Public bigger spy threat than GCSB

A lot has been said about the risks to the New Zealand public from spying by Government agencies the SIS and the GCSB, with scant evidence of there being any actual risk to most people.

In her latest Herald column Kerry McIvor makes an interesting point, suggesting that  public ‘spies’ are a bigger risk than the GCSB – Forget GCSB, public are the spies.

She refers to the surveillance, photographing and audio recording of Aaron Smith’s toilet liaison by a couple of of ordinary people (we are led to believe, unless the SIS has a Public Morals division that we don’t know about).

Which reinforces my opinion that it’s not the Government and the GCSB we have to worry about spying on us.

Its our fellow citizens and their smartphones. Nobody is safe, as Smith discovered.

I can only imagine the incredulity from the All Blacks team management when they heard of the incident: “He’s done what?!” “He did it where?!” “They recorded it?!”

How Smith thought he could get away with a liaison in a public toilet, at an airport – while people were queued outside the door, for heaven’s sake – is beyond me. That level of idiocy is mind-boggling.

But the woman in the loo wasn’t coerced. She was a willing participant.

That’s an assumption only that’s been made. We have very little evidence provided to us (fortunately).

What we have is the court of public opinion, or rather the court of media sensationalising, driven by scant evidence given to media by a couple of public spies.

This has been just about as bad as the office sex recording in Christchurch where a couple weren’t as private as they thought but a public spy recorded them and then they were harassed to an extreme level by media.

How many innocent people have had their lives trashed by the SIS or the GCSB?

Perhaps it’s not ‘big brother’ we should be worrying about (ok, we should still worry about that a bit) but rather ‘member of public with recording device’ plus ‘media intent on sensation and clicks’ may be our biggest risk.

How long will it be until a member of the public uses a drone to record something that is then used to trash a few people’s lives?

But the biggest spy risk is probably smart phones with dumb users and dumber media.

Kitteridge explains ‘Jihadi bride’ comments

Both SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge and Prime Minister John Key have been criticised for scaremongering over ‘Jihadi bride’ claims, when it was revealed that New Zealand women had departed from Australia for the Middle East.

Kitteridge has explained her comments in an interview with NZ Herald – SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge denies scaremongering with Jihadi brides

SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge has denied she was scaremongering or misleading the public about New Zealanders going to the Middle East as so-called ‘jihadi brides’ and says she still believes it is a serious concern for New Zealand’s security.

In an interview with the Herald, Ms Kitteridge said she had spoken about jihadi brides at a select committee last December because they were a genuine security concern and the women were more likely to return to New Zealand than to Australia, even if they had previously lived in Australia.

Ms Kitteridge told the Herald she did not believe she had been misleading. “The information I gave was accurate.”

“In the case of the women who travelled to Syria, I explained they were New Zealand women who had travelled to the Middle East to marry Jihadi fighters. That was my focus, because that is the security issue. The concern for me was the fact we had these citizens in the Middle East who are quite likely, if they survive the experience, to return here.”

She said it was more likely those women would return to New Zealand than Australia because Australia was likely to turn them away. Its anti-terrorism laws allowed it to deny entry and revoke citizenship from foreign fighters and those involved in terrorist groups.

“So if those women survive their experience they will return, probably at some point. It is more likely they will come here than go to Australia even if they were entitled to live in Australia because the Australians are not too keen on having returnees.”

It is not a big threat, but it doesn’t take many involved with Islamic State or Al Qaeda to be a potential threat.

“So I don’t want to overstate it either.” She said it was the job of the SIS to detect and monitor any potential threats and pass it on to Police when needed. “So it remains a real issue for us. Not one I think the public should be worried about on a day to day basis but certainly one that it is our responsibility to continue addressing.”

She said the number of people on the SIS’ active watchlist had not changed since 2014 and remained at 30-40 people. The SIS was usually also pursuing between 60-70 leads passed on by other agencies or the public to assess whether somebody was enough of a threat to be put on the watchlist.

