 4:41 pm by David Farrar

In the SST, a story from Nicky Hager had the headline:

NZ’s cyber spies win new powers

Like many, I wondered what law change had been quietly passed into law in late 2009, without us noticing.

NEW CYBER-MONITORING measures have been quietly introduced giving police and Security Intelligence Service (SIS) officers the power to monitor all aspects of someone’s online life.

The measures are the largest expansion of police and SIS surveillance capabilities for decades, and mean that all mobile calls and texts, email, internet surfing and online shopping, chatting and social networking can be monitored anywhere in New Zealand.

Oh my God. When did this happen? Actually back in 2004. Not exactly new.

And it is not giving the SIS and Police the power to monitor themselves – it gave them the power to get a warrant to get a telco or ISP intercept communications – just as they have had the power for many decades to get a warrant to have phone calls intercepted.

Now this doesn’t mean I necessarily support the 2004 law change. I’ve blogged a series of articles highlighting draconian provisions in the Search and Surveillance Bill before Parliament. Nicky’s article would have been more useful however in 2004, than in 2010.

Police and SIS must still obtain an interception warrant naming a person or place they want to monitor but, compared to the phone taps of the past, a single warrant now covers phone, email and all internet activity. It can even monitor a person’s location by detecting their mobile phone; all of this occurring almost instantaneously.

Police say in the year to June 2009, there were 68 interception warrant applications granted and 157 people prosecuted as a result of those interceptions.

What would be interesting is the details of those 68 warrants – were they for all Internet activity, or just some?

The measures are the consequence of a law, the 2004 Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act, which gave internet and network companies until last year to install devices allowing automated access to internet and cellphone data.

Telecom, Vodafone and TelstraClear had earlier 2005 deadlines, and new cellphone provider 2degrees installed the interception equipment before launching last year.

So these “new” powers have actually been in place for four to five years, for 95% of the Internet population.

In an associated article, Hager says:

Not long ago, police and Security Intelligence Service (SIS) interception meant tapping your landline phone or bugging your kitchen. Now, under a new surveillance regime ushered in by the 2004 Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act, a basic interception warrant also allows them access to all your emails, internet browsing, online shopping or dating, calls, texts and location for mobile phones, and much more – all delivered almost instantaneously to the surveillance agencies.

To catch other sorts of communications, including people using overseas-based email or other services, all the local communications networks are wired up as well, to monitor messages en route overseas.

Interception equipment built permanently into every segment of the country’s communications architecture will provide the sort of pervasive spying capability we normally associate with police states.

Now Hager is right in that all telcos and ISPs have to have the capability to intercept all Internet communications by a user, if presented with a warrant. However what is not made clear in the article is that the ISPs themselves do the intercepting, and forward the data onto the appropriate authority. The article almost implies that the Police/SIS/GCSB can merely push a switch remotely, and hey presto your data flows to them.

The law gave network companies five years to install the intercept capabilities and the five years was up last year. Many network companies dragged their feet about installing the new surveillance equipment, despite government subsidy of the cost. After four years of inactivity, a consultant with police and SIS ties attended the NZ Network Operators Group conference in Dunedin last year to read them the riot act.

Dean Pemberton, who had previously set up and run “lawful interception” equipment at TelstraClear, told the roomful of network specialists what “the agencies” expected from them and said the agencies expected them to install devices that could intercept data and forward it to the agencies “on a minute by minute basis”. If companies didn’t have this gear in place, they risked a $500,000 fine and “should get a lawyer”, he said.

This part of the article is rather misleading, and I can speak from first hand knowledge as I was at that conference when Dean spoke.

The first thing people should understand is that Dean is what I call an alpha geek :-) He is one of the guys who built the Internet in New Zealand and he attends and presents almost every year without fail to the NZNOG Conference.

In 2008 he spoke of his experiences with the Interception Act requirements, and what you had to do to comply. I doubt a single person in the room saw this as Dean “laying down the law”, let alone the implication he was speaking on behalf of the SIS or Police. Dean was doing what he normally does – sharing his experiences with the technical community.

There’s some good research in Nicky’s article about how the FBI were a prime mover in the request for NZ to have the interception capability, and it is true many NZers will be unaware of the interception capability. However the article would have been a lot more useful in 2004 when the law was being considered, or in 2005 when the big telcos implemented it.

Next I await a story about how the Post Office has been given new powers to intercept and read postcards :-)

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The ASPA Awards

September 14th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I was one of the judges for the Best Website section of the Aotearoa Student Press Association Awards, so went along to the awards ceremony on Thursday night.

aspa1

Barry Soper (left) was the Awards MC and Guest Speaker. Laura McQuillan was the Awards organiser.

