Bridges claims ‘deceit and dirty politics’ – but who did the dirty?

Simon Bridges and National continue to go hard out on the leak of budget information two days before Budget day.

But who is playing dirty here?

RNZ Week in politics: National set the trap and Robertson walked into it

National used the information it found on Treasury’s website to set a trap – and it worked far more effectively than Simon Bridges could have imagined after Gabriel Makhlouf made his “we have been hacked” announcement.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson walked into a trap set by National when he linked the Budget “leak” to illegal hacking.

It was no such thing, and National had known it all along. A simple website search had given the Opposition details of some of the spending in yesterday’s Budget.

At the same time, Mr Bridges was giving a hand-on-heart assurance that National had acted “entirely appropriately” while refusing to say how it had obtained the information.

At that point, National had probably expected the usual response to a leak – condemnation of such behaviour and the announcement of an inquiry.

What it could not have expected was Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf dramatically announcing that his department’s website had been systematically hacked, and that he had called in the police on the advice of the GCSB.

That was a game-changer, and Mr Robertson seized it. “We have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a police investigation,” he said.

The implication was obvious – National had either hacked the website or received the information from someone who had. Whoever did it, their actions were illegal.

It turns out what National did wasn’t illegal – but I still think it was highly questionable. They were trying to do a dirty on the Government to grandstand prior to the budget going public.

Mr Bridges raged about unjust smears on his party and accused Mr Makhlouf and Mr Robertson of lying. The Treasury secretary’s position was untenable and Mr Robertson should resign.

He claimed Treasury had quickly discovered the huge chink in its security and had “sat on a lie” while his party was being accused of criminal behaviour.

This leaves some very big questions which have not yet been answered. If Treasury’s IT people knew what had happened, why did Mr Makhlouf go public with his hacking announcement?

Was he misled by his own department, by someone who didn’t want it known that a blunder had been made with the uploading? That’s hard to believe, because it must have been realised that National was going to blow the whistle on the website search.

Did Mr Makhlouf make the decision to call in the police on his own? Mr Robertson says he didn’t know until after the fact, but Mr Bridges rejects that. It’s unthinkable, he says, that a department head would make a call like that without first informing his minister.

The way Mr Bridges sees it, the hacking was a cooked up story to smear National and take the heat off the government and the Treasury.

But the whole thing was cooked up by National in the first place.

Bridges acted offended when accused of hacking, but he hasn’t hesitated accusing Robertson, without any evidence. And he is also accusing Treasury.

RNZ:  Treasury knew there had been no hack on Budget information – National Party leader

The National Party is confident the investigation into Treasury’s claim Budget information had been hacked will prove that Treasury “sat on a lie”.

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett, who asked the SSC to investigate, said her party would let the inquiry play out but stands by its assertion that Mr Makhlouf mislead New Zealanders.

It has previously said Mr Makhlouf should resign.

Mr Makhlouf says he acted in good faith.

National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report today there were two possible scenarios, and the situation was likely a bit of both.

“You’ve either got bungling incompetence, and I think we can all believe that could well be the situation, or you have some broad form of deceit and … dirty politics.

“And we need to see what’s going on here.”

He said the GCSB told Treasury and the Minister of Finance that there had been no systematic hack, but Treasury came out after this and said there had been.

“The reality of this situation is it’s pretty black and white isn’t it.

So as a result of a deliberate and concerted effort by National to exploit a data vulnerability at Treasury in an attempt to embarrass the Government we now have two inquiries, and National have called on the Minister of Finance and the head of Treasury to resign. It has also jeopardised Makhlouf’s new job in Ireland.

MSN:  Gabriel Makhlouf’s next job at Ireland’s top bank under threat

Irish politicians say they’re concerned New Zealand Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf will become the country’s next Central Bank governor amid the Budget “hack” scandal.

Pearse Doherty, finance spokesperson for left-wing Irish republican party Sinn Féin, told The Irish Times Maklouf should not start his role with the Central Bank until the investigation has concluded.

Doherty said it “wasn’t a small issue”.

“We need to make sure that someone in the highest position in the Central Bank has proper judgement,” he told The Irish Times.

Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party member Michael McGrath has also reportedly sent a letter to the Irish Finance Minister.

“The governor of the Central Bank is one of the most sensitive and important roles in our States,” the letter says.

“It is vital we have full confidence in the holder of the office.”

So National may succeed in ruining Makhlouf’s career. Robertson is unlikely to resign – and I think it would be a disturbing result if he is forced to.

Sure Makhlouf and the Government may not have handled the budget leak well. But this was a dirty politics style hit job by National, serving no positive purpose, and highly questionable as ‘holding the Government to account’.

They would have hoped to cause some embarrassment, and got lucky when it precipitated a shemozzle, leading to two inquiries and careers in jeopardy – not because of the initial problem, but because of how it was mishandled. This is classic negative politics.

