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Mr Key’s real concerns

Written By: - Date published: 12:49 pm, July 1st, 2008 - 37 comments
Categories: john key, same old national - Tags: , , , ,

While more questions will no doubt be asked about Mr Key’s choice of hiring infamous Aussie spin-stars, Crosby/Textor, (no doubt some more of them will feature here) I thought this point raised by Barry Soper yesterday was a good one:

There’s clearly a concern how this information is yet again leaking from the National Party office. I mean, clearly there’s somebody there that’s putting the information out into the public arena. That’s how he got a lot of his information on the Hollow Men.

Certainly this must be a real worry for John Key and the National party. The Police ruled out a hacker during the Brash investigation but were unable to identify the internal leaker of what they thought to be printed emails. Mr Key must find out who is behind these latest leaks if he is to have any sense of security as we head closer to the campaign period proper.

And what would be the motivation for someone to leak now, when National is so far ahead in the polls? To me it indicates another agenda at work. Colin Espiner notes:

National yesterday called an urgent meeting with the Parliamentary Service to discuss the security of its email servers. Sources said that while there was no suggestion of an email leak, the party wanted to be sure after the Brash email saga. Officially, the party is refusing to confirm it is using Crosby/Textor, even though staff admit it privately. Key did not return phone messages yesterday.

While National is predictably dismissing Hager’s latest story as a beat-up it will nonetheless be extremely concerned details of private meetings have again found their way into his hands.

37 comments on “Mr Key’s real concerns ”

  1. Lew 1

    As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of email knows, it is an inherently insecure communication mechanism. If Alice sends an email to Bob, sitting in the next cubicle, that message passes in cleartext through any number (three is a reasonable starting number, but it could be many more) of computers outside your knowledge or control, and potentially being read or stored on disk at any one of them. In addition, it is impossible upon cursory examination to be know whether the email Bob received is the same as the email Alice sent, or in fact that the message Bob received is even from Alice. Ask me to send you a message from George W Bush or John Key or the Pope John Paul II some time.

    There is one solution for this: public-key cryptography, applied to email as the OpenPGP standard, with most people using one of two main implementations: GPG or PGP. Wikipedia has good articles for them, and they are available as bolt-in security measures for all decent mail clients. Not only do the prevent Alice’s message from being read or modified in transit, they provide certainty to Bob that he received the message unmolested from Alice (and only Alice).

    Of course, no amount of mathematics can prevent emails from being leaked by those with the proper credentials to read them, and none can prevent them being leaked in printed form by anyone who gets them in their hot little hands, so National’s meeting with Parliamentary Services, while laudable (all major organisations must take strong precautions to secure their data) is pure security theatre: doing something in order to be seen to be doing something about a security problem.

    National could obviate the entire issue by implementing such measures as these, by securing its chain of custody for any important documentation, and by finding and firing its internal moles (if, as seems likely, they are the source of the leaks). The only reasons to not do so are cost (which should be borne by the Parliamentary Service), and the rhetorical advantage which accrues to National by being able to point finger at shadowy others who are nefariously stealing their previous data (but not, we must note, their bodily fluids).


  2. Lew. I once went out with a girl who refused to drink fluoridated water. She told me that on our first date and I said ‘yes, we must protect our precious bodily fluids’. Unfortunately, she hadn’t seen the movie.

  3. BeShakey 3

    “And what would be the motivation for someone to leak now, when National is so far ahead in the polls?”

    I suspect the motivation is that National is so far ahead in the polls. Those who favour English rolling Key post-election wouldn’t want the Nats to win in a landslide. That’d make Key pretty much unassailable. They are playing a pretty dangerous game, but trying to ensure that National wins well, but not too well, will be critical if English is going to roll Key.

  4. Who cares 4

    Better be careful boys, or you will never manage to get the carpets clean under your chairs at the beehive. Or are you trying to brake the record of hyperventilating wank-fest posting that followed the JK dvd release?

