The Security and Intelligence Review

March 9th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Key has announced:

Prime Minister and Minister of National Security and Intelligence John Key today welcomed the report of the Independent Review of Intelligence and Security.

“The report contains an extensive range of recommendations which aim to improve the clarity and consistency of the legislative framework governing the security and intelligence agencies,” says Mr Key.

“The central recommendation is that there should be a single, comprehensive Act covering both the agencies and their oversight regime.

“The Government must now carefully consider its response to these recommendations and it will do so with the intention of reaching as broad a political consensus as possible,” says Mr Key.

The Independent Review of Intelligence and Security report is available at:

We know the Greens will oppose basically everything. Their policy previously was to abolish one or both of the intelligence agencies.

NZ First’s stance depends on what mood Winston is in.

So the real focus will be on Labour, and their position. This is their former deputy leader and deputy PM who was one of the two reviewers. Will they listen to Cullen or listen to some vocal activists?

The central conclusion is:

There should be a single, integrated and comprehensive Act of Parliament that lays out in plain English how the [intelligence] agencies are constituted; what their purposes are; how all their intelligence and security activities are authorised; and how they are overseen so as to protect those freedoms and liberties that are part of what we are as a nation.

Other recommendations are:

  • Both agencies become departments under the State Sector Act
  • Recommend removing the current restriction on the GCSB taking any action for the purpose of intercepting New Zealanders’ private communications as the restriction is confusing, does not protect New Zealanders to the extent it suggests, and hinders the Agencies’ ability to assist the government to protect New Zealand against security threats. Instead, protections for New Zealanders should be implemented through a strengthened authorisation framework. If the Agencies wish to carry out any activity for the purpose of targeting a New Zealander, a warrant approved by both the Attorney-General and a judicial commissioner should be required.
  • The legislation should require some form of authorisation for all of the Agencies’ intelligence and security activities, to ensure that appropriate safeguards apply to everything they do, with a three tier approach
  • We recommend introducing a panel of at least three judicial commissioners, headed by a Chief Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants
  • The Inspector-General should be appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the House of Representatives.
  • The ISC to have up to seven members, and elect its own Chair who would normally not be the PM

Fisher on the intelligence agencies

November 10th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A long and interesting piece by David Fisher on the intelligence agencies:

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand.

We know more now about what they do and even how they do it.

We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge.

There will always be those who say we don’t know enough. For those people, we now have improved oversight of the agencies. This also happened under the Prime Minister’s watch as minister in charge of the agencies.

The new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn – another superb lawyer – has been a breath of the freshest air.

Mr Key has since stepped away from directly overseeing the agencies, which is a further liberation. It seems right that the most powerful weapons of state should sit with someone whose role is to objectively challenge his Cabinet colleagues.

Now, even at a ministerial level, the SIS and GCSB answer to a lawyer, this time Attorney General Chris Finlayson.

In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before.

I’m glad to see this recognition. If you go back 10 years, no PM would answer any question on the intelligence agencies. The oversight reports were few and extremely bland. It is vastly different to what we have today with both the Inspector-General and the two directors going into considerable detail (within reason) of what they do.

That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB. He also had to apologise – a concession which must have been galling.

That single event appears to be the point at which the Prime Minister stopped taking at face value the assurances given by the intelligence agencies, and began a programme for reformation which is huge in its scale and largely behind closed doors.

I think that was a catalyst, aided by the Snowden revelations. He sent in the Cabinet Secretary to review their compliance, and having found it lacking, then made her one director, and two deputy solictor-generals the other director and the Inspector-General. They are not just all lawyers, but all lawyers whose background is very focused on legal compliance.

But there have also been reports which paint a picture of the state of New Zealand’s intelligence services, past and present. None are individually explicit in their descriptions of how bad it was but the collective run of reports gives an impression of the intelligence community as an isolated part of government, lost to the public they were serving, changing purpose and shape under a cloak of secrecy.

There is a pattern which flows through these reports, whether it be NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge’s investigation into the GCSB, or the Performance Improvement Framework reviews or the most recent Gwyn report. Every reviewer is insistent staff at these important and powerful agencies all had good intent, but that they were left operating in frameworks not quite right, or in some cases flat out wrong.

It is almost tragic the intelligence services sought out such eager and patriotic staff only to subject them to a bureaucratic acid trip.

Part of the problem I think is that the culture was too mixed in with the military, and the senior leadership all tended to be ex-military. Top military officers often have some very fine skills, but they are not necessarily all the skills you need to have an agency working correctly.

John Key’s response to a community which cultured problems and surprised him with embarrassment was to throw back the curtains, hire his own directors and to put serious lawyers in charge. There are those within horrified at their new reality, which includes the need to “inform the public of what we do and why it is so important”, as one recently disclosed report stated.

Accountability and transparency make the intelligence community one in which all New Zealanders have a stake, by simple virtue of it being more accessible.

John Key has made some mistakes in this area, such as personally requesting Ian Fletcher to apply. But I do think there hasn’t been enough focus on the massive changes he has introduced, and also how he personally has been far far more willing to talk on details of intelligence operations than any predecessor. There are some dangers with this, as you can’t go into detail on everything, and where you draw the line has consequences. But our level of transparency and independent review is far greater than in the past.

The six main threats to NZ

November 6th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

‘We think there are six security problems that you should really worry about,” our spies told Prime Minister John Key.

Top of the list? “Violent extremism in New Zealand and by New Zealanders.”

The top-secret list was revealed in the Briefing to the Incoming Minister provided by the heads of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

It was obtained by the Herald through the Official Information Act after the intervention of the Office of the Ombudsman and – with redactions – shows how Mr Key and Attorney General Chris Finlayson were briefed when returned to government in October last year.

The concern about “violent extremism” appeared linked to concerns over the ability of the extremist group Isis (Islamic State) to export terror and was linked to observations “significant migration” was “creating communities [in New Zealand] with distinct identities and links to overseas”.

A very interesting document. It’s good the Herald were able to get it. The six main threats are:

1 Violent extremism in NZ and by New Zealanders – the report warns migration is creating communities with “distinct identities and links overseas”. It appears to reflect information the SIS has learned from Muslim communities.

2 Loss of information and data – the means by which a cyber attack is done is “easier to acquire and easy to combine with insider threats”. It poses economic and reputational risks.

3 Hostile intelligence operations in and against the country – the report warns of “industrial espionage” against companies and “targeting of New Zealanders by foreign governments”. Again, the consequence of increased migration could be linked to these concerns.

