The surveillance debate will take time, fortunately

It’s common for things like policing, surveillance  and spying to be revisited after a major event like the Christchurch mosque attacks. It is impossible to prevent any possible attack, but it is certainly worth looking at what more could be done to minimise the risks bu maximising the chances of identifying potential attackers before they attack.

There are likely to be some changes, but we have to be careful to keep a reasonable balance between protection and persona freedoms.

More surveillance is already happening. RNZ: More NZers under surveillance: Andrew Little authorises spy agencies to do more ‘intrusive’ activities

The country remains on a high threat alert more than a week after the terror attacks in Christchurch.

The actions of the agencies who are meant to protect New Zealand from such atrocities have been under scrutiny since Friday 15 March.

The minister responsible for the two security agencies, Andrew Little told Morning Report he had given authority to spy agencies to do “intrusive” activities under warrant.

“I’ve signed warrants [since the attacks] … I’m not sure I’m at liberty to disclose the number. We typically have between 30 to 40 people under surveillance. That number will be bigger now.”

Referring to the possible ties between a far-right group in Austria and the accused gunman, Little said he suspected it was because “our intelligence agencies are working with intelligence agencies across the world”.

He said work on scanning and building up a profile of right-wing extremism commenced in the middle of last year and was “definitely continuing”.

He also said he didn’t think New Zealand was a soft target in terms of security, but had a “robust system” for assessing “violent extremist risks”.

Asked if the attack was an intelligence failure, he said it was ” too premature to draw that conclusion”.

“The purpose of the Royal Commission of Inquiry is to ascertain whether or not there were failures on the part of our security and intelligence agencies.”

I think that with the attacks fresh on everyone’s minds most people will accept some increases in surveillance – as long as it doesn’t affect them.

Simon Bridges wants more:  GCSB and SIS’s ‘hands tied behind their backs’ – Simon Bridges

New Zealand spy agencies’ balance between privacy and security has tipped too far towards privacy, and should be revisited, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Bridges said yesterday New Zealand’s security risk had “changed” and a review of security legislation was needed to make sure people were kept safe.

He said a decision made by the former National government in 2013 to abandon Project Speargun, a more intrusive regime which would have scanned internet traffic coming into New Zealand, should be reconsidered.

“I think we were overcautious in 2013/14,” he told Morning Report today.

“I think the case is what we have right now are security agencies with two hands tied behind their backs.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom) suggests caution – Why sweeping surveillance laws aren’t the answer

National leader Simon Bridges is calling for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies to be given greater powers, claiming our spies currently have their hands tied behind their backs. But it’s far from clear that greater surveillance would have stopped the Christchurch attack, and hasty changes could be disastrous.

Bridges has succeeded in distinguishing himself from Ardern, who said New Zealanders did not want the country to be a “surveillance state”.

But on the substance of whether law changes would do much to prevent a similar attack, Bridges’ argument seems decidedly shaky.

It’s far from unusual for countries to tighten their security laws after a terror attack, with France, Belgium and the United Kingdom among nations to have passed more stringent legislation following domestic incidents.

Perhaps most infamously, the United States pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act after the September 11 attacks, granting sweeping powers to a number of government agencies despite objections from civil liberties advocates.

But there’s little evidence to suggest that more sweeping surveillance powers play a significant role in stopping other attacks.

Reinhard Kreissl, the chief executive of the Vienna Centre for Societal Security Research, has argued that better training of, and organisational structures for, law enforcement experts deliver higher returns than expanding the amount of data they gather.

“More data and more surveillance will not help to find the proverbial needle or needles in the haystack,” Kreissl said, a view echoed in a thorough piece on the New Zealand situation by The NZ Herald’s David Fisher.

There have already been questions about whether the NZSIS and GCSB focused too closely on the threat of Muslim extremism, and not enough on the rise of white supremacy and far-right extremists in recent years.

NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge has said the agency increased its efforts to understand the threat posed by the far-right in recent months, but representatives of New Zealand’s Muslim community have said concerns raised much earlier were not taken seriously.

New Zealand’s current target may be white supremacists and the far-right, but there are no guarantees that future administrations or officials will be judicious in how they use any new laws.