It is a new phenomenon for the head of the SIS to open talk about security matters like this publicly.

I don’t see any problem with what Kitteridge has said.

Perhaps there is more of a problem with the amplification of what she has said by media and politicians trying to make issues out of reasonable comments, to the level of distortion.

It would be interesting to find out why the women left from Australia. Is that because they were already living there? Or is that where women go to find contacts to the Middle East because there are no terrorist links in New Zealand?

Metiria Turei on ‘jihadi brides’

The Nation interviewed Metiria Turei yesterday: Turei: Key misled public over jihadi brides.  She accused John Key of ‘lying by omission’.

The Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says the Prime Minister John Key the so-called Kiwi “jihadi brides” left from Australia, not New Zealand, six months before the first claims were made – and failed to correct the record after the story became public.

On 8 December John Key said “in my view no question that have been one or two people that have left and it would appear on all of the factors that we know that they are going as Jihadist brides”.

At the time the news was presented as “Kiwi women are joining the Islamic State to become Jihadi brides”.

Last Month (17 March) it was revealed that while they were New Zealanders travelling on New Zealand passports they had left from Australia.

Key said “whether someone leaves from Australia, from New Zealand, could leave from New Zealand, might leave from New Zealand , in my mind they are all New Zealanders.

I don’t think it has been revealed how long they had been in Australia before leaving for the Middle East.

Key has said he doesn’t think he owes New Zealand Muslim women an apology.

Turei claims that Key ‘lied by omission’ – that could be seen as a lame political accusation, all politicians could be accused of lying by not revealing everything they know. She also said she had new information.

Metiria Turei: So we have found out, the green party has found out that John Key knew in May of last year that no New Zealand women had left New Zealand to go to Iraq or Syria. He had been told that one New Zealand woman from elsewhere, from Australia, had gone, but there was no information about why she had gone, and certainly it was very clear that this New Zealand woman had not left from New Zealand.

He and Chris Finlayson both knew that as a fact, and yet at the Select Committee in later on in the year in November he made it seem to the whole country that there were New Zealand women leaving New Zealand, radicalised to become the wives of Islamic fighters.

It was completely untrue and he knew it in November when he was at that select committee meeting.

Lisa Owen: So just to be clear, you’re saying he spoke at the select committee, and when he gave interviews after the select committee, he’d known for six months that none of the so called Jihadi brides  had actually left from this country.

Metiria Turei: Well that’s right, he allowed New Zealand to think that there were increasing numbers of women in New Zealand being radicalised in New Zealand and leaving to marry Islamic fighters.

He had no information on which to make that assumption, and that is lying by omission.

That is a Prime Minister who is scaremongering, and driving up fear and suspicion, about what is actually a very vulnerable group of  New Zealanders in the current circumstances

Key may be guilty of overstating the situation, and allowing media to overstate the situation uncorrected.

Turei could be overstating her case a tad as well.

Lisa Owen: So you’re saying our Prime Minister lied.

Metiria Turei: Yes. Our Prime Minister lied to the country. He could have clarified at the Select Committee that these were, they may have been New Zealand women but they were leaving from Australia, he could have clarified immediately after the Select Committee when he was asked about it by the media, and he could have clarified it in all the time between November and March this year when he was finally found out that these women weren’t leaving from New Zealand. There is not that radicalisation happening here.

But that’s not certain either.

Lisa Owen: But the thing is, nothing the Prime Minister said was untrue, so tell me why he’s wrong.

Metiria Turei: Well but this is where you get to lying by omission. You know he’s the Prime Minister, he has a responsibility to make sure New Zealanders have accurate information about what is a incredibly serious issue.

The issues of terrorism, of Islamic State, the fear of radicalisation, we see the bombings and things on the news, people are really concerned about this stuff. And rightly so. So he has a responsibility to make sure that we have accurate and transparent information, and he deliberately kept information from New Zealanders in order, in order to drive up fear and suspicion amongst us, amongst our own communities, about each other.

Turei is doing what she has accused Key of doing. She hasn’t proven Key deliberately kept information from us. She hasn’t proven Key has deliberately tried to drive up fear and suspicion.

