Reform of the SIS

Written By: - 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.

From Phil Pennington at Radio New Zealand:

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.

60 comments on “Reform of the SIS”

  1. JanM 1

    Ahem – I think you mean Christchurch, not Chinese, don’t you?

    [I did and I swear I typed Christchurch! Now corrected thanks – MS]

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    I bet the director of the SIS told his troops last week to get onto it. “Goddam, the horse has bolted! You guys get online and examine that barnyard door real fast!”

    • Anne 2.1

      It’s a ‘she’ – not a ‘he’.

      Your turn. 😎

      • Dennis Frank 2.1.1

        Cool, hard to keep up sometimes. Good to see the patriarchy losing its grip. 😊

        • Siobhan 2.1.1.1

          and to see that some women are just as useless and prejudiced as some blokes..she may not be part of the Patriarchy, but she’s still a “Company Man’

  3. Ad 3

    Cannot understand why our entire intelligence leadership hasn’t resigned yet. Proportionally this is our 9/11.

  4. Rosemary McDonald 4

    Back in 2016 there was a little bit of a furore (which was commented on by the Maori Party but the link has gone) about the predominance of older white men skulking (or whatever spies do) around the dark halls of the SIS and GCSB.

    So in typical government fashion they launched a Strategy.

    https://www.nzic.govt.nz/news/gcsb-and-nzsis-diversity-and-inclusion-launch/

    Supported by this….https://www.nzic.govt.nz/assets/CareerBooklets/Diversity-and-Inclusion-Strategy.pdf

    “We believe, to succeed against increasingly complex global threats, the GCSB and NZSIS must develop a dynamic, agile workforce that reflects diversity in its widest context. That includes, but is not limited to, ethnicity, culture, heritage, gender, age, religion, language skills, differing abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, ideas and perspectives. We also need to ensure that the different perspectives that come with diversity are valued and harnessed.”

    I suggest going to page 17 for a really clear picture of why our Intelligence Service needs a radical shake up. Clearing out some of the fuddy duddy old guys would be a great start. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not still monitoring trade unions for Soviet infiltrators.

    All I’ve seen that indicates they’ve embraced the Diversity Cause is this…https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/secret%E2%80%99s-out-spies-fly-rainbow-flag…which is a lovely gesture, but doesn’t really make them better spies.

    Another observation made in our household over the past couple of days is if The Google (Oh Great and Omnipotent Entity) can pick up on random words spoken in the vicinity of a 4G phone and within minutes flick up a pop up advert for a digger on my laptop, then why the fuck can’t our (supposedly) Intelligent Services deploy similar software and zero in on shitbags posting hate speech and plotting massacres?

    • Wayne 4.1

      I think you will find both GCSB and SIS are much more diverse and much younger than you imagine. And have been for many years.

      The Cold War era, during which both institutions probably were as you imagine, is 30 years gone. Even taking into account a delay in people retiring or leaving, that era is probably 20 years gone.

      • Anne 4.1.1

        I’m sure you are right Wayne but they do seem to have dropped the ball over the emergence of the Alt Right in this country and elsewhere. It’s been going on for the past 30 plus years.

        I can accept that this critter (who will remain un-named) had covered his tracks by staying off the known sites for such extremists but someone, somewhere should have picked up on something.

        To be fair, it looks like the same criticism applies to other western intelligence agencies too – including Australia.

        • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.1.1

          “I’m sure you are right Wayne but ….”

          No, he’s actually wrong.

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.2

        No Wayne. They are not diverse at all. Read the document I linked to. So easy when the organisations provide the facts themselves.

        “Imagine” Hah!

        • Sacha 4.1.2.1

          Diverse compared with the Northern Club, perhaps.

        • Wayne 4.1.2.2

          Rosemary

          I did read the strategy document produced by the two agencies. Good for you to have posted it. In fact the strategy deserves more prominence. While the two agencies can certainly can do more, they are clearly no longer the harbour of colonel blimp/cold war warriors types. And that is my experience. I simply did not not see anyone like that in either agency.

          I was quite impressed by the strategy document. Both agency heads have given considerable thought to these issues.

          The weakest ethnic representation in both agencies is of Pacifica peoples, followed by Asian and then Maori. But both have significant numbers of people of Middle Eastern origin.

          The largest age group concentration in SIS is people in their 30’s. In GCSB, it is a bit more broadly spread. No doubt because many have come from 15 to 20 year careers in signals intelligence of NZDF.