4 Mass arrivals – the entire small section is redacted, but John Key has previously spoken of concern over boat-loads of refugees making landfall in New Zealand.

5 Trans-national organised crime – drugs, money-laundering and illegal fishing are highlighted, brought about by an “open economy, the internet and established networks among migrant communities”.

6 Instability in the South Pacific – the entire section is blanked out, but the SIS has had a close focus on Fiji, its leadership and anti-regime movements in New Zealand and Australia.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Annual Report

November 4th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The annual report of the IGIS is here, and her current work programme is here. Both are interesting reads.

What strikes me is how much more proactive the IGIS is, under their new powers and resourcing, than in the past when it was more cursory. The appointing of three lawyers to the top role in SIS and GCSB, along with of course the IGIS has made a huge difference.

Some items of interest in detailed 43 page report:

  • In particular, my office is now in a position, for the first time, to give an informed certification of the extent to which the compliance systems of New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies are “sound”, as required by the legislation governing my office.
  • I am pleased to say the task of establishing a fully functioning, secure and fulltime oversight office has been achieved. The office, since February of this year, has comprised the Inspector-General, Deputy Inspector-General, IT Manager/Security Advisor, EA/Office Manager and four Investigating Officers.
  • In the reporting year, I received eight initial complaints and queries concerning security clearance matters and commenced four inquiries as a result. … In the course of these inquiries, I identified systemic shortcomings in the procedures followed by the NZSIS.
  • Where matters of expert judgement arose, NZSIS officers sometimes sought expert assistance, but on other occasions were left to rely upon their own non-expert assessments, for example in relation to clinical judgements and to financial audit matters. It did not disclose adverse information or inferences to candidates for response.
  • As one part of those remedies, I am pleased to acknowledge the agreement by the Director of the Service to give apologies to affected individuals.
  • The Office of the Inspector-General has not previously had a formal policy for dealing with protected disclosures. We have now developed a policy
  • On 9 December 2014, the US Senate Committee on Intelligence published redacted findings, conclusion and executive summary of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme. This report documented instances of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees in the period between 17 September 2001 and 22 January 2009.
  • As a result of the Senate report and related material, I identified a public interest in inquiring into whether New Zealand’s intelligence agencies and personnel knew or were otherwise connected with or risked connection to the activities discussed in the US Senate Report. To address that interest, I commenced an own motion inquiry.
  • I certify that the (GCSB) Bureau has sound compliance procedures and systems in place.
  • As noted above, the Service lacked a compliance framework and policy, audit framework and dedicated staffing throughout this reporting period. The absence of structures and policies meant that NZSIS staff, despite their best intentions, were not sufficiently supported to ensure compliance with NZSIS legal and policy obligations. For those reasons, I cannot conclude that NZSIS had sound compliance procedures and systems in place.

As I said the report is fascinating and far far more detailed than anything I have seen before. The IGIS has found that the GCSB systems are now sound, but the SIS systems are still a work in progress, and are not yet good enough. It is good to have this transparency.

Inappropriate but funny

May 31st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Security Intelligence Service chief Rebecca Kitteridge has apologised to Kim Dotcom for the behaviour of her spies, who swapped emails about the internet entrepreneur’s weight and wife while mocking his chances of getting New Zealand residency. …

One reply stated: “He was never going to get far from the cops on foot, was he?” Another SIS staffer said Dotcom was like the Daleks, the wheeled villains in Dr Who, because “he could be defeated by a small set of stairs”.

That may be the funniest thing ever written by an SIS Officer! Yes I know it was inappropriate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very funny.

The more interesting aspect to this story is that the e-mails were released, and this is no doubt due to Kitteridge. In the past any e-mails about someone who had been investigated by the SIS would have been declined under the OIA, and it would not have been difficult to fund a reason to justify this such as prejudicing security or international relations.

The e-mails were written in a culture where they never ever thought they would be potentially released. In the past the SIS pretty much refused all OIAs. But Kitteridge has obviously decided that unless there is a direct link to security and international relations, then material will be released. This is a significant change – one of many the security agencies have gone through in recent years.  I suspect in future SIS staff will confine their humour to the oral sphere.

At some stage I’ll do a post looking at all the changes in the last few years around the security and intelligence agencies. They have been significant, and most heading in the right direction.

The Kitteridge speech

May 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A rare public speech by the SIS Director, Rebecca Kitteridge to a privacy and identity conference. Some extracts:

What I hope to show is that in a liberal democracy like New Zealand, we need both individual privacy and national security. They complement one another, and a balance must be struck between them. In order to keep our country secure and protect our citizens, we have to be able to intercept private communications in some exceptional and legally authorised circumstances. But the needs of security agencies are not absolute. Any intrusion into privacy on the grounds of national security must occur only where it is necessary and proportionate, and must be subject to oversight.

Few would disagree with that.

And this is why I was attracted to the role of Director of Security. I am not in this job because I have a fascination for spying or because I relish the thought of intruding into people’s private affairs. Leading the Security Intelligence Service appealed to me because I feel strongly about the New Zealand way of life. I want to protect that way of life so we can continue to enjoy the things that are so wonderful about New Zealand, including the 3 integrity of our institutions, the privacy of our citizens, and our democratic rights and freedoms. And that motivation and commitment is shared by every person I have met in the NZSIS.

Kitteridge gets annoyed when she is called a spy boss, rather than the SIS boss because their motivation is security. They’re not MI6.

It is rather startling to think that when I was interviewed for the Director of Security role eighteen months ago, ISIL did not feature in my interview presentation. It is a big preoccupation for me now. ISIL recruits to its extremist cause through the use of slick propaganda, distributed via social media around the world. Its recruits may be young, vulnerable, or disaffected. They are excited by the extreme nature of what they see, and are drawn to something that they think has meaning.

The internet overcomes geographic distance and enables communication between these susceptible people and those encouraging them, radicalising them and directing them. The internet, and especially social media, means it is very easy for these individuals to connect up with others who share and strengthen their world view.

The threat to our security posed by foreign terrorist fighters is real, and it continues to develop rapidly. I know that my sister agencies overseas are dismayed at the prospect of radicalised and battle-hardened foreign fighters returning to their countries of origin – in some cases in their hundreds. Regardless of how the current situation in the Middle East is resolved, the issue of returning foreign fighters is going to challenge security services around the world for many years to come.

ISIL has changed things significantly.

Domestic extremists are also a real concern. ISIL explicitly urges individuals to conduct attacks using any weapon they have – a knife, a car – without talking to anybody about their plans. Attacks of this kind are extremely difficult to stop.

