It is possible the Sunday Star-Times allegations that the SIS has been doing illegal domestic surveillance are not credible, but the issues they raise are not ones that should be swept away with a “I trust them, and you should trust me” as Helen Clark has done.
When I read the stories yesterday, I concluded that an external inquiry was necessary, given the gravity of the allegations. I was pleased to see that Dr Brash has concluded much the same.
There are reasons why one should be wary, and they are:
* While it says three spies have spoken out, really only one is quoted at length, and we do not know how much the other two are agreeing with him
* Nicky Hagar is involved, and while he obviously has good research and sources in these areas, he basically is an enemy of the SIS and is highly partisan
* Most organisations have some unhappy staff, and the SIS having some is not necessarily an indication of illegal activity
* There are legitimate surveillance targets within the radical Maori community. Those who get up and threaten civil war should be taken at face value and watched
But despite that we need to err on the side of caution and have an independent inquiry. We need the highest level of trust in the SIS, in order for them to have the powers we do, and I do not have that trust. In my dealings with the SIS when I had to get a top secret security clearance, I did not find them particularly impressive or perceptive. They were worried (amongst other things) about a umm friendship I had with a German girl, as she was born in former East Germany. I pointed out that as she was around 11 when the Berlin Wall came down, I doubted she was a communist plant.
The fact that the allegations come from three current or former agents (unless the SST is outright lying which I believe highly unlikely) means one has to take them seriously. The fact that Tariana Turia has been bugged in the past makes it not even a borderline call.
I do not believe it can be done by the Inspector-General of Security. With no disrespect to the current one, the former office holder was shown on a number of occasions by the court to be too accepting of the SIS position, and was seen as part of the SIS, not their watchdog.
This is an issue above party politics. No party benefits if the suspicion is allowed to linger that the SIS spies on MPs. I am actually a bit of a right wing hawk (supported both Gulf Wars etc), and about as pro security services as you can get – they have a key role in combating the terrorism threats we all face. I certainly hope the allegations are totally incorrect but I won’t believe it unless I hear it from a respected independent inquiry.