‘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.

Govt. departments, Parliamentary Services, DPMC could use GCSB?

The GCSB Amendment Bill could potentially allow the GCSB to be used to spy for any government department, Parliamentary Services, the Clerk of the House and possibly the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This could be done at the request of “the Minister” – presumably usually the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Governor General.

The current head of the GCSB was headhunted by the Prime Minister who had been childhood friends with his brother.

The Governor General has a military background and has also headed the GCSB.

The head of Parliamentary Services has a Special Investigations and Military background.

And what the GCSB does happens in secret. We are just supposed to trust them all.

Too few people with too many connections are involved. The current PM and department heads may be completely trustworthy, but there is no guarantee of that in the future once legislation is set in place.

From the Bill:

8C Co-operation with other entities to facilitate their functions

(1) This function of the Bureau is to cooperate with, and provide advice and assistance to, the following for the purpose of facilitating the performance of their functions:

(a) the New Zealand Police; and
(b) the New Zealand Defence Force; and
(c) the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service; and
(d) any department (within the meaning of the Public Finance Act (1989) specified for the purposes of this section by the Governor-General by Order in Council made on the recommendation of the Minister)

Bill 109-1 [PDF 484k]

(a), (b) and (c) cover what some thought the previous Act allowed but this was questioned, hence the amendment.

(d) is wideranging – from the Public Finance Act 1989:

(a) means—
(i) a department or instrument of the Government or any branch or division of the Government; or
(ii) the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives; or
(iii) the Parliamentary Service; but

(b) does not include—
(i) a body corporate or other legal entity that has the power to contract; or
(ii) an Office of Parliament

Office of Parliament means the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (and that Commissioner’soffice), the Office of Ombudsmen, and the Auditor-General

Considering allowing any Government department, the Clerk of the House or Parliamentary Services to use the GCSB to spy for them is alarming.

I don’t wish to question the integrity of the people in current positions, but:

  • the General Manager of Parliamentary Services was in the NZ Army for 20 years and was the Manager of the Special Investigations Branch, Royal New Zealand Military Police.
  • the current Governor General  was Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force and for a short time was the Director of the GCSB.

The GCSB is known to have close connections with the New Zealand Defence Force and has often been headed by ex-military staff – except now, the current head was effectively recruited by “the Minister”, Prime Minister Key who he has known since childhood.

There is nothing to raise any doubts about integrity of those involved, but many of the main players have some sort of connections or common backgrounds.

I think it is essential that there is a more independent component in the issuing of warrants to spy.

I seriously question the need to be able to allow Government departments and the Parliamentary Service to use the GCSB for spying.

We know that Parliamentary Services has already overreached in obtaining security data of an MP and a journalist in the Henry inquiry. The Prime Minister has said that his word was enough authorisation for David Henry to use questionable data collection, and Key even admitted it went too far when swipe card data was accessed.

And one thing that isn’t clear here – the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) is not specified, but it is a department that is not specifically excluded. Would it be possible for the DPMC to get the GCSB to spy for it?

If this law amendment is passed it won’t just apply now, it will also give extraordinary potential powers to future Prime Ministers and department heads.

We need much better assurances of checks and balances – set into law.


Peters and Shearer leaks have similarities

Last year someone from the GCSB leaked to David Shearer with a claim there was evidence that never surfaced.

Recently someone leaked to Winston Peters with a claim there was evidence that never surfaced.

In both cases it seems that damaging the National Government was the intent, or at least an obvious consequence. The difference this time is that Dunne was either another target or just collateral damage.

The leak to Winston Peters has similarities to the leak from GCSB to David Shearer last year, where a serious accusation was made (in that case against John Key, in this case Dunne) with a suggestion there was evidence (in that case a video recording, in this case phone records/emails) but the evidence was never produced in either case.

It appears that in both cases Shearer and Peters never actually had evidence, but they were convinced enough by the leaker that it existed.

Individually these leaks are serious. If there is a connection between them that is even more alarming.

The leaking of the Kitteridge report was embarrassing for John Key and National but it was just an early release of a report that was due to be made public a week later.

And as media have made clear, leaking is normal and very common. Colin Espiner blogged:

And how these things work is that almost everyone does it. 

Peters is the king of leaks, although he doesn’t betray a trace of irony in his demands for Dunne to face a police investigation. Almost every cause Peters has championed, from the Winebox to Simunovich Fisheries, was the result of inside information – some of it rather unreliable.

And it goes all the way to the top. Former Labour prime minister Helen Clark leaked like a sieve. I was one of many reporters to benefit from this mine of information. Clark was upfront about her leaking and didn’t apologise for it. After providing information about a late-night breath test involving former police commissioner Peter Doone that got the top cop sacked, Clark simply shrugged and pointed out she was the prime minister: “By definition I cannot leak.”

There are very senior people sitting around Key’s Cabinet table who have leaked information to me in the past. And every other reporter in the press gallery I’m sure. So the current prime minister should be careful not to protest too much.

Dunne steadfastly maintains he didn’t leak the Kitteridge report. There is no evidence that he leaked it. The David Henry investigation ended up looking only at Dunne as a suspect but had no evidence and didn’t investigate other more likely possibilities (in particular that the leaker avoided using parliamentary email or phones to communicate with Vance).