A Royal Commission will undoubtedly take some time, but a painstaking examination is more appropriate than a hasty rush to judgment.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said of surveillance reforms – arguably a far more contested and complex space than the Government’s gun laws – that “the worst time to be considering law changes is in the immediate aftermath of a monstrous event like this”.

It’s a sentiment Bridges may want to think about before he again tries to leap ahead of the pack.

Bridges and National are not in power so there is no risk of them rushing into making draconian and relatively ineffective changes. The Royal Commission will help slow things down and ensure security issues are at least debated and carefully considered. As they should be.

 

Keith Locke on SIS apology for labelling him a threat

Keith Locke was a Green MP from 1999 to 2011, having been a long time political activist. One of his aims in Parliament was to be a civil liberties watchdog, so it is ironic that he was the target of SIS attention.

Locke has recently revealed that he received an apology from the SIS for calling him a threat.

The Spinoff: Spy chief’s apology to me reveals scandalous truth about the SIS

The revelation in 2009 that Green MP Keith Locke had been spied on since age 11 caused an uproar and prompted an inquiry into SIS surveillance. Now, he writes, the SIS has been forced to apologise for calling him ‘a threat’ in internal documents.

Last April I received a letter from Rebecca Kitteridge, the director of the Security Intelligence Service, apologising for the way I was referred to in internal SIS documents. She wrote that I had been described as a “threat” in speaking notes for a Joint Induction Programme run by the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau since 2013.

AN EXTRACT FROM SIS DIRECTOR REBECCA KITTERIDGE’S LETTER TO KEITH LOCKE, DATED 16 APRIL 2018

In the SIS documents I was identified as an “internal” threat because I “wish[ed] to see the NZSIS & GCSB abolished or greatly modified”. The documents labelled this a “syndrome”.

In her apology, Kitteridge said “the talking point suggests wrongly that being a vocal critic of the agencies means you are a ‘threat’ or a ‘syndrome’. In fact, people who criticise the agencies publicly are exercising their right to freedom of expression and protest, which are rights we uphold, and are enshrined in the Intelligence and Security Act 2017.”

I haven’t gone public on this until now, but given the recent news about several other state agencies spying on people, I decided that what happened to me should be in the public domain.

In his December report, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes described the state spying on critics of deep-sea oil drilling, like Greenpeace, “an affront to democracy”. Like Kitteridge in her letter of apology to me, Hughes said that it was “never acceptable for an agency to undertake targeted surveillance of a person just because they are lawfully exercising their democratic rights, including their right to freedom of expression, association and right to protest.”

Most disturbingly, many civil servants in the cases Hughes identified must have known about this illegal, anti-democratic surveillance without blowing a whistle on it.

In my case, many SIS and GCSB officers must have heard me being identified as a “threat” without challenging it. How else could the disparaging reference to me have stayed in the officer training material for ten years. Kitteridge told me the “threat” label was carried over into the Joint Induction Programme speaking note from a “Protective Security Advice presentation (believed to have been developed in about 2008)” and “a historical security aide-memoire (believed to have been developed in 2012).”

To make matters worse, the ten year period when I was deemed to be a “threat” includes the last three years (2008-2011) of my 12 years as an Member of Parliament.

It seemed pretty clear that the SIS had breached to MOU requirements for political neutrality, by treating a sitting MP and his views as a “threat”, so I wrote to the current Speaker, Trevor Mallard, about it. He didn’t think the MOU had “been breached in any way.”

Mallard side-stepped my contention that the SIS had acted in a politically biased manner, but did admit that “certain materials being used by the security agencies contained inappropriate expressions of opinion regarding your conduct, including during a time that you were a member of Parliament.”

He said he met regularly with the SIS Director “and will continue to ensure that she is aware of the need for security agencies to respect the role and independence of Parliament.”

I have to disagree with the Speaker that it was just a matter of the SIS using “inappropriate” language. For a spy agency to describe someone as a “threat” is serious. It identifies them as a target for some form of monitoring or surveillance, and this is what has happened to me over many years.

