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Blind-sided by Five Eyes

Written By: - Date published: 2:34 pm, December 12th, 2020 - 13 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, International, Spying - Tags:

It has been good to see some pushback in the media questioning the wisdom of  Mahuta’s FiveEyes alignment as the first public act of her tenure as our Foreign Minister. Chris Trotter writes in interest.co.nz that upsetting New Zealand’s most significant trading partner seems like a very silly thing to do.

Others include Bryce Edwards in the Guardian, and Richard Prebble in the Herald. Prebble thinks MPs should ask:

“When did the Five Eyes intelligence alliance morph into a foreign policy alliance?” There has been no consultation with Parliament over this changed role. Did Cabinet approve?

If so, what is the role of Five Eyes today? When did we put the spies in charge of policy?

According to Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s office, New Zealand joined FiveEyes countries to express deep concern about “China’s National People’s congress passing national security legislation relating to Hong Kong.” Quite why this is a problem seems unclear, as Article 23 of the treaty of transfer required the Hong Kong legislature to pass a national security law. It never did, and in the face of riots and outside intervention, China did. That seems reasonable.

A more likely reason for New Zealand joining the Anglophone FiveEyes “white might” chorus may be that it is designed to bail out  Australia which has over-reached in its eagerness to join the China-as-designated-enemy chorus emanating from the United States, particularly President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo. Given that it is not yet clear to what extent this will be  likely to be continued by President-elect Biden, it seems as strange decision for Mahuta’s first public move.

Richard Prebble blames the officials.

Officials like to say we receive 10 times more intelligence from our Five Eyes partners than we supply. I was a member of the parliamentary oversight intelligence committee and I am still bound by secrecy. I can reveal the biggest secret: I never learned anything I had not already read in the Economist magazine.

Our membership comes more from officials’ desire to be in the know, to be part of the in crowd, than from any advantage to New Zealand.

We have our Hong Kong hawks. Australia is plowing on in the face of increasing retaliation from China. New Zealand should not be joining them.



13 comments on “Blind-sided by Five Eyes ”

    • Anne 1.1

      He was minister for State Owned Enterprises for much of the Lange/ Palmer/Moore years and he also did a stint as Police minister. As a member of the Intelligence Oversight Committee, he would have been privy to some information but by no means all of it. He's therefore probably right when he says:

      I never learned anything I had not already read in the Economist magazine.

      • NOEL 1.1.1

        No surprises there.

        'The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is the Parliamentary oversight committee for the intelligence agencies, and examines issues of efficacy and efficiency, budgetary matters and policy settings.

        Membership of the ISC can be made up of between five and seven members. The Prime Minister is required to consult with the Leader of the Opposition before nominating members to the ISC, and requires the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to have regard to the proportional representation of political parties in the House of Representatives when nominating members.

        The functions of the ISC are:

        • to examine the policy, administration and expenditure of each intelligence and security agency
        • to consider any bill, petition or other matter in relation to an intelligence or security agency referred by the House of Representatives
        • to receive and consider the annual reports of GCSB and NZSIS
        • to conduct each year, following receipt of the annual report of the agencies, an annual review of the agencies.
        • to request the Inspector-General to conduct an inquiry into:
        • any matter relating to an intelligence and security agency’s compliance with New Zealand law, including human rights law
        • the propriety of particular activities of an intelligence and security agency
        • to consider any matter (not being a matter relating directly to the activities of an intelligence and security agency) referred to the Committee by the Prime Minister because of that matter’s intelligence or security implications
        • to consider and discuss with the Inspector-General his or her annual report
  1. Tiger Mountain 2

    Leaving 5 Eyes behind for an Independent foreign policy, and genuine non aligned status, could be ideal for NZ in this crazy Climate Disaster and pandemic afflicted world. Globalised trade is obviously still “big” barring transport grounded…and shipping at a crawl, but independence would enable this country to foster mutually beneficial bilateral trade and cultural relationships without the likes of the US and their Pacific deputy dog–Australia–sticking their nose in.

    This would be anathema to any Govt. Caucus that supports the 35 year neo liberal Parliamentary Consensus–which is all of them! But times are changing, and the boomer replacement generations will have their say in 2023.

    p.s. be sad to see Nanaia join the ranks of the “captured” Ministers.