I knew a few of the other Judges, and got to meet some I hadn’t already met, such as the Dom’s Post Greer McDonald, and Nicky Hager. No doubt Whale and Cactus will expel me again from the VWRC for fraternising with Nicky. I did ask Nicky to consider revealing one day in the future (as in many decades time after the people involved are dead) who or how he got the National Party e-mails,for the sake of accurate history.

aspa2

The Salient team accepting the Publication of the Year award, with editor Jackson Wood next to Barry.

The full list of awards was:

  1. Best Website – Craccum
  2. Best Headline – Critic for “Students spitroasted at CoC fight”
  3. Best Cartoonist – Robyn Kenealy of Salient and Maria Brett of Critic
  4. Best Original Photography – Clinton Cardozo of Debate
  5. Best Sports Writer – Brad Kreft of Critic
  6. Best Education Series – Joshua Drummond of Nexus
  7. Best Humour Content – Joseph Harper of In Unison
  8. Best Reviewer – Joseph Harper of In Unison
  9. Best Columnist – Dr Love of Magneto and Liz Willoughby-Martin of Critic
  10. Best Cover – Salient
  11. Best Editorial Writer – Ryan Boyd of Debate
  12. Best Feature Writer – Sarah Robson of Salient
  13. Best News Writer (unpaid) – Jessy Edwards of Salient
  14. Best News Writer – (paid) – Stacey Knott of In Unison
  15. Best Feature Content – Nina Fowler of Salient
  16. Best Design – Chaff
  17. Best Small Publication – Magneto
  18. Best Publication – Salient

Was a fun night. It wound down a bit before midnight when some headed into town. Thanks to Fairfax for sponsoring it, and well done to the winners and finalists.

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Not wrong

May 20th, 2009 at 1:48 pm by David Farrar

At the weekend I blogged agreement with Fran O’Sullivan that the Police inquiry into Don Brash’s stolen e-mails was a disgrace (and headed by the same officer who cleared Labour of ther $400,000 overspend in 2005 despite it being an offence of strict liability!).

However I disagreed with her that John Key and Judith Collins were somehow being unhelpful by not ordering an inquiry, pointing out the Police Act explicitly prevents the Minister of Police from giving directions over the investigation and prosecution of offences. You can be sure if that clause did not exist there would be new inquiries into Labour’s 2005 overspending!!

Whale Oil originally agreed with me, but now has done a backflip, saying that in a word first, he is wrong. He says:

In fact, Fran was right and I was wrong.

According to the Cabinet Manual and the Department of Internal Affairs’ very useful document “ Setting Up and Running Commissions of Inquiry“, any Minister, including the Police Minister, can set up a Commission of Inquiry. Commissions of Inquiry can inquire into any matter of major public importance or concern to the government of the day. Any Minister may propose an inquiry, but must consult the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General first, prior to submitting the proposal to Cabinet. Before giving its approval, Cabinet should seek advice form the relevant Minister’s office, the relevant department, DPMC and the Crown Law Office. …

PS. Over at Kiwiblog, Farrar made the same mistake. Will he admit he was wrong, and join WOBH’s call for an inquiry?

But I disagree with Whale. Neither the Police Minister nor the Prime Minister can set a Commission of Inquiry. The Cabinet as a while has to agree.  Fran said “It is within Key’s powers to direct an independent review of the police investigation” and it simply is not. The PM is not the Cabinet, and Cabinet have been known to over-turn PMs (except Muldoon). Lange for example often lost at Cabinet.

You can argue that Fran was right in saying [Police Minister Judith Collins] “has not asked for a review” but this implies her status as Police Minister allows her to do so. It does not. Sure she can ask the Cabinet for a commission of inquiry, but if you take it literally, and member of the public can ask for a review. The implication was that Collins had some special power to get a review. She does not.

Now people may say, why not a full Commission of Inquiry? Well 4.83 of the Cabinet Manual says:

While it is appropriate for inquiries to investigate instances of impropriety, they should not cut across the role of the police or the role of the courts in determining criminal or civil liability.

Now you could argue for a Ministerial inquiry – but they have no powers to compel witneses to tell the truth, so would be useless.

So I stand by my original post – neither Key nor Collins have the power to inquire into the Police investigation. I have little doubt both would love to know who stole the e-mails.

