Hager’s whistle blowing versus Slater’s character assassinations

In other words, public good versus private vendetta. That’s something that seems to escape the hypocritical folk at Whale Oil.

Cameron Slater kept hypocritically complaining about being hacked, when he is guilty of the worst breach of privacy and publication of private data that I have seen in the protracted character assassination of Matthew Blomfield.

And SB keeps flying the dirty flag at Whale Oil. Yesterday in What Bridges should have done:

Nicky Hager worked hand in glove with the criminal hacker Rawshark to steal Whaleoil’s private and personal information and will forever be associated with criminal activity because of it.

Was the hit on the government really worth it? I don’t think that it was. He now looks as dirty as Hager and for what real benefit?

As far as I know that is an unsubstantiated claim, and I think it is false. I haven’t seen any evidence that Hager had anything to do with stealing Slater’s private and personal information. As I understand it, Rawshark hacked, so substantial material of public interest – Slater’s collusion with the Prime Minister’s office to attack political opponents, and him being paid to run character assassinations on variety of people, including political candidates (his dirty mercenary interference in candidate selection was alarming but seemingly largely allowed by National).

I have always had reservations about hacking for political purposes, but I haven’t seen any evidence that that was the motivation for Rawshark hacking Cameron Slater’s private information. As I understand it, the data was hacked, Rawshark saw some information of public interest (and it was), so handed some data over to Hager to expose it.

I think it was unfortunate that the Dirty Politics book was released just before an election campaign, so it didn’t get the sort of in depth attention it deserved. But at least it did clip Slater’s wings somewhat as he quickly became politically toxic.

Ignored so far this week at Whale Oil (which suggests heavy censorship, they can’t all be loyal sock puppets) is the launch of the book ‘Whale Oil’.

This details how Slater (helped extensively by Marc Spring) used Matthew Blomfield’s private data that like the Rawshark data may or may not have been obtained illegally to run an extensive campaign of character assassination over several months, and continued in the years afterwards ( I saw what I believe may have been Spring continuing this online this week).

This was an extremely nasty campaign, and was found by the Privacy Commissioner (alarmingly taking about 4 years) to have breached privacy. Slater only was fined for that.

Judges also ruled that the data was probably stolen and maliciously posted online and copied and distributed.

The 6-7 year defamation case Blomfield versus Slater ended up finding that later made things up (lied), he misrepresented, and he had no defence.

Spring (I believe) also kept posting false claims – for example he repeatedly claimed that Blomfield was delaying proceedings, when it was Slater who was doing all sorts of things to delay and avoid and stop the proceedings. And also promoted similar misinformation as Slater.

So…

While it is debatable about the legality of hacking Slater’s data, Hager’s Dirty Politics book was a largely accurate exposure of not just dirty politics but also dirty paid for character assassinations. I think the public good outweighed the breach of privacy.

In comparison Slater (and Spring and others) seriously breached privacy, and went on an extensive campaign cherry picking data and misrepresenting and distorting and lying in an effort to trash Blomfield’s private and business life. Judges ruled there was no public interest. It was dirty and despicable.

And it is just the worst of many examples of many character assassination attempts by Slater.

Now SB is playing a common trick of Slater et al – blaming others for what they are guilty of. “He now looks as dirty as Hager” is laughable. Hager is far from universally admired, but he is widely admired for the work he has done over the years. You can argue about some of his campaigns, but I don’t think you can argue about his decency and good intent.

I think that few would argue about the lack of decency in Slater’s many attacks on people. He brags about being a dirty nasty arsehole (not in those exact words). Whale Oil promotes it’s dirty MO ‘rules’.

Slater and Whale Oil are likely to be remembered for Dirty Politics, and now for the book Whale Oil far more than SB’s hypocrisy and unsubstantiated claims She is trying to shift that dirt elsewhere and play the victim, but I think that the stains at Whale run far too deep for that work.

