‘Surprising’ New Zealand has no strategy to prevent terrorist attacks

Can terrorism prevention in New Zealand be effective without having a strategy. The risk of terrorism can’t be eliminated completely, but some sort of strategy must be a help.

RNZ – Christchurch Attacks: What security agencies are keeping us safe?

The minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agencies says it’s “surprising” the country doesn’t have a strategy to prevent terrorist attacks.

But Andrew Little maintains the country’s intelligence systems are effective.

“We like to think we have a counter-terrorism means, the ability to respond to something. But we don’t have a strategy that anticipates and prevents or seeks prevention of a terrorist act happening,” he said.

According to research by former army officers Chris Rothery and Terry Johanson, both now academics at Massey University, New Zealand’s entire national security system is “reactionary”, and does not focus on anticipating and preventing terrorist activity.

“There are not many countries that do have a national security strategy, but they do have a more formulated policy [than New Zealand] in regards to a lot of the threats that they’ll face,” Mr Rothery said.

The pair said New Zealand has no national security strategy, no counter-terrorism national strategy and – unlike in Australia,Canada and the United Kingdom – no independent body to check threats are being prioritised properly.

Andrew Little, who is responsible for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), admitted the focus had been on reacting to events.

“We’ve focused a lot on building up the components you need to have a system that can act and respond, but what we haven’t done is lift it up to the next stage which is having got good foundations, to then think strategically and think ahead and think more robustly about preventative measures.”

This was the case despite a four-year rebuild of the SIS and GCSB, an extension of their legal powers and $200m extra ploughed in since 2016, once an extra $50m included in last week’s Budget is factored in.

The SIS and GCSB did not begin, in earnest, looking into far right activity until mid-2018. The agencies were yet to get to the point of focusing on individuals or organisations when the Christchurch terror attacks happened.

The DPMC stated its counterterrorism approach covered prevention and preparation, plus there was a terrorism risk profile and a framework for preventing violent extremism.

It added that there was a strategic framework drawn up just last year.  The department delayed Insight’s Official Information Act request to be supplied with the framework until later in June.

Governments can’t be fully proactive with everything.

A lot has changed regarding earthquake proofing requirements and guidelines of buildings since the Christchurch earthquakes. And insurance premiums have gone up a lot – it wasn’t just the Government who was unprepared.

There were immediate reactions to the Christchurch mosque massacres, with changes to firearms laws to make it harder to get high capacity rapid fire weapons.

There were also immediate reactions from the Police who arrested a number of people on firearms and hate speech related charges.

We can expect that our secret services are working secretly to substantially improve counter terrorism and deterrence of and prevention of terrorism.