Lobbyist – PM Chief of Staff – lobbyist

No matter how it was being managed, this looks questionable for Jacinda Ardern’s office.

The Spinoff (22 February 2018):  Conflict of interest concerns over lobbyist turned chief of Jacinda Ardern’s staff

The government lobbyist who served for several months as chief of staff to the prime minister as the new government took office says he didn’t do any work for the lobbying firm of which he is part-owner while working at the Beehive. Nor, he says, was he paid by the business.

In response to questions on potential conflicts of interest, GJ Thompson, who advised the prime minister for five months ending last Friday, told The Spinoff he “declared the potential conflict at the very outset” and that it was for the Department of Internal Affairs to manage any conflict.

Before taking on the leading Labour position he was a partner at Thompson Lewis, the lobbying firm he founded in 2016. Having left the role, he has returned to Auckland and his firm to continue as a lobbyist.

His time advising Ardern leads in his promotional bio on the front page of the firm’s website, which boasts: “He spent five months as chief of staff to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, assisting the new government transition into the Beehive.” The firm’s blurb advertises its “strong political networks” and its partners’ “significant time in senior roles in Government and Opposition”.

The Spinoff asked the prime minister’s office whether Thompson’s clients were disclosed to the prime minister, how any conflicts were managed, and whether the prime minister knew Thompson remained a director and shareholder of his firm while we was working as chief of staff.

The PM’s office said these were questions for Ministerial Services as Thompson’s employer.

The Spinoff asked Thompson about these circumstances and how any conflicts of interest were managed, including whether the disclosure was about his role at the firm generally, or relating to particular clients.

Thompson responded: “Your questions are best directed to DIA [the Department of Internal Affairs] given they were the employer. DIA manages any potential conflict of interest. I declared the potential conflict at the very outset of my short-term appointment.”

“While I was temporarily working as chief of staff, I took a leave of absence from Thompson Lewis and did not work for the business at all”, he said.

Less than a month ago he transferred shares in the firm to another lobbyist, Sifa Taumoepeau, who is now also a director. And very recently the firm announced a recruiting decision likely to have been made some time during Thompson’s five months as chief of staff: the appointment of Wayne Eagleson, former chief of staff to John Key and Bill English, as a consulting partner at the firm.

Lobbyists mingling with Government and political parties has raised eyebrows for years.

The guidance for state servants explains: “Any commercial activities, investments or other personal interests must not influence the work we do, and we must be open in declaring where our interests may potentially conflict with our responsibilities.”

It remains unclear from the answers provided by Thompson, the prime minister’s office, and the Department of Internal Affairs whether Thompson disclosed his clients’ identities or simply that he was involved in Thompson Lewis, though that question was put directly to all three.

Without knowing who Thompson’s clients are, it would have been challenging for the department and the prime minister’s office to decide what steps should be taken to mitigate potential conflicts of interest, such as what information Thompson should have had access to, and whether he should have resigned his directorship of the firm.

Risks of corruption aside, political scientist Bryce Edwards, speaking to RNZ about his coverage of Thompson’s appointment, explained why he was concerned about changes in the lobbying industry: “There is increasing suspicion about what is basically a political class.”

“A lot of people — in especially the Wellington circles — that work in government departments, work in ministers’ offices, or are politicians, then work in the media, they work in PR, they work in lobbying. It’s all a bit too close, I think. It’s a very cohesive political class.”

This sort of public/private intermingling looks unlikely to change if politicians see advantages in it for themselves.

 

 

Ardern in China today

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is making a quick visit to China today.

It’s been a long time coming but the prime minister has arrived in Beijing for whirlwind meetings with the most senior figures in the Chinese administration.

And there’s a lot to talk about.

Huawei, trade, cyber security and regional defence and security are just some of the delicate issues Jacinda Ardern is likely to broach with Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping.

The stakes are high as New Zealand looks to put to rest any speculation about the state of its relationship with a key trading partner and a global power player.

The timing of the visit is not ideal, coming just weeks after the horrific shootings in Christchurch, but the importance of the relationship is underscored by the fact Ms Ardern has chosen to go ahead, albeit with a lot shorter trip than originally planned.

“China is a friend”, said Ms Ardern – speaking before she left New Zealand. “And despite our different perspectives, on some issues, our relationship, I believe, it is a mature and resilient one.”

While short at least this visit breaks to ice with China. Time will tell how New Zealand-China relations go as a result of this – on it’s own it’s unlikely to make much difference, but given Ardern’s international prominence over the last few weeks she may be taken more notice of than she would have been earlier.

The US Five Eyes/Huawei threat

It looks like the US is trying to play hardball on deterring Five Eyes allies from using Huawei technology. Is this foe security or economic reasons? Possibly both.

Who would you prefer to have a back door into your data, China or the US? Huawei denies allowing secret access, but we know US technology companies have helped their secret services.

Newsroom:  US delivers Five Eyes threat over Huawei

The United States has delivered the most explicit threat yet to New Zealand’s role in the Five Eyes alliance if it allows Huawei into the 5G network, saying it will not share information with any country which allows the Chinese company into “critical information systems”.

The remarks from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo call into question claims from Kiwi politicians and officials that outside pressure is not behind a decision to block Huawei equipment from being used by Spark in its 5G network.

The decision, made by the Government Communications Security Bureau late last year, has sparked fears of retaliation from China against New Zealand including a report in the CCP-owned Global Times which suggested Chinese tourists were turning away from the country in protest.

In an interview with Fox Business News, Pompeo said the country had been speaking to other nations to ensure they understood the risk of putting Huawei technology into their infrastructure.