  5. NX 5

    Surely even the Standard can recognise the threat to our democracy when the main opposition party can not correspond in confidence.

    So instead of laughing into your sleeves why don’t the Standard take a principled stand and condemn this sort of skulduggery.

  6. NX. it’s an internal leak, that’s National’s problem, not a problem with the system.

  7. Pascal's bookie 7

    I heartily condemn the internal rifts and skullduggery within the National Party that sap the confidence of Key to hire ratf*cking agents without it becoming public knowledge. I loudly bemoan the serious threat to our precious democracy, and it’s attendant bodily fluids, that such treachery within the National Party ranks entails.

  8. NX 8

    NX. it’s an internal leak, that’s National’s problem, not a problem with the system.

    Well if I took my boss’s papers and gave them to a competitor, that would be wrong even though it would be an internal leak. In fact it would be illegal because I would be in breach of my contract.

    You can dress it up anyway you want Steve it’s still wrong. Just as it would be wrong if this was happening to Labour.

    [The info is being given to the public not National’s ‘competitors’. Leaks perform a vital democratising role in politics, they let the public see info that would otherwise be kept from them to protect the public image of politicians. The same occurs in the private sector, that’s why there’s whistleblower legisation in many jurisdictions to protect people who bring information to the public eye that the public has a right to know. SP]

  9. To be honest, having read the SST article several times, I’m convinced that he needed no or very little inside information (outside of what he already had) to produce the article.

    Which of the claims he made in the article would require insider tip-offs?

  10. andy 10


    Yes its wrong, but is seems only National can fix it!

    NX are you the leaker?

    Or was it me, I have managed to hack parliamentary services with my Sinclair ZX81 in the past to see where and when Bob Clarkson would scratch his left nut!

  11. George. umm, the dates of the meetings, their costs, the fact that Key had had his visit to Aussie altered speicifcally to visit Crosby/Textor in person, the dissatisfaction from National staffers (you have been butted out of the way by C/T , remember) … none of that info is public.. it’s all leak.

  12. T-rex 12

    In followup to Lews comment above – FireGPG is an effective and simple implementation compatible with GMail through firefox, as is freenigma.

    Re: Leaks – Surprises me that no one has pointed out this is probably why most of the National ministers responsible don’t even know party policy for their areas. The front bench know they have a leak, and don’t know where, so they’re not telling anyone anything.

    How the hell are you supposed to run a govt like that?!?

  13. Pascal's bookie 13

    T-Rex, Ask Dick Cheney?

  14. Dancer 14

    NX the trouble for National is that it isn’t happening within Labour. In fact I can’t recall the last time it did. What the current situation is telling me is that, despite the strong polls, there are some within National who are not happy with Mr Key, and that they are choosing to share information that they think will be of interest.

  15. Lew 15

    SP: First and last, I guess?

    NX: While I can’t top PB’s effort, I do condemn theft of National’s private correspondence, if indeed any theft has occurred. My only point is that it behoves anyone who suspects their correspondence to be vulnerable to theft to protect it. At present National may well be – but if they’ve been making hay out of the `stolen emails’ issue since Hager’s original article, and if they consider their email to still be unprotected now, they have none but themselves to blame since they’ve had almost three years to implement protection. Sure, perhaps they shouldn’t have to. I think we shouldn’t have to lock our doors at night, but that doesn’t stop it being prudent to do so.


  16. Matthew Pilott 16

    What interests me th most about this whole affair is teh content of information being leaked. Nothing about policy, no shadowy meetings with secret backers, no hidden post-election agenda – all we know about thus far is Key’s relationship with CT.

    What does this tell us? If it’s a hacker, they either have some very juicy stuff for later, or haven’t got a clue what teh real dynamite looks like. Or that hiring CT is as dirty as the nats get (hah!).

    Methinks a hacker isn’t likely – but that doesn’t answer why this specific material? A leak does provide a satisfactory solution – someone in National being unhappy with their use of CT, or someone in National determined to do some damage, but not deliver a fatal head shot – I’m sure there are plenty of reasons out there for this…

    NX, Watergate wouldn’t have been exposed without leakers so they do serve a useful purpose; I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to rail against any leak in political circles.