For what? Some budget information was publicised two days before it was going to be made public anyway. National well know that budgets are kept secret until announced in Parliament, and there’s good reasons for this.

This sort of thing really puts me off politics – especially off politicians who try to engineer scandals that really has nothing to do with holding to account.

If there wasn’t other things keeping me going here I think I could happily pack up and go and do something else as far from politics as I can get.

This political debacle sets a very poor example. It is a form of bullying – political bullying, where dirty means are employed to cause problems that needn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.

Another thing that may keep me involved is looking at ways of getting our politicians to set positive examples, and save the hard ball holding to account to when it really matters.

Is there any chance of that? I’m probably wasting my time here.

Treasury refer claimed hacking to police following budget leak

The budget leak publicised by National yesterday has got a lot murkier, with Treasury now saying they have been hacked. The matter has been referred to the police, but Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges is unrepentant for trying to hijack Thursday’s budget announcement.

The leak looks embarrassing for the Government, and also for Treasury, but I think the leak stunt also reflects very poorly on Bridges and National. Bridges has demanded that Minister of Finance Grant Robertson resign over the leak.

1 News: Budget 2019 leaks by National came after Treasury was ‘deliberately and systematically hacked’

Earlier today the National Party leaked what it claimed were highly secretive details of the Government’s wellbeing Budget, due to be delivered on Thursday.

Treasury has confirmed in a statement it was the source of National’s Budget 2019 leaks today after its “systems were deliberately and systematically hacked”.

Confirming the hack this evening Treasury released the following statement:

“Following this morning’s media reports of a potential leak of Budget information, the Treasury has gathered sufficient evidence to indicate that its systems have been deliberately and systematically hacked.

“The Treasury has referred the matter to the Police on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre.

“The Treasury takes the security of all the information it holds extremely seriously. It has taken immediate steps today to increase the security of all Budget-related information and will be undertaking a full review of information security processes.

“There is no evidence that any personal information held by the Treasury has been subject to this hacking.”

Responding to confirmation of the the hack, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said is a statement:

“This is extremely serious and is now a matter for the Police. We have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a Police investigation.”

But Bridges continued on the attack:

If it turns out that budget documents were hacked from Treasury will Bridges resign for using hacked material to try to undermine the Government?

 

Escalating ‘hate speech’ and fake speech concerns

Claimed hate speech continues to feature in political news in New Zealand, while in the US the growing threat of fake speech – or more accurately, falsifying the appearance of speech, raises concerns about what can be believed from video.

It was always contentious trying to define ‘hate speech’, and differentiate it from acceptable speech someone might hate to hear.  It becomes a real problem when people claim that criticism is some form of hate speech to distract from the criticism and try to turn it into a counter attack.

Stuff: ‘Hate speech’ politics row in Rotorua referred to police

A Mayoral candidate has been accused of age, gender and race-based “hate speech”, prompting a confidential council committee to recommended police involvement.

The political race hate stoush is brewing in Rotorua, with councillor Tania Tapsell branding online comments made by Mayoral candidate Reynold​ Macpherson as “totally unacceptable”.

The row centres on an online post made by Macpherson on the Facebook page of the Rotorua District Residents & Ratepayers’ (RDRR) lobby group on May 14.

The post, a response to a video in which Tapsell encourages more young people to stand for council, is entitled “Beware the charismatic pitch of the Pied Piper”.

“He has referenced me as a Pied Piper who lures away vermin and children and this level of hate speech is totally unacceptable,” Tapsell said.

She said the decision to refer the post to police was made by a confidential council committee, and while not at her request, she believes that “given the risk of harm to myself and others that was the right decision”.

“Charismatic pitch of the Pied Piper” doesn’t sound anywhere near close to hate speech to me. It could even be seen as a compliment. ‘Charismatic’ is a positive term.

I’m surprised Tapsell has belayed it as hate speech.

I’m astounded ‘a confidential council committee’ has referred it to the police, unless there is more to this that I am not seeing.

Tapsell, of Te Arawa and Tainui ancestry, also cited “verbal and physical threats” from members of the RDRR, and their opposition to Māori participation in council decision making through the now established Te Tatau o Te Arawa board.

“This post was just one example of his many age,gender and race-based attacks on council members,” she said.

“His rants have gone too far so I’m standing up for all the people who have been offended by his hate speech.”

A Rotorua Lakes Council spokesperson confirmed to Stuff that a complaint had been forwarded to police, “and it is now in their hands”

I don”t see anything age, gender or race-based in the Pied Piper comment. If this comes to anything with the police then our democracy is at risk.

Fake speech

A real concern for the present and future is fake speech – concocted video or audio misrepresenting what was said or how something was said. An example has flared up in the US.

Here yesterday David showed that people have been successfully fooled:

Listen to Pelosi live she literally sounds like she has had a brain injury at worst but certainly well past her use by date. Just as well she is a Democrat so the media dont say anything.

Donald Trump had given authenticity (to those who believe anything he promotes) to a video clip of Nancy Pelosi.

