Friday, July 29, 2016

Review of NZ Search and Surveillance Act underway

The Search and Surveillance Act  2012 is to be reviewed.

The Search and Surveillance Act is to be reviewed and a one-stop intelligence shop could come closer to realisation. One of the terms of references for the review is that it must look at whether the Act (or any related legislation) needs to be amended to enable broader use of the capabilities of the GCSB and /or NZSIS to support police investigations.

This would tie in nicely with the recommendations by Michael Cullen and Helen Reddy in their ‘Intelligence Review’ that the intelligence community operate under one Act, that is, in all but name there be a merge of the intelligence agencies.

The review of the Search and Surveillance Act is a statutory one required by law to look at the ‘operation of the provisions’ of the Act since it began, to see ‘whether those provisions should be retained or repealed’, and ‘if they should be retained, whether any amendments to the Act are necessary or desirable.

Implicit in Amy Adams announcing of the review however, is that the agencies and institutions covered by the Act need more powers.

Amy Adams (Minister of Justice and member of the Intelligence and Security Committee) states in her press release that technology has changed and therefore the powers of the Search and Surveillance Act need to also change.

A spokesperson for Amy Adams further said, “We can't anticipate the outcomes of the Search and Surveillance review so don't know what new search powers they might look at, or privacy considerations.”

What Amy did not cover in her press release though was the fact that the terms of reference also state that the review must look at the use of the Act (or any related legislation) in relation to the GCSB and /or NZSIS.

The Search and Surveillance Act has been around since it was passed in March 2012 by a narrow majority. But the Bill took a long time to weave its way through parliament - it was introduced first by Labour in 2007 before finally being passed by National. Throughout that time there were wide-spread protests against its passing; the Act drastically extended the powers of not only police but many state agencies to spy and surveil. They gained more power to do unwarranted searches and surveillances. The Act also legalised past police practice that had been illegal, including the police illegal use of hidden cameras during Operation 8 (the operation that resulted in the October 15th 2007 police raids and the jailing of Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara for two and a half years).

The Act also removed the right to silence and the right not to self-incriminate through the introduction of Examination and Production Orders.

When the Bill was going through parliament (there were two rounds of submissions), many people protested and spoke against a ‘Residual Warrant’ clause in the Bill. Residual Warrants were to cover as yet uninvented, unknown things - for example, it could use a technique not yet invented to surveil data stored in a way not yet known. Residual Warrants were removed in its final reading and replaced by ‘Declaratory Orders’ (clauses 65-69). At the time Judith Collins, then Minister of Justice, described Declaratory Orders as “an innovative regime that recognises the pace at which technology is advancing … Declaratory orders allow agencies to obtain a judicial view as to the reasonableness of a new device, technique, or procedure before using it…” Maybe Amy and Judith need to talk.

An overview of the Act can be read here.


Public submissions will be called for and along with consulting various government and private sector agencies and organisations there will also be an expert advisory panel. The brand new Auckland University Law School’s ICT Law Centre is assumed to be one of these ‘experts’. The Law Commission and Ministry of Justice will present the final report on or by 28 June 2017.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"The 5th Eye" Documentary on Waihopai Domebusters & GCSB

New Zealand is very much a member of a western spy network that is quite capable of reading and recording every shred of electronic communication you've ever generated.
The 5th Eye is the story of the events that underpinned so much of the farcical goings on at the 2014 general election, threaded through with the only-in-New Zealand yarn of the three men who – armed with a pair of cheap bolt cutters and a statue of the Virgin Mary – managed to break into and the Waihopai spy base and deflate the dome that covered one of the satellite dishes. A pity John Oliver wasn't paying attention to New Zealand back then. He would have a had a ball with that story. Wright and King-Jones assemble their material – new and archival – into an intelligent, informative and entertaining film. This is serious stuff, deftly done. Recommended.              
Source: Stuff.co.nz


The long anticipated documentary, THE 5TH EYE, that follows the story of the Waihopai Three and the GCSB premieres this month in the New Zealand International Film Festival.

