Outsourcing Counter-Espionage.

The SIS recently released its 2008-2009 annual report. I will be analyzing it in further detail in a future “Word from Afar” column over at Scoop. However, I thought I would provide readers with a glimpse of one aspect of its activities that called my attention.

On page 14 (out of 29) of the report, in the section titled “Intelligence and Advice to Government,” under the heading “Counter-Espionage,” the following quote summarizes the SIS approach towards countering foreign espionage activities in NZ: “The Counter-Espionage (CE) efforts identifies and frustrates acts of espionage against New Zealand or New Zealanders. We give advice to internal and external stakeholders and disrupt, where appropriate and usually via a third party, espionage activities prejudicial to New Zealand’s national security” (emphasis mine).

Beyond the fact that the SIS does not mention whether, in fact, any foreign espionage actually occurred during the time period in question (I would assume that it did), much less the precise nature of such activities, two points in that sentence are worth noting. First, the mention of external stakeholders. Who might they be? It is obvious who the internal stakeholders are-the government and other NZ agencies. But who, exactly, are the external stakeholders? Who would have a “stake-holding” interest in foreign espionage activities in or involving NZ: Australia? France? The US? UK? Private agents/ies?

That brings up the second and more interesting point. The SIS claims that it usually disrupts foreign espionage via “a third party.” Again, who is this party or parties? We can assume that the SIS uses the Police, the GCSB (for electronic and technical counter-measures), the NZDF and perhaps Customs and other government security agencies as part of this effort (since it would be alarming if it it used just one third party for all of its counter-espionage “disruption” tasks). But does the reference to third parties include foreign governments and/or private or non-governmental agencies such as private security firms? Given that private security agencies have recently spied on environmental activists on behalf of  public and private corporations in NZ, it is not a stretch to wonder if this type of out-sourcing is also used by the SIS. Such a privatization of intelligence operations opens a potential cans of worms with regards to civil rights and the blurring of the lines between proper governmental authority and profit-driven interest. If indeed private agencies are used for counter-intelligence operations, who are they? Does that include foreign firms as well as NZ privateers (such as Xe, the re-branded name for Blackwater, which has its own intelligence and counter-intelligence branches)? Hence, an explanation as to who are these third parties appears to be in order (not that I expect that we will receive one).

Moreover, could it be possible that the SIS also contracts to foreign governments counter-intelligence tasks on NZ soil or on behalf of NZ “interests?” Is that not a violation of sovereignty? Or is it simply expedient to do so given NZ’s lack of capabilities in this field?  Does the public have a right to know about such things? More specifically, does the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security (all 5 members) have knowledge of who these third parties are? If so, are they content with the arrangement, and on what specific grounds (such as oversight and accountability)? Again, the questions raised by this simple mention in the SIS report are both numerous and troubling.

I will leave for the larger essay the implication that the SIS does not have the capability to engage in counter-espionage operations on its own, particularly in its human component. That is worrisome in itself, but also is the reason for the third party outsourcing.

The full report is here: http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1002/nzsisar09.pdf

3 thoughts on “Outsourcing Counter-Espionage.

  1. Related to your comments about outsourcing, on page 19 of the SIS annual report is reference to legislation changes to the Births and Deaths Registers:

    It also creates a new system for requesting the creation of a new identity for the purpose of protecting a person who is, has been, or will be an officer or employee of the NZSIS; or is approved by the Director of Security to undertake activities for the NZSIS.

    What is significant are the words “or is approved by the Director”? Does this give the Director of Security unfettered authority to request a new identity for anyone, not just SIS employees, who will be undertaking activities for the SIS? Thus he could request the creation of a NZ identity for a foreigner so long as that person was undertaking work for the SIS (ie: a joint investigation)?

    Given the outrage a few years ago over Mossad agents trying to get NZ passports, it seems that the SIS Director can now arrange a false New Zealand identity for CIA or MI5 agents operating anywhere in the world, so long as he can say they are undertaking work for the SIS.

    I am uncomfortable with the SIS being able to abuse New Zealand identity documents in this way, for the very same reasons the Crown advanced in its criminal case against the Israelis – namely it puts at risk NZ’s reputation abroad, undermines the integrity of our passport; and Kiwis overseas (particularly in risky countries) could be accused of being British or American spies.

    Pablo, is this worth closer scrutiny?

  2. Alan.

    That is a very astute observation. I will be addressing it in the Scoop column. Suffice it to say that your point and mine in the post are closely linked. Could the SIS be using third parties with fictitious identities to do its work? Stranger things have happened…..

  3. I’d like to draw your attention to my own book on the British SIS: NOC – NON-OFFICIAL COVER: BRITISH SECRET OPERATIONS, which is available in NZ in both print and e-book download form.

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