  2. Ad 3

    Agree with the sentiment.

    I would prefer the SIS were just a Division of NZDF, primarily to ensure that it STFU and leaves media announcements to the Government of the day.

    With the intelligence community's unapologetic lack of accountability over the Christchurch massacre, I'm sure expecting the Minister to replace that incompetent Kitteridge and put someone useful in there instead.

    It's all on the Minister to demonstrate what real reform is that generates public confidence.

    • Anne 3.1

      I would prefer the SIS were just a Division of NZDF, primarily to ensure that it STFU and leaves media announcements to the Government of the day.

      The SIS has always been closely associated with the NZDF. Imo, that has been a large part of the problem over the decades. Up until recent times, I understand most of their staff were drawn from the NZDF – or their off-spring. It appears to have created a hive-like mentality which relied too heavily on the historically conservative mindset of the military class.

      It seemed to lack diversity and only in more recent times has it recognised the need to broaden its base to include a range of personnel from all walks of life and ethnic origins. To be fair to Rebecca Kitteridge that is something she has been attempting to do, but I gather it has proved more difficult than expected.

      I would like to see the SIS be more open with the public rather than hide away behind concrete walls doing whatever the hell they're doing… that we know nothing about. All that does is breed suspicion and conspiracy theories which serves no useful purpose for anyone.

      • Tiger Mountain 3.1.1

        When Warren Tucker was Director, 2006-14, he actually had a policy initiative termed “Openness”. Not sure how long it lasted, but seemed brief.

        Under SIS “Openness” any citizen could write to Tucker and request their file/s or other information the service held on them.

        Hundreds applied in the first rush, and the majority were declined on the basis of the 1969 Act, which puts the anonymity of living agents or informants ahead of any concerns of the applicants. A handful such as Sue Bradford received heavily redacted files, as far as I am aware, after asking many fellow activists, Murray Horton of CAFCA claims to have got a full file, but he jokingly relayed he was related to Dir. Tucker by marriage!

        The point is State snoops will never be forthcoming until forced to be so. It is an elitist old boys club, a Cold War relic that needs urgent retirement.

        • Anne

          The point is State snoops will never be forthcoming until forced to be so. It is an elitist old boys club, a Cold War relic that needs urgent retirement.

          My impression is: its changing TM and Kitteridge is spear-heading the changes. I suspect she's hitting road-blocks along the way, but where they are coming from is open to speculation.

  3. NOEL 4

    Expand please lack of accountability.

  4. ken 5

    We're way too close to China.

    We can do without half the junk they send to our landfills, and they can scour the globe for better produce if they don't want ours.

  5. SPC 7

    “When did the Five Eyes intelligence alliance morph into a foreign policy alliance?”

    We are a party in a security relationship group. And just what is a foreign policy alliance anyhow (one of the few is the EU)? It's a security group because of co-operation in security areas (intelligence sharing, and related co-operation on security matters – such as cyber and counter-terrorism), and not a defence alliance.

    We are no longer in ANZUS, or SEATO, but no doubt have concerns about our trade partners in ASEAN having their economic zones stolen by the Chinese.

    As a long term member of the UN, with a proud tradition of defence of the rights of member states and the rule of international law, this will impact on how we relate to China. Maybe Trotter and Edwards think our principles can be bought. But despite wanting an FTA with the Americans, we did not join them in their regime change endeavour in Iraq in 2003. Oz did and later got an FTA.

    If Trotter and Edwards really believe doing the right thing is wrong when it costs money, they are not really men of the people, or on the left at all. They may as well worship on the hill of mammon. Little wonder we are we are with these as public spokesmen fot the left in our media. One did not even support a CGT for ffs.

  6. Richard 8

    "Five eyes" has always been a foreign policy cohort between member states, by definition this is the reason for it's existence, to formulate and share common interests and values.

    It comes as no surprise to me that Prebble was not aware of that, he was at the time as SOE minister in Lange's government, a deeply conflicted man, on one hand a Labour loyalist, as well as an emerging neo con. Security agencies would not have trusted him with sensitive information as a consequence.

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