Finny on Fletcher

Charles Finny has responded to  Kiwiblog post  The Campbell Live Dotcom conspiracy episode with this comment:

Thank you for writing this piece David. The programme really got my blood boiling last night.

I am surprised that this multi-year research project did not throw up some other useful facts.

How about the fact that Ian Fletcher had signalled his willingness to return to NZ somewhat before the GCSB role came up. I think that you will find that he was interested in replacing Simon Murdoch as MFAT CEO and that he did rather well in that selection process. In the end John Allen came through, but the facts that Ian Fletcher was interested in a return, and that he was an obviously very strong candidate for a senior leadership role in the NZ public service were very much front of mind for people like Murdoch, Wevers, the State Services Commissioner, and externally focused Ministers. That he was thought of when GCSB came up is no surprise. It seemed totally logical. No conspiracy here whatsoever.

I am sure the fact that he had held a Top Secret security clearance in NZ and the UK for many years would have been helpful. That he had done a series of high profile jobs well in the UK, EU and Australia would likewise have been a factor.

The impression I had at the time was that a number of senior public servants were delighted that someone as good as Ian could be attracted back. The view seemed to be – let’s try him at GCSB and see where his career might lead.

I see nothing sinister in the GCSB Director being from a non-military background. GCSB began life as part of the military establishment, but the role has changed substantially. A non-military Director is all part of the growing up process. Ian’s background is perfect for the first non-military Director. He began professional life working with Foreign Affairs, serving one offshore posting. He then moved to DTI in the UK where he did a number of roles, most of which were external in focus. He was seconded into the EU’s DG Trade and again there did a core trade policy job. His background is perfect. There is no conspiracy.

Yes, Ian’s brother (who I also worked with for a few years in Wellington at DTI) was at school with John Key, and yes, John may have met Ian a few times as a result – both as a school kid, and adult. But so what?

Split vote on Intelligence and Security Committee

Unusually a vote of the Intelligence and Security Committee public has been made public.


historic moment. I can tell you something that happened on the Intelligence and Security Cttee tonite: I moved a motion for an inquiry into appt process for Fletcher. Key recused himself. Vote was tied 2 each so motion lost. That’s it.

It was agreed by the committee’s chair (the Prime Minister) that the vote could be disclosed.

It’s not hard to work out how the vote was split (between Dunne, Banks, Shearer, Norman).

Shearer and Norman could be painting themselves into a corner on this, putting petty party politics before serious security matters.

The Auditor General has already ruled that an inquiry into Fletcher’s appointment is unnecessary – see Auditor-General will not investigate GCSB appointment:

 The Auditor General has turned down Labour’s request to investigate the appointment of Ian Fletcher as head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, saying the Prime Minister was entitled to have “considerable discretion” over how the appointment was made.

Labour had asked the Auditor General to investigate it after Mr Key confirmed he had sounded out Ian Fletcher – a childhood family friend – for the post himself before directing him to speak to the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

However, the Auditor General said that the Prime Minister had responsibility for the appointment and, unlike chief executives of other government departments, there was no specific process set out in making that appointment.

“The person appointed serves at the Prime Minister’s pleasure. As with many other ministerial appointments, the responsible Minister therefore has considerable discretion about how appointments are made. He or she is accountable to Parliament and the public in the usual way for those decisions.”

Last week State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said Mr Key had done nothing wrong.

The Intelligence and Security Committee and the security services of the country require a high degree of secrecy which in turn requires a high degree of bipartisan responsibility from the MPs on the committee.

Shearer and Norman seem to put more effort into attempting political point scoring on things they have already failed at.

Today Winston Peters agreed to back Government changes to GCSB law and oversight, leaving Labour and Greens out on a limb on this issue.

Ian Fletcher’s past

Amongst the political hubris surrounding the “shoulder tap” appointment of Ian Fletcher to the GCSB some research and analysis is starting to emerge. David Fisher at NZ Herald is claimed in some circles as a shrill for the left but he has written what seems to be a reasonably balanced report on Fletcher’s past.

He summarises Ian Fletcher’s past experience in Spy who came in from the heat:

Ian Fletcher

* Earned a history degree while studying Arabic, living in Syria briefly and London during his tertiary education.

* Started out as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before returning to Britain in 1989 to work at the Monopolies & Mergers Commission.

* Investigated for contempt of Queensland Parliament at time hired for job as GCSB head.

* Investigation came after leaked emails contradicted his evidence to a parliamentary committee. The complaint went no further after Mr Fletcher made a correction to the parliamentary record.