    • Sacha 4.2

      What stands out to me in the graphs on p17 is the huge proportion of staff who declare their ethnicity as “New Zealander” in both GCSB (17%) and SIS (27%) compared with the overall population (1.5%).

      As mentioned here before, post-census analysis shows who those people really are. It might help explain some of the reluctance to focus on right-wing white supremacists.

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.2.1

        Yes. I’m not one for silly acronyms… but that had me lmaoraflnui.

        Charitably, it might just be a category they felt needed to be available for self-ID rather than a deliberate attempt to obfuscate.

        • Sacha 4.2.1.1

          And from p20, their aspirational goal by mid 2020 is to have non-Euro staff up to 1/3 of the proportion in the NZ population. Back-pats all round, Gerald.

          • Skunk Weed 4.2.1.1.1

            I trust Jacinda, Winston and Andrew Little have a thorough understanding of what the NZ Intelligence Services SIS & GCSB have been up to and what activities they spend their time on ?

        • Sacha 4.2.1.2

          The census was self-ID so that’s not the issue.

          • Rosemary McDonald 4.2.1.2.1

            “The census…” I wouldn’t know about that….as a protest Peter and I refused to participate. But if self ID is not the issue..what is?

      • Anne 4.2.2

        I noted that too Sacha. It had me baffled. When all the ethnicities and backgrounds have been covered, why a separate category for New Zealander?

        If you add ‘NZ European’ and ‘New Zealander’ together you get

        1) NZSIS 65.16%
        2) GCSB 59.03%

        Assuming the bulk of those (if not all of them) are white, then we have the answer. I assume it has been a largely subconscious bias but a bias nevertheless.

        I also noted that the graphs for the Public Service and the 2013 census had no ‘New Zealander’ category. They were categorised as ‘NZ European’ only and of course comprised the bulk of the population.

        • marty mars 4.2.2.1

          There will be white supremacists within those organisations.

          imo New Zealander is handy for pākehā who don’t like that label cos it’s a Māori word.

          • Anne 4.2.2.1.1

            The point though marty is there is no category for “pakeha”. If you go to Rosemary McDonald @ 4, click on her second link then scroll down to the Ethnic profiles (circular) for the GCSB and NZSIS you will see they have included two categories that persons of white background can choose as their profile. When you look at the Public Service and 2013 Census profiles they have only one category – NZ European. The contrast is stark and to my way of thinking gives an incorrect picture for the two intelligence agencies.

    • Probably still looking for “Muldoon’s Reds Under the Beds ?”

  5. Sabine 5

    We should do more then just investigate the Spies and their underlings, but we should investigate our ideas of what is terrorism and by whom it is perpetrated. We might be surprised by the findings.
    But i guess we – the public – have been told by all those who count that any terrorism act would be committed by Muslims and/or brown people, so maybe we should just cut the slack to our different groups of law enforcement. Clearly they could not have foreseen the rise in white supremacists and white terrorists the world over. .

  6. WeTheBleeple 6

    White power march in our streets displaying their silly signs.

    “Nothing to see here”

    You bet we need an overhaul. I’d respectfully ask for a hauling over the coals.

    • Sabine 6.1

      why so ruthless, just a bit of airing of our dirty laundry in public would be good.

      but i get is , a little underling sacrificed on the altar of ‘move along, nothing to see here, we fired a ‘junior staffer’ is all the unwashed masses need.

      right?

      • WeTheBleeple 6.1.1

        What’s ruthless about being thorough and challenging these obviously biased and prejudiced ‘experts’.

        I don’t want a sacrifice, I want a thorough investigation into all of these operators. These so called experts who ignore hate marches and harass activists.

        And please refrain from guessing what I think. It may change at further notice.

        • Sabine 6.1.1.1

          hauling over the coals……ouch 🙂

          i have been asking for the same thing now since last week.

          i am happy to see that i am not the only one. As for your thinking, i don’t guess at all, i just read your words and i tend to take words at their value.

      • Sacha 6.1.2

        An emotional junior staffer, perhaps.

    • marty mars 6.2

      Yep the white supremacist guy convicted for trying to burn down one of my marae was a Christchurch mayoral candidate 3, yes THREE, times AFTER the conviction.

  7. 1.5 million legal weapons here in NZ and 245,000 gun licences = 6.12 guns per gun licence, would be higher when you add in illegal weapons.

    Why do we need this number of weapons here in NZ ?