The film will screen as part of the festival in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Timaru. Other regional screenings will be announced by the Film Festival in coming weeks.

Details about ticket sales are at www.The5thEye.com – Please be sure to get tickets early.

We also need your help: word of mouth and social media are currently our only promotional tools. So please join our facebook page, follow us on twitter, and please share our posts, tell your friends about the film and forward this email around to your contacts! Thanks and we look forward to seeing you at the upcoming screenings!
https://www.facebook.com/The5thEye/photos/a.839891559414987.1073741828.832972370106906/1071469812923826/?type=3&theater

Errol Wright & Abi King-Jones

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Intelligence merge not new

In all but name the Intelligence Review recommended a merge of the key NZ intelligence agencies. The proposal put forward by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy was to consolidate legislation governing the GCSB and NZSIS into one Act.

This idea is not new. In 2009 there was talk of merging the intelligence agencies. A Treasury official's notebook had been found in central Wellington and in the pages were notes about a merge. At the time John Key confirmed a merge of the intelligence agencies was an option, “I drove the decision to have a look (at how they operate) because there is quite a bit of crossover.” Value for money was also an issue he said. (The Murdoch Report was the result of this review)

Dollar value is a driving force and has already seen the building of the one-stop intelligence building, Pipitea House, in downtown Wellington. Now we will also see the agencies in a one-stop shop legal merge. One law to rule all.

The GCSB and NZSIS operating under a single comprehensive Act would ensure the agencies have the same purpose, same processes, same functions, same powers, same over-sight and even the same single co-ordinator. All the modern surveillance tools could then be shared inter-agency; it would also save time and money consolidating the powers because intelligence is a costly business. The Murdoch Report forecast the aggregate cost at $123million by 2013 for the intelligence community. It was noted “it is worth considering this level of expenditure not just as a cost in budget terms but in the context of the annual 'subscription' paid by New Zealand to belong to the 5-Eyes community.” (The 2015 Budget had the cost at $140million.)

The 5-Eyes were mentioned by Cullen and Reddy in the Intelligence Review but only from the aspect of how 5-Eyes surveillance affected New Zealanders, there was no looking at the role of the 5-Eyes and why we should be part of it. In fact, Cullen and Reddy praised the Five Eyes as “by far New Zealand’s most valuable intelligence arrangement, giving us knowledge and capability far beyond what we could afford on our own.”

It is this 'knowledge and capability' that the Intelligence Review recommends be consolidated and shared inter-agency.

It could be pondered how much influence the 5-Eyes had on the Intelligence Review: days after its release James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, was in town It is also interesting that the week the Intelligence Review was being analysed by the Intelligence Select Committee, the head of the FBI was in Wellington.

The Intelligence Review could have been a chance to look at the role of surveillance in society and especially at New Zealand's role in the 5-Eyes. Instead we will have a consolidation of the intelligence agencies and an expansion of surveillance and data-sharing between all agencies and ultimately an embedding of our role in the 5-Eyes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Surveillance Film Festival



Has the portrayal of surveillance in films caught up with us? 

Dystopian Big Brother films from the past show glimpses of a present reality. Spy films and the machinations of spy paraphernalia capture our imagination with fantastical technology. Stasi and Cold War intelligence policing methods shock and titillate people. But Edward Snowden’s revelations opened many eyes to the ubiquitous world of mass surveillance right here and now.


The Surveillance Film Festival is an opportunity to explore the portrayal of surveillance in films and documentaries and ponder the reality of surveillance in our lives today. 
 

Come and enjoy some films and see where the discussion takes us.


Venue: Thistle Hall, Upper Cuba, Wellington City 

Friday 25th March

- 6pm - Farenheit451 (112mins) – then onwards for after-film discussion and drinks at a local pub. 

