Why do the Greens hate the Squirrels so much?

I get taking a stand on principles but…

So the Intelligence and Security Bill has passed its first reading in Parliament with a majority supporting it (106 votes to 15) and now goes back to select committee for further work.

The two parties who did not vote for it were the Greens and Peter Dunne (United Future).

For myself, I have read the Cullen/Reddy report that spawned the bill (170 pages), the bill itself and the all-important Regulatory Impact Statement (70 pages), followed the progress of the bill as it moved through the various layers of government and related agencies as well as talked with several of those who will be directly affected by it, should it go through, and it’s a rare day that I find myself in genuine agreement with John Key and the Government on a matter such as this.

Historically I have not been a fan of the Squirrels (one of the unofficial names used in Wellington for the intelligence services in general*), not because I do not believe they have a function in New Zealand but because my dealings with them though my current and previous work inside government has been a relatively vexing process and due to the fact that I don’t believe that these agencies remain fit for purpose in the modern world (I am an advocate of intelligence reform).  Also because there is something about a high security clearance that often makes people inflate their own self-importance simply due to having said high security clearance and these agencies output seeming to have less to do with the actual security of NZ and more to do with supporting US hegemony though the Five Eyes agreement (also known as the “Anglo Saxon white peoples business empire protection club”).

Don’t get me wrong, I have several good friends and acquaintances in the squirrels, and there are many smart and dedicated souls slaving away for the greater good whose work will never be acknowledged but most of these agencies should have been shut down and replaced with something new and better a long time ago (something the report mentioned but was outside the scope of the report itself).

Unfortunately the mystique of intelligence work, as detailed by Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks in The CIA and the cult of Intelligence (and many other books**), is something that remains by virtue of people being dazzled by the idea of such work being something like a James Bond movie or by the fallacy that because something is a secret it therefore makes it special and those people that handle such material are therefore also special.

In the end the work is the same as that in many government departments but with a blanket of secrecy draped over it. Squirrels go to work, sit at desks, write reports and do many of the same things that other civil servants do. Much of the work is as mundane as that of other bureaucrats in government because they are bureaucrats also.

It’s also an atmosphere which can include a preference for ex-military intelligence personnel over talented staff already in house and a club like atmosphere in senior management characterized by the most venal examples of patch protectionism*** I have ever seen.

In my previous work the easy answer to dealing with squirrelly issues was to work around it rather than try and get them to do anything about it and it is worth relating the mechanics of such an issue to give readers an idea of how bloody obstinate these agencies can be to change or doing anything about problems or issues that exist simply because it would highlight their own failings.

In my previous role in government, my small team dealt with one of the squirrel agencies on a regular basis as part of our work processing and assessing risk cases. The process went something like this: We got a case, we assessed the case for risk using our standard measures and if certain criteria were met we then sent the case off to the appropriate section of the squirrels for comment (sometimes more than one). We then waited for that comment to come back and once it did we would complete the process and make a decision in regards to the case and the identified risk.

The problem was that once we sent the file off to the nutty clubhouse for comment it was the equivalent to throwing the file into a black hole or some sort of temporal vortex.

Once it went in there was no reliable way to predict when it was going to come out, it could be a few days, a week, a month, several months, six months, a year or in the most drawn out instances, well over a year and attempts to find out what was going on were usually met with the blank wall of secrecy.

And when I took over the team I soon found that the black hole was a real problem for our work simply because we did not know when a case was going to come out of the black hole and hence we could end up with half of the files in our cabinets waiting for the Squirrel Nutkin seal of approval and our workflow slowing down and often grinding to a halt while we waited for a result.

So being a solutions not problems sort of person I spent several months politely trying to get the fury rodents responsible for the black hole to give some time frame or indication of what was going on and soon found out that my counterparts on the other side were as over worked as much as myself and they themselves were beholden to processes much larger which were dictated to them by bigger rodents several pay grades above theirs (or my) own.