But the political pressure on Dunne – in particular from Winston Peters and Trevor Mallard – is aimed at destroying the career of a three decade MP, destroying a political party, and it could be argued, to bring down the Government (or at least to seriously damage the Government). It has also impacted on the careers of public servants whop worked for Dunne and for United Future.

This has been aided and abetted by some media.

But, possibly because Winston Peters leaks so much, the leaking to him of details of the David Henry inquiry has virtually escaped scrutiny. And it isn’t just another politician leaking – it is more likely to have been a public servant leaking. And the most obvious motives for leaking to Peters are:

  • to put pressure on Dunne to reveal emails or admit he leaked
  • to pressure Dunne to make a mistake that could then be used to damage his career (and damage the Government

Either of those is far more serious than leaking a report a few days early.

But for some reason the media haven’t been interested. Why?

It’s obvious some of the media revel in the headline making that Peters is good for, and are happy to make the most of that. Is the media afraid to hold Winston Peters to account? Or do they just want to keep the story making relationship going?

What was leaked to Peters?

Peters made many claims and insinuations about what information he had received.

He was happy to allow the media to give the impression he had emails or had at least seen emails that Dunne had not released, but when finally pressed on this by John Campbell he admitted he didn’t have “sufficient” evidence.

And his evidence story kept changing as information became known. He initially claimed (in Parliament) that the proof was in the phone records, but when the Henry report pointed at emails he switched his claims to emails. And he later changed to “electronic records” when he was pushed on whether he had copies of emails.

So Peters’ claims of evidence are not credible. I think it is most likely he was not given any evidence.

The only thing Peters claimed with certainty was that Dunne leaked the Kitteridge report. He accused Dunne of this under the protection of parliamentary privilege. And he accused Dunne outside Parliament after the release of the Henry report.

Peters was told by someone that evidence pointed strongly at Dunne being guilty of leaking, but it is likely no specifics where given, as it became obvious Peters had no evidence.

It seems that someone who was credible to Peters told him just enough information to give him confidence to accuse Dunne.

Who leaked to Peters?

Someone with inside knowledge of the progress of the David Henry investigation must have leaked to Peters, either directly or via an intermediary.

I’d be very surprised if David Henry was directly or knowingly involved in the leak to Peters. That would be contrary to his reputation as a trusted public servant. But it should be noted that many were surprised that Dunne would have leaked. A number of journalists commented on this – Colin Espiner said:

Why do politicians leak so badly? There are many reasons. Sometimes they need to get information out in the public arena but can’t release it themselves. Sometimes they do it for venal reasons, such as to spite an enemy – or just as often, a colleague. Sometimes they do it because they believe it is right. And sometimes, just because they can. Being privy to an enormous amount of sensitive and juicy information is just too much for some MPs.

The only surprise is that Dunne became one of those. His nickname was Captain Sensible.

It was be as much if not more of a surprise if Henry leaked.

But there were others involved in Henry’s investigation. This is detailed in his report.

Appendix Three: Processes used in the inquiry


2. The Inquiry was led by David Henry. Isaac Holliss, from DPMC, was seconded for six weeks to assist him. Substantial assistance, particularly in the gathering of records, was also provided by staff at the GCSB, the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial Services, and DPMC.

I think it’s unlikely the leak would have been from anyone in the DPMC (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). They should be loyal to Key and to the National cabinet. But it can’t be ruled out.

I don’t know what involvement the Parliamentary Service or Ministerial Services had. A clerk from the Parliamentary Service is the prime suspect in the MFAT leak to Phil Goff and there are rumours that it was a politically motivated leak. The suspect has had their previous employment suppressed, and Labour have argued strongly for this investigation not to go ahead and for information not to be made public.

The GCSB has to be a quite likely potential source of the leak.

Last year there was a very similar type of leak from GCSB to David Shearer, where Shearer claimed there was evidence of a recording that implicated John Key in not being truthful about his knowledge of Kim Dotcom.

Like Peters Shearer was unable to produce any evidence and was strongly criticised and embarrassed by his failed accusation.

It is not out of the question that a similar leak occurred here, either directly to Peters or via an intermediary.

There is nothing to implicate Labour in this – apart from close similarities with the Shearer attempt to score a hit on Key.

It appears that someone in the GCSB attempted to damage Key and his Government last year. It could have been tried again.

It’s not known whether Peter Dunne was just collateral damage when targeting the Government, or whether he was also seen as someone to be punished. Dunne had already expressed concerns about the GCSB.

And it is likely that the leaker would know Dunne would be far less able to defend himself and fight back than if the Government was directly attacked.

If public servants have been involved in using Winston Peters to damage Dunne and the Government it must be a serious issue. Surely it deserves much more scrutiny.

Winston Peters is happy to be scoring hits against an old foe but it’s likely he has just been a convenient tool.

This is not just about whether Dunne has been hard done by or not.

If someone in the public service is using leaks to attack the Government to the extent that it potentially threatens the viability of the Government that is very serious stuff.

Why does no one seem to care about it?