There’s a confusing amount of detail swirling around the release of SIS briefing notes to Cameron Slater – one of the main issues summarised in Dirty Politics. I was certainly confused earlier in the week, so I set out to pull together a timeline of events.
TLDR? Key is responsible for the release. For the long version read on.
Update: Hooton and Williams on Nine to Noon on the SIS release
The 2011 incident behind all this is the possible operation of Israeli spies in NZ and an SIS investigation into this. By far the best summary is here. Phil Goff denied that he was briefed by the SIS. Briefing notes (redacted) from the SIS contradicting Goff were released under the OIA to Slater, who published them. Was there political interference in the process? To what extent was Key and his office involved?
Here’s a timeline.
My comments are in italics.
Following an article in the Southland Times the original story (involving possible Israeli spies and the SIS) breaks. Interview with Key: “Speaking to reporters in San Francisco this afternoon, Mr Key said there was a police and SIS investigation because of the rapid way in which the Israelis left the country after the February earthquake. … Currently on tour in the US, he said it was “not in the national interest” to give details of any SIS inquiry.
Key’s US visit ends and he goes to Hawaii on holiday.
Phil Goff was briefed, yeah, that’s right. I personally didn’t brief him, but my understanding from the director of SIS, Warren Tucker, is that he was briefed and he was shown the same note and report that I saw.
Note that Key and Tucker have been in touch about this while Key is not in NZ – so they certainly communicate while Key is abroad.
“John Key says the SIS briefed Phil Goff about the behaviour of Israeli nationals in Christchurch. Mr Goff contacts SIS director Dr Warren Tucker to say he had not been briefed.”
“Mr Goff and Dr Tucker meet to discuss the matter.”
Whaleoil post “Goff Needs to go”
“All someone has to do now is ask Warren Tucker to produce the briefing notes and Goff is a goner.”
Dirty Politics, Chapter 3: “The following day [July 26] he [Slater] sent a carefully worded information request to Tucker [SIS] asking for copies of the briefing notes and ‘details of any acknowledgement’ that Goff had read them ” … “The released documents were stamped as being declassified on 26 July 2011, the same day that Slater sent off his request.”
Who declassified these documents? What authority is required to do that? Polity blog 2014: “The classified SIS documents were almost immediately declassified, for reasons nobody has explained.”
Dirty Politics, Chapter 3, discussion between Slater and “Smith”: “I’ll finish him [Goff] off in the next couple of days. ‘More dirt?’ Smith asked. ‘Can’t say right now,’ Slater said. ‘I’m sworn to secrecy. But it will be catastrophic.’
Who swore Slater to secrecy? How did he know it will be “catastrophic”?
Key returns from holiday.
Key says he was on holiday when all this took place, but note the time gap until…
Documents released to Slater.
Fairfax had requested the same document a few days earlier and the SIS refused to release it to them. (Text since deleted from this article but still available on Google reads: “The documents were released to Slater six days after he requested them, but a request from Fairfax Media for the same documents was denied.”). A third request, the documents were requested by Selwyn Manning at Scoop on 29 July and released to him 8th August. Manning: “As I understand it, the Dominion Post put in one that was very closely worded [to mine] but didn’t get a response. I am left to consider whether my OIA request was in some way used to legitimise the security information drop to the Whaleoil site.”
The SIS claim is that Slater’s request was actioned so quickly, and apparently preferentially, because it was more specifically worded than other requests. Hmmmm.
(Whaledump: Slater & Bhatnagar chat, edited for clarity)
Slater: Should be a big day tomorrow
if my PO Box has a nice brown envelope with OHMS on it
I OIAd the briefing minutes and notes for Goff’s SIS briefing
it has been expedited
in the public interest
it is devastating for Goff I am told
(Whaledump: Slater & Bhatnagar chat, edited for clarity)
Bhatnagar: did the package arrive?
getting really annoyed
will check again tonight and again in teh am
probably going to be ganked by MSM in Wgtn getting the docs first which will be annoying
(Whaledump: Slater & Bhatnagar chat, edited for clarity)
Bhatnagar: I take it you have a deal with one of the TV channels over the SIS reply?
Slater: yep tv3
other media are now calling
Whaleoil post releasing the redacted SIS briefing notes. “Phil Goff and his briefings he never had”
A summary at this point from Dirty Politics, Chapter 3: “Slater had been ‘sworn to secrecy’; he knew from the start that his information request had ‘been expedited’ and that the documents were devastating for Goff. He was working clandestinely with insiders who knew what the briefing paper said and were involved in its release to him under the OIA. Those insiders can only have been in the SIS or Key’s office. … In other words, it was not the SIS that tipped off Slater and arranged for him to run the attack. It was the prime minister’s staff. Given that it was highly political SIS business, there seems no doubt that John Key knew what was happening, approved it and had his staff liaise with Slater about the release.”