Saturday 26th March 

- 11am - The Program (8mins) and ABC Secret Room (9mins) - Nicky Hager will be present for a talk after these two short films.
- 12.30pm -  Operation 8 (110mins)
- 3pm - Every Step You Take (65mins) - followed by a chat with Kathleen Kuehn about the ubiquitousness of surveillance
- 5.30pm - Maintenance of Silence (20mins) 
- 7pm - The Lives of Others (137mins) 
Film synopsis: 
Farenheit451 (1966) 112mins
In Bradbury’s dystopian future most people are mindless drones living for instant gratification, plugged into ear buds or watching screens. News is controlled in censored bites, deep-thinking and analysis don’t happen. War economy rules. Sound sort of familiar? But in Farenheit451 all books are banned, is that the only difference?

The Program and ABC News, Secret Room (2012 & 2008) William Binney and Mark Klein are names that should be familiar. They are whistleblowers who spoke about mass surveillance prior to Snowden’s revelations. The info was out there for us, but so many chose not to listen. Why didn’t we want to know about the surveillance then? Why are we already ignoring Snowden’s revelations? Operation 8: Deep in the Forest (2011) 110mins Eight years ago in October dawn raids woke many people, people were briefly jailed and allegations of terrorism were thrown about based on evidence gained by surveillance. This country has a long history of surveillance, see how it was used in this most public case to hinder and control people and think about what is happening now. Every Step You Take (2007) 65mins CCTV and face recognition are examples of surveillance to keep people safe. Ten years ago the technology shocked, now it is old. How quick does it all change and how accepting do we become? Maintenance of Silence (1985) 20mins Awareness of surveillance seemed to be more common a few decades ago. Tens of thousands protested against the expansion of police and SIS powers, later the Wanganui Computer was bombed. Then Neil Roberts left the quote from Junta Tuitiva of La Paz, ‘We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity’. What does our silence now resemble? The Lives of Others (2006) 137mins Surveillance and oppression on the other side of the iron curtain has been a favourite subject for a lot of films. But how different is that past from the future here?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Intelligence & security report a dream come true for the Five Eyes

The release of the Independent review of intelligence and security recommends a range of changes that are dangerous to ordinary people, both within NZ and elsewhere, and represents a massive concentration of state power.

The major recommendation is the consolidation of the two acts governing the GCSB and the SIS into a single law.  As Radio NZ reported, “A single piece of legislation would mean both agencies operated under the same objectives, functions and powers and warrant authorisation framework.” This is deeply problematic.

It must be understood at the outset that both GCSB and the SIS are essentially political police: they exist to identify threats to the New Zealand state, essentially “national security.” These agencies do not exist to root out criminal activity, that is the job of the Police. And, although in 2013, the GCSB was given the power to assist police with any matter, it is not an objective of that organisation (or the SIS) to prevent, detect or prosecute criminal offending.  While the definition of criminal offences are spelled out quite clearly in law with identifiable components and evidentiary thresholds, threats to “national security” are at best vague and difficult to define. Even the Law Commission, an eminent body of NZ legal practitioners, struggled to explain what the national security is, noting “While the New Zealand courts have not yet been called upon to define national security, we expect that they will also face difficulties in pinning down the concept although there are varying definitions in use.” (National Security Information in Proceedings,_ p.14).

Historically, the GCSB and the SIS have been organisations with quite different functions within the ambit of political policing. The SIS has been responsible for internal security, monitoring Maori, political dissidents, refugee and migrant populations,  and extremist groups. The GCSB, on the other hand, is entirely a child of the US National Security Agency, is New Zealand’s contribution to the Five Eyes Network, and until relatively recently, worked on external signals intelligence (satellite, radio and internet).

Now, however, the argument goes, because of the global reach of the internet, the lines that existed between internal and external no longer matter. Thus, rationalising the two agencies into one makes sense. This reasoning dovetails nicely into the review’s recommendation that  the current restriction on the GCSB to intercept the private communications of New Zealanders for its intelligence function be removed. The enormous powers of the GCSB can then be unleashed to capture all electronic communications freed of the restrictions on nationality, legalising all of the programmes that Edward Snowden told us were happening (XKeyscore, Prism, etc), but which the government has consistently denied for the past three years. These capabilities can be coupled with that of the SIS who can now install a video camera in your home for up to 24 hours with no warrant to provide “total information awareness”.