But this is dirty politics. Fox News: Manipulated videos of Nancy Pelosi edited to falsely depict her as drunk spread on social media

Numerous doctored video clips of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, are spreading on social media, deceptively portraying her as if she were intoxicated.

A three-minute clip of Pelosi speaking event with the Center for American Progress from Wednesday was uploaded on Facebook by a group called “Politics WatchDog” was viewed over 1.8 million times with nearly 40,000 shares. The video shows her frequently slurring her words and her voice sounding garbled. Copies of the clip had also been found on Twitter and YouTube, which the latter had removed.

According to a report from The Washington Post, experts believed the original video was slowed down to 75 percent from the original speed and that her pitch was also manipulated in order to present her under the influence.

Computer science and digital forensics expert Berkeley Hany Farid said there was “no question” the video had been tampered with.

“It is striking that such a simple manipulation can be so effective and believable to some,” he told the Washington Post.

Both Speaker Pelosi and President Trump have exchanged brutal insults at each other on Thursday. Pelosi expressed that she was “concerned” about the president’s “well-being.” Trump shot back, calling her a “mess” and claimed she was “disintegrating.”

Was the video created to attack Pelosi specifically in this stoush?

These days a deceit travels around the world very rapidly, and while it can eventually be debunked the damage can’t easily be undone. Snopes:

On 24 May 2019, a manipulated video that supposedly showed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drunkenly slurring her speech was widely shared on social media. One version of the post that the Facebook page “Politics Watchdog” shared was viewed millions of times.

It will still be circulating, and is likely to still be promoted even though it has been proven to be fake video.

This doctored video was shared by thousands of users on social media, including by Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s counsel, with the caption: “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.” (Giuliani’s tweet has since been deleted.)

Actually Trump’s tweet referred to a second doctored video.

This second video was not doctored in the same overt manner as the slurred-speech footage. Rather, this clip was created by selectively picking a few brief moments in which Pelosi paused or stumbled (totaling about 30 seconds) while answering questions from reporters, and then cobbled them together to give the impression that Pelosi was “stammering” through her news conference.

And Trump’s tweet has not been deleted.

Misrepresenting opponents via doctored video is not new, it has been happening for a long time. But improved video and animation technology, and the speed with which fake speech can be circulated, raises the risks of dirty politics of this type being used more.

So we have contrasting situations where some relatively benign speech is claimed to be far worse than it is. The ‘hate speech’ label has become a form of counter attack, and is itself a threat to free speech when it is used to try to discredit or deter free and open speech communications.

On the other hand there are real risks from doctored speech being used more as it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate it from the authentic and real speech.

That this thing has been done before is no excuse for it being done on an increasingly sophisticated and rapid manner.

Slater threatens to continue Ross attacks on National

A hope that Cameroon Slater gets a chance to step back and reflect on what has been a tumultuous week for Jami-Lee Ross, whose attacks on Simon Bridges and National led to him being sectioned into mental health care.

In the heat of the moment yesterday Slater threatened to continue attacks on National this week. This could put his own situation under further stress.

Slater:

Not after developments today, where it will come out that he ignored medical advice and hounded a man to make an attempt on his life. He’s done, and I will make sure he never leads anything ever again,Paula Bennett is toast too.

Stop being heartless. It is very serious, i have been working on this since the early hours of the morning. I am rather humourless after finding out what I have found out about how National ignored medical warnings. So by all means joke about mental health but you won’t stay long.

They are. They are callous. They will do whatever it takes to stop him revealing all their rooting

It was never ‘rooting’ that was the problem. It was alleged harassment.

That disgusted me utterly knowing a few more details than what they are letting on.

Bridges and Bennett were well aware of the issues and implications and yet both decided to throw Ross under the bus. Moreover they lied about what they knew when and in fact orchestrated the Newsroom story with at least on of the first four being inveigled by Bennett more than a week before the hit job ran.

They very nearly had blood on their hands.

Watch what comes out over coming days.

It got very ugly when Ross was under extreme pressure. Slater could continue that ugliness in attempted retribution.

The part he has played in the attacks on Bridges, Bennett, Goodfellow and National is unknown, but now he has shown he is closely involved with Ross in the weekend at least there is a risk he will replicate the self destruction.

People who have been supporters and associates of Slater in the past appear aghast at what unfolded over the last week. Slater could isolate himself even more.

Slater has made it clear since ‘Dirty Politics’ broke in 2014 that he holds a major grudge against National, against John Key, Bill English, Paula Bennett and since he became leader, Simon Bridges.

He has given indications over the last few days that he wants them and National trashed. He risks further trashing what reputation he may have remaining, and potentially, like Ross, his own health.

I hope Slater is getting good support, and also good advice. Whether he can heed good advice is another matter.