* Mr Fletcher was privy to “extremely sensitive” documents forecasting march to Iraq War in his previous British role as principal private secretary to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the incoming Cabinet secretary and Britain’s most powerful civil servant.

* Saw military planning and advice stating “US military planning is in full swing” eight months before invasion.

He also addresses the debate over the need for a military background in the GCSB:

Mr Fletcher’s lack of military experience was highlighted by former NZ Defence Force boss and GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson.

Former Security Intelligence Service director Don McIvor said a lack of military experience was no bar to leading an intelligence agency. He said his eight-year tenure at the SIS was followed by the appointment of career diplomat Richard Woods.

Fletcher’s background indicates a reasonable breadth and depth of experience. The article also explores other issues:

States Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said Mr Fletcher was hired at a time when “we were beginning to get some insight into significant management issues which needed to be addressed within GCSB”.

And Mr Key said the review of the GCSB by Cabinet secretary Rebecca Kitteridge would show “major issues that need to be rectified. They were issues that were there under Mr Ferguson and others. That shows you that just having a military background hasn’t delivered the robustness of that organisation that New Zealanders would expect.”

There are suggestions that the Grant Robertson led Labour campaign on Fletcher’s appointment may be trying to pre-empt the Kitteridge report. The timing is certainly interesting, especially with David Shearer’s announcement on Q + A that Labour would have a spy inquiry:

There is a real problem in New Zealand now with the confidence that we have in our intelligence agencies, and if I was coming into office, I would have a full independent inquiry into our intelligence agencies to restore that confidence, because if we don’t do that we will not be able to hold ourselves up as the transparent nation that we are.

Labour followed up with a press release: Labour to Review Intelligence Agencies

It’s difficult to know how much of this is Labour genuinely trying to hold John Key, the Government and our spy agencies to account compared trying to score political hits, and whether Labour are trying to avoid scrutiny of their past GCSB appointment.

According to a report on comments from John Tamihere on Radio Live:

JT who was in cabinet says yes Ferguson was Helen Clark’s man and was shoulder tapped (which he says during the interview) then that’s pretty good evidence right there

This is backed by Clair Trevett at NZ Herald in John Key calls media ‘Knuckleheads’:

Mr Key accused Labour’s Grant Robertson of “low-rent politics” and claimed Helen Clark had also shoulder-tapped people to take on roles.

RadioLive host and former Labour MP John Tamihere agreed with him.

“Helen Clark went out there and shoulder-tapped people, said ‘you’re in the job’. I didn’t do that,” Mr Key said.

He did not provide examples, but senior sources have claimed Sir Bruce Ferguson was directly approached by Helen Clark to be Chief of Defence in 2001. Sir Bruce did not return calls yesterday, but the appointment had raised eyebrows because he was chosen over more senior personnel.

Now journalists are starting to look beyond the politically driven hubris we will get a better picture of what has been going on in GCSB, and how appropriate head of GCSB appointments have been (in particular of Ferguson and Fletcher).

Sir Bruce Ferguson – headhunted for interview?

It seems unusual for the former boss of a secret spy organisation to have a TV interview revealing he still has sources on the inside.

Former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson speaks out

Ex-GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson told Campbell Live he believes Mr Fletcher did not go through the same selection process as he and previous heads had.

Mr Fletcher has no military background and was shoulder-tapped by Mr Key who asked him to apply for the position.

Sir Bruce says he knew of one of the people who was shortlisted for the job by the State Services Commission, but “then at the 11th hour was told ‘don’t come to an interview, we’ve already selected a candidate'”.

Previous heads of the Government spy agency had military backgrounds which were important for the job, he says. He is concerned selection process did not take that into account.

“The State Services Commissioner is entrusted with running an apolitical selection process. From what I hear it appears that may not have happened and if that didn’t happen then I find that disturbing.”

Sir Bruce says morale at the GCSB was “as low as ever”.

“That’s not just because of this, the Kim Dotcom episode has had a significant impact on the bureau too.”

Watch video for the full interview.

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie has responded to some of this in a press conference:

A military or intelligence background is not essential for the top GCSB roll.

Disappointed in GCSB comments made by Sir Bruce Fergusson.

Rennie said  it was not true that candidates with experience were dumped at the last minute, as Ferguson claimed.

“Bruce has misunderstood the process and hasn’t informed himself about what happened.

“Bruce was claiming that certain people had been shortlisted and not interviewed in favour of Mr Fletcher; this is not true.”