Journalists are suspicious. Sludge Report on Scoop : “What communication was there between the 9th floor and, a) Cameron Slater and other journalists, and b) the SIS and Tucker, around the release of the document?”
What happened is Warren Tucker didn’t come to me, he went to his legal adviser and his legal advisers told him this is the process they have to follow and when he was going through that process it was at that point he told me he’d release it because he has to tell me that under the no-surprises doctrine.” [my emphasis]
Watch the video above – Key says that he was told, not his Office. He seems very well informed. The reporters at this event, and the Sludge Report August 5th, are all suspicious that Slater has been given very special treatment. Hence the OIA requests from Felix Marwick below…
Letter from SIS director to Felix Marwick NewstalkZB – Tucker writes:
Following discussion with the Office of the Ombudsmen, in relation to your request of 4 August, I can confirm that there was no written “correspondence with the Government and the Office of the Prime Minister regarding the NZSIS decision to release information to Mr Cameron Slater”. I notified the Prime Minister (in accordance with my usual practice to keep the Minister informed on a “no surprises” basis) that I was going to release redacted documents in response to the request from Mr Slater. I advised the Prime Minister that I had received legal advice that there were no grounds for withholding the information given the public disclosures already made about the existence and some of the content of the briefing. I informed the Prime Minister that I had informed Mr Goff of my decision to release the information. [my emphasis]
Letter from the office of the Ombudsman to Felix Marwick NewstalkZB:
“Dr Tucker has advised Ms Wakem that he is prepared to release a statement regarding his discussion with the Prime Minister…” “There is no written correspondence with the Government and the Office of the Prime Minister…” “Ms Wakem is of the view that there is good reason to withhold Dr Tucker’s full recollection of his discussion with the Prime Minister…”
We are required to believe that all references to the Prime Minister in fact refer to the Office of the Prime Minister (despite the fact that the Office of the Prime minister is clearly distinguished in some cases). As Manning points out, the government’s own guidelines require Key to have been informed.
Now fast forward to …
Publication of Dirty politics by Nicky Hager, Chapter 3 describes the way in which Slater worked with the PMs Office on the release of the SIS briefing documents in 2011 as above.
Hager confirms a lot of suspicions that were prevalent at the time, as above.
Key denies political interference. John Key: “The basic claim that somehow my office was either pressuring the system, speeding up the process, injecting itself into the process – all of that is flatly incorrect.” (This quote no longer appears in the original source.) From Stuff:
Key said from time to time he had had discussions with Tucker about the release of OIAs. “But prior to the release of this one I didn’t have any discussions at all. ” He had got back from holiday on July 31 and the discussions about the OIA took place before that. The release went out on August 2 but there was no discussion between him and Tucker about it. “He did deal with my office but the claims that have been made … that there was political interference that’s absolutely not true.” … Key said Tucker had briefed someone in his office. He would not name the person, but said it was not Jason Ede. … He did not have any details and had not asked those in his office about how Slater had known it would be “devastating for Goff” before it was released. [my emphasis]
There will be an investigation: “Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn will investigate the release of SIS documents to Cameron Slater.” (Unlikely to report until after the election.)
Key wants us to believe two contradictory things:
(1) He and his office are so indivisible that when he and others refer to him(self) they are really referring to his office.
(2) He and his and office are so separate that when his office was briefed on the documents released to Slater he was completely unaware of it.
Point 1 is rubbish. Too many people, including John Key himself, refer to “the Prime Minister” / “me” being informed, for them all to have mistakenly meant the Office of the Prime Minister (especially given that some of them carefully distinguish the Office on some occasions). We have seen an “orchestrated litany of lies” before in this country, we are seeing something similar now.
Point 2 is rubbish. When John Key said on August 8 2011 “It was at that point he [Tucker] told me he’d release it because he has to tell me that under the no-surprises doctrine” he knew exactly what was going on. He can pretend that Tucker told his office and not him, but he can’t deny that in either case he was fully in the loop on August 8th – because that is him right there in the video speaking the words, not his office.
In the end splitting hairs about Key vs his office is just a distraction. Key is responsible for the actions of himself, and the actions of his office, and is the Minister in charge of the SIS. The fingerprints of political interference are all over this event, from the unexplained de-classification of the document (who authorised this?), to its expedited release, to Slater knowing in advance (who swore Slater to secrecy?) what it contained, to the denial of a request from Fairfax for the same document (on what grounds?). The buck stops with Key. If he gets away with it, our democracy is stuffed.
Hello Mr R0BINS – how nice to have back here posting for us.
I agree entirely with your TLDR conclusion that “Key is responsible for the release”. The joining of the dots timeline you have produced must have taken some time to compile, thank you. How interesting that various bits and pieces are being excised from the intrawebz by the MSM. I too have found that to be the case, especially when tracking down details of John Key’s lies. I have also noticed that various blogs,keepingstock being one example, have recently started doing the same. Frustrating.
