The SIS burlesque

datePosted on 00:14, February 3rd, 2009 by Pablo

The decision by SIS Director General Warren Tucker to authorise release of decades-old secret files on activists, unionists and academics is a welcome, albeit small step towards instilling a culture of accountability and transparency in that agency. But the documents released are at best no more than of personal interest to the individuals involved and historians of the Cold War era (as they show the anti-communist paranoia of the times), and at worst a diversion from SIS activities in more recent days. It is all titillation, with the real items of interest left to the imagination. 

For example. We still do not know why indigenous and anti-globalisation activists have been targeted since the 1990s (including the Urewera 17); why the SIS was unaware of the presence in New Zealand of a the Yemeni student pilot (and associate of some of the 9/11 conspirators) until alerted by (of all people) Winston Peters (who got his tip from a flying school manager months after the student pilot began his training); why, even though it is responsible for counter-intelligence matters,  it was unaware of the Israeli contract assets and their sayan (local Jewish liaison) Tony Resnick (who procured the identity of the individual in whose name the fraudulent–but official–passport was to  be issued, and who escaped to Israel before  the SIS was even aware of the operation (which was discovered by a low-ranking Immigration officer who notified the police, who set up a sting on the assumption it was a simple criminal matter)). We do not know why Mr. Tucker’s predecessor decided to concoct a worse-case picture of Ahmed Zaoui in order to justify his detention without charges for nearly two years–a picture that proved to be false and which forced the government to abandon its attempts to prevent Zaoui from settling in NZ after spending millions of dollars on Crown lawyers vainly trying to make the case against him (and then allowed the previous Director General to walk away with a golden handshake and another high level government job). We still do not why, in 2005, the SIS claimed that the greatest threat to NZ came from “local jihadis” akin to those in London and Madrid, but then a year later dropped any mention of local jihadis in favor of the claim that foreign intelligence agencies operating on NZ soil were the primary focus of its attention–this despite the fact that no “jihadi” arrests were made and no plots were disrupted, or the subsequent fact that, in spite of repeated defector claims that Chinese intelligence works with ease in NZ engaging in industrial and political espionage as well as monitoring Chinese expat dissidents, nothing other than computer security upgrades appears to have been done in response (and  no Chinese spies have been arrested, or if they were, were quietly deported in contrast to the Israeli case). We still do not know why the SIS attempted to smear its critics when confronted on issues of policy, politics and threat assessment (the Zaoui case is illustrative), when in fact that criticism is ostensibly a democratic right of all citizens ( a smear campaign that may well have included the deliberate and selective planting of false information in order to subsequently discredit the outlets that published it). In sum, by giving us old news the SIS avoids the hard questions about what it is doing now, or at least more recently.

The point is simple: it is great that Mr. Tucker has started to open up his agency to public scrutiny. On that score he is to be commended and encouraged. But he needs to do more. He needs to shorten the time window before secret files can be made public (say, ten years). He needs to address the SIS’s failures and explain what he proposes to do to remedy them, as well as why its expanded powers and organizational reach is justified (after all, the SIS has seen its budget almost double and its personnel increase by a third since 2001). He does not have to compromise any ongoing operations or past associations should the interest of national security require continued secrecy. But if public confidence in the professional competence of the SIS is to be maintained (or restored), then he needs to come clean on the why and how of the SIS’s spotty track record as well as how it proposes to embrace the intelligence challenges of the next decade. In order to do so, he may need a signal from the government, and for that to happen the government needs to have an understanding of the intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination process. That remains to be seen, no matter what Mr. Tucker’s good intentions may be. After all, good intentions are not enough to change a dysfunctional institutional culture, and that appears to be precisely what Mr. Tucker inherited.

Sometimes you are in…

datePosted on 06:00, February 2nd, 2009 by Anita

In many things in society there are (to paraphrase Heidi Klum) those who are in and those who are out. This contrast is necessarily judgemental (some are better than others), uninclusive and disabling. When addressing these divisions in society there are two possible approaches: one is to extend the “in” group, increasing the number of people in the dominant high status group and leaving a smaller number in the out group. The other is to dismantle the distinction altogether: decreasing the relative power of the old in group, and increasing the status of all members of the out groups so that their standing in society becomes level.

The two different approaches can lead to tension within people fighting for change: some set out to claim “normalcy” and consciously reinforce the way they are similar to the in group. Others in the same movement want to remove the normal/other distinction by reinforcing their difference and demanding acceptance.

This dichotomy exists between the older gay rights movement and the newer GLBTQ movement. The gay rights movement started off fighting for in group status; they aimed to be considered part of the mainstream – the orthodoxy – and to do so they showcased their similarity to the dominant group. They used older professional men in suits as spokespeople, they chose people who were either long time celibates or in long-term stable relationships: people who would fit in nicely at Rotary, church or Cabinet meetings. While they maybe have privately acknowledged the drag queens, the bi and trans, the public focus was on middle class gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.