  17. r0b 17

    Dancer – exactly. And good for them too – public spirited whistle-blowers have an important role to play in democracy. If a party is so divided that some of its own people leak, then something is seriously wrong, and the public needs to know that.

  18. NX 18

    The info is being given to the public not National’s ‘competitors’. Leaks perform a vital democratising role in politics, they let the public see info that would otherwise be kept from them to protect the public image of politicians.

    lol.. now tell me with a straight face that Hager is job average public; he’s a political activist from the far left.

    400+ emails is no leak, it’s a serious breach! If you think a serious breach of this magnitude is part of the democratic process then I guess you wouldn’t mind 400+ emails between Heather Simpson and Helen Clark to come into the public domain? Answer the question carefully.

    Watergate wouldn’t have been exposed without leakers so they do serve a useful purpose.

    Here’s my other point… what did the stolen emails exposed that the media hadn’t already aired? At least with Watergrate need info. came to light. The media are doing their job.

  19. Lew 19

    NX: “400+ emails is no leak, it’s a serious breach! If you think a serious breach of this magnitude is part of the democratic process then I guess you wouldn’t mind 400+ emails between Heather Simpson and Helen Clark to come into the public domain?”

    Two issues: 1. It’s not a case of whether people would `mind’ – of course people would mind, and we’re not suggesting National shouldn’t mind. The question is whether they should accept it, and in the light of a police enquiry finding no external hackery, it seems they should. If it occurred as a leak by an insider authorised to possess the emails (as seems to be the case here) then yes, it would be equally legitimate. 2. Clark is the Prime Minister, and her emails likely contain information of rather more national importance than her election campaigns, so the parallel isn’t exact – potentially much more significant consequences could flow from the release of such emails than Clark’s embarrassment. If Key (or Brash) were Prime Minister this would be equally true.


  20. Matthew Pilott 20

    NX, if it was a leak of 400+ emails from Miss Clark, then I’d ask “What’s going on within the Labour Party that means a trusted and senior member is giving damaging information to someone who knows how to use it“?

    Have you done the same for National?

    You ask if someone would mind if such a leak were to occur. If it were a premature policy leak, or insider information that can be grossly taken out of context and distorted then it would be the work of a leak trying to damage the party. I would be less than impressed. If the information highlighted activities of, say, an undemocratic nature, I’d realise the link has an element of conscience about it. That is a huge difference in my mind.

    I don’t understand your response about my watergate comment at all, sorry. Suffice to say I don’t think the two are a direct comparison by any stretch of the imagination, merely an illustration that it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to be up in arms about a leak.

  21. NX, I couldn’t put it any better than Matt has. But, don’t you worry, we’ll do a post later on about who the leaker(s) might be, which might assist you lot in tracking them down and kicking them out but, once you’ve got ’em, God knows who will win Clutha-Southland for you.

  22. T-rex 22

    I think the sad part is that Bill might not have been too bad a PM before he got all bitter and twisted.

    Actually scratch that, there’s me falling for the “he seems like the kind of guy you could have a beer with” trap.

    I want a PM who’s sufficiently smart that if I have a beer with them I end up in vague awe. Probably a little much to ask, but would be nice…

  23. NX 23

    “What’s going on within the Labour Party that means a trusted and senior member is giving damaging information to someone who knows how to use it”?

    Matt et al.

    So your justification for why this breach isn’t wrong is based solely on the perceived moral judgment of the person who stole the information i.e. some sought of vigilante, defender of the faith, heroin who has to ‘help’ the party through hurting it.

    ^Oh please. You’re on ice so thin it has already melted, turned into clouds that are now raining on you.

    Why should our democracy rest on the opinion of an anonymous individual(s), who betrays their own employer, & who’s morals we can’t even question..? Hell, is that even democracy!

