The SIS wants us to help do its job.

The SIS has asked for the cooperation of private industry and academia in reporting potentially suspicious activities that could be related to the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  To that end it sent out a pamphlet to universities and business where potential WMD materials are used outlining how to identify the misuse of said materials along with SIS contact numbers to report to. The main academic union, TEU has protested what it sees as an intrusion into academic freedom, arguing that such requests turn academics into “snitches” and can lead to ethnic profiling. The problem with the TEU position is that the SIS request is akin to the Police asking for community cooperation in reporting suspected criminal activity–it is a request made on citizens as part of their social responsibilities rather than a request to them as academics per se.

What is interesting is that this request comes a bit too late and acutely demonstrates SIS inadequacies in fulfilling its main responsibilities. It also demonstrates how misguided market-driven policies can come back to bite the country in the (security) posterior.

The main reason why the SIS is now asking for public help in locating potential WMD training in NZ is due to the lack of security vetting of business and student visas. Under the 5th Labour government, agreements were signed that allow for the entrance of 1000 Pakistani and 350 Saudi and UAE students to study at NZ universities. The areas of study included chemistry, biochemistry, physics, agronomy, biology, and several engineering subfields (but not political science, surprisingly enough). In none of these agreements are their provisions of security vetting of students either before or after they enroll. Given that Pakistan is jihad central and that Saudi Arabia is the source of the human cannon fodder that carried out 9/11 and numerous other terrorist attacks that is surprising, to say the least, and reckless, dangerous and irresponsible to say the worst. But Labour was intent on making NZ an educational niche market for foreign fees paying students at a time when exactly such security vetting was increasingly being required by other English language countries. Seeing a moment of profit opportunity, and disregarding the glaring security implications of the move, Labour stepped in to fill that niche.

At the time the Pakistani and Middle Eastern student visa agreements were made, I made several public statements and private enquiries of my former employer about the problems of that decision. The Labour government dismissed me as a right wing fear-mongerer and the University ignored my concerns. Now, apparently, the SIS has decided that those concerns had some basis, but lacking in the resources and personnel to monitor every business and lab where potential WMD materials and training can be obtained, have decided to ask the public involved in those industries for help. I applaud the move even though I think that SIS Director Tucker would also be advised to re-orient his troops away from  monitoring domestic environmental, Maori and anti-capitalist activists and concentrate on the very real, state and non-state foreign-connected threats that impact on NZ.

This is not to say that a NZ citizen could not join a university chemistry or physics department out of something more than a love of the discipline. What it does say is that when students, owners or employees display an unhealthy interest in anthax, radioactive and biological waste, medical isotopes, epidemiological causes and morbidity, then it would be socially responsible to advise authorities of that fact. The profiling would not be on the ethnicity of the individual but on his/her behaviour.

Until the NZ government tightens up its visa programme to include security vetting of prospective arrivals, the burden rests on after-entry detection. As it stands, business visas are issued to people with money to invest without questions asked about their past; the same lack of scrutiny is true for students. Thus, mainland Chinese and Taiwanese  students are believed to be a source of triad penetration into NZ. Business visas are believed to be conduits for money laundering from both Asia and the South Pacific. Latin American students are suspected of links with drug traffickers.

Conversely, Middle Eastern and Central Asian students and investors may be completely circumspect and “clean” in their background and intent when arriving on NZ shores. Political refugees from conflict zones like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and the Sudan may want to start over in an safe place, and from what has been seen so far, most do. But as Ronald Reagan said, it is best to trust, then verify. Since the market-driven logic of the Labour government overshadowed the security logic of most counter-terrorism practitioners, security vetting of visa applicants can not happen before or upon entry (and to be fair, much of that is due to NZ distrust of the reliability of information coming from easily bribed or influenced local security authorities in the countries of origin). It therefore has to be an ex post exercise.

That is what the SIS is asking the public to do, as a form of community service.

The trouble is that the SIS reputation is so throughly tarnished by its past excesses and ineptitude, many if not most Kiwis have no interest in helping it to do its job. That makes for a potential double-bite on the security rear.

15 thoughts on “The SIS wants us to help do its job.

  1. I agree with much of what you wrote – but another thought.

    In the actuality of anyone noticing something a little suspicious, one wonders whether there first consideration is – but if I report this can I trust the SIS to act appropriately and just investigate it carefully before taking any action.

    Academics would like to know that their institution is not going to be embarrassed over the matter because action was taken before there there was reasonable cause.

  2. SPC: That goes to what I said in the last two sentences. The SIS is such a tarnished organisation, having acted unprofessionally and with overt political bias on several occasions, that the NZ public has very good reason not to trust their appeal for help. Added to that the legal attempts to further intrude on basic civil rights by both National and Labour kow-towing to the Police and SIS on surveillance and search issues, and what emerges is a climate of popular suspicion not of potential terrorists, but of the security agencies themselves. Under those conditions cooperation is not guaranteed, even if justified.

    In fact, my impression is that most Kiwis, when seeing something in a lab or factory that looks a bit dodgy, would give the “suspect” the benefit of the doubt and just ignore the activities or quietly tell them that the look of the activities was a bit off. Either way, the SIS might have been wise to let the cops handle the reporting, unless this was just a WMD security consciousness-raising exercise disguised as a real concern.