But Turei appears to be deliberately trying to drive up suspicion about Key’s actions (or inactions) and motives.

They play an interview response from Key two weeks ago:

John Key: There’s nothing to correct. The point is not about where they leave from. The point is are they New Zealanders. If they’re New Zealanders under the New Zealand intelligence law the only salient point is are they New Zealanders.

Back to yesterday:

Lisa Owen: Nothing to correct he says. Your response?

Metiria Turei: He’s absolutely wrong. He allowed New Zealanders to think there were Muslim women in New Zealand being radicalised and leaving here to marry Islamic fighters. He, that was wrong. That information is completely wrong. He should have been clear about that.

I think Turei is taking this too far. It’s fair to question why Key didn’t provide clarification and more details. But it’s a big step from that to say he was “completely wrong”. It was the media and Turei who seem to have got it wrong based on incomplete information.

Lisa Owen: We don’t know where they were radicalised though.

Metiria Turei: We don’t know if they were. We don’t know, even Rebecca Kitteridge, head of the SIS, said she doesn’t, they don’t know why the women from Australia  were leaving to go to Iraq and Syria.

So there’s a lack of detail known, but Turei claims that Key was “completely wrong” and “lying by omission”. He can’t say what he doesn’t know.

Metiria Turei: We do know that there are people who may be going to visit their families for example and then come home.

I think it’s safe to assume very few if any people would want to go to Syria to visit their families at present. “We know that” and “who may be” is meaningless.

Metiria Turei: There’s no evidence, he had no evidence that they were radicalised or going to marry Islamic fighters.

Lisa Owen: But we know that they are New Zealand women.

Metiria Turei: They are women who hold the New Zealand passport. They as far as we know they are domiciled in Australia.

We don’t know that. I don’t think Turei knows that.

Metiria Turei: We don’t know how long they’ve been living in Australia. It could be for years and years. John Key allowed New Zealanders to think there was…

Lisa Owen: It could have been for five minutes. or it could be in transit heading off.

If the SIS wanted to know this it would be easy for them to find out when they last left New Zealand.

Lisa Owen: Do we not have reason to be concerned though, that these are women, New Zealand passports,  heading off to areas where there is this conflict going on?

Metiria Turei: We need to know more information. This is the problem. This is what John Key’s statement does. It creates more questions, and more fear and concern, and then will not provide accurate to address those.

Turei seems to be claiming there is insufficient information known, but that Key is not providing enough information. Information that isn’t known?

Metiria Turei: This is why that select committee, that committee that John Key was on, needs a much broader  representation from Parliamentarians, like the Greens, like other political parties, so we can question and get this information out from Ministers and from the SIS, because everybody deserves to know more and to have more accurate information. John key didn’t provide it.

Information that Turei says the head of the SIS and John Key don’t have. So how would more members on the committee find out more?

It looks like the Greens would love to be on the Security Select Committee. Is that the reason for Turei’s indignation on this? Accusing Key of lying by omission is not going to help her case to be put on the committee.

A committee that is bound by security and secrecy to not reveal everything.

Lisa Owen: Wo wo wo who’s responsibility was it to correct the misinformation though, because you said that Mr Finlayson knew, and of course Rebecca Kitteridge knew, so who’s to blame, should Rebecca Kitteridge have spoken up?

Metiria Turei: She should, ah she may well have been blind sided at that Select Committee, and John Key certainly threw her under a bus when he told you actually that she was the first person to raise Jihadi brides. He lied about that as well.

It was Kitteridge who was being questioned by the Select Committee, not Key.

Metiria Turei:But John Key knew, Rebecca Kitteridge knew, and Chris Finlayson all knew that these women were not leaving from New Zealand, and at any time they could have told us and they did not. We had to go and, radio New Zealand had to go and find that information, the Greens have been going out to find that information, accurate information for new Zealanders.

But the main issue, still, is that there is very limited information publicly known.