So I got my manager to arrange a meeting with their manager and we put forward a simple business case to improve the process by putting in place some simple workarounds in the form of queue streams (high and low priority) and more effective communications to enable the Stygian depth of the hole to slightly less opaque.

It was a sound proposal, would have required almost no extra effort by themselves (as we would have done most of the grunt work) and had demonstrable benefits for both parties. There was no risk of information leakage or any security being breached. All we were doing was fixing the mechanics of a process that was clearly broken.

But did squirrel management accept even one smidgen of our proposal? Noooooo, they did not and their reasons for refusing the proposal? They did not have any, they simply refused to do anything or say anything further on the matter.

So in the end I re-organised the entire process at our end to speed up all work before and after we flung the file into the back hole and made sure that our management were well aware of why time frames for files were dragging out so we could point to us having done all we could when the inevitable complaints came rolling in about “the status on these 23 files being on hold for more than six months”.

Sadly if this was an isolated example I would not be writing about it here but it’s not; time and again myself and others I have spoken with have had nothing but praise for the hard working individuals inside the shadow tailed services and lots of scorn and derision for their senior management and their archaic and byzantine practices simply because its “secret”.

And if my previous example is a bit too esoteric for the reader let me give a much clearer and more concrete example of the problem: Security Clearances.

For many people who work in government a security clearance (confidential, secret, top secret, top secret special, super- top secret, Umbra, grey alien etc) is a standard requirement for their job and these clearances range across government departments, many of which people might not imagine would need one (The Ministry of Education being a good example).

Unfortunately the process of getting a security clearance is often loooooong and sloooow which means that most people will start their jobs without the clearance the job description says they need. Now this is not an issue in itself because many clearances (such as a low level Confidential) have a minimal risk or exposure associated to them that the choice has been made to get the person into the role and proceed towards the clearance in due time. A reasonable workaround in such circumstances.

In other cases all manner of people have been in roles with all manner of documents and information with all manner of security levels passing across their desk and not a security clearance to their name in sight.

My favorite example of this is a previous manager I knew who handled a range of sensitive material but who never had the appropriate security clearance until her last week on the job and it was believed this was given to her only so it could be said that she had held the appropriate clearance rather than actually having been genuinely vetted. Nothing more than a box ticking exercise.

And again this is not an isolated incident; I have seen and herd all manner of similar stories from others in government. Much of it is due to limited staff and massive workloads so vetting has to be prioritized but still clearances don’t get given in the right circumstances.

So it’s with these thoughts in mind that I find myself reading through the Cullen/Reddy report and nodding in agreement with much it recommends and then continuing to nod my head when the government decides to take on most of these proposals with the new bill.

Will the new bill fix the technical problems noted above? No it won’t but as the report notes there is a serious fracture in the rules and regulations the various agencies use and how they work together and by having one system for both (as the new bill only really affects the SIS and GCSB with the NAB tabbed in on the side and does not affect the Police or the scoundrels in DDIS at all) with tighter rules for warrants things will actually improve all round by virtue of clarity around the rules and unification of output.

I won’t be going into the bill much further here as I intend to discuss it in greater detail in another post after it has been though a few select committees and the current issues have been worked out.

What I want to look at today is why the Greens are so opposed to the intelligence services in general and I have used my examples of some of the genuine issues with the squirrelly systems to illustrate that changes are needed but it seems that the Greens are not opposing the bill for any practical reasons.

The truth is that the Greens are opposed to the squirrels and their activities mostly on principle AND by having been subject to the intense scrutiny and machinations by sections of the squirrels in the past (and possibly even today). Such treatment would have left a rather bad feeling which is all fine and dandy but a rather strange position in this case because there are genuine issues with the squirrels which this bill could fix and it appears that the Greens are being blinded by principles rather than seeing the situation for what it is, in short principles before pragmatism.

As I noted in my Green Party post a few months back no other party in parliament would have had the level of monitoring and infiltration, in modern times, than the Greens. In the Cold War it would have been Labour and there are stories about party members (including Norm Kirk before he became PM) being watched, monitored and bugged by the SIS which when compared to the known behaviors of similar services elsewhere (MI5 in England) are more than likely to be true.