Hager’s presentation to Operation Burnham inquiry

RNZ – Operation Burnham Inquiry: Hager accuses Defence Force of spin and lies

Journalist Nicky Hager has launched a scathing attack on the Defence Force during a presentation to the Operation Burnham Inquiry, accusing it of not telling the full truth about its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Inquiry, which is investigating allegations that six civilians were killed in Afghanistan during a New Zealand-led raid in 2010, and the military covered up what happened is holding a public hearing in Wellington today.

During his presentation Mr Hager spoke about the military and political context of events covered by the Inquiry, but said there was a gulf between what the New Zealand Defence Force does and what it chooses to tell the public and Parliament.

“NZDF seems to believe it is entitled to hide news that might not be welcomed by New Zealanders and to bend the facts whenever necessary to avoid criticism or scrutiny … not just mistakes made in war, but toxic foam used in bases, the scale of sexual abuse in the forces and much more.

“NZDF almost never admits mistakes until utterly forced to, and even then they will minimise and spin the news. Reputation trumps being up front.”

@Economissive:

Nicky Hager’s presentation to Operation Burnham is quite a read:

Operation Burnham public hearing 22 May 2019

Nicky Hager: the military and political context

The bit about false redactions to protect national security should be hard for the Inquiry to ignore….

Particularly as some of the names have been disclosed already:

This thread has a lot more coverage:

Website: Inquiry into Operation Burnham

NZ banks’ terms & conditions for handing customer data to the police

Nicky Hager’s lawyer Felix Geiringer  asks: What do New Zealand’s leading banks say in their terms and conditions about handing their customers’ data to Police and other Govt agencies?

They say they will hand over customer to data in breach of Privacy Act. Westpac have apologised to Hager and have promised to change their terms

But the other major banks have made vague assertions that they will not breach customer privacy but still have dodgy terms, and have not made a commitment to change their terms to comply with the law.

Regardless of views about Hager’s use of hacked data, this is an important issue for everyone.

Via Twitter @BarristerNZ:

There has been significant publicity over Westpac’s decision to hand Nicky Hager’s data to Police. But this issue was never limited to Westpac.

A study conducted by the OPC in 2015 suggested that our financial institutions might have been releasing to Govt the data of close to 10,000 customers per annum without a warrant / production order.

Possibly close to 10,000 customers each year! And this appears to have been happening for over a decade.

Plus, all our banks, not just Westpac, had entered into a written agreement with NZ Police to give over customers data without warrants or productions orders.

Basically, all our banks promised Police that they would breach the Privacy Act if Police asked them to. And it looks like Police may have made many thousands of such requests.

Westpac said to Hager that its terms permitted the release. The OPC rejected the argument that those terms could be relied upon. However, Westpac terms, on their face, did set a much lower bar for releasing data than our Privacy or Search and Surveillance legislation.

Westpac have apologised for its breach, and it has also promised to change its terms. There will now be an enforceable contractual promise from that bank to customers that it will not do this again.

What about other banks?

I am told that in answer to journalists’ questions some other banks have made vague assertions that they will not breach customer privacy. But what do their terms actually say?

Kiwibank’s terms are very similar to the ones Westpac had at the time of the Hager release.

Kiwibank’s terms assert that, by banking with it, you authorise it to release your data to Police whenever Kiwibank thinks it will help Police with an investigation.

That test bypasses the protections that parliament has put in place which limit releases to circumstances where Police can objectively establish reasonable grounds to believe the data is evidence of a crime.

ANZ’s terms are almost the same again, arguably even looser. It says that by banking with it you agree that it can give your data to Police if it believes that doing so will help prevent crime.

ASB’s terms are more open to interpretation. It can release data to Police when required to by law. There can be no objection to that. But it can also release data in a variety of other circumstances.

ASB’s terms define the purposes for which it is holding your data to include to “investigate illegal activity”. The terms allow release to 3rd parties for this purpose. However, the Govt isn’t expressly listed as one of those 3rd parties.

If the list of 3rd parties in ASB’s terms is read as a closed list, it arguably has the best terms. If it is not read as a closed list, then it has one of the worst terms.