ISIL is very different to Al Qaeda who insisted on tight control and approval of any attacks. ISIL encourages anyone and everyone to attack.

We have seen the consequences of ISIL’s communications strategy and tactics being experienced in Paris, Belgium, Ottawa, Melbourne and Sydney, where lives have been taken or threatened. I don’t want to overstate the situation in New Zealand. As I have said before, there is a very small number of people in New Zealand, inspired by ISIL, who are talking about, advocating or planning to commit violent acts here or elsewhere. And it is the job of the Security Intelligence Service to understand what is going on so that those violent acts can be prevented.

Sadly we are not immune.

Making a decision to intercept a New Zealand citizen’s personal communications is only permissible under a Domestic Security Warrant, which often involves months of work and is not something we apply for lightly. To obtain a Warrant, the intelligence officers have to build and present a meticulously documented application, generally with attachments that are several inches thick, showing that the Warrant meets the criteria set out in our legislation, and is necessary and proportionate.

The Warrant application is reviewed by a senior manager and is scrutinised by the legal team. Then, as Director, I review it thoroughly. The Commissioner of Security Warrants then reviews it thoroughly. And then we take it to the Minister in Charge of the NZSIS. He asks questions and may require conditions to be added before it is signed off. Every Warrant must specify a period not exceeding 12 months for which the Warrant is valid. It can be renewed, but we must make the case again.

Not exactly mass surveillance is it.

We do not live in a surveillance state where everything you do online is recorded – at least not by the government! So – please enjoy the freedom that the internet gives you. You are free to click on whatever you want on your device, and you won’t pop up on our system. Typically, we get our leads through our interaction with the public and through information provided to us by other agencies.

Where information suggests that a person may be a threat to New Zealand’s domestic security, we will try to find out more about that person, and either determine that the person is not of interest, or build an intelligence case that may lead to a Warrant application. Our focus is on the small number of individuals who are actively interested in violent extremism, or causing some other harm to New Zealand’s security as defined in our legislation.

Around 50 a year.

I often think that if the public could see the people of the NZSIS doing their work, they would be delighted to see what hard-working, terrific people our intelligence officers are. I would love the Service to have a television show like Border Patrol.

Heh, Spy-Factor? Spy-Idol? Big Brother? 🙂

But where it is possible to talk about our work, as I am today, I think we should. With others in the New Zealand Intelligence Community, I am working on being more open and transparent.

Good. The intelligence agencies have some stuff they need to keep secret, but not everything. I recall when I worked in the Pms Office, and someone from the SIS would bring a draft press release over – on a password encrypted disk in a locked briefcase!

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reviews every warrant after it is issued. In addition, the Inspector-General and her staff are free to come into our workplace, access our databases and document management systems, and look at anything and everything that we do. The Office of the Inspector-General has been greatly strengthened over the last couple of years. The Office has gone from one part-time retired Judge and a part-time secretary, to a full-time Inspector-General with a number of permanent full-time staff. That means that sunlight is beaming in across the intelligence agencies right now.

This has been I think the most important change. Also of significance is the SIS Director, GCSB Director and the Inspector-General are now all lawyers – gone are the days of the military old boys club.


Cullen to head up security law review

May 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Amy Adams announced:

A former Deputy Prime Minister and a respected lawyer are to lead the first regular review of New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies, Acting Attorney-General Amy Adams announced today.

Ms Adams says she intends to appoint Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy to carry out the review.

“This will be an important and challenging review, and I’m pleased Sir Michael and Dame Patsy have agreed to lend their expertise to the task. They bring complementary skills and experience to the role. Sir Michael is a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and has knowledge of national security issues. Dame Patsy has extensive governance experience and legal expertise,” Ms Adams says.

Having Michael Cullen as one of the reviewers is an inspired move, as he will take a sensible approach to such a vital issue, and it will be very difficult for certain political parties to attack the recommendations if he is part of them.

SIS and GCSB annual reports

March 16th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

They are both an interesting read. The SIS report is here. Some extracts:

Our work in 2013/14 had a significant operational focus on individuals with links to groups in both Iraq and Syria such as the Islamic State/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This work has involved investigations into individuals already embedded with terrorist organisations overseas, New Zealand citizens or permanent residents based both in New Zealand and offshore with intentions to travel overseas to engage in politically motivated violence, and individuals who are facilitating others to travel and those engaged in funding terrorist organisations.

By preventing these individuals travelling to engage in violent extremism, the NZSIS assesses that there is a real likelihood that the lives of these individuals may have been saved. In addition, had they managed to get to Syria and fight, the NZSIS has prevented the risk of battle-hardened individuals returning and compromising New Zealand’s security.

I wouldn’t mind them going so much if we could stop them returning. But generally we can’t.

Women comprise 40.5% of the NZSIS. The NZSIS achieved a significant milestone in 2013/14 with the appointment of its first female Director, Rebecca Kitteridge, and four of the nine roles that make up the NZSIS Senior Leadership Team are currently held by women.

I suspect that is very different to the past.

The NZSIS operates within an oversight and accountability framework that includes the Executive, Parliament, and independent authorities such as the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Commissioner of Security Warrants, and the Offices of the Privacy Commissioner and Ombudsman. This multi-layered approach to oversight provides an assurance that the NZSIS’s work is transparent at a number of levels.

The institutional checks are very important.

Fifty-one (51) domestic intelligence warrants were in force. Of those, thirty-four (34) were issued during the reporting period, and seventeen (17) were issued during the previous year but remained in force for some part of the reporting period.

The average length for which those warrants were in force during the reporting period was 134 days.

So a warrant is issued around every 10 days.

The GCSB report is here.

A total of 19 interception warrants were in force during the 2013/14 year. A total of 14 interception warrants were issued during the 2013/14 year.

A total of 59 access authorisations were in force during the 2013/14 year. A total of 48 access authorisations were issued during the 2013/14 year.

So the total number of warrants issued last year for the SIS and GCSB combined were 96. It is not a huge number.


Less surveillance than seven years ago

March 14th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Some very interesting revelations in the testimony to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Andrea Vance reports:

New Zealand’s foreign spies are gathering less intelligence than they did seven years ago, the country’s top spook says.

Can we banish the term “top spook” especially as they use it for both the GCSB and SIS directors.

Acting director of the Government Communications Security Bureau Una Jagose has been in the job just ten days, following the resignation of Ian Fletcher. 

Jagose was answering a question from Prime Minister John Key, who was chairing Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. It is just the second time the committee has been open to the public.

“As I understand it, today we collect less intelligence than we did seven years ago…there hasn’t been any radical shift upwards as has been suggested in the media.”

