Thursday, December 20, 2018

Peter Hughes Inquiry on Public Service Spying

‘This is not the way we do things in NZ’ State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said as he described connections between government agencies and private agencies at the public release of the ‘Inquiry into the Use of External Security Consultants by Government Agencies’. Hughes sounded truly aggrieved. But the problem is that this is the NZ that many people know.

NZ has a long history of both state and private surveillance. For years a wide variety of groups and people have been spied upon, if not by state agencies themselves then by private investigators contracted by the public service. People surveilled include political and environmental activists, Māori and migrant communities, sexual abuse survivors and earthquake survivors - the list is long.

And one of the most infamous private investigation companies is Thompson and Clark (TCIL). TCIL’s main business appears to be working for a range of both state and private agencies. TCIL, started in 2003 by two former police officers: Gavin Clark and Nicholas Thompson, has been consistently employed by a range of both government and private agencies. (Thompson resigned from his directorship on 6 July 2018.)

Over the years TCIL’s spying has come to light. In 2007 there was news that they infiltrated and spied upon activist groups in Christchurch and Wellington. In Christchurch it was the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) Solid Energy that employed TCIL. In Wellington it was more difficult to find who had employed them, but the groups and people spied upon were Peace Action Wellington and animal rights activists. 

The then Labour government’s reaction at the time was to condemn the use of spying of State owned Enterprises.

But the spying went on and Solid Energy was exposed two years later as still employing TCIL. The Pork Industry Board were also exposed in 2010 as using TCIL, then in 2012 TCIL were noted as being used to spy on Occupy protestors. They published a regular ‘National Extremism newsletter’ that was bought by government agencies such as MBIE and other groups such as the Pig Industry Board and even Massey University. In 2016 TCIL were involved in Protest Karangahake and the TPPA signing. They spied on Greenpeace and set up TOGS: Taranaki Oil and Gas Security Group. And of course, there is their use by Southern Response. 

The use of TCIL continued under both Labour and National governments. It was only after the publication of the inquiry that MBIE announced they served TCIL with ‘a notice to terminate their position on the All of Government (AoG) contract for Consultancy Services.’ 

But it is not only TCIL that has been employed by state agencies, there are other private investigators used, including Insurance and Commercial Investigations Ltd (ICIL), again a company with former police involved in it. Peter Hughes should be aware of ICIL as he was the CEO of the Ministry of Social Development when ICIL were used to spy on people attempting to sue the Ministry. These were people who had been abused whilst they were children in state care. The ‘White Case’ received minimal press coverage at the time; the reason for the spying was that civil claims had to be stopped otherwise it ‘would have broader application in future claims’.

Peter Hughes comments that ‘this is not the way we do it in NZ’ are naïve. This is the way it has been done in NZ for a long time and Peter Hughes and people like him, CEOs and public service management, politicians, and the cult surrounding the NZSIS and GCSB, have enabled a culture of surveillance to dominate. 

Some articles about spying in NZ:
A Quick Look at Some Spying 'Gone Wrong' (16 July 2015)
Lies & More Spies (16 April, 2013)
Surveillance by Default (2 December, 2012)