My file illustrates the main function of the SIS over the years, which hasn’t been to track down criminals (which the Police do quite well) but to spy on political dissenters.

This is a serious issue in what is supposed to be an open democracy.

 

 

Thompson and Clark spied for Government departments

There’s disturbing details in the report of the investigation into spying for Government departments by Thompson and Clark. Targets have included Christchurch earthquake victims, political parties (Greens and Mana) and activist groups including Greenpeace.

RNZ:  Thompson and Clark spied on earthquake victims, inquiry finds

Multiple government departments have breached the State Services code of conduct according to an investigation into 131 departments and their use of external security consultants.

The findings of the investigation, lead by Doug Martin and Simon Mount QC, were released today.

Security company Thompson and Clark has been barred from doing any more work for the government after the investigation by the State Services Commission found it used an unlicensed private investigator and produced electronic recordings of closed meetings without the consent or knowledge of attendees.

From 13 March 2014, Thompson and Clark, working on behalf of Southern Response, the government’s insurance agency working for claimants of the Canterbury earthquakes, attended and recorded several closed meetings of insurance claimants.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has complained to the police about the recording of meetings and has lodged a formal complaint with the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority in regard to using an unlicensed private investigator.

He has also recommended Thompson and Clark be removed from the government’s procurement panel, which the chief executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has done.

Southern Response had also had a complaint laid to the police against it.

The investigation also looked into Thompson and Clark’s reporting to government agencies on “issue motivated groups” which treated these groups as a security threat.

Among the groups were Greenpeace, the Mana Movement and some iwi groups in Northland, the East Coast and Taranaki.

“What concerns me the most is that Thompson and Clark has treated ‘issue motivated groups’ as a security threat in its reporting to government agencies,” Mr Hughes said.

“I am very disappointed that agencies did not challenge Thompson and Clark on this. That is not consistent with how we should view democratic freedom.”

It has been said that nothing illegal was done but it was highly inappropriate and unethical.

Andrea Vance:  Public service bosses ignored warnings about Thompson & Clark for years

Physically, sexually and psychologically abused in state care, two brothers sought legal redress and damages from the Government.

Rather than take responsibility and show contrition, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Crown Law hired private investigators to dig up dirt on witnesses.

This is one of the most shocking findings of an inquiry into the use of external security consultants by government agencies, like Crown Law and MSD.

The brothers – abused by a cook at a state-run school – were subjected to courtroom questioning which suggested they consented to abuse in receiving cigarettes.

They eventually lost their claim – known as the White case – against MSD on a technicality. It had dragged on for more than seven years.

MSD’s boss at the time was Peter Hughes. He is now head of the entire state service.

Hughes acknowledged this on Tuesday when he apologised, saying: “It is never acceptable for an agency to engage in surveillance or information gathering about people or groups just to manage reputational risk to an agency.”

A cavalier attitude to personal and sensitive information, and a troubling disregard for the democratic right to protest, was allowed to flourish within the public service over 15 years and successive governments.

Thompson & Clark have been painted as the villains in this scandal. They will face a police investigation over the use of an unlicensed investigator against earthquake insurance claimants and likely will lose much of their business.

But although they took advantage, Thompson & Clark aren’t responsible for public service culture and the undermining of democratic rights.

That lies with Peter Hughes. For public confidence to be fully restored, the public service must demonstrate accountability and accept culpability, starting from the top down.

So should a head or heads roll over this?

Q&A today spying and transgender rights

A mix of topics on Q&A today.

Australia has just passed new laws that get tough on spying and foreign interference in its politics. Should New Zealand follow suit? asks Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

looks at the complex debate over transgender rights. Why are some women pushing back?

 

 

Who cares about illegal snooping?

I saw something on this earlier in the week but have had trouble finding anything on it now. After some digging:

Stuff on Tuesday: SIS criticised by government watchdog over ‘unlawfully accessing’ information

The Security Intelligence Service unlawfully accessed information obtained by border security agencies to keep tabs on people entering the country, the country’s security watchdog says.

While the activity is historic, the domestic spy agency comes under fire from Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn, not just over the way it accessed the material but for dragging its feet in responding to her inquiry.