Michael Cullen’s ridiculous argument that the GCSB needs to spy on New Zealanders to protect them, providing the example of how hamstrung the GCSB would be should someone be lost at sea ignores the fact that the GCSB can already provide any assistance to the Police (with no thresholds whatsoever about what the Police are doing). And it is most likely that the Police would be the agency leading any missing person investigation. Cullen’s example demonstrates either a stunning lack of knowledge of the GCSB’s current powers or a desire to promulgate false examples of how such additional powers would be used. In either case, this person should not be leading a so-called “Independent review.”

After all, we should ask, just exactly how many New Zealanders lives have been protected by the GCSB/SIS ability to spy on them already? We have no evidence of any people being brought to justice for attempts to undermine national security – and surely if there was evidence of such offences, they would be followed up by both police and the courts. One New Zealander whose life was most definitely not protected by the GCSB’s ability to spy on him was Daryl Jones, a NZ citizen killed in a US drone attack in Yemen. He was subject to an intelligence warrant (we must assume a GCSB interception warrant as it is the agency with such capability) that provided the NSA with at least some data about him. Whatever your view about Daryl Jones, he was not an existential threat to New Zealand (or the US for that matter) nor did he receive any due process of law (e.g. he was never brought before any court or accused of any crime).  So the evidence we actually do have is of these agencies violating the rights of New Zealanders, not protecting them. There is a list of other violations of rights regarding both agencies that have been well canvassed in the media.

The recommendation that existing laws were “inconsistent, and a lack of clarity meant both the agencies and their oversight bodies were at times uncertain about what the law does or does not permit, which makes it difficult to ensure compliance" also beggar’s belief. The GCSB law was totally overhauled in 2013, the SIS Act has been amended a half a dozen times since 2007 – and somehow at none of these points were the “inconsistencies and lack of clarity” identified and cleared up? In fact, clarity was a major issue in the GCSB Act of 2013 debate: people could see that the law allowed the agency to spy on them in a way that had previously been unlawful. The idea that the GCSB interpretation of its law makes it "risk-averse" as the review notes, (in other words, unwilling to spy on people they aren’t sure they are allowed to) is a GOOD thing that should be applauded not something that needs to be amended to widen its scope even further.

Curiously, the government is hot-footing it to change the law to eliminate this “lack of clarity” but no such urgency has been extended to the Solicitor-General’s 2007 view that the Terrorism Suppression Act was “unnecessarily complex, incoherent…and almost impossible to apply to a domestic situation’”. Rather it seems the government wants clarity to spy but not clarity on the reasons for its spying.

One final note is the commentary about the need for “bipartisan” support for intelligence law changes, such support ostensibly giving legitimacy to, and public confidence in, these agencies. But from their start, these agencies have been shrouded in secrecy and half-truths (if not outright lies). The public is hardly able to make an “informed decision” under these circumstances. What the public does know, however, has given rise to significant public unease – and that unease is not something new. In 1977, tens of thousands marched against the expansion of the SIS. In 2013, such demonstrations were repeated. These agencies act in the shadows and as such, most New Zealanders are unaware of what they are doing. It is not that they are unconcerned, but rather that other things are more obviously of urgent pressing concern: health, education, welfare and work. But when the realities of these agencies are exposed, it takes little for the public opposition to be mobilised. It is unlikely that this would ever be a make or break election issue, but that doesn’t mean that people in New Zealand consent to these agencies or to these powers, or that cross-party support gives them any legitimacy with ordinary people.

[This article was first published on indymedia]

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Intelligence & Security Review Public Soon

The far from independent Intelligence Review was tabled before the government on Monday, 29th February. John Key has announced that he wants it made public before March 11th and it will not be redacted.

It will not be redacted as it will only be big picture stuff. There will probably be the usual calls that the GCSB and the SIS must follow the law, that they must be more transparent and should work more closely together.