(Stuff and 3 News)

Last night Rennie had said:

“I am outraged that there has baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher’s appointment,” Rennie said.

At Kiwiblog David Farrar is “fascinated that a former GCSB Director went on Campbell Live (a good scoop for them) and criticised the selection process of Ian Fletcher” in More on Fletcher appointment.

And a KB commenter davidp says:

Ferguson implied that he has sources in GCSB that let him know what is going on inside the agency. He definitely seemed upset that that the role wasn’t given to an ex-military person as a retirement posting. Should GCSB staff be leaking internal matters outside the agency, even if to a previous staff member? I think that needs to be investigated, and who ever is leaking to Ferguson should be held to account.

I think that’s an important point.

Which pretty much sums up the matter: GCSB has been a retirement home for retired military officers. That needs to change. They’re pissed about it and are trying to undermine the Director. And then along comes Robertson, Labour’s Spokesman for Kim Dotcom Affairs with his agenda of pushing the fat German’s interests.

Surprise, surprise – power plays and politics.

Not a surpise – that Grant Robertson is involved.

But it is a surprise that the ex boss of the GCSB is publicly discussing sources he says he still has within the secret agency. You don’t need a military background to see the problem here.

Was Ferguson head hunted for the interview? Or did he volunteer his secret inside information?

Did Grant Robertson play a part in organising his support? So far Robertson has been “lying by omission” if he hasn’t been fully open about what appeared to be a close connecting between Ferguson’s interview and the attention Robertson gave it last night.

Grant Robertson, cronyism, and Iain Rennie

Accusations of cronyism are very risky for all politicians – it’s a finger that can frequently be pointed back at the accuser, sooner or later.

And accusations of poor process often cannot be isolated to the opponent being targeted, the public servants responsible for carrying out the process cannot avoid being assocated with the criticisms.

The Herald in Labour: Cronyism in spy job appointment

Labour’s deputy leader Grant Robertson said today that Mr Key’s intervention in the appointment process reeked of cronyism and was further evidence of a disturbing lack of transparency.

“This looks like a jack-up to get John Key’s mate appointed as our top spy. He was not even an applicant for the job, and ended up being the only person interviewed. The public of New Zealand deserve far better than this kind of cronyism, especially in a sensitive position such as this.

“Are John Key and Iain Rennie really trying to suggest that Mr Fletcher was the only person who deserved to be interviewed? And why was the position not re-advertised if the shortlist of applicants was rejected? That’s certainly what would normally happen in those circumstances.”

Grant Robertson includes Iain Rennie directly in his accusations here, questioning the integrity of the State Services Commissioner.

Rennie says:

The integrity of the selection panel was “beyond question”.

Robertson’s accusations cannot avoid casting aspersions on the selection panel, although Robertson has tried to isloate them from the focus of his attacks. Last night he tweeted:

this isnt about integrity of panel. They were in impossible position when only presented with Key’s candidate

The panel of three interviewed Fletcher and recommened his appointment, so their integrity is unavoidable being questioned by Robertson. Andrea Vance replied to Robertson:

isn’t it questioning their integrity to say they didn’t have minds of their own? Cld hv said no.

If the panel – and Rennie – had integrity they would have rejected any imappropriate interference by Key.

If Grant Robertson wants to pin cronyism on Key he cannot avoid pinning the same on Rennie and the selection panel. So he cannot avoid targeting public servants in his campaign against Key.

Robertson is very familiar with the public service, he has been closely associated with it:

Robertson joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade after leaving university. His overseas postings included the United Nations in New York. Robertson also managed the NZ Overseas Aid Programme to Samoa – a $7.7 million fund with projects in diverse areas such basic education, healthcare, public sector capacity building, small business development, empowerment of women.

Robertson returned to New Zealand during the first term of the Fifth Labour Government to work as a Ministerial advisor to Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs and later Prime Minister Helen Clark. During his time in Clark’s office, Robertson was rumoured to have the nickname “H3” during the 2005 General Election (H1 being Clark, and H2 being Chief of Staff, Heather Simpson).

If Robertson becomes deputy Prime Minister – or Prime Minister – how will he avoid “cronyism”? He must know many people who have worked alongside him, with him and for him in the public service.

But back to the current scandal-mongering, to avoid “lying by omission” Grant Robertson should be clear about what he is accusing Ian Rennie of. He has already said:

This looks like a jack-up to get John Key’s mate appointed as our top spy.

That is clearly a serious accusation aimed in Rennie’s direction.