Update: in a new post this morning Slater has confirmed what I think he had denied – that he has been working “to help Jami-Lee Ross” – National’s hit job puts JLR into care

Yesterday was a rather stressful day for me. I and a good friend have been working constantly over the last few days to help Jami-Lee Ross, who was to us clearly in distress. On Saturday night things took a turn for the worse and we received a text message at 0400 that indicated he was in care and not by choice.

National has zero concerns, they were told what might happen and they went ahead anyway. They had the hit locked and loaded.

The truth will come out. There are too many moving parts for it not to come out and people are going to be appalled. Not all those stories are true, they just used the #MeToo smearbook to get Jami-Lee Ross.

Slater then makes some allegations and insinuations.

That doesn’t pass the sniff test. What we have witnessed here is a continuation of the nasty way in which National rinses someone that is a risk to the leadership. It goes back years.

Right now I am more concerned about my friend who is hurting.

Other media are following the trail of destruction that the leadership of the National party has overseen. Let’s hope that sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant. I’m just picking up the information from what they are saying and asking me. It seems they are asking the right questions.

Answers from Slater have proven to be unreliable in the past. He has clear destructive motives when it comes to National – much like Ross.

Slater in comments:

I’m also not blaming National for Jami-Lee Ross’s actions. He has to own those. But I do blame National and their leadership for creating the monster. Someone had to reward him for his work, promote him for his work and enable him. Those people were the senior National party leadership from John Key, to Bill English, to Paula Bennett, to Steve Joyce, to Simon Bridges.

He didn’t get to where is is today without enablers.

And:

Nice sentiment, but he didn’t learn his behaviour all by himself. Yes he is responsible for his own actions but his enablers over the years need to also be held to account.

You realise you’ve fallen into the position National want you to. JLR is scum because he did these awful things…nothing to see here…JLR is scum.

They want you to believe this so they can continue sailing on wrecking peoples lives.

This seems highly hypocritical given that Slater and Simon Lusk enabled Ross to win selection for a safe National seat.  And it’s unlikely that’s where their ‘enabling’ ended.

And given both Slater and Lusk being on record as saying they enjoy the thrill of wrecking people’s lives.

Again:

You know not which you speak of. Just wait and watch what happens this week.

Slater seems intent on continue the Ross train wrecking attempt of National.

I wonder how much of Slater’s emotion is due to the failure of the Ross (and possibly Lusk) plan to set bridges up and oust him.

 

Vindictive destructive politics

I’m not going to get into where Simon Bridges or the National Party stands on the issue of donations at this stage – there is still a lack of solid evidence, and the police are looking into it after a visit from Jami-Lee Ross today.

But the overriding sense I get from what Ross has done today is how vindictive, despicable and destructive he appears to be already, with more promised.

‘Dirty Politics’ haas been mentioned, and alongside the apparent involvement of Simon Lusk and the actions of Ross that’s how this looks – an orchestrated assault on Bridges and the National Party.

Ross seems to be trying to claim some moral high ground (after having been involved in what he alleges against Bridges), but his methods and his breach of trust seems to be substantial.

And he seems intent on continuing to keep destroying the party that gave him a political career.

If there genuinely has been corruption and illegal practices in the party then I have no problem with it being exposed, but the way Ross is doing it looks to be as damaging as he can possibly make it.

Does he realise exactly what he is doing? Is he being used by Lusk to split the National party apart? That seems to be the aim.

 

Hager recap on ‘Dirty Politics’

Nicky Hager has recapped what his 2014 Dirty Politics book was about at Newsroom.

Most controversial, the book revealed that prime minister John Key had a full-time dirty tricks person in his office researching and writing nasty attacks on opposing politicians, quietly sent through to Slater to publish as if they were his own.

Slater was genuinely powerful at that time because the media, to which he fed many stories, knew he was friends with Key and justice minister Judith Collins.

Key survived as prime Minister as long as he wanted to, but Collins copped a setback as a result of what Slater called embellishment and has probably had her leadership ambitions severely hobbled by it (Slater keeps promoting her on Whale Oil, reminding people of it to Collins’ detriment).

The book’s subtitle was “How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment.” Does anyone think these aren’t issues deserving sunlight?

This certainly deserved sunlight, and good on Hager for doing that. I have serious concerns about illegal hacking (if that is what actually happened), especially in a political environment, but this was a serious abuse of political and media power that deserved exposure.

‘A boil that needed lancing’

When I decided to research and write about Slater and his associates, I knew I was taking a personal risk. They were well known for personal attacks and smears. They have hurt many people. I expected retaliation.  But I knew what I was taking on and felt strongly that this boil needed lancing.

While Dirty Politics lanced a political boil (in the Prime Minister’s office) and exposed Slater and Whale Oil, rendering them far less effective, it hasn’t stopped them from continuing with attacks and personal smears. Like many others I have been the target of dirty smears and legal attacks since Dirty Politics broke.