Nicky Hager has said that he got the information from six National party sources, all concerned about the party under Brash. I have always thought that beyond improbable. No one from National would choose to give e-mails to Hager, as oppossed to say the media. And while one can never rule out one disaffected staffer, the fantasy of six people all leaking to Hager is well a fantasy.

But here’s a challenge to Nicky. If he stands by his story, why doesn’t he agree to do a Deep Throat and pledge he will reveal how he got the e-mails in x years, or have the so called sources reveal it in their wills. Then one day the truth will be known.

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Nicky Hager reveals …

February 18th, 2009 at 5:43 pm by David Farrar

Over at Pundit, Nicky Hager reveals:

Leaked Cabinet plans list the government’s infrastructure projects and show that even facing the worst economic crisis in half a century, the government intends to restrain its spending

Oh my God, the Government is going to be restrained with its spending. Shock, horror.

Personally, I regard it as an entirely laudable thing that the Government is restrained when spending my money.

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Two interesting law suits

November 24th, 2008 at 8:45 am by David Farrar

An article in the Herald on public law and lobbying, mainly focused on Mai Chen.

That said, about a third of the firm’s work is litigation, and her current workload includes two particularly high-profile cases. She has been hired by former Auckland District Health Board member Tony Bierre to sue former Prime Minister Helen Clark for defamation over comments she made during the Labtests fiasco. Chen is also acting for National Party advisers Crosby/Textor, who are suing journalist Nicky Hager over comments he made to Radio New Zealand.

Both those law suits look fascinating.

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The hollowness of the Hollow Men

July 25th, 2008 at 8:00 am by David Farrar

This is a long detailed post. Half of me says I shouldn’t bother doing this, but I think it would be useful for the record to illustrate that the very deceptive practices that Nicky Hager condemns in The Hollow Men, are in fact used by Hager in The Hollow Men.

The material I am going to focus on has been used by Nicky Hager in the Hollow Men, and has featured in the play and in the just-released film.

If you attended the Wellington premiere of the Hollow Men last weekend will have been given a flyer for the film. On the front page it features a quote from what is said to be an email from Peter Keenan to Don Brash. The line is: “Political war is about evoking emotions that favour one’s goals….while mobilizing passions of fear and resentment against your opponents.”

That rather nasty quote, along with others in the book, is used to introduce the alleged malicious intent behind the Orewa speech on Treaty issues. Hager would have you think Keenan was telling Brash that this is how he should operate and in Hager’s book (refer bottom of p85) this line is presented as Keenan “quoting with approval United States Republican strategist David Horowitz”.

But, as with pretty much everything in the Hollow Men, Hager stripped out the context of the quote to distort the meaning. In fact in this case he manages to reverse the meaning entirely.

What Hager failed to mention was that those words were actually from a six page bullet point summary, sent as an attachment in an email, of essays in two books by David Horowitz. The attached document was a straightforward summary of what somebody else had written. Those that want to check what follows can simply get the books: The Art of Political War and other Radical Pursuits, and How to Beat the Democrats, and other Subversive Ideas. They are interesting essays, regardless of what your political views might be.

The so-called quotes from Peter Keenan, are actually direct quotes from the summary he compiled of the Horowitz articles. This was not an instruction or advice from Keenan to Brash on what Brash should do, but part of a six page book summary.

It turns out that, in the articles summarized by Keenan, Horowitz was describing how the political left conduct their political battles, and pointing out how hopeless the political right is by comparison. He is reminding conservative politicians that they need to engage at an emotional level if they want to be as effective politically as the left. The quotes attributed to Keenan are in fact Horowitz describing how those on the left operate.

Here are a few more quotes from that bullet point summary to give you the flavour of what it was about. Hager didn’t use these. To put this in an NZ context, I have substituted “the left/left-wing” for Democrats, and “conservative” for Republican.

“The right often seem to regard political combat as they would a debate at the Oxford Union, as though winning depended on rational arguments. The audience is not made up of academics. You have 30 seconds to make a point. Even if you had time to make an argument, the audience in the middle (the ones you need to reach) are not paying attention or would not get it.”

“The left come to party politics out of socialist organisations, trade unions, and an assortment of social crusades (abortion, racial grievances, and environmental concerns). They are combat-ready before they begin their political careers. Conservatives train in boy scout troops and graduate to chambers of commerce and rotary clubs. Except for the pro-life missionaries in the conservative coalition, Conservatives are innocents abroad when it comes to political war.”

