- Date published:
9:29 am, March 25th, 2019 - 60 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, Andrew Little, Christchurch Attack, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, national, Politics, same old national, Simon Bridges, Spying - Tags:
The effects of the Christchurch Mosque massacre are going to be considerable and ongoing.
One area where there needs to be an intense review is the performance of the Security Intelligence Service.
Sure they cannot be expected to catch everyone. But couldn’t they spend some resource investigating someone active on 4chan who buys high powered weapons over an extended period of time?
The problem appears to be they do not see white supremacists as being potential terrorist threats. From Jane Patterson at Radio New Zealand:
There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of public documents from the Security Intelligence Service or the GCSB.
The government will hold a high-level inquiry into whether security agencies ignored warning signs, or put too much focus on the threat of Islamic extremism as New Zealand is left reeling in the wake of the terrorist attack, carried out against Muslims at two Christchurch mosques.
The Islamic Women’s Council has said it told the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at a January 2017 meeting of the ‘extreme urgency’ of its concerns about rising racism and the alt-right, and also alerted the SIS.
Former Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy said the response of officials to Muslims over what they see as a growing threat to them had been “diabolical”.
She said trying to get public officials to meet them was incredibly difficult, and even when they got in the door, no action was taken and they got little support.
National agrees with the review but its focus seems to be to increase the SIS’s powers, not hold it to account.
Simon Bridges was quoted in the Herald as supporting a Royal Commission of Inquiry but was then reported as saying this:
New Zealand’s security legislation needed to change as well, Bridges said.
Project Speargun – a programme which would have scanned internet traffic coming into New Zealand – was abandoned in 2013 by the then-National Government after “vocal views against it”, Bridges said.
He added that this was because many of the critics were prioritising privacy over safety.
He said Speargun would have “given an extended degree of protection to all New Zealanders”.
A system called Cortex is now in place in New Zealand, but Bridges said it was much narrower and designed to protect institutions.
He would not, however, say if the Government’s decision to abandon the programme was a mistake.
“My view is everything has changed – I’m not pretending it’s easy – but where the line is now drawn has to be reconsidered.
“We have seen what ISIS is saying, we have seen the Turkish President playing [footage from] the massacre at rallies, we know there is a risk of copycatting,” he said.
“So I think there is some urgency to revisit the legislation and deciding where the line between privacy and safety is – I’m for moving it towards safety.”
Bridges’ claims about the Speargun need to be taken with a serious amount of salt. I did this post two years ago drawing on excellent work done by Dave Fisher at the Herald. Basic conclusion, it was not canned in 2013 when Key said it was. There was still funding for its development. The program was ended only after John Key was told that news concerning it could be released as part of the Edward Snowden dump of information.
And the Human Rights Foundation has released research showing that SIS agents used dubious techniques to try and infiltrate Muslim communities.
The Human Rights Foundation has released research to RNZ it says backs up its demands for an open and transparent inquiry into the security agencies and the terror attacks.
The research shows the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) used informal chats and offers of payment to young men, who were not advised of their rights and who felt pressure to spy on their mosques. At the same time, it appears comparatively little state monitoring of white supremacists was going on.
Justice Minister Andrew Little has said the inquiry announced into the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), SIS and other agencies in the wake of the terror attacks was vital to test whether security agencies had, by their very nature, “organisational blind spots” to a white supremacist threat that “might have been in plain sight”.
The agencies began monitoring the far right in earnest only nine months ago.
But the SIS has been busy. Its surveillance, along with Customs’ intercepts at Auckland Airport, led Muslim people to raise concerns with the Human Rights Foundation, which prompted it to do the research and hold a dozen closed-door meetings with multiple agencies in 2017 and 2018.
The SIS was not advising people of their rights when it invited young men along to “chat” and it was unclear if this might still be going on, said foundation executive director Peter Hosking.
“It would be a sort of general chat over coffee for some time, and then right at the very end they would find some really serious allegations being put to them, and they suddenly realised this was a serious interview and attempt to gain information,” Mr Hosking said.
Little is right in that it appears the SIS has a pretty clear organisational blind spot. Giving it greater surveillance powers is in my personal opinion not the way to resolve this problem.