That they have been reduced from being a festering boil to being more like cry baby pimples that hasn’t stopped them resorting to dirty attacks. And it ‘is ‘they’ – Slater is aided and abetted on Whale Oil by others, in particular Juana Atkins and Nige who also seem to fucking people over is fair game, for click bait and seemingly for fun. I’m not sure how they sleep easy.

Dirty Politics hasn’t eliminated attack politics, but by exposing some of the worst of it the poisoning New Zealand’s political environment has been reduced. It needs more exposing and more reducing – as well as involving dirty personal attacks dirty politics is an attack on decent democracy.

Geddis on why the Hager apology matters

Law professor Andrew Geddis writes on Why the police’s apology to Nicky Hager matters (this has also been published elsewhere) – apologies for a near full repost but I think is important enough to warrant it.


In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics back in 2014, the New Zealand Police undertook multiple unlawful breaches of Nicky Hager’s privacy. They’ve now apologised for that – but the important thing is to make sure it does not ever happen again.

Nicky Hager’s book was based on material obtained from the mysteriously named “Rawshark”, who in turn almost certainly obtained it by way of a criminal computer hack. Much was made of this fact at the time, with Mr Hager accused of using “stolen” information. If interested, you can read Mr Hager’s response to that charge here (at question #5).

Irrespective of the ethics of using the material, however, it was clear that Mr Hager had committed no crime. While we still do not know who Rawshark is, no-one seriously believed it was Mr Hager himself. Equally, there was no evidence that Mr Hager colluded with Rawshark in carrying out the original, unlawful hack.

Nevertheless, if you wanted to uncover Rawshark’s identity, Mr Hager was the obvious place to start. And the New Zealand Police decided they very much wanted to find out who Rawshark was – they very, very much wanted to do so. Quite why they felt such a desperate need to determine the perpetrator of this particular crime out of all those committed daily in New Zealand remains something of a mystery, but felt it they did.

For the police embarked on a really quite remarkably terrible investigation to try and trace Rawshark through Mr Hager, which today has led them to issue a comprehensive and I am sure highly embarrassing apology (along with money damages and payment of legal costs). Here’s what they now admit they did wrong.

First of all, they went to Mr Hager’s bank – which was Westpac, if you really want to know – and asked them to please pass over 10-months-worth of Mr Hager’s financial records. Which the bank then did quite happily, despite the police having no legal right to the information. You can read what the Privacy Commissioner thought of that behaviour here (spoiler alert: he was less than impressed).

Then, without even trying to talk to Mr Hager, the police decided he was an “uncooperative witness” in their investigation. In what appears to be an action without precedent in New Zealand, they instead went to the District Court and asked for a warrant to search Mr Hager’s house and remove all papers and electronic devices that might provide them with information that could identify Rawshark.

The problem being that they failed to tell the Court their target was a journalist whose material may be subject to journalistic privilege, as it had been obtained under a promise that its source would remain confidential. The High Court subsequently found that this failure breached the police’s “duty of candour” to the courts, thus rendering the warrant unlawful. In addition, the police now admit that their warrant was overly broad in the material it sought and should have contained conditions to address the possible privilege issues.

So, the search of Mr Hager’s house and removal of his property was, the police admit, unlawful. What is more, by a remarkable coincidence the police search took place at a time when Mr Hager was in another city, meaning that it was an hour before Mr Hager was able to assert journalistic privilege over that property. Despite being alerted to that claim of privilege, the police nevertheless used photos they had taken of an email exchange and website login information to try and track Rawshark down.

Let’s just pause and recap at this point. The police admit that they misled a court by omission into giving them apparent legal authority to raid the house of not a suspect in a crime, but a witness to it. That witness, they knew, was a working journalist whose efficacy depends upon being able to assure his sources (be they law abiding saints or malefactor demons or somewhere in between) that their identity will remain confidential. And despite being alerted that there may be a legal bar on presenting in court the information they had seized, the police admit they went ahead and used some of it anyway to try and unmask their suspect.

Were this the extent of the police’s actions, they would be bad enough. But wait, for there is more. Even after conducting the raid and being told in writing by Mr Hager’s lawyers that he asserted journalistic privilege over all information that may reveal his confidential sources (such as Rawshark), the police continued to approach third parties like Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Customs and Paypal for information about Mr Hager’s activities. Some of it was sought on an informal “please tell us” basis, while some was obtained through formal production orders (which were in turn obtained from the courts without disclosing that they related to a journalist with confidential sources).

And in what is perhaps the most damning indictment of the police’s actions, they now admit that they told some of these third parties they wanted information about Mr Mr Hager because he was suspected of fraud and other criminal activities. This was what is known in legal circles as a complete and utter lie.

Hence the complete and comprehensive nature of the apology to Mr Hager from the police. As I’ve had cause to say about it in a quote that Mr Hager’s legal team included in their press release about the settlement:

The series of failures admitted by the police indicates a deeply concerning failure to both understand the legal constraints on their powers and the fundamental importance of individual rights. This comprehensive apology hopefully indicates that the message has been driven home and such behaviour will not happen in the future.