Lisa Owen:But aren’t the spy agencies being more open than ever with us now?

Metiria Turei: Well no, actually no they’re not.

I think she’s wrong on that. We can argue about whether they tell us enough or not, but there’s certainly more openness now than ever before.

Metiria Turei:You know I have reports of SIS agents going to people’s homes and telling them that they are being watched, frightening people. I’m investigating that now because I think that’s very serious. Communities, all our communities in New Zealand need to feel safe. Safe because we are getting accurate information.

Making information about who the SIS are watching public won’t help people feel safe.

Does Turei not want the SIS to watch or investigate anyone? That’s what they are supposed to do, within reason and within the law, to help keep us safe.

Metiria Turei: Safe because we are getting accurate information. Safe because the agencies are doing a proper job. Safe because there’s a place to go if we have concerns. At the moment John Key is driving up fear and suspicion, and that makes it unsafe for everyone.

Except that key hasn’t kept bringing this issue up. Turei is promoting a fear and suspicion about ‘fear and suspicions’.

I think that most people in New Zealand don’t care much about what is happening in Syria and Iraq as long as it stays in Syria and Iraq.

Most New Zealanders probably don’t care whether a very small number of people leave from Australia on New Zealand passports headed for Syria or Iraq.

It looks to me like Turei is too busy promoting her own political agenda and is failing to ask important questions. One could say she is failing by omission.

If it’s known that women are leaving Australia on New Zealand passports for Syria or Iraq then I hope that our SIS is capable of finding out when those women were last in New Zealand.

It’s also worth considering whether it’s in the public interest in knowing what the SIS is doing, who they are watching and what the inter-country movements of people they are watching are.

Should we be given snippets of information, like the New Zealand women travelling to Syria and Iraq?

Should we be given no information and hope that our Security Intelligence Service is doing what it can, responsibly, to keep us safe?

Should the Greens have an MP on the Security and Intelligence Committee?

I think they are much more important questions than quibbling about whether Key omitted to reveal information when one of the complaints is that insufficient information is known.

Serious Jihadi bride concerns

Serious concerns have justifiably been raised over John Key’s ‘jihadi bride’ claims alongside SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge’s comments late last year.

From Below the beltway: The week in politics:

During an Intelligence and Security Committee session, SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge​ spoke of radicalised “Jihadi brides” lured from New Zealand. The claim was repeated by John Key. Only it was not exactly true. Reports this week revealed that no so-called “Jihadi brides” left from New Zealand. Details, who needs them? Many think the local Muslim community is owed an apology.

I think all of us are owed an apology, plus an assurance this sort of (at best) misleading won’t happen again.

Today’s Dominion Post editorial: The public were misled by the fiction about Kiwi jihadi brides:

The jihadi brides affair is extremely damaging for the Government. It raises serious questions about the accuracy of claims made by John Key, SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge and Security Intelligence Minister Chris Finlayson.

Kitteridge told MPs in December that there had been a rise in the number of New Zealand women travelling to Syria and Iraq. Key referred to them as “jihadi brides”.

This clearly left the impression that the women were leaving from this country. Now it has become clear that they left from Australia.

But Key and Kitteridge did nothing to correct the false impression they left. It is nonsense to say, as Finlayson does, that the women’s point of departure is “irrelevant”.

In this case Kitteridge is hoist by her own petard. She has championed accountability – but failed to set the record straight on a serious issue of national security.

The matter is so serious, in fact, that the new Inspector-General, Cheryl Gwyn, should  investigate.

Chris Finlayson, finally, has shown he is not fit to be an intelligence minister. He says what matters is that the jihadi brides are New Zealanders and they might return to this country. It certainly matters that they might come back here.

But misleading the public about where they come from matters just as much.

If we are going to be able to trust our security and intelligence services then we have to be assured that we can believe what they and their associated politicians say on matters of security.

Public confidence in the spy services has been badly shaken by the scandals and shambles of the last few years. Finlayson’s arrogance compounds the problem, rather than solving it.