    In Japan it is very difficult to get a gun licence and they have very few gun deaths ?

    Why are the stupid Pollies in this country following the USA Model when we know it is F%&K UP ?

  8. marty mars 8

    Yep well hmmm

    Māori have been trying to get the focus of these organizations onto the real dangers for years. Years.

    Will people listen now? Maybe as long as it isn’t a talk fest by paler older mener citizens with some tiny minority voices here and there.

    I’m not even saying dont have that discussion – I’m just saying those voices got us to this point in time and other voices can help move us, must help move us.

    • Maori are well aware of these White Supremist Groups here in NZ and have expressed their concerns for a long time, they are actively involved in the narcotics industry and other associated criminal activities.

  9. Andre 9

    I’m a little surprised to be the first to mention environmental activism in respect to security service failings, given some here have personal experience (or close family with personal experience)

    But I would expect a review to include examining whether attention was excessively diverted towards environmental activists that never killed (and maybe even never injured) anyone, merely targeted corporate property.

    https://theintercept.com/2019/03/23/ecoterrorism-fbi-animal-rights/

    Sure, it’s a US example, but the idea’s the same.

    • This current Government does not like anyone who questions the use of 1080 ?

      • Andre 9.1.1

        I’m quite confident questioning the use of 1080 is fine. The problem arises when it goes beyond questioning to actions that put people at risk of injury or death. And there’s already been way too many of those actions.

    • patricia bremner 9.2

      Andre, Yes Lucy Lawless is a case in point.

  10. SPC 10

    The so-called blindspot (alt right white race nation types) was something they were doing a review of for the past year or two (soon to be completed). Thus something already on the radar for resource allocation.

    It still came under the general risk of those radicalised on-line – and identification of those of them: to intent (and personal capability) to commit violence (which is separate from organised group terrorism). This would involve identifying access and training with weapons or on-line topics related to bomb-making and the like.

    Clearly what they did not/do not have was/is the ability to data match connect on-line activity with gun licensing.

    There should be some on-line activity checks with the issuing of a gun licence – then use of this knowledge of the holder of the licence on-line ID to maintain an oversight of any subsequent radicalisation.

    Given the historic lack of this oversight, and the gun hand-in programme – surely their immediate focus will include knowledge of police progress with checks of those with the A licence (who has returned guns, a check of their secure area for retained guns) and using them as a testing ground for on line activity searches – to be used on those who apply for gun licences. Advisable as this perp may not be unique amongst those who already have such licences – unlikely in fact, given the connection between white race nation KKK and gun ownership in the USA. So there are probably other 4chan incel alt righters with guns here.

    • WeTheBleeple 10.1

      “There should be some on-line activity checks with the issuing of a gun licence”

      What an excellent point to make.

      Perhaps some retrospective checking too if we’re looking for potential problems.

  11. patricia bremner 11

    Prejudice comes from all quarters in all guises. Humans have in built preferences “for those like ourselves” So if the SIS is made up “out of balance with our population” it will probably skew the results. Especially when some were picked by Key “as they were old friends.

    We do not promote poetry and literature from these “Other” cultures often, or create natural meeting places with interpreters. The vigils/picnics were the first for most.
    Art and craft… now that is acceptable, though dance is not acceptable in some cultures… so the Islamic youth doing a Haka was huge imo.

    Teaching how our Public Schools became secular, and Religious Schools private and exclusive to their creed should be explained, especially with reference to the “Troubles” and the “Clearances”. It is a shock to some to realise many white people came here for religious freedom food and land. Also the attitude to land varies according to cultures.

    Latterly we have brought in white settlers who do not totally share our values from parts of Europe and South Africa and Asian groups with other affiliations. As populations increase so do opportunities for misunderstandings. This can create tensions with fearful white youth who look to White Supremacists for a lead, often using the internet.

    Some Leaders, who should be careful, are framing the attacks as coming from racism based on our Colonial past, positioning anyone brown as victims and anyone white as perps. Without being precious we need to avoid divisions, as some problems come from that but many are new, exacerbated by neo-liberal politics.

    Great care is needed to avoid knee jerk or overly emotional reactions especially as we are all in states of shock currently. Perhaps NZ needs a Truth and Reconcilation Panel, to hear the stories of hurt and give space for apologies… Similar to the Waitangi Tribunal? (without compensation unless physical loss can be proved)

    I would like to point out that Andrew Little is an intent listener and asks penetrating questions when faced with anything new. He is a very inclusive person and a decent and fair man IMO. I find it interesting that on his watch the White Supremacists were listed as a cause for concern.