BNZ’s terms are clear, and are clearly the worst of those discussed here. Its terms claim that you have authorised it to share your data with Police or other Govt agencies for the purpose of detecting any crime.

The circumstances of release permitted by BNZ’s terms are astoundingly broad. Those terms have little regard for the duty to protect the secrecy of BNZ’s customers’ information.

I haven”t analysed TSB’s terms.

So, there you have it, and I think that this raises serious questions. We know the NZ banks were doing a very bad job of protecting our private data. They say they are doing better now, but are they?

And, if these banks are now not handing over data to Police without a warrant or production order, why is this still not reflected in their terms?

Principle 11, Privacy Act 1993 – 6 Information privacy principles: Limits on disclosure of personal information

 

Westpac apologises and settles with Nicky Hager over privacy breach

Westpac have apologised to Nicky Hager and agree to pay costs and compensation, settling a complaint by Nicky Hager when Westpac illegally provided the police with banking data when investigating the hack of Cameron Slater (breaching his privacy) that contributed to the book Dirty Politics.

Hager’s lawyer Felix Geiringer:

Nicky Hager has settled his privacy dispute with Westpac with the Bank agreeing to change its terms. Full media statement below.

NZ Herald details Westpac’s apology in Westpac admits breaching Nicky Hager’s privacy by giving records to police

Westpac said in a statement its new policy now required a production order from authorities before releasing private information, except in “extremely limited circumstances” such as Police searches for missing persons.

“We apologise to Hager for our part in the distress these events have caused him and his family”.

“Westpac’s practice at that time was to comply with such requests in the belief that it was entitled to do so under the Privacy Act. However, in the light of the public discussion of Hager’s and other cases, it is clear that bank customers reasonably expect that in similar circumstances such data will be kept private.”

While this is a victory for Hager it is also a win for privacy in general and proper police investigation processes.

The police have already apologised and settled:  Police apologise to Nicky Hager

In a settlement with far-reaching implications, the New Zealand Police have apologised to Nicky Hager for multiple breaches of his rights arising from their 2014 investigation into Dirty Politics.

Nicky Hager’s home was raided by Police in October 2014. The raid was part of an investigation into the source of Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. In 2015, the High Court ruled that the warrant that was used for the raid was “fundamentally unlawful”. However, many more alleged breaches of Mr Hager’s rights were left to be resolved at a later hearing.

In today’s settlement, Police have accepted that they did not have reasonable grounds for the search, that they attempted to breach Mr Hager’s journalistic privilege in multiple ways, and that they unlawfully obtained his private information from third parties including his bank. [The full Police statement is included below.]

“This is a very important agreement,” said Mr Hager. “The Police have admitted that many things they did in their investigation and search were unlawful. This sends a vital message that people can share important information with journalists with confidence that their identities will be protected. The Police have apologised for threatening that confidentiality and trust.”

As part of the settlement Mr Hager is to receive substantial damages and a substantial contribution to his legal costs. Mr Hager said “Under the agreement, I am not allowed to name the figure. However, it gives the strongest possible indication that Police accept the harm they caused and are much less likely to treat a journalist this way again. The money will help support important work in years to coming.”

During a 10-hour search of his home in 2014, Mr Hager claimed journalistic source protection privilege. He later learned that Police officers breached express promises made during the search and photographed privileged documents to use in their investigation. Police also sought to circumvent Mr Hager’s rights to source protection by obtaining his private information from third parties such as Air New Zealand, Qantas, PayPal, Customs, WestPac, Vodafone, and Two Degrees. Luckily, none of this succeeded in exposing any sources.

“This has been a long fight, but we stuck at it because we believe what we were fighting for was important,” Mr Hager said. “I want to thank my legal team and all of the people around New Zealand who have cared about the case and supported it over the last three and a half years”.

There are other questions raised in this about the speed and degree police investigated Hager after a complaint by Slater, compared to how the police have dealt with complaints made against Slater, for example the soliciting of a hack of The Standard, which Slater admitted in being offered (by police) and getting diversion despite having had diversion previously.