The so-called Keenan “quotes” that have been referenced in the Hollow Men book, play and film, are drawn from a section which summarises what Horowitz calls the Four Principles of Politics: ie. politics is a war of Emotions, of Position, is about Fear, is about Hope. Hager pulls quotes from the summary explanations of these points. I will give you the full quote (which was itself a summary of a fuller treatment by Horowitz in his book), and highlight what Hager used:

Politics is a War of Emotions: For the great mass of the public, casting a vote is not an intellectual choice, but a gut decision, based on impressions that may be superficial and premises that could be misguided. Political war is about evoking emotions that favour one’s goals. It is the ability to manipulate the public’s feelings in support of your agenda, while mobilising passions of fear and resentment against your opponent.

Politics is about Fear: You must not only convince a majority that you are their friend, you must get them to fear your opponent as their enemy. Anger, fear and resentment are the most potent weapons in the Left-wing arsenal. They are powerful emotions that drive voters to the polls, and if they are not countered these emotions will bury your Gold Stars every time.

Horowitz used the term “Gold Star Republican” to describe the typical managerial type of conservative who thinks he can have a calm, rational debate on policy and win the day.

Thus, by stripping all the context from this “quote”, Hager completely misrepresents Keenan.

If you look at the e-mail in context, the obvious and reasonable interpretation of all of this was that Keenan was warning Brash what he was up against, and encouraging him to try and connect emotionally with the audience, use less technocratic language, and so forth. In the fuller treatment in the book, regarding the politics of fear, Horowitz writes:

“No matter how much conservatives may deplore such tactics, no matter how fervently they wish that electoral contests would turn on good policies and good principles, it is not in their power to change the reality of political war”.

Lets finish here with another couple of bullet points from that summary document, quotes that Hager could have used, but for obvious reasons did not.

“The left rely on Bribery and Fear. Much of the electorate has an enthusiasm for big government. Voters look to government for entitlements, looking to the political left to supply them. And the left recruits its supporters through taxpayer-funded programmes that buy their votes. The obstacles to this tendency is the individualism of the culture, the bankruptcy of most of the left’s programmes (poor incentives, no allowance for individual responsibility), and the political right itself which is infused with middle-class energy and entrepreneurial values and collectively represents the politics of reform.”

“Marxism may be dead, but a Marxist morality play provides the ordnance for left-wing political attacks…..In political battle the political left provides the search and destroy teams that accuse the right of racism and sexism, of polluting the environment and of abusing old people, women and children. The passions that motivate the political left are self-righteousness and hate.”

Looking back at the Labour Party’s 2005 campaign, and the way Hager has operated here, this analysis looks rather perceptive.

What is clear from all this, is that the use of that quote in the flyer for the film, and in the book, and in the play, was shamefully dishonest. Hager in his book, Dean Parker in the play, and Alister Barry in the film, all feature this astoundingly dishonest so-called “quote” – deliberately out of context and misapplied – to cast a malicious light on some simple briefing material forwarded to Brash.

Hager and Barry, if they wish to display the integrity they claim to champion, should order the current flyer to be shredded, and the film reworked to be at least marginally more honest.

Although integrity seems to be in short supply here. Some centre left bloggers have noted with disapproval that the film uses some covert filming of Peter Keenan. Grant Robertson said:

The only bum note in the documentary for me was the use of what appeared to be covert filming of Brash’s speech writer Peter Keenan.  Shots of him opening his curtains in the morning, and reading the paper just felt a bit creepy to me.

I am yet to see it, but when I heard about it, creepy is indeed the word for it.

And Danyl at the Dim-Post:

Even more ill-conceived are the other shots of Peter Keenan. One of the most interesting characters in Hager’s book the former economist privately disagreed with his leader’s racial policies even while he was writing the speeches promoting them. Keenan’s emails are quoted extensively in the film over shots of him wandering around inside his home watering his plants and reading the newspaper. The footage is hand-held and appears to have been shot covertly from a distance; Keenan does not seem to know he is being filmed and these sequences all have a queasy, paparazzi-cum-stalker like quality to them. Instead of questioning Kennan’s ethics as a speech-writer I found myself doubting Barry’s ethics as a director.

Danyl also noted:

As with his previous films, Barry makes extensive use of archival footage accompanied by voice-over narration; various experts including political scientist Jon Johansson and Christchurch Press political editor Colin Espiner provide additional commentary (although Espiner agreed to be interviewed by Barry he was not told it was for The Hollow Men).