The more recent GLBTQ movement has taken the opposite approach, proudly showcasing difference and refusing the change to become part of the in group: “we’re here and we’re queer!”. The spokespeople would not get through the door, but that’s because they don’t want to be on the inside, they want to take the walls down.

With every social change that we campaign for, whether it is rights for the disabled or the eradication of child poverty, we have to decide whether we’re asking for more people to be allowed into the in group – where they will be rewarded with high status provided they blend in – or whether we are asking for a radical change in the social order – which will allow and enable more diversity and change, but will require change by everyone.

The Second Job of Citizenry

datePosted on 06:00, February 1st, 2009 by Anita

During last year’s election campaign I was struck by just how few people actually care; the cynicism and distrust of politicians, no-one expects honesty. More and more often I hear people talking about just not bothering — “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s always a politician who wins.” The reality is that if you don’t vote the politicians win too.

Overseas negative and attack campaigning to suppress the vote is a common tactic. It may not be possible to persuade your opposition’s supporters to vote for you, but you might be able to put them off voting altogether. In our context, National may not be able to get many working class women to vote for them, but if they can stop them voting at all, that’s nearly as good.

In a fascinating public lecture Therese Arseneau talks about what she learned from the use of consultants in US elections

their aim is to actually to suppress the vote. The aim of negative campaigning was to keep particular people away from the polls.

A study of US Senate races shows just how effective this tactic is at suppressing not only the targeted voters but the electorate as a whole. They found that in largely negative races turnouts were 4.5 percentage points lowers than in ones that were largely positive. In New Zealand a 4.5 percentage point drop is about 130,000 people.

Both major parties publicly stated they ran positive campaigns, yet the tenor was negative all the way. This is true of political parties, the media, the net and the whispering campaigns.

There has always been some negativity from the two main political parties, but volumes seems to have increased over the last two campaigns. From the National Party we see the increase in the build up to the 2005 election, with the Crosby/Textor strategy of targeting Helen Clark — arrogant, out of touch, childless — along with divisive rhetoric against traditionally Labour supporting segments of society. Labour’s negativity showed in some of the 2005 campaign — for example their anti-National mocked-up eviction notices. This time we saw attacks on Key, which didn’t looked well co-ordinated or thought through, but sure were negative. Read the rest of this entry »

Friends don’t let friends rape

datePosted on 06:00, January 31st, 2009 by Anita

Over the last week or so there’s been a lot of talk about the “It’s not ok” campaign (I recommend Luddite Journo and Russell Brown, I do not recommend Bill Ralston), at the same time I’ve been commuting past huge signs saying “Safe in the City – Stick with your mates” with a picture of young women out on the town.

With drink driving we have, over the last few years, learnt that the person drink driving is 100% to blame and that we can and should step up and help our friends and families not drink drive.

More recently we have at least started to learn that the person who is violent towards their partner, children, elderly parent or other family member is 100% to blame and that we can and should step up and help our friends and families not hurt the ones they love.

Yet when it comes to rape we hold the victim, at least partly, responsible and believe that women have a responsibility to stop their friends and family being raped.

The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.

This isn’t a women vs men issue – both men and women are raped, both women and men rape, and every single one of us is able to stop our friends and family raping.

Why don’t the ads say that?

[Hat tip to Queen of Thorns and her magical sexual assault pixies]

Whispering campaigns

datePosted on 06:00, January 30th, 2009 by Anita

For the last six years the National and their allies honed their skills at whispering campaigns; the question now is whether Labour will stoop to their level.

We all heard the whispers; the stories of sex, money and corruption. Largely personal they also targeted the partners and children of politicians. 

Of all the things National and its allies have done it the last few years the whispering campaigns sickened me most.

  1. The dishonesty. John Key never actually called Helen Clark a “heartless childless lesbian bitch”, instead he arranged for enough other people to say it so that he only needed to nod slightly and the attack was made but his hands remained clean.
  2. Personal attacks are just plain wrong. We saw them during the Muldoon administration, and we condemn him for them, so why was it ok for the Brash and Key National parties?
  3. Even if politicians could be argued to open themselves up to this, what about their partners, children and extended families? Many of the people smeared were not political actors and were hurt solely to damage others.
  4. The orchestrated whispering campaigns exposed and reinforced an undercurrent on bigotry. If being called a lesbian is a political attack what does that mean for women who actually are lesbians?

I am hoping desperately that Labour will step away from this tactic. They’ve had a few shameful moments of going there, but not to the extent of National. The question for them now is whether they will follow National’s lead and go for opposition gutter politics, or whether they will step back and fight a clean fight over policy.