Also the traditional position of such parties is to oppose expanding the powers of the security apparatus so no surprises there. But if the Right has an ideological blind spot when it comes to social policy and viewing people and society as nothing more than crude inputs for their half-baked economic models then the Left often fails to see the very real Hobbsian argument for a strong state actor and that security is a key aspect of such a state. Hoping that we can all just get along or wishing to impose some sort of communal security arrangement ignores that security risks are real and few if any nations are immune.

So is it just really personal and the Greens can’t see that the bill might actually reign in the behavior of the squirrels rather than letting them of the leash leading to a wholesale expansion of their power (ie spying on Kiwis)?

Certainly if this rather testy exchange between Metirei Turei and IG Christopher Finlayson is to be believed, as while Finlayson has all the personality and people skills of prison camp commandant this would be one of those rare times where I can see that Turei’s questions are just point scoring and grandstanding rather than genuinely about the bill and Finlayson’s frustration and droning out the same answer again and again are entirely justified.

Then again, we expect our Green party candidates to hold and believe certain ideological positions just as much as we would expect National party members to be all for the Neo-Liberal death march to prosperity for the ultra-wealthy at the expense of all others; and the ideological position of the Greens is defiantly opposed to the intelligence services.

Which leaves me in a curious position as I usually like the policies of the Greens, ideology or not, and I myself do have issue with much of the structure and behavior of the security services in NZ but after having picked over the bill and related documents I see that the recommendations of the report are in generally sound (centralization of rules, tighter oversight and protections and clearer definitions) albeit with the need (as identified by Labour) to tighten up some of the details in the select committee process (clearer definition of “National Security” and around the levels of warrant/safeguard etc).

But that’s the details, the bill in and of itself will actually do a lot to bring the services around and in line as well as make them fully part of the public service (and subject to all that being in the public service means) but for some reason the Greens are not going to go for it and for once I find myself onside with John Key and National and genuinely wondering why the Greens hate the squirrels so much?

For those with the time I recommend reading the report (it’s very easy to read and was deliberately written that way as well as defining the issues in clear and simple terms) along with the related documents.

I do get that there are probably deeper concerns if you dug into the Greens on this issue but that’s not how it’s coming out in the media and their website also has little to say beyond their opposition to the bill and such matters.

If the Greens oppose the Squirrels for personal reasons I get that and also I support their being back on the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee) despite Key’s protestations that their opposition makes it pointless to be there (I believe a dissenting opinion is a useful thing to guide the discussion not matter how contrary) but their voting against it, while a principled stand, really does little and ignores the opportunity that the bill presents to fix part of the problem they are moaning about.

But i didnt listen


*-So called after a 1960’s cartoon about a squirrel that was also a spy (here)

**-Decent Interval, The Big Breach and Spy Catcher being some other good works which highlight these issues.

***-As seen by myself and related to me through friends and acquaintances inside the wire. For whatever reasons such behavior seems to occur a lot more in the intelligence, risk and compliance spaces than elsewhere in government.

14 thoughts on “Why do the Greens hate the Squirrels so much?

  1. Why is this article totally ignoring the highly significant change that will allow the GCSB to spy on NZers, something that was originally anathema to the government when it initially formally recognised the GCSB in law? Making the full resources of the Five Eyes spy network available for spying on NZers is a pretty significant expansion of powers.

    Secondly, why is this article ignoring the changes that seem designed to further limit the ability of whistle-blowers or others to publicly reveal wrong-doing by the agencies?

    I too have read the Intelligence Review but, unlike you, I wasn’t very impressed by it. While saying the opposite, it managed to mostly skip any exploration of how government spying harms human rights and civil liberties. There are arguments to make on both sides but the Review pretty well just hand-waved them aside.

    I agree that the Bill does do some useful cleanup of the laws but there’s a lot more to it than that, with more than enough for a party to oppose based on well-founded principle.

