Sue Bradford

Bradford’s Truth – SIS, the watchers and the watched

by Sue Bradford

Hi, here’s my regular column for the New Zealand Truth – this time looking at the SIS involvement in my life – and mine in theirs:

Last month the SIS released a heavily edited version of the file they kept on me from 1968 onwards.

The file is evidently in two volumes, and 330 classified reports on me have been withheld. The few lessons I take from what I have been allowed to see so far are that:

  • The SIS was very active during the Cold War period in relation to anyone they judged to be subversive, even when just a teenager at school – as I was when the spooks first started keeping an eye on me.
  • They had an agent right inside one organisation to which I belonged, and quite possibly within others as well. The spies weren’t quite as incompetent as some commentators made out in the Playboy and meat pie days.
  • However, the information they collected on me was quite random, with rather a lot missing and some strange fabrications and suppositions.
  • The way my file comes to an abrupt end in early 1999 is a little odd as I was still very involved in organising protests against the APEC meeting later that year. This sudden conclusion may have something to do with the fact that after Keith Locke’s records were released in early 2009 the SIS came under heavy pressure not to keep files on sitting MPs – even though I didn’t enter Parliament until December 1999.

I welcome the recent increase in media and public scrutiny of the SIS.

I believe we all need to know more about the agency paid for by the taxpayer and tasked with identifying, watching and analysing people who are a threat to New Zealand’s security.

While there will always be a need for a high degree of secrecy in its operations because of their very nature, I reckon more should be done to review and cull personal files that are kept on people like myself and goodness knows how many others.

Even the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor, said in March that he was concerned about the SIS’s ‘vacuum cleaner approach’ to collecting information on suspect individuals, and that security needs should be weighed up against peoples’ right to privacy.

Parliament has a special committee on security and intelligence which is supposed to have oversight of the SIS.

Its current members are John Key, Rodney Hide, Tariana Turia, Phil Goff and Russel Norman.

I certainly hope the committee is doing more these days than just accepting whatever the SIS Director tells them.

I trust this new generation of political party leaders are girding their loins to truly watch the watchers, a function needed in any democratic society.

While I accept that there will probably always be a need for some form of security intelligence service in our country, there must also be effective checks and balances on just what that service is up to.

And I hope that whoever the SIS is keeping an eye on these days, there is a genuine reason for doing so, and that any records being kept are both fair and accurate.

Published in Justice & Democracy by Sue Bradford on Wed, July 1st, 2009   

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