Bullying Fiji, Part 2: The Inside Game

datePosted on 14:13, January 29th, 2009 by Pablo

Pursuant to the post of a few days ago, I thought it best to follow up with some facts in order to illuminate some of the complexity of the Fijian situation. In doing so I hope to clarify why NZ’s approach may be counter-productive.

The Fijian armed forces total 3,500 troops. Of those, 3,200 are in the Army and 300 in the Navy (there is no air force). Upwards of 97 percent of these troops are indigenous Fijians, with less than 50 military personnel (mostly Indo-Fijians) coming from other ethnic groups. Most of the non-ethnic Fijians are officers, and most are in the Navy (which nominally has nine patrol boats, only of which 2-3 are operational at any given moment). Twenty percent of the Fijian Army are continually deployed on UN  or other international missions (such as Iraq), with the superior UN pay levels being a prize for both officers and enlisted personnel that is transferred in the form of remittance payments to their families back home. If military veterans and private security contractors are included in the total of men under arms, the numbers of ethnic Fijians well versed in combat swells to over 10,000 (Fiji has a thriving market for private security contractors due to its operational experience in foreign conflict zones). The Fijian Navy has limited combat experience, whereas its Army has seen action in a variety of theaters as well as at home.

What this means is that Commodore Bainimarama, as a member of the smaller service (one that has little ground security responsibilities and no ground warfare experience), serves at the behest of the Army commanders. This is important because, as mentioned in the last post, the Fijian armed forces are a classic praetorian military: they internally reflect the political conflicts surrounding them. Since the Army leadership are ethnic Fijians, the Commodore’s proposals to dismantle the disproportionate representation system that favours ethnic Fijians will have a direct impact on the political fortunes of their indigenous kin. Thus Bainimarama must first negotiate the terms of any such constitutional revision with his own High Command, which in turn will have to accept it before popular resistance within the ethnic Fijian community can be lowered. Moreover, the real power to fight in any Army comes from its Non-Comissioned Officers (NCOs, most often of the sergeant rank), which means that there is at least two tiers of command that have to be convinced that such a move is worth backing in the face of family and tribal opposition. Just having the High Command leadership agree will not necessarily be enough to satisfy the NCOs, and recent Fijian history has shown that it is the lower command ranks that ultimately call the shots (literally) when political factors do not swing their way. Perhaps that is why the process of constitutional reform is so slow.

The South Pacific Forum decision to issue an ultimatum calling on Fiji to announce a date for elections is thus problematic. Perhaps NZ and the other sponsors of the resolution believe that in doing so they are giving the Commodore some leverage with which to push his proposals past the Army High Command while at the same time allowing him the cover of publicly voicing nationalist resentment against the intrusion on Fijian sovereignty. But equally plausible is that the ultimatum serves to undermine Bainimarama’s efforts to convince his flag-ranked colleagues and NCOs of the need to accept the “one-person, one vote” system. Should he be seen as weak in the face of this foreign pressure, it is quite possible that a counter-coup will be staged by the Army that will restore disproportionate ethnic Fijian voting privileges in a future constitutional reform. Having a reserve pool of armed veterans amongst the male ethnic Fijian population makes the prospects  for success of such a counter-coup more likely.

Bainimarama’s regime has relatively few uniforms in civilian ministerial positions and in fact has a  majority of civilian administrators and bureaucrats undertaking the daily operations of the Fijian state. Although the Commodore has a petulant streak and his police are selectively heavy handed with regards to dissidents and foreign diplomats who support them, the regime is not universally repressive of the population (perhaps with good reason given the balance of power within the armed forces). But that could change as pressure mounts from both sides–internally as well as externally. Thus increasing foreign pressure on Bainimarama is slowly backing him into a corner–but perhaps not the one that NZ and its allies want him to be in.

This is just one aspect of the equation. One assumes that MFAT has specialists who are aware of this internal game and are advising the government accordingly. It would be advantageous if there were military to military contacts between the NZDF and Fijian military commanders that might serve as a quiet parallel track to the public diplomacy now ongoing. But as things stand the NZ posture seems to be all rhetoric and little if any influence on this (or any other) internal game. If the Commodore does not meet the SPF deadline and economic and diplomatic sanctions are imposed, what is to say that the situation will not get worse rather than better, at least in terms of a peaceful resolution that leads to the restoration of democracy in Fiji?  At that point it will be the Fijian Army that will decide the outcome, and it may not be the outcome NZ favours.

I would like to thank Winston Peters

datePosted on 06:00, January 29th, 2009 by Anita

Winston Peters’ political career is over, and I am glad.

But even with that final storm of dishonesty and showmanship, and the memories of bigotry and anger, I have tried to hold on to the great things he did.

