Less surveillance than seven years ago

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 and 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.

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