Ms Jagose is a lawyer, as is SIS Rebecca Kitteridge. The intelligence agencies have not always acted well in the past, but this Government has in fact gone to great lengths to break down the military old boys network that used to run them.

Not only are both entities now run by lawyers, whose primary focus is compliance, they are both women (also a first) and non-military.

Labour’s Andrew Little tried to get to the bottom of whether the agency carries out mass surveillance or collection, and what is meant by “full-take collection”, as referenced in the Snowden documents. 

“It is very difficult to answer the question about what does it mean because it means different things to different people,” Jagose said. “The connotation that I get from those phrases is some indiscriminate, for no purpose, not necessary collection of information for collection’s sake and we do not do that. What we do is lawful and authorised and necessary and proportionate and all of it…subject to independent oversight and you don’t have to take that from me. The public can take that from the systems that are to test that.” 

Now Jagose has only been in the job a few weeks. I can’t imagine she is lying to cover up – plus the Inspector-General can verify that.

Jagose, and Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge, spent time detailing the oversight mechanisms both agencies are subject to.  Jagose says all collection of information by her agency must be done under a warrant

“The very collection of information is authorised… so it’s not that we collect information and then seek authorisation for particular target issues. Everything we collect is authorised… the speculation in the public is that there is this wild collection of information for no purpose and then we have a look at it. In fact, collection is done for a purpose, and authorised.”

Labour’s David Shearer questioned if this applied to all foreign intelligence surveillance. “If we have a foreign intelligence target that we want to intercept, or otherwise access their communications, yes that is warranted,” she said. Inadvertently collected material from New Zealanders is destroyed, she said.

The ODT also reports:

The GCSB acting chief, Una Jagose, said the answer to the real tension between her bureau’s need for secrecy and the public’s demand for greater transparency lay the independent oversight of the agency, New Zealand’s foreign intelligence agency.

The post of Inspector General of Intelligence and Security is held by Cheryl Gwyn, a former deputy Solicitor-General.

“She is entitled to and does, come into the bureau at any time and she can look at anything she likes. She can question any of us under oath. She can ask for any document or explanation.”

The job used to be a part-time job held by a retired judge.

It is now full-time, with a full-time deputy and five investigators.

The checks and balances on the intelligence agencies have been greatly increased in the last few years – which is a good thing.

“In our business transparency and openness is not an easy matter. We have to make sure we do not inadvertently increase our vulnerability to people who don’t have New Zealand’s best interests at heart whether that is by revealing courses, methods we use or the targets we have.

“Actually we don’t want the people we are conducting foreign intelligence on or defending computer networks from to know we are looking at them or how we are doing that.

“And actually we don’t even want them to know what we are not capable of because that also gives insights into vulnerabilities.”

If the agency was more open with New Zealanders about what it did and did not do, people who did not have New Zealand’s interests at heart would have an advantage to act against New Zealand’s interests and give them an insight into its vulnerabilities.

“That would make the job of the Government, the bureau, the service a lot harder and possibly impossible.”

Worth remembering that Edward Snowden is holed up in Putin’s Russia, and oone thing you can guarantee is he won’t be revealing one single word of how Russia conducts intelligence gathering.

Changes to the foreign fighters bill

December 3rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The SIS should only be allowed to spy on citizens without a warrant for up 24 hours, and only if suspects are thought to be engaged in terrorism, a committee has found. 

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee has reported back on anti-terrorist legislation the Government is trying to push through under urgency.

It has made a number of recommendations to water the original bill down, including paring the proposed 48-hour period to spy without a warrant back to 24 hours. 

If the SIS does undertake spying without a warrant, then the Committee has also recommended the Director of the SIS give a copy of the warrant, as soon as it’s obtained, to spy watchdog the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. 

If the SIS doesn’t obtain a warrant for surveillance and the information it’s collected has to be destroyed, then the director should also alert the Inspector-General. 

“This would allow an examination of each warrantless case that was not followed by a visual surveillance warrant or an intelligence warrant,” the committee said in its report. 

A sunset clause, which was due to expire in April 2018, should be brought forward a year so the laws would expire within the life of the current Government. 

The SIS would have to report publicly every six months, rather than every year, and in more detail, on the use of its new powers.

Many of the changes were brought about through consultation with Labour. 

I submitted on this bill, basically against the emergency surveillance provisions.

There was good interaction with National and Labour MPs. David Shearer and Phil Goff especially were very engaged on this issue, and talking about possible changes which are included above. They seemed absolutely convinced there was a need for an emergency surveillance power, but wanted to make it as limited as possible.

A National MP helpfully pointed out to me after my submission, that I was incorrect on a detail – there is an existing provision for emergency surveillance for agencies such as the Police. So this power is not unprecedented.

Labour have handled this bill very well. Rather than mindless opposition, they negotiated (along with NZ First, United Future and ACT) significant changes to it. A key change was the emergency surveilance power can only be used in relation to terrorism, not in relation to other areas of the SIS’s activity.

The most disappointing MP on the committee was Kennedy Graham from the Greens. Not because I disagreed with the Greens, but how he engaged. In essence my submission was against the emergency surveillance provisions, which is the position of the Greens. Rather than try to utilise the rarity of having a prominent National supporter agree with the Greens on an issue, he decided to play semantic games and tried to trip me up on my description of the Commission of Security Warrants as a semi-judicial figure. He even demanded the Clerk of the Committee state whether or not I was correct (the Clerk said basically yes the Commissioner is a quasi-judicial figure). It was stupid behaviour from an MP towards a submitter who was for once basically agreeing with the Greens on an issue. Someone more sensible in the Greens might want to point out to him, that he missed a good opportunity for positive headlines.

Anyway good to see significant changes to the bill, which reflect well on the MPs involved.

My submission on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill

November 27th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar


About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

The overall Bill

  1. With one exception I am broadly in support of the Government’s proposed law changes to help counter terrorist fighters. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a significant threat to not just the local populations in the areas it controls, but to countries and people around the world.
  2. I am broadly supportive of the proposed changes to the Passports Act, information sharing with Customs, and allowing the SIS to do electronic visual surveillance under warrant.

