Spooks stay mum

There is stiff competition among government departments as to who can produce the most vacuous documents. But no-one can beat the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau, both of whom tabled their annual reports yesterday.

I was expecting more, because the SIS report has a section headed “Informed Public”, which explains that the SIS Director, Dr Warren Tucker, spoke to a number of Rotary Clubs.

What he told them is a bit of a mystery, because all we find in the SIS annual report is that the agency ‘undertook successful counter terrorism operations’ and that it used 24 interception warrants ‘which materially contributed to the detection of activities prejudicial to security’. If you want to know more, use your imagination.

Still, the SIS is doing better than the GCSB, which spends 11 pages basically saying nothing, other than to let us know that ‘a number of Foreign Interception Warrants’ were in ‘in force’ during the year.

Call me a cynic, but I don’t think these interception warrants were tracking Israeli government communications to see if they were still trying to obtain fraudulent New Zealand passports, as they were proved to have done a few years back. If the SIS and GCSB were really into ‘counter-terrorism’ Israel would be a target, particularly after its terrorist assassination of a Palestinian official in Dubai earlier this month.

14 thoughts on “Spooks stay mum

  1. It’s amazing that we spend huge amounts on SIS and GCSB and they’ve never, ever caught and prosecuted a terrorist or spy. You’d have thought that, given the obviously huge threat, somebody would have come to their attention with guns or explosives or something.

    But no, nothing, ever (well, since the Cold War ended).

    The only terrorist or espionage incidents have been dealt with by the non-secret police and internal affairs people. What is it SIS do all day? Sudoku?

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  2. You are not cynical Keith. Think of the sweet irony.
    We give them money and power
    Call it Secret
    ….and recieve 11 pages of nothing in return.

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  3. By not revealing anything they are doing their jobs well, these are organisations under the Crown that are designed to protect NZ through secretive measures, if it was something that NZ citizens needed to actually know about they would reveal it or the Crown would allow it to be revealed by means of opening up archive information. It’s okay they are probably not going around NZ black bagging people!

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  4. @stephensmikm 9:11 PM

    By not revealing anything they are doing their jobs well, these are organisations under the Crown that are designed to protect NZ through secretive measures…

    I don’t buy that. Parliamentary Standing Orders permit evidence to be given to Select Committees “in secret”, so the evidence is known only to the MPs, but not to the public.

    I accept that intelligence agencies need to have a level of secrecy to function effectively, but they should also be subject to at least some level of democratic control – such as fully briefing a Parliamentary Select Committee, with some evidence in the briefing being accepted by the Committee as secret evidence that is not published.

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  5. Ah, the Government Computer Security Bureau. Such a cute little acronym, but what exactly are they about, really?
    Well, it sure ain’t stopping the spam attacks at the borders :-D

    Our own Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee of spies are going to have to try harder if they want to be taken seriously, like the big boys at MI5 and MI6, who are currently fuming about the Isreali Mossad spies ‘borrowing’ the identities of British citizens for the Palestinian hit.

    If passport data in the UK isn’t safe from predation, I hardly imagine the GCSB could stop anything from being sucked down the pipe and duplicated at leisure by Mossad. Or the DGSE, the other agency that has perpetrated terrorist attacks on NZ soil.

    So many spies, so much inter-country squabbling within the same industry, you’d think there’d be some sort of corporate attempt to regulate or unionise by now… ;-)

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  6. stephensmikm,

    You write: “… if it was something that NZ citizens needed to actually know about they would reveal it or the Crown would allow it to be revealed by means of opening up archive information.”

    It would be more correct to say: “… if it was something that the government decided that NZ citizens needed to actually know about they would reveal it or the Crown would allow it to be revealed by means of opening up archive information.”

    There is an important difference.

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  7. @ Toad, All it take is one blab from one MP present in one of those select committee meetings and significant damage can be done to the measure NZ goes through to make sure it is not under any attack, Keeping them away from Democratic control in a sense is actually very useful, These organisations are part of the permanent administration of NZ and if they are unable to be completely unbias when giving any information then their jobs would be tainted with political bias and resultantly the work they do would no longer be neutral and safe for NZ to use as part of our security scheme.