    If we have an inquiry it must not develop into a witch hunt. We want it to improve safety for all and to assist us to know what went wrong.

    This is a fraught area, and NZers have indicated a readiness to begin to actively listen, and that should be encouraged, as it will help greatly.
    Forgive any clumsy framing.

  12. Probably more than 1.5 million legally registered guns in NZ.

    I wonder if the NZ Police should do some random sampling and see how accurate their gun records are ?

    Time for an Independent Audit of the NZ Police Gun Register me thinks ?

  13. Ad 13

    This government has been given a great opportunity to go through every government Department who did hit-jobs on politically left activists with surveillance companies and private investigators and clean them out.

    The departments are the likes of EQC, MFE, DoC, MBIE, and MPI. Nor are Police exempt. They were quite happy to put private investigators on to people who never harmed anyone, but who actively questioned the harder arms of the state.

    I mean the likes of Nicki Hager. Broke into his house, ransacked his place, strongarmed the bank to get entry into all his financial records. And of course finally had to pay him a financial settlement after he took them to court.

    Same with Greenpeace. Charged with bullshit under a law written specifically to target them alone.

    They chose left-activist targets not because they were any threat against the state, but because they pointed out the active harm that those state agencies were doing against New Zealand.

    And all along those same agencies could have been looking for people actively seeking to do us harm.

    Same for the fisheries. The fisheries industry has successfully resisted public scrutiny of the cameras on their boats – because they were raping the seas. Those companies are mostly all National donors.

    It’s time the politics of the state’s own machine against the activist left was pulled down. Pulled down and replaced by agencies and people who can be trusted to target the real evil, not activists who have the right to investigate and peacefully hold the state to account.

    I hope this government uses this political opportunity to do a structural review of the entire intelligence system. It does not cut it for the responsible Minister Andrew Little to simply defend the services as doing a good job.

    After all they changed the entire health and safety regime of the entire forest and construction and mining industry after Pike River. Is gun law refomm really all we are going to get out of this?

    The left have been putting up with this shit from intelligence services for many years. We are the example that they were all pointing their eyes the wrong way. The government needs to prove it has rooted them out and kicked them out.

    • joe90 13.1

      Well said.

    • Anne 13.2

      Brilliantly summarised. Thank-you Ad.

      I can add a couple of public service departments to your list. Won’t name them because I think their processes and personnel have vastly improved since my day.

    • patricia bremner 13.3

      Ad you are absolutely correct. Time for a spring clean.
      For all the reasons you list, but also to bring in some new skills and perspectives.

  14. Ad 14

    and good to see a full Royal Commission announced, out of which the full public can have a proper vent at them.

  15. ….. Royal Commission was Simon’s idea.

    • Gristle 15.1

      Talk of a Royal Commission started fairly soon after the terrorist attack. To say it’s Simon’s idea is over-egging the situation.

      Seeing that the tide is turned, and started to flow, is a really good time to stand in front of the sea and command it to come no further. I see Bridge’s input as being an attempt to inject himself into things that were already happening.

  16. Siobhan 16

    REFORM THE MEDIA.

    ROYAL COMMISION INTO MEDIA BIAS.

    Spy agencies are always the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

    Why don’t we start with the media and their awesomely self justified, biased, racist news reportage.

    Humanising Muslims would go some way to curbing the creation of extremists..on both sides actually.

    The piece/link below is American, but given our foreign news is fed from many American sources I suspect it is entirely relevant here.

    “Terrorist attacks often dominate news coverage as reporters seek to provide the public with information. Yet, not all incidents receive equal attention. Why do some terrorist attacks receive more media coverage than others? We argue that perpetrator religion is the largest predictor of news coverage, while target type, being arrested, and fatalities will also impact coverage. We examined news coverage from LexisNexis Academic and CNN.com for all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015 (N=136). Controlling for target type, fatalities, and being arrested, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks. Our results are robust against a number of counterarguments. The disparities in news coverage of attacks based on the perpetrator’s religion may explain why members of the public tend to fear the “Muslim terrorist” while ignoring other threats. More representative coverage could help to bring public perception in line with reality.”

    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2928138

  17. Ike 17

    If this journalist can uncover the facts presented in this link then why can’t the SIS and their international partners do the same.

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