Monday, August 17, 2015

Widespread Lack of Trust in Security Intelligence Review

There is widespread distrust of NZ´s spy agencies, according to a report published 14th August by The Stop the Spies Coalition. The coalition, which includes the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, the Anti-Bases Campaign, OASIS, the Dunedin Free University and the What IF? Campaign, conducted its own People´s Review of the Intelligence Services in a series of public meetings and discussions in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The report was issued on the closing day of submissions for the official review.

"The People´s Review has solicited a wide range of views from ordinary people in New Zealand about the operations of the intelligence services. The questions raised went far beyond the very narrow frame of reference of the official review, currently being carried out by Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy," said Thomas Beagle, a spokesperson for Stop the Spies Coalition.

Topics of the submissions included issues of privacy, oversight, the effect of surveillance on society, the lawfulness of the agencies´ activities, NZ´s membership in the 5 Eyes network and whether having the GCSB and the SIS was even desirable and what the alternatives could be.

"Rather than answering the paternalistic and leading questions in the official review submission form, people discussed questions like whose interests the agencies serve, whether we really need them, and whether New Zealand should be in the Five Eyes," said Beagle.

"Further, as the People's Review was being prepared this week, it became abundantly clear that the GCSB and SIS see the official review as an opportunity to put forward their wish-lists asking for more powers. The Prime Minister has already given his blessing to further legislation despite the fact that he won't even hear from this review for another six months."

"Most people are demanding a fundamental change and a curtailing of the agencies' activities, not the ineffectual incremental reforms and increases in agency powers that are likely to be the result of the Cullen/Reddy review."

"Concerns that the GCSB was an outpost of the NSA and that its activities were `linking us to America´s wars´ were common threads of the discussion."

"Where were our intelligence agents when Ernie Abbott was murdered and the Rainbow Warrior blown up?" asked one submitter.

"Rebecca Kitteridge was correct when she said on Monday that without public support, the agencies `might as well pack up.´ The People´s Review clearly shows that that support doesn´t exist. Maybe Ms Kitteridge should consider ordering that moving van," concluded Beagle.

The full review is available for download at:

The Stop the Spies Coalition has three demands:
  • Close down the GCSB - we don´t need to spy on people overseas.
  • Close down the NZSIS - we don´t need to spy on New Zealanders.
  • Withdraw from the Five Eyes - we don´t need to be part of the USA´s global spy network.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

SIS Minister suffers from “Key Memory Syndrome”

The Minister in Charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson, appears to be suffering from a form of memory loss – showing similar symptoms to his boss, John Key.

In questions at parliament today, 12 August 2015, Finlayson said “The particular deficiency that I would identify is that the Act (NZSIS) was last comprehensively reviewed in 1969 and is expressed in 1969 language.”

It beggars belief that he never heard of or has forgotten about either the 2009 Murdoch Report into 'optimising the structure of the NZ security intelligence community' or the 1976 Powles Report, an infamous white-wash in the '70s to cover-up the Sutch saga.

He should also be reminded of the total of seven amendments to the SIS Act that have been passed into law since 1969 – the most recent one while Finlayson was Minister in Charge of the SIS:
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 2014 (2014 No 73)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 2011 (2011 No 28)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 2003 (2003 No 108)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 1999 (No 2) (1999 No 91)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 1999 (1999 No 14)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 1996 (1996 No 48)
  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 1977 (1977 No 50)
He should at least remember the 2014 amendment, because it was in the context of that Bill that he called that the Select Committee process “chit chat”.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Spies in PR frenzy

The current Listener (dated 15 August 2015) runs a cover story “Secrets & Spies – The revolution inside our intelligence agencies” by Rod Vaughan, who claims to have been granted “special access” to those agencies. This example of embedded journalism has attracted a scathing commentary by Chris Trotter, to which – on one level – there is not much to add.