Emergency Surveillance by the SIS

  1. I oppose the proposed law changes to allow the SIS to do emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours without a warrant.
  2. I believe it is important for New Zealanders to have confidence and trust in their law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies.
  3. At present the Government can say that no New Zealand citizen is spied on by any state agency unless a warrant is approved by an independent judicial officer such as a Judge, JP or Commissioner of Security Warrants. This is a hugely important check and balance in our system. No New Zealander can be spied on by a state agency without effectively judicial approval.
  4. This proposed law would do away with the status quo. No longer could New Zealanders be told that they can only have their communications intercepted if an independent judicial officer agrees.
  5. For Parliament to do away with this long standing right, they need to be convinced that the consequences of not doing so would be worse than remaining with the status quo. This should be a very high threshold. No matter how temporary the exception may be, the fact is that the law will go from an absolute guarantee of no surveillance without judicial approval to no guarantee. Parliament should be loath to make such a change.
  6. I accept that threats may emerge quickly and it is desirable for intelligence to be gathered quickly. However rather than water down the requirement for prior judicial approval, other alternatives should be considered.
  7. We live in a connected world. The Commissioner of Security Warrants and the Minister for the SIS can probably be contacted close to 24/7. Documents for a warrant can be sent electronically for approval. With planning, one should be able to get a warrant within a couple of hours where haste is necessary.
  8. Other options is for the Commissioner and the Minister to have deputies who must be available in Wellington, when the principals are likely to be difficult to contact.
  9. This law change will make it harder for the security agencies to keep the confidence of New Zealanders that they can only be spied on if prior approval is given by a judicial officer.
  10. There is a massive difference between a system of checks and balances that occurs before surveillance occurs, and one that checks afterwards if it was appropriate.
  11. Changing the law to allow the SIS to do surveillance without prior judicial approval should be the last resort, not the first. I would urge the Committee to delete this section of the Bill.

    Possible further safeguards

  12. If the Committee does not agree to remove the sections on emergency surveillance powers, I would ask them to consider some or all of the below as possible further safeguards.
  13. Change the threshold from a warrant being “impractical in the circumstances” to “highly impractical” and change the impact of a delay from “likely to result in a loss of intelligence” to “highly likely to result in a loss of important intelligence”.
  14. Reduce the time period for emergency surveillance from 48 hours to 12 hours. I can’t conceive of a situation where the Commissioner and/or Minister can’t be located within 12 hours. This also syncs it with the requirement to notify the Commissioner, Minister and Inspector-General within 12 hours.
  15. Have any report on use of the power also going to the Inspector-General automatically under S41E(4) so they can investigate on their own initiative, even if not referred by the Minister or Commissioner.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission in support, and look forward to appearing.


David Farrar

The Press on SIS report

November 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Gwyn found, however, that Tucker, in defending himself, had provided an account of the briefing that was “objectively” misleading, by omissions and failure to provide context. The Prime Minister was also misled by the information Tucker provided. When public discussion about the matter blew up, Tucker failed to correct the situation.

Tucker’s errors were undoubtedly serious. He was not as measured and objective as he was required to be. These failures compromised the service’s obligation to appear politically neutral and the service has formally apologised for them, both to Goff and to the Prime Minister.

But contrary to much of the public debate on the matter, Gwyn found no partisan political motive on the part of the SIS or its director. Tucker’s faults were errors of judgment, no more. She also found that no SIS member had improperly leaked information to the blogger Cameron Slater or colluded with him.

Most importantly for the Prime Minister, Gwyn emphatically rejected any allegation of political collusion or direction of the SIS in its disclosure of information. The so-called “Dirty Politics” conspiracy did not exist.


She did find that information was provided by an employee in the Prime Minister’s Office to Slater for political purposes, but that employee was a political one who was not expected to be politically neutral and the information was not classified.

Political staff have political discussions with bloggers. How surprising.

On an issue of most concern to media, Gwyn found that differential treatment of requests for information from mainstream outlets, compared with one received from Slater, arose not from political partisanship but rather poor process, inadequate resources and lack of political awareness. The picture she paints is of a department unused to dealing with Official Information Act requests and under pressure for a quick response, rather than one seeking to act as part of any conspiracy.

Incompetence rather than malice. As is often the case.

The Herald editorial disagrees and says it is all John Key’s fault.

The SIS report

November 25th, 2014 at 1:26 pm by David Farrar

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has reported:

The inquiry found the NZSIS released incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information in response to Mr Slater’s request, and provided some of the same incorrect information to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office.

“These errors resulted in misplaced criticism of the then Leader of the Opposition, Hon Phil Goff MP. Mr Goff is owed a formal apology by the Service,” said Ms Gwyn.

Ms Gwyn found no evidence of political partisanship by the NZSIS but did find that the NZSIS failed to take adequate steps to maintain political neutrality.

 “Having released inaccurate information that was predictably misinterpreted, the then Director of the Service had a responsibility to take positive steps to correct the interpretation. He failed to do so,” said Ms Gwyn.
Warren Tucker was obviously greatly annoyed at Goff denying he had been briefed on the Israelis, when he had been, but the Inspector-General has found his response was not satisfactory. Basically he felt his integrity had been impugned, so supplied information to back him up, rather than to give a full record. Also the SIS have little experience with the OIA and didn’t do stuff they should have, such as giving Goff an advance copy of their proposed response.
That is very disappointing from any state sector head, but especially the SIS. It will add to the task Rebecca Kitteridge has to maintain and grow confidence in the professionalism of the SIS.

Ms Gwyn said she had also investigated allegations, made before and during the course of the inquiry, that NZSIS officers had acted in collusion with Mr Slater or under direction from the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s Office. Ms Gwyn said that these allegations were particularly serious and that she had made full use of her statutory powers to investigate them.

“From that thorough investigation, I do not believe that any NZSIS staff member contacted Mr Slater to instigate his OIA request. Nor have I found any collusion or direction between the NZSIS and the Prime Minister or his Office.”

Not Watergate, despite what Russel Norman claims.

Ms Gwyn went to on comment that she had, however, established that a staff member of the Prime Minister’s office had provided unclassified NZSIS information to Mr Slater. However, that information was understood by the Prime Minister’s Office to have been provided for media purposes and there was no breach of confidence towards NZSIS in that disclosure.

“That disclosure did not breach any confidentiality or security obligations owed by those staff to the NZSIS. No classified information was disclosed to Mr Slater.” Said Ms Gwyn.

Basically Jason Ede tipped Cameron Slater off that there was some information worth applying for under the OIA. I’d say parliamentary staff have been tipping people off as to things to apply for since probably the day after the OIA was passed.

It is far to say though that when it comes to material involving a security agency, even if unclassified material, it is not a good look. It would be better for the Government to have just decided themselves to release the material, rather than rely on the OIA.