Gwyn reveals discussions stemming back several years relating to information collected by customs and immigration under the Customs and Excise and Immigration acts.

SIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge says the information related to people entering New Zealand  – information that is critical for the work done by the agency.

She blames the criticisms on out of date legislation that has since been updated to make clear that the information can be accessed.

But Gwyn’s criticism raises questions about what should be done with the information obtained by the SIS during the period in question – up till mid 2016. It covers information collected over a period of several years, presumably relating to people who might pose a risk to national security.

In her annual report, released Tuesday, Gwyn says that information was accessed unlawfully by the SIS.  The SIS does not agree it acted unlawfully, however, Gwyn acknowledged. Her full report will be issued as earlier as this week.

She is highly critical of the agency, blaming the “excessive time frame” to complete her final report in part on the delay getting legal advice, but also the fact it was “difficult” getting a “comprehensive and fully reasoned” response from the agency to her initial findings.

“I found the agency was reluctant to engage with my office on the substantive issues. I also observe that while the Service is entitled to have a different view from me on the lawfulness of given activities, whenever lawfulness is in question it should be proactive in obtaining independent legal advice on the specific point.

“Ultimately in this matter the Service advised me of its final view as to the lawfulness of some of its access to information under the Customs and Excise Act as late as August 2017. On that I have a different view, as set out in the review report. I have not been able to satisfactorily resolve with the Service the residual question whether NZSIS can lawfully treat immigration information collected by it previously as if it had been collected under the Direct Access Agreement with Immigration that is now in place.

“Overall, this is an unsatisfactory position. I reiterate the view I expressed in last year’s annual report – to ensure it operates lawfully, the NZSIS must be able to deal with such issues in a much more timely way. ”

Gwyn is also critical of SIS being reluctant to disclose its own internal legal advice, a  factor that “impeded” her ability to do her work.

DomPost editorial via Stuff:  Watchdog bites the SIS for acting illegally

Gwyn is right to call the spies out on this matter and to alert the public to their unlawful activities and their apparent reluctance to face the music. This suggests that certain old habits persist even after Kitteridge herself took over at SIS.

Just what all this means remains somewhat unclear, although Gwyn says she intends to publish a report on the whole business before the end of the year. That might throw more light on the matter.

None of this would have become public knowledge without the diligent and persistent work of the Inspector-General. In effect she is the public’s only real watchdog over the spies. Parliament’s Intelligence Committee lacks her power; the politicians who act as the ministerial overseers of the services habitually become captive to them and have never told the public anything of use.

Democratic society owes Gwyn a debt of gratitude.

But democratic society in New Zealand doesn’t seem to care much about this.

 

 

 

Citizen Thiel links to NZ spying and security

The historic granting of New Zealand citizenship to Trump supporter Peter Thiel made the headlines recently. Thiel’s connections to New Zealand seem to be more than citizenship and property ownership though.

NZ Herald: Billionaire Peter Thiel’s secret Kiwi spy links revealed

New Zealand spy agencies and our elite Special Air Service soldiers have long-standing commercial links with a controversial big-data company founded by surprise Kiwi Peter Thiel, the Herald can reveal.

An investigation into Thiel’s links to New Zealand has found his firm Palantir Technologies has counted the New Zealand Defence Force, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau as clients with contracts dating back to at least 2012.

The connections between Palantir – controversial in the United States over its long links with National Security Agency surveillance operations and Thiel’s backing of President Donald Trump – and the New Zealand government has long been shrouded in secrecy.

Journalism isn’t dead yet (Matt Nippert wrote the article).

The revelation caused Kennedy Graham, Green Party spokesman for intelligence and security matters, to call for a delay to the passage of the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill, which today passed its second and penultimate reading.

The article is currently time stamped 8:48 pm last night – when did Graham here the ‘recvelation’?

Graham said the New Zealand-Palantir connection was “potentially huge” and raised more questions than it answered.

“The Parliament should not be too hasty until these things properly come to light,” he said.

Some of the Palantir story has been known for some time.

This mystery is undercut by official publications by the agencies themselves over the past few years disclosing its use. A recently-advertised job description for the SIS said a key performance measurement would be that “appropriate user champions are identified within teams and provided with support to develop the Palantir skills of their team.”

