Media Link: The Intelligence and Security non-Review.

So, it turns out that the much vaunted review of New Zealand’s intelligence community is going to undertaken by Michael Cullen and corporate lawyer  Patricia Reddy. Both are consummate Wellington insiders and Ms. Reddy has no apparent experience in dealing with intelligence matters.  She is, however, the Chair of the NZ Film Commission and sits on a number of boards so obviously must be the best person suited for the job. For his part Mr. Cullen has been a Deputy Prime Minister and sat on the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that among other things did nothing when Ahmed Zaoui was falsely accused of and detained for being a supposed terrorist by the SIS. It is clear he knows how bread is buttered.

The terms of reference for the review cover two main areas: the legislative framework governing NZ intelligence agencies; and the mechanisms responsible for overseeing them.

I have serious doubts that as constituted this review panel will do little more than maintain the status quo on both agenda items. I believe that the review panel should have incorporated more people, including people from outside the Wellington “beltway” and some drawn from overseas. As things stand the review has all the makings of yet another exercise in whitewashing under the guise of critical scrutiny. I hope not, but am not holding my breath in any event.

I outline my thoughts in this Radio New Zealand interview.

For those interested in the terms of reference of the “review,” they can be found here.

11 thoughts on “Media Link: The Intelligence and Security non-Review.

  1. And neither Cullen or Reddy have direct foreign affairs experience.

    Where are the sceptical searching members of this inquiry?

    How does Peter Dunne reconcile this enquiry makeup with what he thought he was promised?


    Lots of questions, lots of disappointment.

  2. Micheal Cullen is like Micheal Basset an old crusty embittered former Cabinet Minister. Cullen was very much of the view in his time as Cabinet Minister, that University research should fit in with the operational interests of trade policy and government. About a decade ago Law, History and Political Science departments began to form partnerships with Foreign Affairs, partly for recruitment but also I believe to discourage, academic research on matters that what diplomats thought in conflict with trade and defence operations. Cullen has never impressed me with any interest in academic freedom, as an academic he was impassioned leftie and hero worshiped the 16C levellers.

  3. There is nobody in New Zealand qualified to sit on this review. I am not using hyperbole, there is literally nobody.

    Everybody who is experienced is not objective. Everybody who is objective is not experienced.

    What this review needs is people who have expertise in and experience with the NZ intelligence community, but who have not been involved with its recent indiscretions.

    At the risk of wearing my welcome thin by repeating myself, that is a group with zero members.

  4. De Kalb:

    There is merit to what your are writing but I would point out that there are enough retired and/or ex NZ intelligence people about who could, with proper vetting, be good panel members (I will not recommend Bruce Fergerson as a viable candidate although it is clear he has had second thoughts about what happened under his watch).

    The more important issue is that if the review were to be a real exercise it could involve constitutional scholars who cover the security field–Andrew Geddis comes to mind– and it should involve people from the civil liberties community (say, from the Privacy Commission).

    Similar to that it would have been good to draft retired intelligence managers from places like Australia or Canada, if not further afield in the community of liberal democracies. All of these countries have different and arguably more robust and transparent legal reporting and oversight mechanisms, which gives them comparative perspective on how the NZ intel community behaves.

    Given the Snowden revelations this is the moment to press for change in the terms and conditions, or best practice standards if you will, of how the NZ community conducts its business. Alas, that will not happen under this review panel.

  5. Andrew Geddis would be totally unsuitable. He has never worked in intellignece or even in any area even vaguely related to intelligence. He is doubtless skilled in legal arguments but he has zero experience in the intelligence field. He is no more qualified than Reddy is.

    I can’t think of any former intelligence officers who would be acceptable, unless their employment predates the UKUSA agreement. And since that goes back to the 90s, there can’t be very many at all. And even those who were around would still be drawing pensions from the government. Thus, unsuitable. I can’t imagination what kind of vetting could change this. What would the vetters be looking for?

    Bringing in professionals from other countries sounds like a good idea but given that every other English speaking intelligence service has exactly the same problems, it wouldn’t do any good.

  6. De Kalb:

    I thought of Geddis because he is a constitutional scholar who has written about the security/privacy conundrum. Surely there are others like him of similar or higher stature who could address that part of the terms of reference of the review (which specifically states that the review will address privacy concerns).

    Although I believe that the best way to go is with foreign ex-officials, I still believe that there are people in NZ, whether they collect NZ government pensions or not, who could serve honorary and objectively on the review panel. I have a few people in mind but will not name them out of respect for their privacy. But surely if you were to look at Vic’s Strategic Studies Centre and Massey’s counterpart to it, you could well find people who would be suitable for the role.

    I disagree that all of the english speaking intelligence services suffer the same problems. In fact, it seems to me that when it comes to accountability the NZ intelligence community is the worst of them even if the intrusive powers of the larger partners is far greater on a global scale. I continue to believe that Canada is a good model and might be worth recruiting from (not only for the review but for managerial positions within the NZ intelligence community).

    I also do not think that we need limit ourselves to English speaking countries when looking for objective reviewers. The bottom line should not be language but whether the intelligence services in question operate in democracies. Although I know that some of these clearly pay less attention to the balance between security and civil liberties than do the NZ agencies, I think that there are still enough of them to consider recruiting from (say, from Germany, Sweden, Norway or Denmark).

  7. He does not appear to have any intel background and is just an IT guy with an informed opinion. The review covers more than signals intel (of which IT is just one part) and is supposedly focused on balancing security with privacy. Wolfe has already tipped his hand on that score.

  8. No disrespect to Geddis, but again… zero knowledge of or experience in intelligence.

    As for foreign officials… you make the example of Canada… have you seen or read a synopsis of Snowden’s “Canada and the Security State” presentation? It’s chilling stuff. The people responsible for that horror are not the kind I want making decisions for NZ intelligence.

  9. De Kalb:

    I am thinking more of retired or ex-intelligence people, perhaps to include lawyers for intelligence agencies and/or people formerly involved in oversight agencies. Surely there are folk out there who were not involve in the extension of mass surveillance programs and who with the benefit of distance and hindsight could do the job.

  10. ECHELON was the beginning of mass surveillance and it was started in the 1971. I very much doubt there is anybody left alive whose involvement with the intelligence community predates it.

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