Because I accept that a political culture where individuals routinely turn to criminal activity to try and unmask their opponent’s claimed wrongdoings would be a bad one. James O’Keefe would not be a welcome fixture in our democratic process. And even criminal hypocrites like the target of Rawshark’s original hack have a general right to privacy that the law ought to protect.

So, seeking to identify and prosecute Rawshark was not in itself an unreasonable response by the police. However, turning the journalist who used the information gained through Rawshark’s actions into a virtual criminal co-conspirator from whom information will be obtained by any means necessary is completely unreasonable and dangerous to our democracy. It should never have happened, and should never happen again.

Police apologise to Hager and pay ‘substantial’ damages

The police have apologised to Nicky Hager for an unlawful search and investigation trying to find the source for ‘Dirty Politics. They have also paid ‘substantial’ damages but the actual amount is confidential.

I have always condemned the hacking of communications data of Cameron Slater and Whale Oil (and also condemned Slater’s attempt to solicit the hack of The Standard), but that’s another matter.

The police have a duty to follow legal procedures in investigating, and they obviously stepped well over an acceptable line here.

Press release from Hager’s lawyer Felix Geiringer:


Police apologise to Nicky Hager

In a settlement with far-reaching implications, the New Zealand Police have apologised to Nicky Hager for multiple breaches of his rights arising from their 2014 investigation into Dirty Politics.

Nicky Hager’s home was raided by Police in October 2014. The raid was part of an investigation into the source of Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. In 2015, the High Court ruled that the warrant that was used for the raid was “fundamentally unlawful”. However, many more alleged breaches of Mr Hager’s rights were left to be resolved at a later hearing.

In today’s settlement, Police have accepted that they did not have reasonable grounds for the search, that they attempted to breach Mr Hager’s journalistic privilege in multiple ways, and that they unlawfully obtained his private information from third parties including his bank. [The full Police statement is included below.]

“This is a very important agreement,” said Mr Hager. “The Police have admitted that many things they did in their investigation and search were unlawful. This sends a vital message that people can share important information with journalists with confidence that their identities will be protected. The Police have apologised for threatening that confidentiality and trust.”

As part of the settlement Mr Hager is to receive substantial damages and a substantial contribution to his legal costs. Mr Hager said “Under the agreement, I am not allowed to name the figure. However, it gives the strongest possible indication that Police accept the harm they caused and are much less likely to treat a journalist this way again. The money will help support important work in years to coming.”

During a 10-hour search of his home in 2014, Mr Hager claimed journalistic source protection privilege. He later learned that Police officers breached express promises made during the search and photographed privileged documents to use in their investigation. Police also sought to circumvent Mr Hager’s rights to source protection by obtaining his private information from third parties such as Air New Zealand, Qantas, PayPal, Customs, WestPac, Vodafone, and Two Degrees. Luckily, none of this succeeded in exposing any sources.

“This has been a long fight, but we stuck at it because we believe what we were fighting for was important,” Mr Hager said. “I want to thank my legal team and all of the people around New Zealand who have cared about the case and supported it over the last three and a half years”.