 

Hager recap on ‘Dirty Politics’

Nicky Hager has recapped what his 2014 Dirty Politics book was about at Newsroom.

Most controversial, the book revealed that prime minister John Key had a full-time dirty tricks person in his office researching and writing nasty attacks on opposing politicians, quietly sent through to Slater to publish as if they were his own.

Slater was genuinely powerful at that time because the media, to which he fed many stories, knew he was friends with Key and justice minister Judith Collins.

Key survived as prime Minister as long as he wanted to, but Collins copped a setback as a result of what Slater called embellishment and has probably had her leadership ambitions severely hobbled by it (Slater keeps promoting her on Whale Oil, reminding people of it to Collins’ detriment).

The book’s subtitle was “How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment.” Does anyone think these aren’t issues deserving sunlight?

This certainly deserved sunlight, and good on Hager for doing that. I have serious concerns about illegal hacking (if that is what actually happened), especially in a political environment, but this was a serious abuse of political and media power that deserved exposure.

‘A boil that needed lancing’

When I decided to research and write about Slater and his associates, I knew I was taking a personal risk. They were well known for personal attacks and smears. They have hurt many people. I expected retaliation.  But I knew what I was taking on and felt strongly that this boil needed lancing.

While Dirty Politics lanced a political boil (in the Prime Minister’s office) and exposed Slater and Whale Oil, rendering them far less effective, it hasn’t stopped them from continuing with attacks and personal smears. Like many others I have been the target of dirty smears and legal attacks since Dirty Politics broke.

That they have been reduced from being a festering boil to being more like cry baby pimples that hasn’t stopped them resorting to dirty attacks. And it ‘is ‘they’ – Slater is aided and abetted on Whale Oil by others, in particular Juana Atkins and Nige who also seem to fucking people over is fair game, for click bait and seemingly for fun. I’m not sure how they sleep easy.

Dirty Politics hasn’t eliminated attack politics, but by exposing some of the worst of it the poisoning New Zealand’s political environment has been reduced. It needs more exposing and more reducing – as well as involving dirty personal attacks dirty politics is an attack on decent democracy.

Unanswered questions over Hager case

The Police gave Nicky Hager a comprehensive apology and a substantial payout after they admitted overstepping procedures and breaking the law in their investigation of Hager when they tried to find out who the hacker ‘Rawshark’ was who supplied Hager with data from Cameron Slater and his Whale oil website.

There are unanswered questions about whether ‘Rawshark’ was a sole operator or a group, whether he/she/they were hacking from the outside or whether it was an inside job (whistleblower). The police failed to find any of this out, and Hager himself claims not to know.

The police made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and “was not a suspect of any offending” (which made their botching of the investigation substantially more troubling).

There is a big unanswered question over why the police went to such great lengths when they have made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and not as a possible offender – in contrast to their investigation of another acase where Slater tried to have The Standard hacked.

Tim Watkins goes over the case and in particular asks this in More questions from the Nicky Hager case.

Slater had reported the hack to police and quite properly, the police began investigating. However, they began investigating with such vigour they broke the law and were not honest with the courts. It’s a remarkable series of events that appears to go beyond ineptitude, to something more deliberate.

In a country where victims of burglary often complain about the slow response from police and around the time that the national burglary resolution rate (2015) was a record low 9.3 per cent, it’s curious that police would expend such resources on this computer.

But most notably there were other dodgy dealings with computers in the news around the same time, as well. Dirty Politics itself revealed that Slater and National Party staffer and others had been rooting around in the back-end of the Labour Party website. Hager had alleged that one of those who had been in the site was a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office. While Police admitted in their statement yesterday that Hager “was not a suspect of any offending”, there were questions being asked at the time about the legality of that behaviour. Yet nothing so rigorous was undertaken.

Also around the same time, the victim of Rawshark’s hack – Cameraon Slater – was himself commissioning Ben Rachinger to hack The Standard website to establish whether Labour MPs and staff were anonymously writing for the Labour-aligned blog. Rachinger turned whistle blower, leading to a story by me and Lisa Owen that saw Slater finally charged with attempting to procure a hack. He admitted guilt and received diversion.