    All for what… to find out who’s National consultants are? To find out when National meet with the Exclusive Brethren (which the media unearthed anyway).

    This isn’t a debate about ideology . This is debate about right and wrong and this is clearly wrong.

  24. NX. Cut the crap, if this was a Labour leak you would be praising the leaker as a hero. And I wouldn’t be saying the leak was wrong, I wou’d be saying what’s wrong with Labour that senior people are leaking damaging info.

  25. Draco TB 25

    lol.. now tell me with a straight face that Hager is job average public; he’s a political activist from the far left.

    And this has any bearing on the discussion how? Should I discount everything you say because you’re obviously a RWNJ?
    By all accounts N Hager is an investigative reporter and a damned good one (He thoroughly checks his sources). That is all that matters about him when discussing what he has written.

    400+ emails is no leak, it’s a serious breach! If you think a serious breach of this magnitude is part of the democratic process then I guess you wouldn’t mind 400+ emails between Heather Simpson and Helen Clark to come into the public domain?

    The number of emails leaked only shows that there were several people within Nationals upper echelon who’s conscience didn’t gel with what National were doing and they thought the public needed to know. If emails were leaked showing that Helen Clark was was being as dishonest as the National Party was (National was actively deceiving the public and doing their utmost to bypass the electoral laws) in her dealings with the public then I would have no issues with them being leaked. If they just showed legitimate day to day business then I would have a problem.

  26. NX 26

    NX. Cut the crap, if this was a Labour leak you would be praising the leaker as a hero. And I wouldn?t be saying the leak was wrong, I wou?d be saying what?s wrong with Labour that senior people are leaking damaging info.

    Nah, I’m not hardcore National enough to praise anyone who betrays Labour. Sure I might snigger a bit because I’m not a fan of the current Labour party leadership, but a spades a spade. I think the damage this does to our democracy comes before politics.

    And Steve, the Labour Party is a democracy too. If other MPs don’t like how things are being run from the top then they can vote for change. Why let a disgruntled employee or two bypass all of that. If they’re really concerned then they should run for parliament.

  27. Lew 27

    NX has a fair point here. Tolerance for whistleblowing and leaks has historically been reserved for matters of substantial importance, and an important question is whether the revelations in The Hollow Men constitute such an issue. I think Hager’s revelations were such an issue, but I don’t think all issues would be.

    SP and Matt, do you think that all leaks and whistle-blowings should be protected and applauded?


  28. NX 28

    And this has any bearing on the discussion how?

    I was responding to Steve’s point ……

    The number of emails leaked only shows that there were several people within Nationals upper echelon who’s conscience didn’t gel with what National were doing

    On really.. several people huh. I heard it was like a hundred people.

  29. BeShakey 29

    NX – maybe that is the crux of the issue. What damage exactly has this done to the successful functioning of our democracy? It doesn’t seem there is any. It certainly may have made it harder for National, but that isn’t the same as a threat to democracy, given some of what they were doing quite the opposite (for example telling various lies to the public). Having read the comments it doesn’t sound as if people are supporting all and every leak, but that doesn’t mean some leaks aren’t OK.

  30. Matthew Pilott 30

    Matt, do you think that all leaks and whistle-blowings should be protected and applauded?

    A fair question Lew, to which I had already commented upon above – I don’t think a leak is undemocratic and the war on democracy that NX protrays. He’s oversimplifying it to paint a simplistic black and white scenario. There are aspects of political parties that are secret, of this there is no doubt. If an individual who is party to such secrecy finds the goings-on objectionable, what are their options? They can fight from within, and if they lose then they’re on the outside – and whatever was going on will still be happening.

    Or they can leak, to stop the behaviour. So where do I draw the line? As stated above – if a leak illustrates a breach of the democratic process, or something that is clearly morally wrong, then there is probably good cause, if there’s no other option.

    What everyone seems to be forgetting is that by definition we don’t have all the information, a leak isn’t a leak if you know all the facts of the matter. So if you are determined to make a value judgement, as NX is, then you need to ask why the leak is happening – what was the result?