Also important to stress that while I don’t have a problem with people being advised to apply for things under the OIA (and many in the media may receive such tips also), it is important that all OIA requests are treated equally under the law regardless of who applies.  It seems the SIS did not correctly respond to media requests, as they did not regard them as OIA requests. But this is clearly wrong, as you do not have to cite the OIA for a request for information to be treated as an OIA request.

The full report is here.

I should pay tribute to Cheryl Gwyn for the robust nature of her report. It is very thorough and pull no punches. From time to time government institutions do make wrong calls, and what is important is we have a system that can deal with them.  I said at the time that I thought her appointment was a good one, and this reports shows it was.

The foreign fighters proposed law

November 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Key has released the draft legislation that will go to the House on Tuesday. It will got to select committee very briefly, and then come back to the House to be passed before Christmas.

The four main measures are:

  1. Extending the period the Minister of Internal Affairs can cancel a passport to up to three years from the existing law’s 12 months
  2. Giving the Minister of Internal Affairs the power to temporarily suspend passports for up to 10 working days in urgent cases
  3. Allowing the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to carry out video surveillance on private properties for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, modelled on the Police’s powers in the Search and Surveillance Act
  4. Allowing the NZSIS to conduct emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours prior to the issue of a warrant, with the approval of its Director and subject to the oversight of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

The first two proposals do not seem a big issue to me. They are just an extension to an existing power.

The third proposal is long overdue arguably, and just brings the SIS powers  in line with the Police.

It is the 4th proposal that I have problems with, and frankly I don’t think the case for it has been made to justify it.

The justification in the bill is that information may come to light that someone not previously identified as a risk is about to travel to a conflict zone, and in the hours it takes to get a warrant, intelligence may be lost and they leave NZ.

I don’t think that is justification enough. Even if someone does leave to go to a conflict zone, that isn’t the end of the world. I’d rather they didn’t, but this isn’t enough of a threat to justify emergency surveillance without a warrant.

I also think there is a danger in trying to cover off every sort of theoretical possibility. You can justify almost anything with hypothetical justifications. You can justify torture if it is to discover the location of a nuclear bomb that will kill 100,000 people. But how likely is it? The question I would ask the SIS is whether there has ever been a situation where something bad happened because they had to wait six to 12 hours to get a warrant? Not a hypothetical situation, but an actual situation?

The danger of emergency powers is that can become a lazy norm. Why bother getting a warrant, if we can take a quick look for 48 hours, and then see if we learn enough to justify a warrant application? Now I have considerable respect for the current SIS Director, but the law should not be about the person in charge, but the institution.

So at this stage I’m unconvinced the fourth part of the law is justified, and if an MP would vote to remove it, unless I got better justification for it.

However it is worth noting there are some safeguards proposed for the emergency surveillance power. They are:

  • Only the Director can authorise
  • A maximum of 48 hours
  • Only when a delay is likely to lead to a loss of intelligence
  • The Commissioner of Security Warrants (CSW) must be notified within 12 hours
  • The CSW or the Minister can order the emergency surveillance to halt, once notified, if they do not think it meets the threshold
  • The Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence must be notified asap and can investigate if an emergency authorisation was appropriate
  • The SIS annual report must report how often an emergency surveillance was done
  • Law change is temporary, until 2018

These are good safeguards, but again I don’t think the case has been made for the power. If I was an MP I’d want details of actual harm caused in the past by not having this power.

Herald says 80. Fairfax says 40

November 5th, 2014 at 1:52 pm by David Farrar

The Herald headline:

Key reveals 80 Kiwis linked to Islamic State

Up to 80 New Zealanders have been linked to the extremist group Islamic State and are being closely watched by Government agencies, Prime Minister John Key has revealed.

The Stuff headline:

40 Kiwis watched for extremism, PM says

Up to 40 people are being monitored by government agencies as possible foreign fighters because of their engagement in ”extremist” behaviour, Prime Minister John Key claims.

And people wonder why trust in media is low!

For those wondering the difference, the PM’s speech says that the watch list has 30 – 40 on it and there are a further 30 to 40 who require further investigation. So they are not on a watch list, but may end up on it. I’d say the Stuff story is more accurate even though neither is inaccurate.

The changes the PM is proposing are:

  1. Allow passports to be cancelled on national security grounds for up to three years, instead of one year, but allow a judicial review of the decision
  2. Allow a passport suspension for up to 10 working days while a cancellation is considered
  3. A $7 million funding boost for the SIS, so they can assess those needing further investigation
  4. A law change to allow the SIS, like the Police, to install (with a warrant) a video camera for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, such as weapons training
  5. An emergency power for the SIS to conduct urgent surveillance for up to 48 hours before a warrant is granted, subject to the oversight of the Inspector-General. Any use would be reported publicly

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th seem fine to me. I’d like to see the case made for the 1st proposal and have some concerns over the last one.

Shearer indicates Labour may support security law changes

November 4th, 2014 at 11:51 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Big sporting events bringing large numbers of visitors to New Zealand are one of the Government’s concerns in proposing changes to the country’s security and surveillance legislation.

Senior Labour MPs Phil Goff and David Shearer were briefed this morning on the contents of the prime minister’s major national security speech tomorrow.

Changes to New Zealand’s security legislation will be announced as the Government attempts to plug “loopholes” within the country’s surveillance law and around passports.

Shearer said there was “obviously some rationale for doing it”, and they were “reasonably happy” the measures were ones that needed to be implemented because of gaps in the current legislation.

Great to see an Opposition MP, not just opposing for the sake of it.

Shearer said it was important gaps in surveillance and around passports were closed off, particularly in light of upcoming events in New Zealand which would bring in a lot of visitors, including the Cricket World Cup.

Shearer agreed there were some legislative issues to be dealt with, particularly with the SIS which was governed by “very old” law which was not in line with the police in what it was able to do.

Shearer would not go into detail on what the proposed new legislation would do as he and Goff were briefed in confidence, and it was for the prime minister to announce in his speech tomorrow.

The proposed changes would be subject to a select committee process, which would allow outside submissions to be made, although for a reduced period of time compared to the norm.

I’m pleased to see there will be a select committee process.

“We’re also very pleased with the fact there are going to be submissions around the area as well, so it means there is going to be some more scrutiny on the legislation, and of course there’s going to be a sunset clause as well,” Shearer said.  

Interested in the sunset clause? Is that to allow the full review scheduled for next year to them supersede this interim changes?

Kitteridge’s first interview as SIS Director

November 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

If there’s one thing that irks Rebecca Kitteridge, it is being referred to as the new head of the SIS spy agency.

Yes, she became director of the Security Intelligence Service six months ago but it’s the spy word. It suggests the purpose of the agency is spying.