Full text of Police acknowledgement and apology

  1. Mr Nicky Hager has instituted High Court claims against the Crown resulting from:
    1.1 the search of his property at Wellington on 2 October 2014 after publication of his book, Dirty Politics, and;
    1.2 information requests and production orders obtained in respect of Mr Hager’s information held by various agencies.
  2. As part of the settlement of Mr Hager’s claims, the New Zealand Police wish to acknowledge the following breaches of Mr Hager’s rights and to apologise for them.
  3. In September 2014, Police sought and obtained 10 months of Mr Hager’s banking transactions. This was done with an informal information request and without a production order. Police acknowledge that Mr Hager had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to that information. The Supreme Court have recently provided clarification on when a production order needs to be applied for. In light of that judgment, Police accept that they needed to obtain a production order in order to obtain Mr Hager’s banking information.
  4. At the end of September 2014, Police applied for and obtained a search warrant to search Mr Hager’s home. Mr Hager was not a suspect of any offending.
  5. Police failed to mention in their application for the search warrant that they sought information to identify one of Mr Hager’s confidential sources and failed to mention that Mr Hager was a journalist who could claim journalistic privilege. The High Court has found that in this regard Police failed to discharge their duty of candour and the warrant was unlawful. The High Court also expressed concern that Police lacked reasonable grounds to obtain a warrant. Police accept the High Court’s preliminary assessment.
  6. Police also now accept and acknowledge that in certain respects the search warrant was overly broad and should have contained conditions to address concerns raised to protect journalistic privilege.
  7. Police searched Mr Hager’s home for almost an hour before Mr Hager claimed journalistic privilege over his material at the time of the search of his home. Police accept the High Court’s position that they needed to give Mr Hager a positive chance to claim that privilege before commencing the search.
  8. During the search, Police took a photograph of a printed copy of an email exchange between Mr Hager and another person and used it to conduct enquiries. Police also photographed documents containing login information for web accounts and a cloud storage facility and tried to use that information to access those websites. Police also took copies of information relating to a cell phone and used that information to obtain production orders from phone companies. Police acknowledge that these were breaches of Mr Hager’s legal right to protect his sources and should not have occurred.
  9. Police acknowledge that lawyers for Mr Hager wrote to their lawyers on 7 October 2014 and told Police that Mr Hager also had claims of privilege over information relating to his private communications, or his other private documents, held by third parties.
  10. After the search, Police continued the investigation by seeking and obtaining Mr Hager’s private information from various third parties including Air New Zealand, Paypal, NZ Customs, and Jetstar. When Police used production orders, they should have and failed to disclose Mr Hager is a journalist who is entitled to claim privilege. They also failed to mention that Mr Hager had claimed privilege during the search on 2 October, or what his lawyers had said in their 7 October letter. These were breaches of their duty of candour in each instance.
  11. Police acknowledge that Mr Hager had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information that could be used to identify his confidential sources. Police also acknowledge that there are legal protections in relation to such information that can only be waived by a High Court Judge. As such, it was not appropriate for the Police to seek such information from third parties without a suitable court order.
  12. In making some information requests, Police said that they suspected Mr Hager of criminal behaviour including fraud. Police accept that they had no basis for such allegations.
  13. Police acknowledge that in the respects outlined above they breached Mr Hager’s right under ss 14 and 21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
  14. Police acknowledge that the search of Mr Hager’s property caused distress to him and his family and threatened his ability (and that of the wider media) to access information from confidential informants.
  15. Police apologise unreservedly for these breaches of his rights and have agreed to pay Mr Hager damages and his legal costs.

Blomfield v Slater trial date set

A defamation proceeding brought by Matthew Blomfield against Cameron Slater that was started in the District Court in 2012 will finally go to trial in the High Court in October. It will be judge only (no jury), and is expected to run for four weeks or six weeks (two recent judgments give different durations).

Blomfield claims he was defamed in a series of thirteen posts at Whale Oil, while Slater claims that taken in context the posts were not defamatory, and also that the posts expressed truth and honest opinion.

The publications

[6] Each of the blogs was published between 3 May and 6 June 2012. They occurred after Mr Slater came into possession of a hard drive containing emails sent to or by Mr Blomfield. Other material was also stored on the hard drive, including photographs of Mr Blomfield’s family.

This is rather ironic given the complaints Slater has made about Nicky Hager obtaining material that was hacked from Whale Oil and Slater. I don’t know whether it has been established that the hard drive was obtained illegally or not.

[7] There is no dispute for present purposes that Mr Slater caused the blogs to be published on the Whaleoil website notwithstanding the fact that the website is apparently operated by the second defendant, Social Media Consultants Limited. There can also be no dispute that the blogs related to Mr Blomfield because he was named in each. Each of the blogs also contains material that is arguably defamatory of Mr Blomfield.

In late 2017 Blomfield made a successful application joining a second defendant Social Media Consultants Limited as a party to the proceeding. This was done after Slater pointed out that the publications forming the basis of the defamation claims
are posted on a website operated by that company.  Shareholders and directors of the company are Cameron Slater and Juana Atkins.

This information and an outline of the defamation claims are detailed in two judgments available at Judicial Decisions Online:

These two judgments cover interlocutory issues and an on application by Blomfield for summary judgment and/or strike out.

They show that Slater has incurred more costs awards against him, and an application by Slater that security of costs be paid by Blomfield was declined because Slater is acting for himself so won’t be able to claim costs, unless he engages a lawyer for the trial.

Some of the arguments are related to the inability of Slater to provide emails as a part of the discovery process because they were deleted in the wake of ‘Dirty Politics’.

The judge notes that some comments in the posts “are clearly defamatory” but that Slater can argue truth and honest opinion.

[42] Despite the relatively extreme nature of Mr Slater’s assertions, and the sketchy particulars provided in support of the defences of truth and honest opinion, I am not prepared to enter summary judgment in respect of this publication. Sufficient particulars have been provided to enable Mr Slater to advance the defences at trial. He will obviously need to re-formulate his particulars so that they provide sufficient detail to enable Mr Blomfield to respond to them.

Most applications by both Blomfield and Slater were declined in the judgments. The need to finally get the proceeding to trial with no further delays was an overriding factor in some of the decisions.

This looks like a complex case. I have no idea of strength of the complaints or the defences. That will be for a judge to decide when it goes to a four or six week trial in October.

In other defamation proceedings, Slater is still waiting for a judgment in defamation claims and counter claims versus Colin Craig after a trial that concluded in June last year – see Craig v Slater – reserved decision.