Stephen Stratford at NZBC comments:

Why on earth would Barry not have told Espiner the purpose of the interview? And having interviewed Espiner, why did he not interview Keenan instead of stalking him in this, frankly, creepy way?

If you won’t front up to your subject and talk to him, you shouldn’t pretend that what you do is journalism. And if you don’t tell someone whom you do talk to what the real purpose of the interview is, you are engaged in deception. Isn’t that what The Hollow Men was all about?

The irony is rich isn’t it? A deceptive book and a deceptive film that take the moral high ground to lecture on deception?

Finally let’s finish on a lighter note. The flyer to the film also features a quote from a Keenan email to Brash, this time a genuine one. It is “the secret of success is sincerity and conviction…once you can fake that you’ve got it made”. That quote is so obviously Peter winding Don up, with a joke that reworks a well-known line by Groucho Marx, that it is amazing Nicky Hager didn’t get it. So Hager quotes a Groucho Marx joke as if it was serious political advice.

Hager, Parker and Barry need to get out more. Those on different sides of politics hold different views about which policies will build a better nation. When you start assuming that people who hold different views from you are in some way evil, then what you need is to get counseling – not write a book, play or make a film. But hey when the Government will give you money to do so, one can understand some of the motivations.

Now this all raises a wider question: given the scale of misrepresentation in this instance, it is impossible to take anything else in this book at face value. If you can make something sinister out of material like this, you can do it with anything. Removal of context is the simplest way to deceive.And unlike blogs where you can link through to the full quote, Hager’s works leave you blind as to the context.

Hager subtitled his book, A Study in the Politics of Deception. It was indeed – but maybe not in the way he intended.

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Blog Bits

July 19th, 2008 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stephen Franks blogs on the battle to save Crossways in Mt Victoria. I will be blogging on this myself during the week. It will be a tragedy if Mt Victoria loses what has been a focal point for the community. The City Council is justifying its lack of support by saying residents have lots of cafes nearby unlike suburbs further away from the city centre. A very very weak argument.

Keeping Stock blogs on an alarming suggestion by Auckland lawyer Catriona McLennan on Nine to Noon. She suggests that in rape trials, the burden of proof should be on the accused to prove there was consent. And this is not just a throw-away remark – she actually argues in favour of it against Kathryn Ryan for some time.

Whale Oil has been threatened with defamation by a lawyer acting for Pearl Going, who objects to comments he had made on her. The material has been removed from his blog after the blog hosting company was also threatened, but copies have sprung up on a dedicated blog hosted overseas.

I don’t intend to comment of the substance of the allegedly defamatory material, but would note that pressuring hosting companies to remove material, even after the blog author has asserted it is not defamatory and is willing to defend it in court, is not a particularly sensible tactic as it is so easy for the material to appear elsewhere – as has happened. Also of interest is that the lawyer for Pearl Going is Steven Price, who was very critical of the Listener for threatening the Hot Topic blogger with defamation.

This should not be taken as a suggestion that defamation laws do not or should not apply to the Internet. Of course they do. But more the appropriateness of targetting blog hosts if the blog author is willing to stand by their words and accept legal consequences for them.

The Dim Post has more satire, this one on how Winston is handling the Owen Gelnn scandal:

  • Monday 2:00 PM: Hires two identical twins as press secretaries, one of whom always tells the truth while the other always lies.
  • Wednesday 11:30 AM: Announces to press conference that he will explain everything but in doing so will be forced to reveal the secret surprise ending to Battlestar Galactica. Political media beg him to remain silent.
  • Thursday 6:35 PM: Notifies Speaker Margaret Wilson that he is officially changing his alignment to Neutral Evil.
  • Friday 10:30 AM: Recieves report back from Department of Statistics confirming that proportion of New Zealanders with IQ below 90 is still greater than 5%. Laughs heartily. Tells rest of country to go fuck themselves.

Heh.

Liberty Scott pings Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn for his comments on Gordon Brown approving a state funeral for Margaret Thatcher when she dies. The offending quote:

On the plus side, it will at least give her victims a final chance to throw excrement and rotten fruit at her as she goes past

As I/S goes on about how some on the right are often poisonous, spiteful and bitter, this quote brings to mind stones and glasshouses.

David Cohen looks at a case for Nicky Hager:

A column containing acidic opinions about a powerful political media personality mysteriously fails to show up on the author’s regular spot on her newspaper’s website. Another major news outlet, after allowing criticisms to be made of the same public figure on one of its shows, hurriedly issues a grovelling clarification. Does this sound like a case Nicky Hager ought to be investigating?