“It’s one of the things that drives me mad,” she tells the Weekend Herald.

“The purpose is security, the security of New Zealanders,” she says.

“And we have to do that by covert means because when people are planning to do ill to the country, they will try to keep that secret …

“But the purpose of it is security. The purpose of it is not to spy.”

A reasonable point that spying is the means, not the ends.

Kitteridge watched the Moment of Truth event in the Auckland Town Hall hosted by Dotcom, and featuring NSA leaker Edward Snowden via satellite from Russia, and the journalist who wrote Snowden’s story, Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald himself was of no interest in terms of security.

“He is a journalist. He has freedom of speech. He is entitled to come here and do his thing.”

But she was annoyed over the claims of mass surveillance.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s not happening, full stop. Not even mini-surveillance let alone mass surveillance.

“What I can say is I absolutely did see what was going on at GCSB and there is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders.”

This has also been confirmed by the Inspector-General and the Privacy Commissioner.

She said the image of a typical SIS officer as an older man was rooted in the Cold War days when the focus was on Russian espionage, but the SIS had well and truly moved on.

And the old image was an anachronism to the reality of today’s 250 or so SIS staff with whom she meets every fortnight, including those in Auckland via video, in what she calls a town hall meeting.

“I had a town hall meeting today … What struck me is that it is not older men but young dynamic lively people, parents, people who go to the supermarket, people who go to the creche.

While it is an offence to identify any SIS officer except the Director, maybe the annual report could include some demographic information of the SIS workforce. My rare dealings with SIS staff had all been older males, but this was some time ago.

What happened in Canada last week — a soldier deliberately run down by a car and another soldier shot while standing guard at a memorial in Ottawa — was one of the main issues.

She said it was a wake-up call because New Zealanders saw Canada as “quite like us” and it was disturbing in that such situations would be very difficult to stop.

This is where she talks about “crowd-sourced terrorism”, a new term to describe lone-wolf acts of terrorism conducted by people who show no intent, after exhortation by Isis on the internet.

“What [Isis] is doing is they are sending out this material which is awful, it’s all on the internet … urges people to do small-scale attacks that are not complicated, that don’t require planning, that don’t require anything fancy, nothing more than a knife or a car or something you can light a fire with that will cause the maximum fear and devastation and havoc and loss of life.

“That is the explicit message and it is to attack the West.”

All that that was needed was intent. Capability was not difficult to put together and the whole purpose was to create a sense of terror in the population.

“I think that whole model of crowd-sourced terrorism that is actually very dispersed and where any individual can do it and they are not concerned about their own life is a very disturbing change.”

Crowd-sourced terrorism. If it catches on, it will be incredibly challenging for the reasons cited – no great capacity for planning and execution needed.

This is a good time to abolish the SIS and GCSB!

September 24th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Green Party policy is to:

We would therefore institute a select committee enquiry into whether the SIS should be abolished and its responsibilities returned to the police. …

we will abolish the GCSB and close its two signals intelligence bases at Waihopai and Tangimoana immediately.

Meanwhile in Australia:

A TEEN terror suspect under investigation for making threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott was shot dead by police last night after stabbing a Victorian police officer and a federal police agent.

The injured officers, both from the Joint Counter Terrorism Team, are in hospital in a stable condition. …

Senior intelligence sources confirmed that the terrorism suspect had been among a number of people whose passports were recently cancelled.

It is believed that the man was well known to police, and had displayed Islamic State flags in the local Dandenong shopping centre.

And globally:

A 42-minute audio recording by an ISIS spokesman was released on social media Sunday, in which the group calls on Muslims to kill civilians in countries that belong to the anti-ISIS, U.S.-led coalition.

If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French, or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” an ISIS spokesman says.

Note the reference to “any other disbeliever”.

The Herald editorial notes:

What should New Zealand do? Does this country have malcontents who would embrace even ascetic religious fundamentalism for the sake of a cause? Have any been with Isis and returned? Should this country, too, offer special forces to assist Iraqi troops on the ground? That depends on whether the new Iraqi Government is better than the last, and whether US air support alone might be effective, as it was in protecting Kurdistan. The decision must not be influenced by the possibility of terrorism at home. As Australia has shown, good intelligence can keep us safe.

This is worth reflecting on.

That doesn’t mean that the GCSB should be allowed to do what it wants. Absolutely not. I am against mass surveillance of New Zealanders (which does not occur in NZ). But be aware the Greens are not just against mass surveillance – their official policy is to abolish the GCSB entirely – and look at abolishing the SIS also. They take an unbalanced view on these issues, and that view has dangers as our closest neighbour comes under attack.

Goff interfered with OIA request

September 9th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn blogs:

Phil Goff was interviewed by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security today, and in the process admitted on oath to unlawfully delaying an OIA request:

When I spoke to the Director of the SIS who phoned me suggesting he intended to release the documents immediately, he was coy about whether he knew of the identity of the Mr Slater who had requested the documents sought under the OIA. He then acknowledged that he did know who Cameron Slater was. The documents were to be released immediately until I challenged why the SIS was acting in the way he proposed. He at that point suggested he would delay the release for a number of days.
So, just to be clear, Goff didn’t like the identity of the requester, so he demanded a delay. And Tucker gave it to him. That is unlawful. The OIA is clear: a response must be made“as soon as reasonably practicable”. The information clearly could have been released immediately, so it should have been. Goff (and Tucker) has behaved unlawfully by having it delayed.

Still, Goff’s frankness is illuminating: he believes, contrary to law, that not liking the identity of the requester is a reason for delaying a response. Which shows perfectly why he is unfit to hold office and should never be allowed to control an OIA process ever again.

Goff stated he had not been briefed on the Israeli tourists, when he clearly had been. He then tried to suppress the evidence he had been briefed. And now he claims it was wrong for the Government to release information which contradicts him. And this is the man who got up in Parliament and read out extracts from a highly confidential note take by an MFAT staffer at a meeting with National MPs and US Senators. Goff is many things, but consistent is not one of them.

Goff tried to suppress the fact he was briefed

August 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

He said Dr Tucker told him about Slater’s request for the documents on July 26, the day he received it.

Mr Goff said Dr Tucker said he intended to release that day, “and I hit the roof”.

He had told Dr Tucker it was “unbelievable that you would contemplate doing anything like that – that draws you right into the political arena”.

He said Dr Tucker then agreed to delay the release for a week.

Now think about this.

Phil Goff told the media and the public he had not been briefed on a security issue.

He had been.