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  8. stephensmikm, divulging the proceedings or the report of a select committee contrary to Standing Orders is a contempt of Parliament.

    Parliament has extensive powers to discipline Members who are found in contempt – including the power to imprison. It would be a very foolish Select Committee member indeed who disclosed evidence relating to national security given in secret to a Select Committee.

    Keeping any part of the administrative functions of Government free from democratic control and oversight is very dangerous – and doing so with security services you end up risking what Keith alludes to Mossad doing – extra-judicial executions and the like.

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  9. stephensmikm

    You have accepted the censorship of the information we AS A GOVERNMENT get.

    Ordinary censorship is one thing, this goes beyond that foolishness to an entirely more ludicrous level of stupidity.

    Once you accept the limitation that others control what information you are permitted to have, there is NO ability to know when or if that control is abused. Which is why those agencies are (or should be) required to inform at least some elected officials in government of their operations.

    We are not represented nor governed by spooks, and even if we elect fools and idiots to represent us, they are OUR fools and idiots.

    Any “permanent administration” has to be answerable to elected officials, and if there is information withheld per your scenario, the elected officials cannot even raise a question.

    This depth of ideological blindness to systemic risk even astounds me… and I have seen some amazing examples of it in the past.

    BJ

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  10. @ bjchip

    (Once you accept the limitation that others control what information you are permitted to have, there is NO ability to know when or if that control is abused)

    While you say “ordinary censorship” what does that mean, many things are censored in NZ, just look at the film industry, the upcoming Internet industry and even a particular tee-shirt
    These things are censored for the means of protecting society just as SIS documents are censored for protecting society, if they haven’t written it down then there IS a reason, they are not just acting as some malicious evil body, they are our security group working FOR NZ

    Under your logic Child Pornography, Extreme Horrific violence films and of course that tee shirt would be free to roam NZ provided “ordinary Censorship” applied – whats ordinary censorship? please explain?

    And how dare you call them Fools and Idiots, the Director of the SIS is a doctor, the head of the Govt security Bureau is a very well respected Knight and Former chief of the NZ defence force, Airforce and our civil services with further awards across his career

    As for your comments on Democratic accountability, that is a matter for the govt to undertake, yes all govt departments are answerable but only to the means of requiring the govt policies to be administered, perhaps when the Green party finally gets into govt it will be able to undertake a means of changing how the actions of these security services of the country work by means of means of legislation as most actions are undertaken by order in council and pure convention. By guess is they actually won’t once they see what whatever the NZ security services are dealing with that requires them to not even be willing to inform anyone but the PM and their own Executive.

    Think before you write and by all means attack my arguments and theories don’t slag off third parties please:)

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  11. @ toad

    I might be wrong but I cannot recall any situation where parliament arrested one of its own for contempt… and remember these are NZers working, at the end of the day they are not going to turn into Mossad or the CIA or any overarching intelligence service

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  12. It hasn’t happened in New Zealand – yet:

    While the House has the ability to imprison, this has not been exercised in New Zealand. Punishments today can be expected to take account of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and are more likely to involve a fine, a censure, a requirement to apologise, or perhaps restrictions on access to the parliamentary precincts. In the case of members of Parliament being found in contempt, punishment could be as severe as suspension or even expulsion from the House. The latter has not occurred in New Zealand to date.

    But there has never been a contempt of Parliament of anywhere near that magnitude to test it. The power to imprison for contempt of Parliament is definitely there though.

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  13. “I don’t think these interception warrants were tracking Israeli government communications to see if they were still trying to obtain fraudulent New Zealand passports, as they were proved to have done a few years back. If the SIS and GCSB were really into ‘counter-terrorism’ Israel would be a target,”
    —-
    “it’s not the spying: it’s who we’re spying on”
    :wink:

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