There may be an increase in the role of the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre). In one of her last public talks as acting director of GCSB, Una Jagose spoke about the importance of that group and increasing links between the corporate and intelligence world.

The Review will also bring law changes. A recently released 2014 'top-secret' briefing said law changes were the aim.

And the Review is to make recommendations on the life-span of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill.


Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy, the two reviewers, cannot be relied upon for any independent insight. Cullen is a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and Reddy is a flaunted state-sector lawyer and member of many boards. A scathing editorial by the Dominion Post condemned the reviewers as 'not equipped for the task.'

The Review's frame of reference is narrow and superficial and the official submission form was prescriptive and leading. Nicky Hager described it as 'a primary school level questionnaire' by people who 'treat the public as children.'
The results of the Intelligence Review are feared because the Review assumes the necessity and legitimacy of the GCSB and SIS. It will not question their purpose or practice.

Consider what has come to light in only the last decade about those agencies: declassified SIS files show that children as young as ten were spied on and the fall-out from the Dotcom raid revealed the GCSB spied illegally on 88 New Zealanders.

More recently there's been information leaked by Edward Snowden. The Five-Eyes and surveillance programmes such as PRISM have become public.
A PR-blitz has been the government response and the Intelligence Review will be the icing on the cake. It will strengthen surveillance powers to make us safer.
But safer from whom? The history of surveillance can explain.

Intelligence policing was developed to ensure the ‘preservation of the political regime’. Many countries practised surveillance at the time of the French Revolution. At one time every item of mail going to, travelling through, or coming from France was purported to be opened. People employed to deliver mail obligingly helped. A diplomat at the time wrote, 'every word can be interpreted in a bad sense; paper is nowadays an evil treasure, at any moment it may become a red-hot coal'.

Over time the role of surveillance has barely changed, what has is the technology. Taps into fibre optic cables are now the equivalent of letter openers. Ex-GCSB director Bruce Ferguson explained what the GCSB does is '...sort of like whitebaiting and trying to catch one whitebait, you can't do it and within the net you'll get all sorts of other things - it's a mass collection.'

In Europe letters were monitored, the equivalent now is the TICS (Telecommunication Interceptions Capability and Security) Act. Interception capability is built into the servers and networks. The GCSB have the power to surveil all NZ digital traffic.

PRISM and back-door access mean Five-Eyes agencies, of which the GCSB is one, have access into the corporate world. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype and Facebook collect huge amounts of personal data and intelligence agencies have access to it.

But the Five-Eyes do even more extreme surveillance, including espionage, sabotage and dirty politics.

Over the decades some surveillance scandals have become known: Margaret Thatcher used Five-Eyes to spy on two MPs, Kissinger used Five-Eyes to discredit a political opponent, the Five-Eyes monitored the European Airbus company to ensure US companies got the deal.

Snowden revealed actual dirty politic programmes: WARPATH, a programme for 'mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign', similar to BADGER, a 'Mass delivery of email messaging to support an Information Operations campaign'.

UNDERPASS, used to 'Change outcome of online polls' and GATEWAY, the 'Ability to artificially increase traffic to a website'. Also SLIPSTREAM, the 'ability to inflate page views on websites', GESTATOR, an 'Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)'.
There is CHANGELING, the 'Ability to spoof any email address and send email under that identity'. There is also PREDATORS FACE, the 'Targeted Denial Of Service against Web Servers' and ROLLING THUNDER, the 'Distributed denial of service using P2P' or WILLOWVIXEN, a programme to 'deploy malware by sending out emails that trick targets into clicking a malicious link'.

There are many more programmes, including honey-traps to 'destroy, deny, degrade and disrupt' targeted people.

As the 18th Century Europeans knew, spying is about social control. And that is what the NZ Intelligence Community is involved in.

Information leaked by Snowden confirms that the GCSB spies on Pacific countries and everyone residing, passing through or holidaying in that area. They also spy on numerous other countries, including Vietnam, China, Mexico, South Korea, Iran and Bangladesh. The NSA describes the GCSB as the 'lead agency' spying on Bangladesh.