“We can’t forget these systems were designed with the express work alongside the Chinese PLA, their military in China, they are creating real risk for these countries and their systems, the security of their people…

“We’re out sharing this information, the knowledge that America has gained through its vast network and making sure countries understand the risk. That’s important – we think they’ll make good decisions when they understand that risk.”

Asked specifically about the risks posed to Americans’ information through alliances like Five Eyes if partners allowed Huawei into their systems, Pompeo said that would be an obstacle to any future relationships.

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them.”

Given New Zealand has remained a part of Five Eyes despite allowing Huawei into its 4G and ultra-fast broadband networks, it is unclear how real the threat is – although intelligence officials have acknowledged that 5G networks provide an added layer of risk.

But the secret services of countries are not the only risk to our privacy.

Be very afraid?

If an antacid advertisement pops up after you burp, or a laxative advertisement pops up after you fart, then it may be too late.

The Government may be able tax us on our measured emissions.

UK – “Huawei risk can be managed”

Last November the New Zealand GCSB turned down Spark’s proposal to use Huawei equipment in it’s new 5G network. UK security chiefs say thaat the Huawei risk can be managed.

RNZ (30 November 2018) – Huawei 5G decision: Everything you need to know

The GCSB blocked Spark’s bid to use its equipment in the new 5G network and now the Chinese tech company is seeking an urgent meeting with the government.

GCSB Minister Andrew Little said the decision to turn down the overseas network provider was because the technology was too risky – not because the company is Chinese.

Mr Little won’t reveal what significant national security risks Huawei poses saying the information was classified.

But he said the decision had nothing to do with Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government.

Paul Buchanan (RNZ 29 November) – Huawei vs Five Eyes: NZ diplomatic ties at centre of dilemma

The Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) decision to recommend against using Huawei equipment for the 5G rollout because of national security concerns underscores the strategic role commercial telecommunications plays in modern society.

It also exposes the disconnect between local telecommunications providers and the Five Eyes signals intelligence network, as well as that between career intelligence professionals and the politicians who oversee them.

Now (BBC): Huawei risk can be managed, say UK cyber-security chiefs

Any risk posed by involving the Chinese technology giant Huawei in UK telecoms projects can be managed, cyber-security chiefs have determined.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s decision undermines US efforts to persuade its allies to ban the firm from 5G communications networks.

Australia, New Zealand, and the US have already banned Huawei from supplying equipment for their future fifth generation mobile broadband networks, while Canada is reviewing whether the company’s products present a serious security threat.

Most of the UK’s mobile companies – Vodafone, EE and Three – have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.

They are awaiting on a government review, due in March or April, that will decide whether they can use Huawei technology.

As first reported by the Financial Times, the conclusion by the National Cyber Security Centre – part of the intelligence agency GCHQ – will feed into the review.

The decision has not yet been made public, but the security agency said in a statement it had “a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber security”.

This has been portrayed as a split amongst Five Eyes partners.

Jacinda Ardern says that what the Uk is doing aligns with what NZ is doing –UK finds it can mitigate Huawei risks, NZ follows same processes: PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was going through the same process as the UK in considering a bid by Huawei to be involved in the rollout of 5G.

New Zealand’s spy agency recommended rejecting a similar bid here unless Spark proved it could mitigate similar risks.

Ms Ardern said the two countries’ processes were similar in this regard.

“We have a process where an assessment is made by the GCSB, independent of ministers. Any vendor who has made an application is then told of the outcome of that assessment and is given a chance, if there are security concerns to mitigate those concerns,” she said.

“Spark has been given options to around mitigation of potential security concerns and now the ball is in their court.”

An issue lurking in the background of this is the alternative to Huawei equipment – US equipment. There have long been claims that that allows US security back doors access to communications equipment.

 

GCSB stops Spark from using Huawei for 5G

The GCSB is stopping Spark from using Huawei equipment for their new 5G cellphone network. They won’t give reasons, saying they are classified.

There are concerns that a Chinese owned company be involved in communications infrastructure – but some also have concerns about US technology companies with allegations of CIA back doors.

RNZ: Reasons to block Spark’s 5G rollout ‘classified’

The Minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said the reasons why a Chinese tech company won’t be involved in the rollout of 5G technology here are classified.

The GCSB has turned down Spark’s proposed use of Huawei equipment in its new network because it would raise significant national security risks.

Andrew Little said he was briefed on the decision on Monday but cannot divulge what the risks might be.

“Spark notified the GCSB two or three months ago, GCSB has carried out an assessment on the technology that Spark proposes to introduce and has assessed that technology as posing a national security risk. That assessment was notified to Spark today.”

“Spark have indicated they will have a close look at the reasons for GCSB’s assessment then if Spark wishes to continue with their proposal they then have the option of working with the GCSB on looking at mitigation of [those risks].”

Mr Little said the 5G technology was more sophisticated than older network technology and was not currently in use in New Zealand.

“The principal difference between 5G technology and the conventional 4G and 3G technology is that the conventional technology has an infrastructure core and then peripheral technology such as cellphone towers and the like and they can, in effect, be kept separate but you cannot do that with 5G technology.”

“Every component of 5G technology, every component of the network is integrated and therefore access to one component can lead to access to the entire network.”

He said the GCSB decision was not a complete deal-breaker for Spark’s rollout of 5G.

“Spark has said they are committed to rolling out 5G by the end of 2020, there’s no reason why they can’t stick to that timetable. They have known that they’d have to go through this process… it’s underway and there’s still work to do.”