Slater is involved in another defamation case started against him (and others) in August 2016, related to another series of posts at Whale Oil. This is summarised in SELLMAN & ORS v SLATER & ORS [2017] NZHC 2392 [2 October 2017]:

Summary

[1] Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Mr Shane Bradbrook are public health professionals. They allege they have been defamed in a series of blog posts by Mr Cameron Slater and comments on the posts by Mr Carrick Graham. They sue Mr Slater, Mr Graham and Mr Graham’s company Facilitate Communications Ltd (FCL). They also sue Ms Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Inc (NZFGC) for allegedly procuring Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL to publish the substance and sting of the alleged defamations.

Both this proceeding and Blomfield’s allege that Slater (or Social media Consultants) was paid to do attack posts on Whale Oil. This was also alleged in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.

One thing is clear – defamation proceedings can be complex, time consuming and very expensive.

A record of some rumourmongering

This is a record of one individual who has attempted some Gayford rumourmongering here, in a narrow focus on an issue that has been spread across various media. It doesn’t attempt to answer where the rumours came from (I think it’s likely they evolved from different sources and sort of coalesced).

‘Bill Brown’ threw a bit of a wobbly after an inevitable outcome here yesterday after blatantly ignoring clear warnings about what should not be said about the Clarke Gayford issue  – in particular promoting unsubstantiated (fake) allegations.

First, misuse of Gayford’s name as ‘Gaylord’, and indications of intent to attack him, were evident as far back as a 22 September post at Whale Oil, and on 24 October in comments on a personal attack post at Whale Oil comments suggest intent to target Gayford on ‘social media’ and on WO (two separate media):

Whale Oil has run a number of personal attack posts targeting both Gayford and Ardern since then, as recently as yesterday, but this is just some background to the wider attacks on Gayford in particular. Whale Oil have denied being involved in any way in circulating rumours that the legal letter relate to (some comments on WO have disputed this), but regardless of that they have been running a series of personal attacks on Gayford over a number of months (ample evidence of this remains public).

To ‘Bill Brown’, who has a record of interest in this issue dating back to two comments here on Your NZ on 26 November last year:

I wonder how Clarke Gaylorde is liking the DPS watching his every move ……

Also:

Lol. I was wondering about his [redacted]

That inferred allegations that I presume this week’s legal letter warned against disclosing.

Sunday 29 April 2018 (before this week’s story broke):

If the rumours are true the court appearance is already done. The DCJ is mulling the sentence options.

Unless the Police have lied in their statement this must be false. As far as I have seen this line of attack has largely been dropped since the Police statement. Also on Sunday:

Diplomatic passports a great thing when one is [redacted]

Another very specific reference, also with no evidence, and also false if the Police statement is accurate.

Thursday 3 May:

You are correct PG that it started around Oct last year – around the time [redacted]

Another specific reference.

Friday 4 May:

The Gayford story is one of the best examples of the Stresiend Effect ….. ever.

The  ‘Streisand Effect’ has also been promoted on Kiwiblog and Whale Oil (and probably elsewhere), but this has been somewhat thwarted by the media abiding by the legal letter and not publishing details of allegations. Trying to force a ‘Streisand Effect’ – provoking someone to deny (sometimes false or ridiculous) allegations to create negative publicity – is sometimes used as a dirty political tactic.

Saturday 5 May:

Clarke is [redacted]

With the charges rumours dealt to by the police statement this was a switch to another quite specific common allegation that I have seen around for a while, again with no evidence. Even if there was some basis it should be a personal matter and no business of the public – it is a form of dirty attack which appears to me to be an attempt to destabilise the Prime Minister and the Government (however I know of people who get some sort of perverse pleasure from just ‘fucking people over’).

When ‘Bill Brown’ got the inevitable and obvious outcome for blatantly ignoring warnings and requests they responded:

Like I care you dick

Some may care about what he has tried to promulgate, alongside commenters at Kiwiblog (some tried again yesterday but DPF has been moderating now), alongside the Twitter campaign and alongside the targeting of Gayford on Whale Oil, and elsewhere. One unhinged website with extreme allegations on this and other issues has been linked to from various blogs (no name or links allowed here).

There is no public evidence that this is anything other than different people independently doing something similar – targeting and attacking Gayford and Ardern in a variety of ways.

Despite some alleging National Party involvement and others  alleging that it’s an internal Labour Party hit job I have seen no evidence of either.

In the absence of evidence any allegations or rumours should at least be regarded with much skepticism, if not discounted as made up fake allegations.

However I think that an unprecedented degree of targeting of the partner of the Prime Minister has been taking place, and this is an insidious turn for the worse in New Zealand politics. There are associated issues of importance, but I think the scale and type of attacks that have taken place and continue to take place need to be confronted and strongly condemned – with some legal caution.

Allowing discussion on this is important.

However any comments that I feel are too specific, name people with allegations with no evidence, are a potential legal risk, or I otherwise think are inappropriate, may be edited or deleted. Note that sometimes comments here can be parked out of sight until I have time to properly deal with them, and I am not always readily available.