Slater had to admit guilt to qualify for diversion, but he later suggested on Whale oil that this wasn’t sincere – if so that would make it misleading the court.

I know from my work on that story and my repeated calls to police how slow they were to act on Slater’s actions.

Quite reasonably, police have pointed out that Rawshark’s actual hack (with the potential for a seven year prison sentence) was a worse offence than Slater’s attempted and failed hack (with a maximum sentence of two and a half years).

But when you consider such extensive efforts on one side (where there was serious public interest in the behaviour of people in and around government) and such reluctance to investigate on the other (where, while embarrassing, the ‘crime’ of writing anonymous blog posts was much the lesser justification for a hack), it does raise questions.

The biggest being: Why?

The next question is who: Who made the decisions to deceive the court and the third parties? Who made the decision to conduct the raid in such a way that breached his rights to journalistic privilege? Who breached the Bill of Rights by their approaches to third parties?

Who in the police was responsible, culpable, is an important question.

The dark shadow hanging over all this is political. The police investigation was into a journalist who had made serious allegations against the sitting government of the day. Those are the times when police have to be at their scrupulous best, their most transparent and their most even-handed. Yet they were not.

If the police don’t clear this up they leave a dark political shadow hanging.

At the very least the public needs clear assurances from Police bosses and the Police Ministers around that time – Anne Tolley and Michael Woodhouse – that the politics at play did not influence the investigation. Without honest and frank interviews addressing these questions, how can the public’s trust in police not be effected.

Police officials have not fully discharged their duty yet.

I agree. Perhaps the media can get some honest and frank answers from Tolley and Woodhouse.

And the police need to front up on this. Unless they do that serious questions will remain.

Geddis on why the Hager apology matters

Law professor Andrew Geddis writes on Why the police’s apology to Nicky Hager matters (this has also been published elsewhere) – apologies for a near full repost but I think is important enough to warrant it.


In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics back in 2014, the New Zealand Police undertook multiple unlawful breaches of Nicky Hager’s privacy. They’ve now apologised for that – but the important thing is to make sure it does not ever happen again.

Nicky Hager’s book was based on material obtained from the mysteriously named “Rawshark”, who in turn almost certainly obtained it by way of a criminal computer hack. Much was made of this fact at the time, with Mr Hager accused of using “stolen” information. If interested, you can read Mr Hager’s response to that charge here (at question #5).

Irrespective of the ethics of using the material, however, it was clear that Mr Hager had committed no crime. While we still do not know who Rawshark is, no-one seriously believed it was Mr Hager himself. Equally, there was no evidence that Mr Hager colluded with Rawshark in carrying out the original, unlawful hack.

Nevertheless, if you wanted to uncover Rawshark’s identity, Mr Hager was the obvious place to start. And the New Zealand Police decided they very much wanted to find out who Rawshark was – they very, very much wanted to do so. Quite why they felt such a desperate need to determine the perpetrator of this particular crime out of all those committed daily in New Zealand remains something of a mystery, but felt it they did.

For the police embarked on a really quite remarkably terrible investigation to try and trace Rawshark through Mr Hager, which today has led them to issue a comprehensive and I am sure highly embarrassing apology (along with money damages and payment of legal costs). Here’s what they now admit they did wrong.

First of all, they went to Mr Hager’s bank – which was Westpac, if you really want to know – and asked them to please pass over 10-months-worth of Mr Hager’s financial records. Which the bank then did quite happily, despite the police having no legal right to the information. You can read what the Privacy Commissioner thought of that behaviour here (spoiler alert: he was less than impressed).

Then, without even trying to talk to Mr Hager, the police decided he was an “uncooperative witness” in their investigation. In what appears to be an action without precedent in New Zealand, they instead went to the District Court and asked for a warrant to search Mr Hager’s house and remove all papers and electronic devices that might provide them with information that could identify Rawshark.