  • He campaigned long and hard for national ownership and against privatisation. He, almost single handedly, stopped the privatisation agenda of the Bolger-Shipley National government.
  • He proved this generation of Māori electors is a force to be reckoned with and can’t be taken for granted.
  • Under both National and Labour governments he achieved increases to the minimum wage.
  • His ceaseless campaigning for older people prevented or undid some of the worst of the damage done by the ideological zeal of Labour and National governments intent on dismantling the welfare state.
  • He fought to keep the big corporates honest and treating New Zealanders fairly.

Winston Peters was from a time when we looked after each other, when we were proud of our country, and when we stood firm in our independence. His concept of “we” and how we should live are not mine, but they are good things to believe. I would like to thank him for his time and his energy, he has made New Zealand a better place.

Why public transport?

datePosted on 06:00, January 28th, 2009 by Anita

In the last few weeks I’ve been seeing many signs of improvements of public transport infrastructure: in Wellington the new trolley wires on my way into town, on the train to Palmerston North all the maintenance work being done along the track, apparently the Auckland train infrastructure has been having a spruce up, and of course the Johnsonville Tunnels. Even some of the most backward regions of no public transport and thinking about it. I reckon it’s wonderful to see, and (for a change :) it makes me miss that last government, and particularly the Greens influence.

Late last year the Greater Wellington Regional Council kicked off a consultation exercise about the basis on which fares are set. On bus trips while looking at the posters advertising the consultation meetings I wondered about why we actually have public transport, and why it’s so important. For me the point has always been twofold; firstly it gets me places, secondly it is so much more environmentally friendly than private cars. For others it’s keeping congestion down, or being able to go out for a drink after work.

Winston Peters, however, has reminded me of the most important role of public transport. Since the arrival of the Super Gold card off peak buses are full of the over 65s; visiting friends, going to the Bot Gardens, picking up a grand daughter from school, going shopping, visiting a neighbour currently in hospital, chatting to strangers on buses. A couple have said they’re getting out more, seeing their friends and family more. One told me she’s eating much better now that she goes to the greengrocer at the Mall a couple of times a week rather than buying frozen veg from the dairy.

The point of public transport is inclusion – anyone can catch a bus, anyone can visit the doctor, anyone can see their friends and family.

The Police brought this on themselves

datePosted on 16:05, January 27th, 2009 by Anita

Why are so many of us making so much noise about the investigations into Halatau Naitoko’s death?

There are three things that are influencing me:

  1. The Police have a history of failing to properly investigate their own, and even of covering up for colleagues. 
  2. There is a recent history of the Police undertaking disproportionate investigation and action on firearms charges against activists, and I’m still pretty riled by it.
  3. Their employees have behaved dishonourably in so many ways in recent memory and the Police have not apologised or truly addressed the actions.

Does this mean there was necessarily anything wrong with the Police’s action on Auckland’s Northwestern motorway? No

Does this mean there was necessarily anything wrong with actions of the individual AOS members? No.

Does it mean I am even remotely comfortable with the Police determining what investigation will be undertaken, how it will be undertaken and who will do it? Hell no!

The reality is that the Police brought this storm on themselves, by having behaved so badly in the past they have damaged our trust in them and they have made little attempt to rebuild it.

Several years ago I knew a man who had worked in the AOS for many years; a good and honourable man. When I heard what had happened on Friday I had two first instincts, the first was to imagine the officer who had pulled the trigger and think of the man I knew and feel for the officer’s pain and guilt. The second was to think “Oh here we go, let’s see how fast the spin kicks in and how fast and deep they bury the investigation”.

The individual officers who were there on Friday deserve and have my thoughts and sympathy. I can’t imagine the pain and guilt they are feeling right now, and I am so very grateful to them for everything they do to keep us safe.

The Police organisation, however, deserves every piece of cynicism and distrust I direct its way.

One of the right’s many complaints about Owen Glenn’s contribution to Peters’ legal fees was that Glenn’s not resident in New Zealand; he’s not even eligible to vote here. Like Glenn’s donations to Peters fees and the Labour party, the controversial Vela donations were from a source unable to vote: the donations were from companies not people.

Donations from not-voters are common in New Zealand; a quick read of the 2005 donation return shows that far more money was donated by things than by people. That doesn’t include the corporate donations carefully crafted to avoid disclosure (e.g. British American Tobacco’s donation to the Nats).

It begs the question – why, if we let anyone and anything buy influence, don’t we let them vote as well? If Sky City can fund political parties, shouldn’t they get to vote too? And the pharmaceutical companies? And the banks? And the tobacco lobby? While we’re at it, they’re bigger than the average person, shouldn’t they get more votes?

It’s obviously ridiculous, as is allowing anyone or anything which cannot vote in our elections to buy political influence.

Principle II: Democracy is for voters – if you can’t vote, or won’t be able to when you turn 18, you shouldn’t get to buy political influence, end of story.

[edited to clarify the first para – Anita]

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