Are John Key and Iain Rennie really trying to suggest

Robertson has clearly associated Rennie and questioned the integrity of Rennie. For an ex public servant and current high ranking politician this is serious questioning of the integrity of a high ranking public servant.

On Firstline David Shearer has just said his biggest concern is in having confidence in “the chain of command”.

Robertson needs to say if he has confidence in Iain Rennie. And in Ian Fletcher.

Grant Robertson and “lying by omission”

Grant Robertson has accused John Key of “lying by omission”, saying that but not saying everything the happened Key has lied. Labour are reported to be laying a complaint that Key did not fully answer questions in the House.

I’ve been accused of lying by ommision in the past, because I didn’t say absolutely everything I might have known about a topic being discussed. That’s pathetic, it would make any comments ridiculously lengthy if one was to ensure nothing was omitted, and it would be impossible to achieve.

But perhaps it could be reasonably be claimed that 3 News and Firstline are lying by omission, on their report of the recruitment and appointment of Ian Fletcher this morning they ommitted to mention the statement made by State Services Commissioner Ian Rennie, who has strenuously denied anything wrong with the process.

“I am outraged that there has baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher’s appointment,” he said.

And 3 News could also be blatantly lying, last night on Campbell Live and this morning on Firstline they have repeated claims that John Key and Ian Fletcher are “best mates” and friends since childhood.

Key has kept denying this, saying he was friends with Fletcher’s brother and Ian was just an acquantance. And he said he had no contact with Fletcher for about thirty years, so it was hardly and enduring friendship.

Is Robertson lying by ommission? He hasn’t revealed his motives for the current attacks on Key, he hasn’t revealed strategy discussions with colleagues on how Labour might make yet another attempt to undermine Key and the Government.

Time and again Labour have tried to create scandals, and when they fail they then switch to accusing the target of their attacks of not reacting properly to their campaign of corruption – the old “it’s not the initial problem, it’s the reaction to the problem that matters” political trick.

Grant Robertson hasn’t revealed his sources for this “scandal”, is he lying by omission?

Grant Robertson hasn’t revealed what his leadership ambitions are, is he lying by omission?

Ian Rennie statement on Fletcher appointment

Andrea Vance ‏@avancenz

Statement just in from Iain Rennie defending the process of appointing Ian Fletcher.
Says process was “normal” defended Fletcher as “outstanding” and says panel not affected by Key’s intervention
Also says it not essential to have military or intelligence background to head GCSB

Grant Robertson ‏@grantrobertson1

does he address why only one person interviewed?

Andrea Vance ‏@avancenz

…he is “outraged” by “baseless attacks”

@grantrobertson1 SSC panels “do not interview applicants unless it is believed that they could be suitable for appointment” (so not really)

From Stuff:

Fletcher’s appointment defended by SSC boss

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie has strongly defended the appointment of spy boss Ian Fletcher.

The process has come under intense scrutiny since it emerged Fletcher and Prime Minister John Key have known each other since childhood.

Key headhunted Fletcher to be director of the Government Communications Security Bureau in a phonecall after a short list of four candidates was rejected by Rennie in 2011.

Key has also stood by the process saying it was normal and it’s not relevant that Fletcher has no intelligence or military background.

Rennie said tonight that he strongly refuted claims regarding the process.

He said Fletcher was an outstanding public servant.

“I am outraged that there has baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher’s appointment,” he said.

Those who replied to a job ad in May 2011 were thoroughly considered, he said.

It is “normal” for recruitment consultants to make short lists and for the commissioner to make judgments on those selected and to seek out additional candidate, he stressed.

Fletcher was the only person interviewed by an SSC selected panel, which included former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Maarten Wevers.

Rennie said there was a “high bar” for interviewees and “sometimes” only one candidate gets to this stage.

“For this position, and I want to make this very clear, it was not essential to have a military or intelligence background,” he said.

“GCSB is a civilian agency, and the position description emphasised the importance of leadership and change management expertise in this role. ”

The integrity of the selection panel was “beyond question”, he said.

The panel was aware that the Prime Minister and Fletcher knew each other and had spoken on the telephone, he said.

What will Grant Robertson say now?

He should have known that an atack on John Key and process was also an attack on the integrity of the State Services Commission, who were responsible for the process.

Grant Robertson ‏@grantrobertson1

this isnt about integrity of panel. They were in impossible position when only presented with Key’s candidate

Andrea Vance ‏@avancenz 3m

  isn’t it questioning their integrity to say they didn’t have minds of their own? Cld hv said no.