It would indeed if it weren’t the slightly inconvenient fact that the media power broker in question also happens to be the same gent.

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Another apology to Crosby Textor

July 11th, 2008 at 3:23 pm by David Farrar

I covered a couple of days ago an apology to Crosby Textor from JafaPete. Now we also have an apology from National Business Review. I’m quoting the apology in full here because I think its provides useful details which set the record straight.

Last Friday an article “Searching for John Key” by Ben Thomas falsely asserted that Lynton Crosby had been fined for a dishonest push poll in a Queensland election in 1995.

Ben Thomas acknowledges that this was his error based in part on a publication by Nicky Hager.

Mr Crosby has assured us that neither he nor his firm Crosby Textor has ever been involved
in so-called “push polling,” which is a technique of mass telemarketing, influencing voters by suggesting innuendoes or outright falsehoods about candidates.

Push polling is contrary to the ethical standards of the professional association, the Australian Market & Social Research Society, in which Mr Crosby’s partner Mark Textor has been awarded senior status.

The National Business Review accepts that Crosby Textor has not been involved in push polling, and acknowledges that it had no information at the time of publication which would support the false claim of push polling.

To the extent that it is relevant, we note that Mr Hager has also made a claim that Mr Textor was involved in push polling against a Labor candidate in an Australian by-election in March 1995.

We accept that the opinion poll in question was conducted by an independent pollster, Roy Morgan, instructed by the Liberal Party. It was not push polling, but an attitudinal survey based on a small sample (0.0061 of the electorate).

Some of the information tested was wrong, due to a mistake by the Liberal Party, which paid all the compensation as a result.

Mr Textor apologised because he felt it right to do so, but he was not responsible for the error himself.

Of course some will think the facts no place in this debate, but even Australians deserve the truth told about them!

The NBR also had this item in their satire column. I think they stole it off a blog!:

ROSENEATH, July 11, 2008—Investigative Researcher Nicky Hager was poised this week to publish his most explosive report yet showing that, under a secret health policy plan drawn up by Crosby Textor and already secretly approved by National Party leader John Key, every last man, woman and child currently alive in New Zealand could expect to be dead by 2140.

This is the shock finding of more than a half-year of surveillance of Mr Key by the author of the best-selling Hollow Men, who said this week that the “catastrophic” nature of the finding dwarfed earlier revelations of secret American bagmen, GE-contamination and the private romantic lives of conservative MPs.

“This is something the National Party really doesn’t want you to think about, but think about it you must,” Hager warned. “Under this secret policy, the horrific reality is that four million New Zealanders who are currently happily alive will all be dead and buried, in little more than a century.”

He continued, “Some of my friends in the Labour Party like to call the Tory leader Slippery John, but my name for him is The Grim Reaper John, because that is what he is: the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse, the candidate whose name is death!”

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Is Hager suing?

July 3rd, 2008 at 4:33 pm by David Farrar

The Hive notes that Radio New Zealand has removed from its website, the audio of Monday’s Focus on Politics.

It has been suggested that Nicky Hager is threatening Radio New Zealand with defamation over the item – presumably over Matthew Hooton’s comments rather than Laila Harre’s.

I am not sure if it is true, but imagine if it was Nicky Hager being threatened with defamation. We’d probably hear all about how big monied interests are trying to silence him.

A defamation case would be fascinating. I’d love to hear testimony on how the e-mails were not stolen, and the ability for this to be cross-examined.

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Crosby/Textor

July 1st, 2008 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

God knows how the SST thinks it is front page news that the National Party uses focus groups and advisors that Nicky Hager doesn’t like.

They breathlessly report:

An April 2005 Crosby/Textor report described how the focus group questions probed for latent negative “hesitations or concerns” about her. “Regardless of your overall view of Helen Clark,” the moderator asked, “what would you acknowledge are her weaknesses at the moment, even if they are slight or begrudging weaknesses?” The report’s “strategic opportunities” section concluded that the research revealed “an emerging perception that Helen Clark is too busy with `minorities’ and `other people’ to worry about the concerns and the pressures on `working families’.”

This is of course normal fare for parties, but only front page news if done by National. I blogged back in February how Labour were testing attack lines in their polling. And I concluded:

So that poll, presumably on behalf of Labour, was entirely legitimate as a form of message testing.  They were trying to find out which attack lines on Key will have the most effect on reducing National’s support, and conversely which lines about Labour will be most effective at increasing support for them.

Yet the SST thinks that it is front page news that National does the same thing.

