‘Serious domestic terrorism threat’

It is being reported that ‘a serious domestic terrorism threat’ activated New Zealand’s top security systems at some time in the past two years.

NZ Herald: Terror threat to New Zealand revealed in security handbook

Concrete evidence has emerged that there has been an actual attempt to carry out a terrorist attack on New Zealand soil.

The National Security System is New Zealand’s highest-level response to the most serious threats against our country. It is led by a committee chaired by the Prime Minister and brings together key officials from intelligence services, police, the military and other departments – depending on the threat – to co-ordinate a response.

It is activated in cases where there is a risk to “the security or safety of New Zealanders or people in New Zealand”, our sovereignty, the economy and environment or “the effective functioning of the community”.

The existence of the threat came from the newly released National Security System handbook. It stated the system – which triggers a special set of protocols – had been activated for a “threat of a domestic terrorist incident”.

The Handbook details:

Examples of National Security System activations:

  • Threat of 1080 contamination of infant formula; 
  • Ebola viral disease readiness and possible Ebola case;
  • Neurological complications and birth defects possibly associated with Zika virus; 
  • Threat of a domestic terrorist incident; 
  • TS Rena grounding on Astrolabe Reef 2011; 
  • Darfield Earthquake 2010 and Christchurch Earthquake 2011.

The National Security System can be activated for more than one issue at any one time.

That is the only reference to it in the handbook.

From the Inspector General of intelligence and Security annual report:

During the reporting year, the Director notified me that she had issued an authorisation for urgent surveillance without a warrant under s 4ID(1) of the NZSIS Act. Notification was made immediately, as required by s 4IE(1)(b). The authorisation was the first since the late 2014 enactment of s 4ID, which permits surveillance without warrant for up to 24 hours in cases of urgency.

I am required to investigate such authorisations if the Minister or the Commissioner of Security Warrants directs the surveillance to stop; if the authorisation is not followed by an application for a surveillance warrant; or if an application is made but declined.

In this instance, the Minister and Commissioner did not direct surveillance to stop and, within the 24 hour period, received and granted an application for a surveillance warrant. For that reason, I was not required to carry out a specific investigation but my office did review the authorisation and supporting material as part of our regular review of warrants and authorisations. We provided some comment on how the authorisation could have been framed more clearly, but did not consider there to be any material concern.

The Herald claims:

The urgency of the request showed the need for information trumped the legal process, meaning it could be linked to an imminent domestic terrorist attack.

We are unlikely to find out any details.

No further information on the nature of the threat was forthcoming from Prime Minister John Key and NZ Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which co-ordinates responses, also would not supply details.

A spokesman for Key’s office said: “As the Prime Minister has said, New Zealand is not immune from the threat of terrorism, although the threat to New Zealand remains low.

“Our intelligence agencies play an important role in identifying, monitoring and reacting to any domestic threats in order to keep New Zealanders safe, both at home and abroad.

“The Government has increased their resources to allow them to better carry out their duties as well as increased the level of transparency and oversight to ensure they are doing so appropriately.”

What we do know is that no acts of domestic terrorism have been reported. The risk in New Zealand is relatively low. Perhaps our security systems are doing there job and keeping them at zero, for now at least.