He shows politicians will use misleading and inflammatory language about security and then refuse to do anything when caught out. This affair comes just as the Government is about to take up Sir Michael Cullen’s recommendations giving great new powers to the spies.

Why should we trust those new powers to the likes of Key, Kitteridge and Finlayson?

With what has happened over the jihadi brides we shouldn’t trust them. They have to repair the damage and earn our trust, but instead this week they made things worse.

Key said he wanted Labour to join the Government in improving our security and intelligence services.

He must also get on the right side of us, the public. He has failed to do so. That’s a serious problem that needs to be rectified.

Stuff:  ‘It doesn’t matter where they leave from’ Jihadi brides were still New Zealanders – Government

Minister responsible for the SIS and GCSB Christopher Finlayson said the departure point of the women was irrelevant.

Asked if he thought the comments were misleading he said he would not go through it again, “otherwise I’ll just die of boredom”.

Finlayson said he would meet with “anyone, anytime” to allay fears.

“Because I’m very cognisant of the fact that they were all a bit nervy after the legislative review, in 2013.”

Apologies had to be reserved for justifiable situations, he said.

“You just don’t go around handing out apologies willy nilly.

“I regret nothing, because I think what I read is that people haven’t got their facts right, and have decided to fixate on where these people left from, rather than on the critical issue of were they New Zealand citizens.”

That sounds more like an irresponsible Minister for the SIS and GCSB to me. Very poor from Finlayson.

Security versus privacy

The review of our spy agencies the GCSB and the SIS has reignited the security versus privacy issue.

Ideally we need to find a way of improving security, which requires some surveillance, while strengthening the protection of personal privacy. We should be targeting simpler clearer laws, possibly with some greater powers but with greater transparency and much better independent and political oversight.

A number of related reports:

Jane Patterson at Radio NZ: Security v privacy: A balancing act

A review of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies has found the laws governing the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) are clunky, inconsistent and preventing those agencies from properly carrying out their jobs.

The challenge confronting lawmakers, past and present, is how to balance citizens’ rights to living in a safe and secure country, against their rights to privacy.

She concludes:

The review has attempted to balance the rights of security against privacy by proposing stronger oversight and warranting provisions.

It is now up to the politicians to strike that balance in line with the expectations of the New Zealand public.

A look at our chief security overseer at Stuff: National Portrait: Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn

Gwyn is the official spy watchdog, and she bites.

Gwyn has begun a series of inquiries which ask dangerous questions about both the SIS and the other intelligence agency, the GCSB.

Did the GCSB use its powers to help former Trade Minister Tim Groser in his (unsuccessful) bid to become head of the World Trade Organisation?

Were New Zealand spies involved with the CIA’s torture of prisoners between September 2001 and January 2009?

Does the GCSB snoop on the communications of New Zealanders working or holidaying in the South Pacific?

This could be a breach of the law preventing the GCSB from bugging New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. It was the bureau’s illegal bugging of permanent resident Kim Dotcom that lit a firestorm under the GCSB.

Claire Trevett on Michael Cullen and the review: The ex-politician who came in from the cold

Cullen proved the perfect man to front the report for the Government. His own lengthy tenure as Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney-General meant he was well aware of the type of information the intelligence agencies provide, and the importance of that information for a government.

He told the spy agencies to up their game when it came to public relations if they wanted to reduce public scepticism about their role. He then proceeded to do that PR for them, running through a list of threats to New Zealand from domestic attacks to cybercrimes. He spoke of whether the GCSB could help if a New Zealander was lost at sea or taken hostage – hypothetical situations but based on actual risks New Zealand had faced.

That it also makes it harder for Labour to quibble with the recommendations put forward is almost the only the cherry on the top.

If we are to achieve better security and better privacy it’s essential for both National and Labour to work together on this without partisan sniping. They will both at times be in the most responsible position for providing security for the country and protection of us, the citizens.

Cullen on virtual merger of GCSB and SIS

The security review was forbidden from suggesting a merger of our two spy agencies, SIS and GCSB, but it has gone as far as it can in recommending much closer links between the two.