The problem being that they failed to tell the Court their target was a journalist whose material may be subject to journalistic privilege, as it had been obtained under a promise that its source would remain confidential. The High Court subsequently found that this failure breached the police’s “duty of candour” to the courts, thus rendering the warrant unlawful. In addition, the police now admit that their warrant was overly broad in the material it sought and should have contained conditions to address the possible privilege issues.

So, the search of Mr Hager’s house and removal of his property was, the police admit, unlawful. What is more, by a remarkable coincidence the police search took place at a time when Mr Hager was in another city, meaning that it was an hour before Mr Hager was able to assert journalistic privilege over that property. Despite being alerted to that claim of privilege, the police nevertheless used photos they had taken of an email exchange and website login information to try and track Rawshark down.

Let’s just pause and recap at this point. The police admit that they misled a court by omission into giving them apparent legal authority to raid the house of not a suspect in a crime, but a witness to it. That witness, they knew, was a working journalist whose efficacy depends upon being able to assure his sources (be they law abiding saints or malefactor demons or somewhere in between) that their identity will remain confidential. And despite being alerted that there may be a legal bar on presenting in court the information they had seized, the police admit they went ahead and used some of it anyway to try and unmask their suspect.

Were this the extent of the police’s actions, they would be bad enough. But wait, for there is more. Even after conducting the raid and being told in writing by Mr Hager’s lawyers that he asserted journalistic privilege over all information that may reveal his confidential sources (such as Rawshark), the police continued to approach third parties like Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Customs and Paypal for information about Mr Hager’s activities. Some of it was sought on an informal “please tell us” basis, while some was obtained through formal production orders (which were in turn obtained from the courts without disclosing that they related to a journalist with confidential sources).

And in what is perhaps the most damning indictment of the police’s actions, they now admit that they told some of these third parties they wanted information about Mr Mr Hager because he was suspected of fraud and other criminal activities. This was what is known in legal circles as a complete and utter lie.

Hence the complete and comprehensive nature of the apology to Mr Hager from the police. As I’ve had cause to say about it in a quote that Mr Hager’s legal team included in their press release about the settlement:

The series of failures admitted by the police indicates a deeply concerning failure to both understand the legal constraints on their powers and the fundamental importance of individual rights. This comprehensive apology hopefully indicates that the message has been driven home and such behaviour will not happen in the future.

Because I accept that a political culture where individuals routinely turn to criminal activity to try and unmask their opponent’s claimed wrongdoings would be a bad one. James O’Keefe would not be a welcome fixture in our democratic process. And even criminal hypocrites like the target of Rawshark’s original hack have a general right to privacy that the law ought to protect.

So, seeking to identify and prosecute Rawshark was not in itself an unreasonable response by the police. However, turning the journalist who used the information gained through Rawshark’s actions into a virtual criminal co-conspirator from whom information will be obtained by any means necessary is completely unreasonable and dangerous to our democracy. It should never have happened, and should never happen again.

Blomfield v Slater trial date set

A defamation proceeding brought by Matthew Blomfield against Cameron Slater that was started in the District Court in 2012 will finally go to trial in the High Court in October. It will be judge only (no jury), and is expected to run for four weeks or six weeks (two recent judgments give different durations).

Blomfield claims he was defamed in a series of thirteen posts at Whale Oil, while Slater claims that taken in context the posts were not defamatory, and also that the posts expressed truth and honest opinion.

The publications

[6] Each of the blogs was published between 3 May and 6 June 2012. They occurred after Mr Slater came into possession of a hard drive containing emails sent to or by Mr Blomfield. Other material was also stored on the hard drive, including photographs of Mr Blomfield’s family.

This is rather ironic given the complaints Slater has made about Nicky Hager obtaining material that was hacked from Whale Oil and Slater. I don’t know whether it has been established that the hard drive was obtained illegally or not.

[7] There is no dispute for present purposes that Mr Slater caused the blogs to be published on the Whaleoil website notwithstanding the fact that the website is apparently operated by the second defendant, Social Media Consultants Limited. There can also be no dispute that the blogs related to Mr Blomfield because he was named in each. Each of the blogs also contains material that is arguably defamatory of Mr Blomfield.