Labour question Ian Fletcher’s appointment

More questions have been asked about the appointment of Ian Fletcher as GCSB boss.

Grant Robertson has tweeted:

Grant Robertson@grantrobertson1 

This. PM’s friend not on shortlist for GCSB job, gets shoulder tap, and is only person interviewed. Cronyism.

He was referring to a Stuff item – Spy boss got job after call from PM  – where he is quoted:

Labour’s deputy leader, Grant Robertson, said the appointment process was “extraordinary” and “from left field”. In the past the position was filled by those with a military or intelligence background, he said.

“It is clear that the prime minister has intervened in this process to get his friend, Ian Fletcher, appointed,” Mr Robertson said.

“Given that there was a clear and identified potential conflict of interest, would it not have been proper to have interviewed a number of candidates for the job?

“The process around Ian Fletcher’s appointment is murky and fuels concerns that with National it is a case of jobs for their mates.”

I have asked Robertson if Fletcher’s suitability for the position is being questioned – it appears as if Robertson is just targeting the process.

I also asked “Or is Fletcher just possible collateral damage in @NZLabour versus @JohnKeyPM?”

So far no response.

Stuff also reported on the process.

The short list – drawn up by a recruitment company – was rejected by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

It is understood that those on the original short list had years of military or intelligence experience.

Mr Key then contacted Mr Fletcher about the position.

Mr Fletcher was the only candidate to be interviewed for the position of director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Mr Rennie confirmed yesterday that he had rejected the short list. Mr Key said that after he and Mr Rennie “agreed to look elsewhere,” Mr Key phoned Mr Fletcher, who was working in Australia.“[Mr Key] said that if he was interested in the position of director, GCSB, he would need to go through a process and should call Maarten Wevers in the first instance,” the statement from Mr Key said. Sir Maarten was head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time.

Mr Fletcher was the only candidate interviewed by a panel made up of Sir Maarten, defence secretary John McKinnon and deputy state services commissioner Helene Quilter.

Mr Rennie said the “panel was unanimous . . . that Mr Fletcher was suitable for appointment”.

Mr Key disclosed the links to Mr Rennie during the appointment process.

It is valid to raise eyeborws at the process of the appointment. So far that doesn’t raise any obvious alarm bells.

A former diplomat, Mr Fletcher was chief executive officer of Queensland’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation when he was appointed. A high-flier in the British civil service, he had also worked for the European Commission and the United Nations.

Mr Fletcher took up the job in February last year – just as the GCSB became aware it may have illegally spied on internet mogul Kim Dotcom.

The appointment has come under scrutiny since Mr Key revealed last week that he had been acquainted with Mr Fletcher since childhood. Their mothers were best friends.

But Mr Key also played down the contact he had had with Mr Fletcher in more recent years.

Mr Key says he and Mr Fletcher met a “couple of times” when Mr Fletcher was in Queensland and no more than a “handful” of occasions between the mid-2000s and his GCSB appointment.

Russel Norman has just been talking about it on Firstline – he said the appointment was fair.

Robertson is questioning whether an acquaintance of the Prime Minister should be appointed as spy boss. Right now he is on Firstline saying that surely other suitable candidates could have been found to interview.

Robertson keeps pushing the “appointment of mate” line. He also said the spy boss should be independent and trusted.

To be fully independent it would just about have to be someone from overseas who has had nothing prior to do with New Zealand, anyone in New Zealand with adequate credentials would likely be known by some politicians. As the saying goes, it’s a small country.

So far Fletcher’s competence has not been challenged.

Is Robertson unhappy with Fletcher Or is he expendable in order to score points against John Key? Does he want him to stand down?

David Farrar also comments on this on Kiwiblog:

I think it is unfortunate the Prime Minister phoned Ian Fletcher to suggest he applies. While he would not have got the job if he wasn’t qualified, a phone call from the PM soliciting the application would carry weight with the State Services Commission.

Fair comment. As Fletcher was an aquaintance perhaps Key (and his advisers) thought it made sense for him to contact Fletcher, but it could have been handled by someone else.

I think Ministers should generally be very wary of suggesting people for state sector roles. David Parker, as Environment Minister,  endorsed Clare Curran for a role with the Environment Ministry, which was heavily scrutinised.

Farrar fires a warning shot at Labour MPs who talk about cronyism.

And Grant Robertson could find criticisms like this can come back and bite MPs who later become Ministers who might get connected to appointments.

It can be difficult in Wellington to find suitable top level state employees who are unknown by anyone.