Claire Trevett: A proposed ‘civil union’ of two intelligence agencies

Sir Michael Cullen has never been one to mince words so when he was asked why he and Dame Patsy Reddy had not simply recommended a merger of the two intelligence agencies, he was blunt: it was because the Government had not allowed it under the terms of reference.

That didn’t stop him recommending what amounts to a merger in all but name, which will see the GCSB and SIS remain technically separate entities but controlled by the same legislation with very similar powers – it was, as Dr Cullen said “a civil union”.

The most controversial aspect of it is likely to be the recommendation to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders without requiring a warrant to do so on the behalf of other parties. It breaks a longstanding split between the SIS and GCSB under which the GCSB could only spy on foreigners and the SIS on New Zealanders.

The examples Dr Cullen gave of the virtue of extending that to the GCSB were rather sympathetic to his own case – he spoke of a New Zealander lost at sea and said the GCSB would not be able to use its cellphone tracking technology to find that person because they were a New Zealander.

In reality the split of powers had become increasingly redundant anyway. The review team also proposed a strong authorisation process to ensure there was not indiscriminate spying. In reality that split of powers had become increasingly redundant.

Sir Michael pointed out the SIS had the power to spy domestically but the GCSB had the technology to do so. In terms of the difference in the technology between the two, he said “it’s really a question of can you use Snicko and Hawkeye or can’t you in order to establish whether there was a no ball?”

Dr Cullen argued it was not a vast expansion of powers, but rather an attempt to clear up the current conflict for the GCSB. The legislation covering the GCSB already allows it to spy on behalf of other agencies with a warrant. One of Dr Cullen’s more surprising admissions was that despite the attempt to change the GCSB’s legislation to specify when it could spy on New Zealanders, the GCSB had only become more hesitant to do so. That happened after it was found to have unlawfully spied on more than 100 people due to confusion over its powers when acting on behalf of other agencies.

Dr Cullen said the GCSB and it had become overly cautious in the wake of that controversy to an extent it was impacting on its work. That had, he argued, almost put the Government in a position of failing in its duty to protect the lives of New Zealanders.

In short the review recommends a simplification of multiple laws, clarification of what powers the SIS and especially the GCSB have, and better oversight.

If the recommendations are followed – and they will need the approval of both National and Labour at least – it could leave two separate agencies but in practice sets up a virtual merger.

Balancing the need for effective security with the privacy of individuals will continue to be contentious.

Intelligence and security review

The report of the First Independent Review of Intelligence and Security in New Zealand was released today.

Stuff reports: Spy agencies explainer: What you need to know about the report into spying laws

What’s this spying report about?

Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy have published their independent report on the laws that cover New Zealand’s spy agencies – more specifically, whether they’re fit for purpose or need changes.

What have they said?

There are 107 recommendations, but the main one is a new law to cover both the SIS and the GCSB. The agencies are currently covered by various pieces of legislation dating as far back as the 1960s, and Cullen says having one law for both agencies will eliminate the confusion and contradictions that are stopping them from working together more effectively.


What do our politicians think about the report?

Key has been fairly complimentary, saying it makes “some very valid points” about improving the balance between national security and the public’s right to privacy.

Labour leader Andrew Little says he “certainly sees some sense” in having one law for both agencies, but he has some concerns about how far the GCSB’s powers will be expanded, as well as proposals to provide the agencies with greater access to government agencies’ databases.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei is scathing about the report, saying the recommended changes would represent “one of the most significant erosions in New Zealanders’ privacy that we’ve seen in modern times”.


So, what happens next?

Key says the Government will take a look at the recommendations and speak to Labour about what the two parties could back together.

Any new legislation would be put forward by July, although the Government wouldn’t necessarily adopt every proposal, and the law would go before a select committee so the public could share their thoughts.

Key is keen to win cross-party support, and Little’s initial comments seem to indicate Labour could back some form of new law, which would provide a comfortable majority.