Except that Trotter somehow misses the point. He – like Vaughan – falls into the trap set by spy masters. The talk about the alleged ‘revolution’ within the agencies, defined by their directors having attended anti-tour protests at the age of 15 (Kitteridge) or being lesbians (Jagose), is simply a distraction for the flattered journalist. The real messages are buried in the middle of all the nonsense of how the agencies have changed.

Kitteridge is given a half page of unquestioned quotes about how big a threat the Islamic State is for NZ, culminating in the dubious claim that the SIS is neither capable nor allowed to monitor people’s internet browsing behaviour. She is also given space to perpetuate the mantra that “my staff barely have time to read their own emails, let alone so many emails of other people” - the na├»ve and dangerous myth that ‘full collection’ means that someone actually reads all the stuff that people write. This is followed by Una Jagose lamenting at length the legal restrictions the GCSB is under. The implied message in both cases is that the agencies need more resources and fewer legal restrictions.

Getting these messages printed just before the deadline for public submissions to the ‘Intelligence Review’ was the real reason why Vaughan was granted ‘special access’ to Pipitea House. And these messages just happen to match a lot of the questions in the official submission form.

Also by sheer coincidence, Vaughan was not the only journalist who happened to run a piece on the spy agencies this week. The Dominion Post’s political editor Tracy Watkins came up with the same idea. Her article “Spy boss Rebecca Kitteridge goes on a recruiting drive” (complete with a highly relevant picture of James Bond with sports car) follows the same pattern. After some light-hearted banter about Kitteridge subjecting herself to a job interview at the SIS, Watkins obligingly writes what Kitterridge already spoke into Vaughan’s dictaphone: the Islamic State is coming and we need more resources.

Vaughan may also be disappointed that he wasn’t the first journalist to be given ‘special access’. Back in March 2013, when the GCSB’s illegal spying on 88 people was all over the news, TV3’s Jessica Mutch claimed to be the first reporter to have been inside the GCSB headquarters. Her report back to Q+A host Susan Wood sounded like a small child reporting to its parents from a school trip. She was so much in awe at the swipe card system and the tinted windows that she completely forgot to ask about the spying.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Defining Surveillance

The obfuscation of what and what 'surveillance' is not continues.

In their investigation into whether Detective Inspector Grant Wormald perjured himself during one of Dotcom's court appearances in August 2012, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) decided that the senior police officer did not perjure himself. The problem was, he just may not have realised what surveillance is.

They found that Wormald was aware the GCSB was assisting in the investigation. Wormald knew that that involved the "interception of the private communications of Mr Dotcom and at least one of his associates" but that was not surveillance in Wormald's mind.

If Wormald perjured himself - it wasn't his fault. According to the IPCA, "'surveillance' was a generic legal definition that did not exist at the time of the Police operation in January 2012." It only became clearer what surveillance was after the enactment of the 2012 Search and Surveillance Act. (NB. Wormald was questioned in August 2012 about the surveillance of Dotcom, nearly four months after the Search and Surveillance Act was enacted in April 2012.)

John Key's definition of surveillance is also hard to pin down.

Back in September 2014, John Key knew that mass collection was mass surveillance. Key told reporters "...we're not collecting wholesale information… We don't have the capability for mass surveillance."

Then in March this year on RadioNZ, Key said, "I don’t even know what you mean by mass collection. I have no clue. It is not a term I have ever used. It is not something that sits in something I see."

At the same time he refused to respond to comments made by ex-director of the GCSB Bruce Ferguson. When revelations from Snowden showed the degree of spying going on in the Pacific by the GCSB, Ferguson admitted on National Radio that what the GCSB did is: "...sort of like whitebaiting and trying to catch one whitebait, you can't do it and within the net you'll get all sorts of other things - it's a mass collection."

More recently John Key appears to acknowledge that the GCSB has the capability to collect large amounts of data. However, it is not surveillance and it is not mass collection.

There seems to be a constant obfuscation of surveillance.