But wait you say, isn’t the issue that the firm is Crosby/Textor who were associated with Don Brash.

Well no, that is crap. I am going off memory but Mark Textor has been giving advice to National since the 1993 election. So 2008 would be the 6th election where he has been involved. So what is the news value in National having the same advisor as the last five elections?

Matthew Hooton aptly summarises the situation on National Radio yesterday describing Nicky Hager as the Patricia Bartlett of NZ politics – wanting to be the moral guardian of NZ, yet he himself is a political activist himself.

Even Russell Brown has a reasonable balance:

A sense of perspective is worthwhile here. Political strategy is a cynical business by its nature. Labour’s people were not appealing to higher ideals when they ran the “slippery” campaign against Key this year. Even the Greens once (in 2002) hired themselves an electoral shitkicker from Australia.

Adam Smith also weighs in:

Predictably the Hager árticle’ in the SST had all the usual left voices acting as if John Key had been found indulging in an act of bestiality, rather than doing what politicians do, that is acting rationally and legally in taking advice from a variety of sources on how to win.

That is what party leaders are supposed to do – win elections.

Textor and Crosby are centre right campaign and research advisors. In some countries they actually run the campaign (such as in the UK), while in NZ (as far as I know – I am not privy to exact details) their role is far less. National has its own Campaign Manager and campaign staff.

The only documented wrong doing was an alleged push poll in 1995 – 13 years ago. Now I think push polls have no role in politics or market research (but make sure you do not confuse push polls with testing attack lines) but their real sin seems to be that they are often sucessful, rather than one mistake in 15 years.

The Hive also highlights an apology to Crosby and Textor from Crikey in 2007.

David Cohen notes that Crosby Textor offered some blunt advice last year to Australian Liberal Party:

Still, last year’s Australian federal election campaign does offer a useful test of the article’s overall judgment.

This was the same federal election, of course, in which at least one political pr outfit famously advised the ruling Coalition that it had left voters disillusioned over broken promises and dishonesty, even while Labor leader Kevin Rudd was acquiring a deserved reputation as compassionate, human, genuine and likeable. .

Excellent advice, that; honest, open and straightforward, too. Unfortunately for Hager, it also came from Crosby/Textor

Colin Espiner also looks at the fuss:

So far National’s leader John Key has not denied he is using Crosby Textor, and indeed his staff are confirming it, off the record. National is playing down Hager’s story, and indeed there is a “so what?” component to it. More than 70% of respondents to a Stuff poll this morning agree with them.

Let’s be honest – all political parties use polling companies and image consultants if they can afford to. Labour uses UMR. The companies road-test ideas, probe communities for hot-button issues, test the weak spots of opponents, and help political parties form an attack plan for election campaigns.

Colin then looks at Crosby Textor specifically:

However I think his decision to continue using Crosby Textor was a mistake, for a number of reasons. If he was trying to rid the party of the remnants of the Brash years, why use the same image makers? Why use a company that has a controversial reputation in Australia and Britain? A company that has been involved in scandals such as push-polling over a candidate’s mythical support for abortion to the ninth month of pregnancy? Who wants to be involved with a company tied up with stories about baby killers and the children overboard fiasco in Australia?

On top of all this, for all its fearsome reputation, Crosby Textor’s results are mixed at best. It has advised National in its last four campaigns. National has lost three in a row. It advised John Howard last year. Howard lost. It advised Michael Howard in Britain. Howard lost. Its sole recent success was Boris Johnson in the London mayorlty, and Red Ken was history after introducing the congestion charge.

I think Colin is off the mark here somewhat. First of all it is simplistic to judge campaign advisors simply by the result. Minor little things such as leaders, policies, political and economic environment all affect the result – not just the campaign. In the US people like Bob Shrum are well respected as campaign managers despite not having advised a winning presidential campaign.

But even if one does want to look at results, then Colin should not just quote the 2007 election loss for Australia but also the four previous wins. Likewise in NZ, Mark Textor had a role (going off memory) in the 1993 and 1996 election campaigns, so their record is a positive one, and the fact they are in demand is because they are very good at what they do.

The real irony is that I have heard from a friend of a friend who has taken part in a recent focus group for what was obviously the Labour Party. The entire thing consisted of testing attack lines against John Key. They were left in no doubt that Labour will be using their research to try and undermine John Key on all fronts. Watch this space.

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Is the Hollow Men play illegal?