The GCSB spied on Tim Groser's rivals for the position of director-general of the WTO.

Information given by the GCSB is used in drone strikes.

It is not only the GCSB though, the SIS cannot be ignored. Released files prove the SIS spies on political dissidents, groups, children and vulnerable refugee communities. The SIS also use dirty tactics, for instance they were caught breaking into Aziz Choudry's home in 1996.

In 2014 the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security investigated and upheld allegations that John Key's office had used information from the SIS to gain a political advantage in the 2011 general election.

Surveillance is a threat to democracy.

If we want a safe world, we need to question the purpose of surveillance.
But the role of surveillance and our intelligence agencies will only be glossed over by the Intelligence Review. Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy are consummate insiders and their recommendations will be pre-ordained by the terms of reference and the official public submission forms.

In the coming weeks we will hear more fearmongering rhetoric about Jihadi brides and terror attacks. But rather than being fearful of Jihadists, terrorism, or for that matter burglars, we should be fearful of where the Five-Eyes and surveillance is taking us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The deadline for the Intelligence Review Looms


Lisa Fong will be the person in the hot seat when the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament receive the promised Intelligence Review.

On Monday, 15 February, two weeks before the deadline for the Intelligence Review is to be tabled, Una Jagose took up her new role as the Attorney General and Lisa Fong, former GCSB chief-legal advisor, is now the acting director.

According to the GCSB, Lisa has been employed there since 2012 – the date may be arguably incorrect though (or an example of incorrect data gathering on the part of the GCSB). The official government release announcing Lisa Fong's appointment as acting director states that she started work at the GCSB in April 2013.

However, if the 2012 date is correct, that puts Lisa working at the GCSB when they were found to have spied illegally on 88 New Zealanders. She may have been giving advice then to Hugh Wolfensohn, the Deputy Director of Mission Enablement (DDME) and part-time legal advisor, who resigned in March 2013 just weeks before the Kitteridge report became public.

Regardless of whether she started in 2012 or 213 though, Lisa would have been working there as the legal advisor when operation 'WTO Project' was active and the GCSB was spying on Tim Groser's rivals for the position of director-general of the WTO. The GCSB operation involved covert surveillance of candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Jordan, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and South Korea.

Whilst Lisa has been working there the GCSB has also been spying on Pacific countries and everyone residing, passing through or holidaying in that area.

Lisa was working there when it was written in tbe 2014 NZIC report that, among other things, the intelligence community had to ensure they comply with the law.

When the far from independent Intelligence Review is finally released, it will probably herald law changes to make legal a lot of the unlawful activities that have become public since the Dotcom raid and the Snowden leaks of 2012 and 2013.

To make law changes is the role of the Intelligence Review, this was clearly stated in the top-secret briefing to John Key in 2014.The briefing stated that the "review should provide a sound basis on which to develop new legislation."

Any new legislation will only strengthen the already only so-called 'arguably legal' acts of the GCSB and ensure that NZ stays firmly entrenched in the Five-Eyes. 

The next few weeks may prove busy for Lisa Fong.




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Surveillance Film Festival

Stop the Spies is hosting a Surveillance Film Festival in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin this March.


"Has the portrayal of surveillance in films caught up with us? Dystopian Big Brother films from the past show glimpses of a present reality. Spy films and the machinations of spy paraphernalia capture our imagination with fantastical technology. Stasi and Cold War intelligence policing methods shock and titillate people. But Edward Snowden’s revelations opened many eyes to the ubiquitous world of mass surveillance right here and now.

"The Surveillance Film Festival is an opportunity to explore the portrayal of surveillance in films and documentaries and ponder the reality of surveillance in our lives today."


The Wellington festival will be held at Thistle Hall, Friday 25th March and Saturday 26th March. Details for Dunedin and Christchurch to be confirmed.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Security Intelligence Community say 'must finish what we have started'

This week brought us not just one but three reports from the ‘intelligence community’.

First there was the annual report of the Inspector General for Security and Intelligence (IG), Cheryl Gwen. It is pretty damning, and echoes many of the criticisms raised in the State Services 2014 review of the intelligence community, especially regarding the SIS.

The IG's annual report was covered on stuff, but there is a better analysis on No Right Turn. The report is littered with findings like this:
In the course of these inquiries, I identified systemic shortcomings in the procedures followed by the NZSIS. […] The process of preparing and finalising those reports has been more protracted than I would have wished because of the time required for my office and for NZSIS to work through the systemic issues that I had identified.
And it culminates in this conclusion:
As noted above, the Service lacked a compliance framework and policy, audit framework and dedicated staffing throughout this reporting period.[...] For those reasons, I cannot conclude that NZSIS had sound compliance procedures and systems in place.
Note that the innocent sounding word ‘compliance’ means nothing less than the organisation operating within the law. 

As if to counter the impression of an out of control organisation a reader would get from this report, a quasi-internal review by the SIS which had concluded in July was declassified a few days after the release of the IG’s report. It comes to the almost opposite conclusion:
The reviewer did not find any evidence of (nor was given any reason to believe there was) significant non-compliance within NZSIS.
So everything is OK then? Maybe Cheryl Gwen is a bit too critical. Or maybe Rebecca Kitteridge is a lot less concerned about these things now that she is actually responsible for the SIS than she was in 2013 when she reviewed the GCSB. Her report back then read very similar to Gwen‘s report about the SIS does now. Sometimes the best way to shut critics up is to put them in charge.

A lot of the criticism of the SIS in the annual report by the IG is around security vetting. This is when someone applies for a job and has to pass a security clearing, which is done by the SIS. The report states that “the assessment of security clearance candidates is a significant aspect of the NZSIS’s functions. There are, at any given time, some thousands of people who require New Zealand government security clearances in order to retain their employment. Staff responsible for security clearance assessments comprise approximately a quarter of the NZSIS.” The IG investigated this area because of four complaints she had received from people who had either missed out on a job offer or had lost their job as a result of a negative security assessment by the SIS. It is likely that there are a lot more cases out there who didn’t bother complaining or never knew they failed a security clearance.

According to the report, there are three things the SIS has to do in the vetting process: “obtain all available relevant information”, “analyse all of that information” and “disclose all adverse information … to the candidate and give the candidate an opportunity to respond”.

That sounds easy enough, yet the report found that “NZSIS did not always obtain all reasonably available information”, that it “did not generally take steps to investigate possible bias (positive or negative) towards a candidate”, and that it “did not disclose adverse information or inferences to candidates for response.”

I.e. it did none of the three things it was required to do properly, despite a quarter of its staff being tasked with this.

Another area of concern was that of political neutrality, which appears to be a foreign concept at the SIS. This became public in the fallout of the ‘Dirty Politics’ saga, during which the SIS expedited an Official Information Act Request by Cameron Slater, while dragging its feet on similar requests by people who are not friends of the Prime Minister.

This had already been the subject of an inquiry by the IG in November 2014. Back then she found that the “Director and senior staff of the NZSIS […] failed to recognise the gravity of the controversy”, i.e. they didn’t even understand what all the fuzz was about.

The report now states that, as a result:
The position of NZIC Private Secretary has been established in the office of Hon Christopher Finlayson (as Minister in Charge of the NZSIS and Minister Responsible for the GCSB). The Private Secretary has been provided with State Services Commission’s written guidance on political neutrality. In addition, the SSC has provided a mentor to the NZIC Private Secretary.
A politician has been put in charge of teaching SIS staff how to be politically neutral. Surely, nothing can go wrong now.

So staff who have absolutely no awareness of what political neutrality means have for years been in charge of determining people’s security clearance, a process that decides who gets a job in the public service. They probably don’t know what the word nepotism means either.

With all this criticism being aired, someone probably thought it necessary to remind the public why we so desperately need these agencies, and declassified a year-old ‘top secret’ briefing to the incoming PM and the Minister in charge of the SIS and responsible for the GCSB.

This extraordinary document, authored by Howard Broad, Ian Fletcher and Rebecca Kitteridge, is well worth a read – it is revealing on many levels.

It is apparently aimed at a primary school audience and includes insights like “the internet doesn’t work like a telecommunications system, but more like an ocean of data with almost no respect for international borders.”

The briefing starts by listing the “six security problems that you [the PM] should really worry about”:
  • Violent extremism
  • Loss of information and data
  • Hostile intelligence operations in and against NZ
  • Mass arrivals
  • Trans-national organised crime
  • Instability in the South Pacific
No doubt John Key has never before thought about any of that. It then asks “what does the intelligence community actually do?” - also a pretty important thing to know for the Minister in charge of these agencies, so in their 'top secret' brief they make it clear:
  • Help keep Kiwis safe (NB. this is not to be confused with the DOC 'Save Kiwi' campaign)
  • Help protect and grow the economy
  • Provide foreign intelligence and assessment
The briefing is a textbook example of how bureaucrats manipulate politicians. Hidden amidst all the trivial flattery are a few sentences that contain the actual agenda. One of them is this, referring to the agencies’ continuing push for law changes: “we need to finish what we have started, but there is much more to do.”

Another one is this, which explains why we have been hearing so much from the SIS and GCSB in the last few months:
The statutory review of the intelligence agencies, their legislation and the oversight arrangements must commence before 30 June 2015. The Government response to that review should provide a sound basis on which to develop new legislation. We also see this as an opportunity to help build public trust and confidence.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The GCSB’s Moment of Truth

There has been much talk recently about the GCSB’s ‘charm offensive’ and how it is becoming more transparent, and how that is good for democracy. However, what is pitched as transparency and openness is in reality just spin doctoring.

On 11 September, the Privacy Commissioner John Edwards organised a ‘Privacy Forum’ at which GCSB director Una Jagose was going to “describe what GCSB does to deal with cyber threats, including outlining the CORTEX programme.”

At the start of the meeting, two activists of the Stop The Spies coalition (of which OASIS is a part) unfolded a banner reading “This is a Five-Eyes Propaganda Exercise”. That was enough for Jagose and Edwards to cancel the entire event.

It has since become clear just how stage managed the event, and its repeat on 29 September, were.

A response to an Official Information Act request for Una Jagose’s speech and associated correspondence revealed that “the communications are between the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. This is because communications function for the GCSB is managed by the National Security Communications team base in DPMC.” This means that every word we hear or read from the GCSB comes from the same people who write John Key’s speeches.

When asked what the role of the Privacy Commissioner was in providing a forum for an agency whose job it is to invade people’s privacy, Edwards replied on Twitter: “Come along to the next forum, and if you are prepared to behave like adults, and with respect for others, you'll hear.” According to the NZ Herald, he also said “I am not going to have a process of vetting, and I'm not going to have a security to drag people out.”

However, that’s precisely what he did. An email trail between the office of the Privacy Commissioner and the GCSB obtained under a follow up OIA request shows that when the office set out to plan the repeat of Una Jagose’s ‘moment of truth’ on 29 September, it did exactly the opposite of what Edwards had promised. First, the meeting was moved to a place that is not easily accessible and security was hired: “I’ve had a chat to Police about options and their preference is for a venue that is not as open, or as much of a public space, as the National Library. They are willing to provide two officers to be in attendance (we would likely ask them to be plain clothed).”

Next, they made sure no one associated with Stop The Spies would find out about the meeting: “We will notify the majority of previous registrants by email. […] We have gone through the list carefully.”

Now, spin doctors who are worth their money will probably have no problem explaining the apparent contradiction away between ‘no vetting’ and ‘going through the list carefully’, and between ‘no security’ and ‘two plain clothed officers’. John Key has managed to talk his way out of bigger issues. But is that transparency?