Jobs advertised in Wellington by Palantir itself warn successful applicants “must be willing and able to obtain a Government security clearance in New Zealand”. The company has been a regular fixture at university careers fairs since 2013.

And a brief item in the military magazine Army News in 2012 stated a trial of the company’s software was being piloted, but this wasn’t the first time it had been deployed in New Zealand.

“Palantir intelligence software is in use with a number of our domestic and foreign partners,” Army News said.

I’ve heard the company (and Thiel’s association) coming up in past coverage of GCSB and legislation issues.

The company became controversial in the United States over its close working relationship with the NSA in building programs designed to draw together disparate datasets – many obtained from widespread surveillance.

“Palantir’s technology is dual-purpose,” says Intercept security director Morgan Marquis-Boire, who noted it was put to some controversial uses – including recent news it was assisting the identification of undocumented migrants for deportation action by United States authorities.

“They’re sometimes the front-end search box for that great dragnet in the sky,” he said.

Morgan said the adoption of Palantir by New Zealand agencies was not surprising given the long-standing intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. “I can’t say I’m surprised, given Five Eyes,” he said.

So is it an issue, or does it just make a good story?

The influence of Thiel – who was revealed by the Herald to have been awarded New Zealand citizenship under exceptional circumstance provision by the then-Minister of Internal Affairs in 2011 – on Palantir is obvious.

The renewed interest in Thiel and Palantir seems to due to Thiel’s close connections to Donald Trump. If it wasn’t for that I doubt it would have been given much if any attention.

CIA versus Facebook

 

Wikileaks released information today about how the CIA can hack devices for surveillance, like TV sets. Sounds terrible.

But what is the ordinary person most at risk of, the CIA spying on them (very slim chance especially here in New Zealand) or Facebook monitoring everything you do online and storing data history of millions of people, with that data being used to directly influence individuals?

And on WikiLeaks:

Fisher defends spying ‘revelations’

Senior journalist David Fisher tries to defend the Herald’s ongoing spying revelations – providing a forum for Nicky Hager – in David Fisher: Spying – does the nation need to know?

This suggests the Herald is sensitive to criticisms. The latest spying on China article from Hager How NZ and US agents plotted to spy on China didn’t actually reveal spying on China, just ‘a plot’ or plans to possible spy on China.

Fisher opens by stating the obvious:

It would be surprising if our intelligence agencies were not spying on China in some way.

‘Spying’ is a bit of a loaded statement. It could mean as little as keeping an eye out for information of interest.

And Fisher acknowledges that it can be done legally.

By law there is a path cleared for the GCSB and SIS to carry out intelligence gathering on foreign states. There are even legal exceptions which would allow the sort of “data link” exploit planned for two Chinese government offices in Auckland, revealed in documents obtained by Edward Snowden.

The law also says such intelligence gathering must be to support the “national security of New Zealand”, the “international relations and well-being of New Zealand” and “the economic well-being of New Zealand”.

He then targets what may be the crux of the issue.

The issue which does arise is our motivations for doing so – and whether those are purely New Zealand’s motivations.

And then homes in on the target of concern.

A National Security Agency document, among other material taken by Snowden, states that the GCSB “continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries that are difficult for the United States to access”.

In essence, our relationship with China is of use to the US and allows New Zealand to operate as a Trojan Horse – or even Trojan Kiwi – for NSA intelligence gathering efforts.

Five Eyes involves three other countries, the UK, Canada and Australia.

Helping Australia or Canada with their intelligence gathering wouldn’t cause so much concern, but in a co-operative arrangement we could just as easily be helping them as the US.

The Snowden/Hager series of ‘revelations’ appear to be targeting the USA, seeing any ‘intelligence’ involvement with them as bad.

We should certainly be interested in our relationships with the US, with China as with other countries.

I’m not sure that Hager reports are the best way to do this.

New Zealand has its own inquiry to come. United Future Peter Dunne voted for the new GCSB Act secure in the knowledge he had won from Mr Key a regular inquiry into the activities of the security agencies, the first due to begin prior to the end of June 2015.