Spy overhaul needs cross party support

Security versus privacy and protection from spying is a difficult balancing act for the Government, with more transparency and oversight being very important without compromising the ability of our spy agencies to do their jobs effectively.

A report on the future of New Zealand’s spy agencies is due this week, and the results of several spy inquiries are due soon too.

This poses a test of John Key’s ability to bring together other parties into working on and agreeing on a way forward for our spy agencies. It it also a test of Andrew Little’s willingness to deal with this in a non-partisan way, given that the major parties have historically mostly put politics aside when it comes to security and intelligence.

Tracey Watkins writes Spy agency overhaul needs political buy-in to restore public confidence.

When John Key and Andrew Little eyeball each other across the table during a closed door session of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee this week, the prime minister will be ready to turn the tables on his opponents.

Key is asking Labour to back him on legislation overhauling the country’s spy agencies, the Government Communications Security Bureau and Security Intelligence Service.

The only tables being turned should be on dysfunction between National and Labour in particular on security issues.

The rise of the brutal Islamic State, and the emergence of its “lone wolf” disciples so close to home  – think Sydney’s Martin Place Cafe seige – have caused a further shift in the weight of the debate around individual privacy versus national security.

In that environment, this week’s report to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee takes on even greater significance.

The report, prepared by former Labour deputy Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer Dame Patsy Reddy, will likely recommend closer cooperation between the spy agencies. Greater transparency and oversight also seems to be on the cards after Sir Michael publicly criticised the overly secretive ways of those spy agencies and a culture of keeping things secret for secrecy’s sake.

Both moves are long overdue.

And both national and Labour need to deal with this responsibly.

Any move toward granting more intrusive powers to either spy agency will be fiercely opposed by the Labour’s activist base.

But Little’s job will be trading off those concerns against those of middle New Zealand, where he has to grow Labour’s votes.

He also has to put a priority on his responsibility to the country as a whole, regardless of some activists and voters.

The pending release of three serious inquiries may further strain the Labour leader’s ability to back any new powers, given that they go to the heart of confidence in our spy agencies.

The first of those inquiries, by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, is the most serious, looking at whether the intelligence agencies spied on other governments to boost the prospects of former Trade Minister Tim Groser against his rivals for the top World Trade Organisation job.

The other two inquiries, into whether the GCSB picked up the private communications of New Zealanders in the South Pacific, and its links to America’s CIA, may be less controversial.

Regardless of the outcomes of these inquiries they are likely to stir up opposition to spying.

But given the current state of unease and fear worldwide at the rise of terrorism, any further loss of public confidence in our spy agencies would be serious and significant.

Which is why both John Key and Andrew Little might want to see eye to eye on this one rather than go into another election campaign squabbling about spies.

It’s critical that Key and Little put politics aside and together workout what is best for the country as a whole, and for the rights of us, the citizens.

Any overhaul of our spy agencies and protection of our right to privacy needs to be as non-political as possible. At least National and Labour need to be more or less on the same page.

SIS and GCSB annual reviews

Newstalk ZB’s political editor Felix Marwick  has audios of the annual reviews of the SIS and GCSB directors.

For those interested – full audio of SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge at today’s annual review hearing (27 minutes)

Fisher on the GCSB and SIS

David Fisher has a lengthy ‘opinion’ on New Zealand’s spy agencies at NZ Herald: David Fisher: Just how bad were our spies? It’s one of his better articles.

Despite the headline looking at a troubled past Fisher also has some optimism for a better future.

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand.

We know more now about what they do and even how they do it.

We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge.

In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before.

That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB.

It’s an interesting, reasonable and balanced analysis.

Fisher concludes:

This is the question which needs to be answered – what should the agencies be doing? If their job is “keeping New Zealand society secure, independent, and free and democratic” how can it best achieve that? Among other things, it was confusion about the GCSB’s reason for being which led it into forbidden territory.

If we’re all clear about the path on which the intelligence community is heading, surely there’s far less chance of those agencies accidentally straying into the wilderness.

There seem to have been significant changes for the better in New Zealand’s spying world.