    If a leak is purely to damage a party, then that is circumventing the democratic process to an extent. If that’s the result, though, of poor behaviour from the party in question then they have scant cause to complain.

    NX, have you always thought the secrecy of the internal workings of political parties is the foundation upon which all democracy rests, or is this a newly adopted position for which you seem to be arguing?

    Lew – care to have a bat at elucidating a threshold for leak toleration?

  31. NX 31

    but that doesn?t mean some leaks aren?t OK.

    Agreed – keeps politicians on their toes.

    400+ emails is pretty serious. And if you start to find that expectable then you’re on a slippery slope (no pun on the word slippery ;)).

  32. NX 32

    If an individual who is party to such secrecy finds the goings-on objectionable, what are their options?

    Resign and stand for parliament. How can you carry on working for a party you betray? What happens the next time something doesn’t quite gel with your moral judgement?

    have you always thought the secrecy of the internal workings of political parties is the foundation upon which all democracy rests, or is this a newly adopted position for which you seem to be arguing?

    John Key (and Don Brash) have to report to their caucus, the people who elect the leader, and who are democratically elected themselves. Also, I believe the Labour Party and the media are pretty good at holding National to account.

  33. Lew 33

    Matt: Good response, thanks.

    “care to have a bat at elucidating a threshold for leak toleration?”

    Ah, well, here’s the rub. A part of me (the same part which thinks National are right to use C/T) think leaks are always justifiable except inasmuch as they are found illegal. However, taken to its logical extreme, this could result in nefarious tactics which could undermine confidence in democracy, which I wouldn’t want to see.

    I (like you and SP) tend to consider leakage within an organisation a matter of governance within that organisation. Presuming sufficiently strong vetting procedures to weed out false-flag moles, an organisation’s membership should broadly agree with and approve of its leadership’s direction, and even in cases where some faction of the membership doesn’t agree, they should feel as if their concerns are taken seriously enough that they can have those concerns recognised or implemented by legitimate means within the organisation. Leaks occur when insiders don’t feel they have any other recourse to change, and this becomes a feedback loop – if the organisation’s leadership becomes less accountable to its membership, members are more prone to leak due to a dearth of options, which will lend to a greater degree of secrecy among the leadership in order to restrict leaks, and so on. This process frames what I consider would be acceptable, and what not.

    So I would call a public leak legitimate when it releases information with significant implications beyond the leaker’s own intra-party agenda, while an illegitimate leak for me would be one which is purely self-serving to the leaker or their faction; and furthermore, that the leak regard something illegal, unethical or otherwise unreasonable – the sort of issue which members would have been expected to raise with their leaders, who refused to act on the members’ concerns. This is basically what you and SP have argued, above.


    Captcha: `Roman investigation’. Nobody expects the … huh?

  34. Matthew Pilott 34

    NX – I guess it becomes dfficult when you’re 100% behind a party’s policy, but not their methods for its implementation! But cheers for raising the issue in the first place, I will admit I hadn’t really thought about it.

    Lew, I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head – if a leak isn’t self-serving… (just to muddy the waters, I wonder how often a leak exposing a bad practice has resulted in benefits to the leaker – I would guess more that a few times.)

  35. NX 35

    Thx Matthew – pleased my contribution was useful.

    I’m not 100% behind party policy… because like you I dunno what half of it is;) Lets just say I support the opposition – if one can make such a distinction.

    My view on the stolen emails is firm; the right to private correspondence is a cornerstone of our society. 400+ emails is not a leak, but a Machiavellian force trying to manipulate the outcome of an election(s!).

    The Standard should commend such actions out of principle.

  36. Lew 36

    NX: “The Standard should commend such actions out of principle.”

    Do you mean `condemn’?


  37. NX 37

    ^Yes opps…

    I’ve just come back from the Movies. I saw ‘The Happening’. My friends weren’t that impressed, but I really liked it. The film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan & I pretty much like all his stuff.

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