Presumably the inquiry will see New Zealand talking about the activities of its security agencies.

As a forum, its a good place to answer the question about our Trojan Kiwi spying on China.

Yes this inquiry will be a good place to examine our intelligence relationships and operations (as much as they can be discussed openly).

But Fisher suggests he has a common agenda with Hager with a loaded “Trojan Kiwi spying on China” description. The inquiry should consider much more than one arm of much wider co-operation.

If the nation is making trade-offs, does the nation need to know?

Nations always make trade-offs. It’s sometimes called called diplomacy.

I’d be interested to know if we gain as much as we give in the Five Eyes relationship. Hager and Fisher could do well to consider all the pros and cons. New Zealand may gain significant benefits as well as risk falling out with trading partners.

Otherwise they risk being seen as little more than anti-American.

Hager reveals spying on China

The latest in a series of spying revelations from Nicky Hager focuses on How NZ and US agents plotted to spy on China.

A plot to spy on China is the most damning revelation from the Snowden documents.

I guess that’s relating to New Zealand. We’ve plotted to spy on China? I’m not very shocked. I’d have been shocked if it was revealed we’d never spied on China.

The files show how, under the John Key National Government, spying has been prioritised against China, New Zealand’s largest and most important trading partner.

A 2013 NSA document placed “collection on China” first on a list of targets monitored by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) on behalf of the NSA.

And not surprising that keeping an eye on China is a major priority.

Sure, revelations like this can cause some diplomatic embarrassment. But will they do any more than that?

China is known to be a major perpetrator of espionage on the global stage, and the US Government has repeatedly accused it of hacking into American computer networks.

Last year, China was linked to a hacking attack on a powerful New Zealand supercomputer operated by Niwa, used to conduct weather and climate research.

Wow, China do it too.

But the Snowden documents have shown countries in the so-called “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance – which includes New Zealand, the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia – are just as heavily involved in cyber spying and hacking.

Yeah. Shocking.

Thomas Beagle, Council for Civil Liberties chairman, said the leak of the documents was an important democratic step to allow a level of involvement by the people being governed. “We need to know these things because we can’t practice our diplomatic oversight without it. If we don’t know these things are happening it’s out of the realm of democracy.”

When it comes to ‘spying’ – foreign intelligence – there does need to be some transparency and scrutiny, but there also needs to be some secrecy.

He said other countries used a panel of trusted citizens as the oversight mechanism for intelligence agencies.

Which other countries? How effective is it? Without any details this is meaningless, it says nothing more than ‘New Zealand bad, other countries good’.

What needs to be asked is whether all these drip fed revelations are for the greater good or whether they are potentially damaging to New Zealand.

Hager and Beagle are unlikely to answer that.

The spy wolf is being cried quite a bit. Would we know if something truly concerning is revealed? The Government will be able to bat it off with “that’s just more Hager’.

South Korea spied on Tim Groser

South Korea also spied on New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.

If governments are wanting to promote candidates for major international roles surely they do their homework on the other candidates.

So South Korea will have spied on New Zealand and on Tim Groser. So will the other countries that where promoting candidates for the World Trade Organisation’s top job.

I don’t have any proof of this – but then Nicky Hager seems to make narrow assumptions that aren’t always supported by solid evidence so I can presume stuff too.

I would be astonished if South Korea and many other countries didn’t keep an eye or five on what New Zealand and it’s Government ministers are up to, especially on things related to their own interests.

So I’m sure South Korea would have spied on us to some extent.

Is spying on countries you’re trying to do business with bad?

It depends on to what extent. If it’s done to be better informed about what you might be dealing with then it’s hardly a scandal.

If spying was done to try and discredit or destabilise another country then I’d be more concerned. Even Nicky Hager doesn’t seem to be claiming anything like that.

I’m sure the GCSB will continue to keep monitoring other countries. And I’m sure South Korea do their share of spying too, including on New Zealand and on Tim Groser.

Meanwhile New Zealand play South Africa in the cricket world cup semi-final today. I’m sure they’ve been busy spying on each other, doing their best to analyse strengths and weaknesses in the opposition.