I do wonder, though, if you’re timeline isn’t missing a couple of important things. First, one of the major messages to come from Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics is the sheer sophistication of John Key’s Black Ops Department tactics and the concomitant efficiency of the vital “plausible deniability” aspect. In one of the videos, John Key talks about how he has “streamlined” the “no surprises” process and how he himself has been somewhat taken aback at some of what has been released into the public domain by his spies. This, of course, is a short-hand announcement that when an agency says it has spoken to the Prime Minister what that really means is that the agency as not spoken to the Prime Minister but has advised the Prime Minister’s Office. No need to say who in the Prime Minister’s Officer and/or whether or not that person passed the information along to someone else in the Prime Minister’s Office. Cut-outs left, right and centre. The glib manner in which this plausible deniability line is being delivered indicates a fair amount of rehearsal has gone into it. In fact, I expect that if Kim Dotcom’s 15 September reveal does confirm that the Prime Minister knew of Dotcom and his situation well in advance of when John Key says he did, we will see this same line being delivered with the same dimissive alacrity.
Second, what seems to be missing from the timeline is what was going on for John Key at the time and the fact that the SIS “took legal advice” prior to the release of the briefing notes.
What was going on for John Key is that he was facing a barrage of criticism for what should’ve been – in his mind – a spectacular display his overwhelming wonderfulness. There he was, on the international stage, standing side-by-side with POTUS speaking out on a dreadful situation before the mass media. ‘Cept, John Key fucked it up. Also worthy of mention is that John Key had been caught out lying about how many passports were found on the Israeli Mosad agent “tourist”. John Key went to obfuscate his way out of that one but repeatedly said that there had been no illegality surrounding the issuing of New Zealand passports at that time. The questions were being asked because of the 2004 incident when Mosad agents Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara were caught trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. Does New Zealand now allow spies to use New Zealand passports? Anyhow, the point is, John Key’s showboating on the international stage had turned to custard and inconvenient questions about New Zealand passports and Israeli spies were being asked. This provides both John Key and the spy agencies motivation to distract the media and the public.
Now, when John Key says Warren Tucker spoke to the SIS lawyers, what he means is that Warren Tucker went off to Crown Law to cover his arse and make sure his release of the, albeit hugely redacted, Phil Goff briefing notes was legit. Questions I have about Tucker’s visit to Crown Law is whether or not Crown Law was being used as a cut-out and/or to reinforce actual instructions from the Prime Minister’s office to release the information. Remember, the sole reason given as to why the briefing notes were declassified is that the material was already in the public arena and the only reason the material was in the public arena was because John Key had put it there. That, my friend, is called a “set up”.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Warren Tucker is himself something of a dodgy bugger. There are various incidents involving the SIS and GCSB when Tucker was pulling the levers which cannot accurately be pinned directly on him. But, remember all the fuss and palava about why the GCSB had to be given the right to wholesale spy on New Zealanders was because “the law was not clear”? Well, back on 30 January 2006, Warren Tucker said . . .
. . . The GCSB’s twin roles and functions are spelled out in the GCSB Act 2003. These are – first to collect and report secret foreign intelligence derived from the interception and analysis offoreign communications, on matters of importance to the New Zealand Government. Secondly, the GCSB provides the tools and advice necessary to ensure that the communications systems and computer networks used for official and governmental business and for critical infrastructure are properly protected from tampering and from unauthorised access. These twin roles are likened by some to that of “poacher” and “gamekeeper”, and it is no accident that they both reside within the one organisation. The GCSB Act – which enshrines in law the longstanding practices of the Bureau – makes it absolutely clear that the GCSB must not target the communications of New Zealanders . . .
^^^ emphasis in original
. . . yet, Tucker didn’t issue a single peep during John Key’s ramming through of the new legislation.
A big part of John Key’s justification for allowing the wholesale spying on New Zealanders was that the legislative changes also strengthened oversight. We now have Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security with a broadened mandate and greater authority. Trouble is, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is Cheryl Gwyn who, up until April 2014, was the Deputy Solicitor-General at Crown Law, the very same Government agency which cleared Warren Tucker’s release of Phil Goff’s briefing notes. What’s more, the Crown Law Counsel for constitutional, human rights and international law, Ben Keith, has only just recently been appointed as the Deputy Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. That is the same Ben Keith who, in his previous role as Crown Law Counsel for constitutional, human rights and international law, has assisted National Ltd™ through its Attorney-General Chris Finlayson in thesystematic trashing of all sorts of human rights legislation. Among other things, he was the one from Crown Law who signed off on the GCSB legislation as being “consistent” with the Human Rights Act.
In short, the only people investigating John Key’s involvement in the release of Phil Goff’s briefing notes the very people who gave the okay for the release of the notes. We’re fucked. Basically we will never find an actual smoking gun in John Key’s hand in releation to this matter because of the players involved and the sophistication of John Key’s malfeasance.