April 18th, 2008 at 9:07 am by David Farrar

Stephen Franks has raised the issue of the Hollow Men play with the Electoral Commission. Nicky Hager was a strong supporter of the Electoral Finance Act, so it would be very ironic if the play based on his book was shut down as it is now an illegal election advertisement.

Let us look at how it may be an advertisement. First take s5(1)(a)(i)

election advertisement means any form of words or graphics, or both, that can reasonably be regarded as … encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for 1 or more specified parties…

Now a play is a form of words and The Hollow Men certainly encourages people not to vote for National. So is it exempt? What are the seven exemptions in s5(2)?

  1. electoral agency advertisements
  2. editorial material in a periodical
  3. radio or television programmes
  4. media Internet sites
  5. books
  6. documents published to members or shareholders
  7. blogs

So we have established that The Hollow Men play is almost certainly an election advertisement, and is not covered by any exemption. Next we ask is it “published” as defined in s4(1)?

publish, in relation to an advertisement, means to—

(a) print or insert in a periodical published or distributed in New Zealand; or
(b) issue, hand out, or display, to the public; or
(c) send to any member of the public by any means; or
(d) deliver to any member of the public, or leave at a place owned or occupied by a member of the public; or
(e) broadcast (for example, in the form of a radio or television broadcast); or
(f) include in a film or video displayed to the public; or
(g) disseminate to the public by means of the Internet or any other electronic medium; or
(h) store electronically in a way that is accessible to the public

We can rule out (a), (c), (g) and (h). But Stephen makes the case that a play can be considered to be displayed to the public, or delivered to any member of the public. Also if a PA system was used it could be caught up by (e) and if a promo clip for the play is put on You Tube, then that may breach (f).

One can’t say for sure that the Hollow Men play would or would not be illegal, but it shows how far reaching the law is.  It may escape the law only because it does not fit the definition of publish, even though it is defined as an election advertisement.

Now Nicky Hager should be very grateful to the anti-EFA lobbyists that we kicked up such a fuss about the select committee version of the EFB, that they deleted this clause in the definition for publish:

(i) bring to the notice of the public in any other manner

This was the infamous megaphone clause which the select committee added in. It got removed after protests.  But if that clause had remained in, then the case for The Hollow Men play being closed down by the Electoral Finance Act would have been greatly strengthened.

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Hager’s spin

April 17th, 2008 at 6:21 am by David Farrar

Nicky Hager claims the Police said the following:

“The Police had to address issues of ‘theft’ and ‘stealing’ because that is what Don Brash alleged. But in today’s finding the Police are saying they have no idea how the leaks occurred and that they have found no evidence of any crime being committed.”

 ”This was always going to be the outcome because the information came from legitimate leaks. I believe the National Party used the allegations of theft, and thereby wasted Police resources, to try to distract attention away from the serious revelations in the book.”

Nicky would have you think hey the Police said no crime here, move along. But let us look at what they did say:

Police have closed their investigation into the theft of e-mails from former National Party leader Dr Don Brash and have announced that they have been unsuccessful in identifying those responsible for the thefts.

Hmmn, they called them thefts. Not leaks.

Detective Inspector Harry Quinn, the Officer in Charge of the investigation and Wellington Police District Crime Services Manager, said today that police had been unable to establish with certainty how the e-mails had actually been stolen.

And here they say the e-mails were stolen – they just don’t know how.

“How the thefts occurred still largely remains a mystery,” said Detective Inspector Quinn. “We have eliminated the suggestion that an external ‘computer hacker’ had breached the computer security within Parliament but there remains many other potential ways in which the crimes could have occurred.”

Again they repeat this was a theft, and all they rule out is an “external” hacker. This does not rule out numerous other scenarios such as a IT staffer with system access, an insecure password, or even someone taking advantage of a computer left logged in.

“There are strong indications that the e-mails were in printed form at the time of the theft, but with the thefts perhaps happening at any time over the two- year period it is very likely that they were stolen during several incidents,” Detective Inspector Quinn said.

I have no idea if the thefts were done of print outs, of electronic files or a mixture of both. But I would point out that someone sneaking into someone’s office, rummaging through their filing cabinet, and then taking papers from that filing cabinet is not a leak, but as the Police say – theft.

A leak is when you release information you legitimately have access to. Take for example the draft Green Party List that was leaked to me. A Green Party member who legitimately had a copy of the list, leaked it. Now that is massively different to a scenario where say only two people had a copy of the Green Party List and it was stored in Jeanette Fitzsimons’ office, and someone entered that office without authorisation, rummaged through her laptop or office files, and then stole a copy of the list, to give it to me.

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