In late 2017 Blomfield made a successful application joining a second defendant Social Media Consultants Limited as a party to the proceeding. This was done after Slater pointed out that the publications forming the basis of the defamation claims
are posted on a website operated by that company.  Shareholders and directors of the company are Cameron Slater and Juana Atkins.

This information and an outline of the defamation claims are detailed in two judgments available at Judicial Decisions Online:

These two judgments cover interlocutory issues and an on application by Blomfield for summary judgment and/or strike out.

They show that Slater has incurred more costs awards against him, and an application by Slater that security of costs be paid by Blomfield was declined because Slater is acting for himself so won’t be able to claim costs, unless he engages a lawyer for the trial.

Some of the arguments are related to the inability of Slater to provide emails as a part of the discovery process because they were deleted in the wake of ‘Dirty Politics’.

The judge notes that some comments in the posts “are clearly defamatory” but that Slater can argue truth and honest opinion.

[42] Despite the relatively extreme nature of Mr Slater’s assertions, and the sketchy particulars provided in support of the defences of truth and honest opinion, I am not prepared to enter summary judgment in respect of this publication. Sufficient particulars have been provided to enable Mr Slater to advance the defences at trial. He will obviously need to re-formulate his particulars so that they provide sufficient detail to enable Mr Blomfield to respond to them.

Most applications by both Blomfield and Slater were declined in the judgments. The need to finally get the proceeding to trial with no further delays was an overriding factor in some of the decisions.

This looks like a complex case. I have no idea of strength of the complaints or the defences. That will be for a judge to decide when it goes to a four or six week trial in October.

In other defamation proceedings, Slater is still waiting for a judgment in defamation claims and counter claims versus Colin Craig after a trial that concluded in June last year – see Craig v Slater – reserved decision.

Slater is involved in another defamation case started against him (and others) in August 2016, related to another series of posts at Whale Oil. This is summarised in SELLMAN & ORS v SLATER & ORS [2017] NZHC 2392 [2 October 2017]:

Summary

[1] Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Mr Shane Bradbrook are public health professionals. They allege they have been defamed in a series of blog posts by Mr Cameron Slater and comments on the posts by Mr Carrick Graham. They sue Mr Slater, Mr Graham and Mr Graham’s company Facilitate Communications Ltd (FCL). They also sue Ms Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Inc (NZFGC) for allegedly procuring Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL to publish the substance and sting of the alleged defamations.

Both this proceeding and Blomfield’s allege that Slater (or Social media Consultants) was paid to do attack posts on Whale Oil. This was also alleged in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.

One thing is clear – defamation proceedings can be complex, time consuming and very expensive.

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.

Hager, Stephenson, Keating respond to Operation Burnham inquiry

Nicky Hager:

Hit and Run inquiry decision welcomed

Nicky Hager has welcomed the announcement today of an independent inquiry into civilian casualties during the August 2010 NZSAS raid in Afghanistan – Operation Burnham – the subject of the 2017 book Hit and Run.

“This is very, very good news for New Zealand,” he said. “It is vital that, as a country, we can face up to incidents where our military does terrible things.”

He said good people have been chosen for the inquiry, the terms of reference are broad and resources have been allocated so it can do a proper job. “It feels like the start of a sound and thorough process.”

“There have been years of cover up by the NZSAS and senior military staff ever since the raid – intended for insurgents – killed and wounded 21 civilians, most of them women and children. Even after we wrote a whole book setting out what had happened, the New Zealand Defence Force continued its denials. It is an intolerable situation when the military tries to cover up its own misdeeds.”

“The obvious answer was an independent inquiry and so we warmly welcome today’s announcement.”

“International law says that countries have a legal obligation to conduct an independent inquiry whenever there are credible allegations of civilian casualties. The New Zealand Defence Force and government refused to do this for seven years. At last another government is doing the right thing.”


Jon Stephenson:

The full story from Henry will be on Stuff.


And another reaction: