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.

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