The Peters Super leak, and how to get away with it

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act don’t reveal who leaked the information about Winston Peters’ Super overpayment (and neither has Peters despite claiming to know who did it albeit with changing targets).

But Sam Sachdeva uses the papers to show how to leak and get away with it, perhaps.

Newsroom – Inside the Peters leak: how to escape the net

During last year’s election campaign, the New Zealand First leader confirmed he had received higher superannuation payments than he was entitled to for seven years, after a number of media outlets including Newsroom received anonymous tips about the overpayment.

MSD, the Department of Internal Affairs (which has responsibility for ministerial staff) and Inland Revenue all launched investigations to determine whether their staff had been the source of the leak (all ultimately failed to find any leaker).

Copies of the final MSD and DIA reports outlining investigators’ work, released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act after months of delays, offer nothing in the way of a smoking gun but show the lengths they went to and the difficulties they encountered along the way.

Journalists love Government leakers as they can provide juicy and often exclusive stories. Sachdeva helpfully provides some helpful hints.

How to leak (and get away with it)

Handily, the documents also offer some hints on how a budding Deep Throat in waiting could share an issue of concern with their friendly neighbourhood media outlet.

Both departments relied in large part on digital records, turning to sweeps of email accounts, cellphone records and landline logs of staffers who had accessed or knew of Peters’ superannuation details.

MSD used “footprinting” of its IT systems to determine who had accessed Peters’ files and whether they had a valid business reason for doing so; that would appear difficult to circumvent, meaning a public servant wishing to share details with the media had better have a legitimate reason for knowing about it in the first place.

MSD and DIA also searched for any emails or phone calls between their staff and Newshub (which broke the story) or Newsroom (identified by MSD as an “early chaser”).

MSD’s email searches were initially based on “headline information” such as the sender, recipient and subject headline (so leakers might want to avoid putting anything too incriminating in there).

That turned up little of any value, in part due to a shortcoming identified by Jong: as searches were conducted only on records, networks and devices managed by Ministerial Services or the Parliamentary Service, he had to rely on “signed attestations” that information was not shared through other means, such as social interactions or a private device.

While Newsroom would of course advise against false declarations, that shows using a personal phone or computer – or better yet, a face-to-face encounter – may be the best way to share information while avoiding detection.

MSD also acknowledged “significant limitations” in its use of document-tracking in ministry systems to determine whether any reports had been shared with outside parties.

“A person with intent to use these documents (or remove them from the ministry) could use any number of options to remove these documents without leaving any footprint e.g. they could simply print it and walk out with it.”

We may live in a digital age, but it appears analogue methods can be best when it comes to staying off the radar.

Of course there’s a much higher risk of leaving digital footprints if using photocopiers or printers that are logged, or emails or other means of electronic communication.

Taking photos using personal devices and not sending them while at work have obvious advantages if trying to avoid detection.

18 Comments

  1. Trevors_elbow

     /  May 5, 2018

    Where is Winstons proof? A big fishing trip and lots if I know who did it and accusations….

    But like the Cook Strait ferry story nada to back it all up…

  2. Gezza

     /  May 5, 2018

    So, basically, it’s easy as pie for public servants to leak damaging information, & a credit to the integrity of the NZ Public Service that it is so rare.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 5, 2018

      Yes. A couple of seconds privacy to snap a smartphone pic and job done.

    • NOEL

       /  May 5, 2018

      Or perhaps it didn’t come from the Ministry?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  May 5, 2018

        There is the chance that someone let it out without malice :’ Old Winston’s getting a bit slack….’

  3. Gerrit

     /  May 5, 2018

    There are a whole raft of people outside of the public service who could have leaked the information,

    Starting with Peters himself for political gains.

    Leak could have come from anyone who worked in the offices off the people that are retained as his financial and legal advisors.

    How about people working in the bank where he receives his pension?

    The speed the law suits were initially distributed and are now being dropped and a lack of Police action, I would sheet the blame purely on Peters shoulders for political purposes.

    He was getting no political headway at the time and a stunt like that could and did propel him back into the media.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 5, 2018

      The people in the bank wouldn’t know the details of his Super; all that would appear would be ‘WINZ Super $xxxx’ or something like that. I can’t imagine anyone noticing that it was the amount for a single person and therefore more than he was entitled to, or suspecting and checking. I have worked in two banks and can’t imagine anyone doing this.

      Hmmm……he did the leak himself ? What an interesting thought. No proof, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 5, 2018

    I don’t believe Peters leaked it. It was potentially too damaging after the Turei fiasco.

  5. Blazer

     /  May 5, 2018

    Usual Nat acolytes defence lines.
    Cannot overcome the Occams razor approach….’cui bono’!

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 5, 2018

      Obviously Labour. The backlash from Peters got them into Government.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  May 5, 2018

        Occam’s razor doesn’t ask about to whose good it is. It’s just that the simplest explanation is the most likely one.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  May 5, 2018

          The simplest explanation is that the information eventually reached someone who hated Winston and was prepared to try to shaft him. The beneficiary was Labour most probably accidentally but a devious mind may have figured he would blame National.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  May 5, 2018

            It still looks bad that he was so careless (I can’t believe that it was deliberate, much as I dislike him) that he signed documents all that time without reading them. What else has he signed without reading it ? He’s a lawyer, there is no excuse for this.

  6. A simple phone call and a phone for photos is all one requires. That and keeping one’s gob shut otherwise.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 5, 2018

      Really, Traveller, one doesn’t use the word gob when one is a lady. Cakehole, chops or trap, please.

      • Sorry KC…I stand corrected and mouth agog! 😉

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  May 5, 2018

          I should think so. What language for a lady to use. 😀 😀 😀

  7. David

     /  May 5, 2018

    Where is that lawsuit of Peters ?