The SIS told him that they planned to release the briefing note, after redactions, as it had been requested under the Official Information Act, and there were no legal grounds to refuse it.

Goff hit the roof and heavied the SIS into delaying the release. He thinks that documents showing he was briefed when he claimed not to have been, should not be released to protect him.

And Labour are trying to claim some sort of moral high ground!!


Getting excited over, well, nothing

August 21st, 2014 at 10:09 am by David Farrar

The PM has said he wasn’t told about the OIA release from the SIS but his staff were.

NewstalkZb discovered a three year old letter from the SIS Director to them where he said he did advise the Prime Minister.

This got people all excited, but I never saw this as a contradiction as I have worked in Government and in a PM’s Office.

When officials say they have advised the Prime Minister, they generally mean they have advised someone in the PM’s Office.

In my experience it would be very very rare for a Government Department to talk directly to a Minister, let alone the Prime Minister, on an OIA request.

And my assumption has just been confirmed as the then SIS Director has confirmed to media that his 2011 letter was referring to having briefed the PM’s staff, and that he never had a conversation with the PM on it.

Also on the wider issue, of someone tipping off Cameron Slater to ask for the document, I’d also point out that in terms of motive, it may not be someone in Parliament. Phil Goff had incorrectly claimed the SIS had been derelict in their duty and never briefed him on an issue. I could imagine that there were a number of people in the SIS upset about this, and would have been quite happy for the briefing notes to be made public, if requested under the OIA.

I genuinely don’t know who tipped off Whale, but I do know agencies get pretty unhappy when politicians accuse their boss of incompetence or dereliction of duty, and many people at SIS would have known that Goff had been briefed, despite Goff claiming he hadn’t been.

UPDATE: I should add on that I think it is a good thing that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is investigating. I’d also point out that while it involves the SIS, this is an issue about a document that was suitable for release under the OIA, not secret material. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an issue here, but there is a difference between alerting someone to ask for a document suitable for public release, and alerting someone to something classified.

No PMO involvement in SIS OIA release

August 19th, 2014 at 6:08 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

The Security Intelligence Service says neither Prime Minister John Key nor his office played a part in the release of controversial documents to blogger Cameron Slater.

The documents were released to Slater six days after he requested them and posted on his Whaleoil  website.

They confirmed the SIS had briefed then-Labour leader Phil Goff about Israeli backpackers who left the country after the Christchurch earthquakes.

In answer to questions from Fairfax Media today, referred from Key’s office to the SIS, a spokesman said the director was responsible for responses under the OIA “and made the decision to release, and what to release in this case”.

“Under the ‘no surprises’ convention the director or a representative would normally inform the minister’s office about what is being released under the OIA. That’s what occured in this case,” he said.

“Neither the PM nor his office expressed a view as to whether the information should be released, or to whom, or when,” the spokesman said.

So the story about Collins getting a prisoner moved is dead, as is this story it seems.

The SIS Director is the former Cabinet Secretary, a role with the utmost integrity as they directly serve PMs and Cabinets of all political persuasions. If Rebecca Kitteridge says there was no involvement of the PMO in decision making, then that would have been the case.

Two reports by the Inspector-General

May 30th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has published two reports, both interesting.

The first report is into the incorrect data in the GCSB annual report. It had previously been disclosed and corrected. This was a pretty serious error, and to be honest if it occurred again you’d expect the responsible staff to resign.

Frustratingly we are not told how the error occurred. The IG says “any worthwhile account of the processes involved carries severe security risks”.

The second report is about the SIS and their interactions with a resident whose house they had a warrant to search. The resident is not named, but it has been widely reported to be Rajesh Singh – a former Fiji Minister who was suspected of being involved in a plot to kill Commodore Frank Bainimarama. It is somewhat ironic that the official policy of the NZ Government is that the Commodore is an illegitimate traitor, yet they also help protect him from assassination plots (which is the correct thing to do).

Anyway Singh has multiple complaints about the SIS behaviour during the raid. The Inspector-General dismisses all but one of them, noting that the evidence of Mr Singh is less credible than those of the two SIS agents and two police officers.

The one thing the IG does ping the SIS for is Agent A saying:

“would not tolerate [redacted] whether in New Zealand or not. Anyone involved in planning would be dealt with by the NZ police … A told [the complainant] he should be careful who he spoke to about the topics which had been discussed.”

The IG says that the role of the SIS is to gather intelligence only, not enforce security.

Basically the SIS agent should have got the Police officer to tell Mr Singh not to get involved in assassination plots, rather than tell him directly. It’s not a huge issue, but it is important to have the roles clearly defined.

No Right fibs

May 6th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn said:

Meanwhile its worth noting that our MPs enjoy no such protection from the SIS (and hence from GCSB). If John Key wants SIS to spy on his political opponents, all he has to do is sign a warrant

That’s a pretty outrageous fib.

Here’s all the people who would have to be involved in breaking the law in such a way (a warrant to spy on MPs would only be legal if they were taking part in activities prejudicial to security. Section 4AA specifically outlaws the SIS taking any action to further or harm the interests of any political party. So be very clear a warrant to spy on MPs would be illegal. So who would have to be involved in this illegal activity:

  1. The SIS Director who must apply for the warrant. The PM can’t just make up his own warrants. The SIS Director is Rebecca Kitteridge – the former Cabinet Secretary – about as neutral an official as you can get,
  2. The Commissioner of Security Warrants who must also authorise the warrant. That is former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Bruce Robertson. He was appointed to the judiciary in 1987 by Labour, and his appointment as CSR in 2013 was agreed to by the Leader of the Opposition.
  3. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security who would be notified of the warrant. That is Cheryl Gwnn, former Deputy Solicitor-General. She was appointed after consultation with the Intelligence and Security Committee. She was appointed Deputy Solictor-General in 2003.
  4. The half dozen or so SIS staff who would be involved in implementing the warrant.

So the statement that the PM can spy on his political opponents by just signing a warrant, is outrageously false. Idiot/Savant does many good insightful blog posts (even if I disagree with them). But sometimes he just gets hysterical.


February 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

But for two agencies that prefer not to spill their secrets, the SIS and GCSB have racked up a hefty bill for communications advice.

A hefty bill? How many millions have they spent?

In the 2012/13 year a contractor was paid $10,155 for three months’ work.

$10,155 for three months? That must be the most lowly paid contractor in the history of contracting.

The SIS also spent over $8000 printing three brochures since 2009, including ”A Guide to Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Around $2,700 per pamphlet. $8,000 over five years. Frugal, not hefty, is the word that comes to mind.