Controversial members of Intelligence and Security reference group

There’s been a bit of consternation expressed over the members who have been named as members of the Intelligence and Security reference group panel. I’m not sure there is real cause for concern.

The members:

  • Professor Rouben Azizian – Director, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University
  • Thomas Beagle – Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • Dr Paul Buchanan – Director, 36th Parallel Assessments
  • Ben Creet – Issues Manager, Internet NZ
  • Treasa Dunworth – Associate Professor, Public International Law, University of Auckland
  • David Fisher – Journalist, New Zealand Herald
  • Nicky Hager – Journalist, Author
  • John Ip – Senior Lecturer, Assistant Dean (Academic), Faculty of Law, University of Auckland
  • Deborah Manning – Barrister
  • Dr Nicole Moreham – Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Suzanne Snively – Chair, Transparency International

The inclusion of Hager and Manning seem to have raised the most eyebrows – both are well known to strongly oppose secret information gathering and storage.

But shouldn’t a reference group have a wide range of people opinions contributing to represent a good cross section of public sentiment?

Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for Intelligence and Security, has expressed surprise that a journalist is included: Minister surprised journalist included in reference group

The Minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agencies is surprised that a journalist has been included on a new reference group established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Andrew Little said the 11 member group will act as a ‘sounding board’ for the Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn, but won’t be privy to classified information, or operational details of the SIS or GCSB.

Mr Little said he thought there were some “interesting” choices when shown the list last week.

“I was shown the list, I thought some of the choices were interesting but then I think what is important is that we are bold enough and brave enough to know that it is alright to have critics of organisations and of the government involved in this sort of exercise.

“It is a healthy thing in our democracy.”

New Zealand Herald reporter David Fisher is also in the group.

Mr Little was surprised a New Zealand Herald journalist was on the refence panel.

“I would have thought there is a question about a journalist complying with their ethics in doing so, but that’s a judgement call in the end that they have to make.”

Journalist are an important part of holding power and spying to account, and Fisher is well qualified to be involved.

Gerry Brownlee has been vocal in criticising the line up.

National’s spy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the creation of the reference group raised a number of serious questions – particularly around the inclusion of the investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

“The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand ‘in the shoes of the public.”

“But several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships, or in some cases the existence of intelligence services at all,” Mr Brownlee said.

He said Mr Hager had repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the country’s spy agencies.

“Will this group have top secret clearance? If so, how can we be sure the information they will have access to will be secure?

“Will the Inspector-General be sharing intelligence with them? Where will the line be drawn?”

I would expect security of secret information will be handled competently.

Perhaps they are important questions to ask, but perhaps the best way to keep our spy agency honest is to have critics closely involved in monitoring them.

I’m not sure what sort of people critics expect to be on the reference group panel.