  3. The media (one TV at least) took the line that it was to give the look of adopting practices followed overseas, – my point was that the SIS would have to guarantee circumspection in their investigating activities of those at universities to improve reporting to them (and earn trust over time).

  4. The problem with the TEU position is that the SIS request is akin to the Police asking for community cooperation in reporting suspected criminal activity–it is a request made on citizens as part of their social responsibilities rather than a request to them as academics per se.

    I guess I can’t help but agree with your overall conclusion.

    The problem with the SIS and universities is that during the Cold War it, and organizations like it in other countries, were spying on Professors and other alleged “subversives” in universities, who were in fact just doing their jobs and posed no threat to their nations.

    Over and over again, the security services have spied on and in some cases disrupted the activities of left wingers who were only exercising their democratic rights. In my view they wore out their welcome a long time ago and their abolition is the only worthwhile course of action. One need note that the only case of terrorism on NZ soil was one that the SIS spectacularly failed to prevent.

    Last time I heard of them, they were caught spying on Rochelle Rees, who currently campaigns on behalf of New Zealand’s pigs (the unhelmeted kind). That’s how stupid it is.

    Nobody ever asks us if we would rather face up to the risks of subversion and terrorism rather than have unaccountable spooks spying on and disrupting legitimate political activity. Given that the prospects of subversion and terrorism in New Zealand are minimal, I’d say we are better off without them.

    Like I said, nobody ever asked me if I wanted to swap my civil rights for protection from mostly imaginary acts of terrorism.

  5. Actually, the public already do this, so there is no need.

    IIRC the French terrorists Mafart and Prieure were easily convicted because pretty much everyone who saw them took note of them and their weird behaviour.

    Mind you, they were dumb enough to discuss their plans openly in roadside cafes, thinking that the locals were too dumb to understand French.

  6. At 2:17am ag wrote:

    One need note that the only case of terrorism on NZ soil was one that the SIS spectacularly failed to prevent.

    After the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpace wrote a similar scornful statement to then Prime Minister Lange.

    Lange very adroitly replied that the SIS had not been monitoring Greenpeace for French infiltrators so it did not know about them working inside Greenpeace, but had the SIS been doing so, and Greenpeace had found out that it was been monitored by the SIS, it (Greenpeace) would have kicked up a firestorm of protest.

    You can’t have it both ways ag.

  7. Alan – note that Lange did not say that the SIS were not monitoring Greenpeace, they probably were, but not for French agents.

  8. SPC – my paraphrasing above of Lange’s letter was confusing. Just to clear up the confusion, I recall Lange was quite precise in his reply that the SIS were not monitoring Greenpeace in any way, shape or form.

    He elaborated further by adding that if the SIS had been monitoring Greenpeace, he was in no doubt it would have identified Christine Cabon, aka Frederique Bonlieu, (who was working as a volunteer in the Auckland office of Greenpeace), as a French agent.

    Greenpeace never publicly released Lange’s reply because it showed up their original letter to him as ill-founded, and spiteful.

  9. By his own admission Lange didn’t know about the extent of the ECHELON program, so his denial, while probably honest, does not necessarily mean that Greenpeace weren’t being observed. Others with lesser records of militant protest have certainly been infiltrated by the authorities.

    And I fail to see how monitoring Greenpeace would have been the only way to have known what was going on.

    I stand by my original comment that the NZ SIS are fit only to monitor the likes of pigs’ rights activists.

  10. I would not touch SIS staff with a ten metre pole. Bumblers, and US toadies in the main. They receive enough taxpayer funds surely to do their own sleuthing. I have it on reasonable authority (why make it up?) that the service is being more cautious on the release of personal files after an intitial flurry as rather too many informants or ‘agents’ are being outed. Though many are pretty low level, but can nonetheless have a disasterous effect on individuals lives if they hang around long enough. And the side effect of discouraging dissent. In left groups I was in we knew who most of the cops and spooks were but there have been a couple of surprises I must admit. Trev Louden a real snitch, has been doing this for years anyway at New Zeal blog site.

  11. Their budget is a state secret, and exempt from Parliamentary scrutiny. They might be underresourced, they might not, but we have no way of knowing.

  12. The SIS annual budget is “over $20 million” according to a number of parliamentary sources including the Green party and various attributed .pdfs still available on the web. 2005/6 for example shows a $21.5 million budget.

    So $20 mill plus p.a. at least is known about.

  13. Great post Pablo.

    It’s more than likely I have an SIS file, and it’s more than likely that I’ve been followed, my phone has been tapped etc. And all because my parents were rather vocal during the Springbok protests.

    I’m definately more mild than my parents and lead a very middle class life, but do you think that would be of less interest to the SIS? No. Sigh.

    They’re welcome to pour over aspects of my rather humdrum life – the more the merrier if only to add further credence to your comment –

    The trouble is that the SIS reputation is so throughly tarnished by its past excesses and ineptitude, many if not most Kiwis have no interest in helping it to do its job. That makes for a potential double-bite on the security rear.

  14. You’d have to say that given their (SIS) track record it would be better to approach the regular police with evidence of criminal behaviour.

    Allowing 1000 overseas students to study here is a two way street. Some of these students will be familiar with cultures where the ‘secret police’ have far more influence in day-to-day life than here. As Johann Hari’s interviews show, secular humanist ethics fail to match the grotesque caricatures of the Islamists, which undermines the terrorist cause.

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