  2. +1 to the above comment. Maybe the points will be addressed/mentioned in the next article.

  3. Thomas and Homebond:

    Probably the quickest answer at this time is that, as I noted in my post, I will be commenting more on the actual mechanics of the bill once it has been through select committee a bit.

    This post was more to highlight that the squirrels have issues but they are not the rouge agencies that are often imagined and that the Greens somewhat fundamental position is ignoring the reality of the situation (see a bit more below but I will address mostly in a later post).

    If I was to add to that I would say that I am not ignoring the issues raised about spying on Kiwis but the mechanics of spying on the populace, ie like in a genuine Stasi police state require not just the tools to do so but also the will and while technically we have the tools the sheer workload and effort require is well beyond the means of any NZ agency to do and that even while I don’t like the current government much I do not yet think the will exists within them nor that there is anywhere enough apathy in New Zealand to genuinely tolerate that kind of mass spying that people fear.

    In short, the ability alone is necessary but not sufficient to make these fears real. it needs an actual will to make it such and a willingness by the population to allow it. neither of those exist in NZ.

    More directly the report and the bill make it very clear the maintaining NZ as a free and open democracy is a key provision of the new bill and I don’t think we should write that off just yet as hyperbole or window dressing.

    The opening sections of the report talk about the need to balance the competing demands of security vrs privacy and rights and notes that neither extreme is possible but a genuine balance is which I think is done in a large part by making the warrants more water tight (the triple lock) and through how the oversight is managed (the need to show that the warrant is genuine and that it can not be done by less intrusive means) along with the general squaring off and symetricising of the laws to now apply to both the SIS and the GCSB.

    I do have some issues around how National security is worded and if that stays in then I can see possible issues but again, as I have worked in and with the security/intelligence sector, the ability of any agency to go rouge and just start randomly spying is simply not there, nor is the will or direction.

    Squirrels are public servants in the end and its not like the CIA in the US or the Statsi in old Eastern Germany, they go to work and live behind their desks for the most part and by allowing them to now be part of the public service (something which I hear has been greeted with a lot of positivity within the sector) they will be more, not less bound by the codes and rules of the public service.

    The quick summary is that the genie is already out of the bottle when it comes to monitoring Kiwis and the data pool already available in government files/records and just available online is 99.9% of the time more than enough to get the job done. In most cases a solid Google search through sites like the companies office, facebook, and many many others (all of which are OSINT) are more than enough to find out what is needed to be found.

    As for the review itself, Cullen and Reddy made it clear that their hands were tied by the terms of reference (TOR) for their work and they themselves would have looked at a lot of other areas but were not allowed to. my guess is that’s the services coming in and protecting their patch as much as possible (but again more in a later post).

    Given what room they had to move and what I have seen in the intelligence space I found the report to be the best possible job in restrictive circumstances. I do note that in some ways they were never going to address the fundamental issues, as some might want, but that again is the Hobbes vs Locke argument and in these circumstances I go with Hobbes more.

    But none the less I will be posting again on this once we get through select committee a bit more and lets see what happens there.

  4. Security
    [Me ] Knock knock on the door .
    [ Them ] Who is it.
    [Me ] Its, me, New Zealand citizen.
    [ Them ] Ok, thats all right, come in, you can do what you like.
    [Me ] But I am armed and dangerous, I married a girl from the other side, I am off the rails, I liked your Orwellian story about squirrel, but I don’t like you people, you need sorting out, especially you f*****g pacifist Greens.
    [ Them ] Don’t be silly, of course you are harmless, you are a New Zealander

  5. Pual: Not wanting to discourage comments but please keep the language clean. Your post was edited to suit.

  6. As someone who has actually spent time in and with intelligence agencies I find some of the tone of this drearily long post both patronising and infantile. Squirrels? Really? A little dose of grow up might be in order.

    I had opportunity to have a private meeting with Cullen, Reddy and their support staff as part of the Review process. I suggested to them that all parties that made the 5 percent electoral threshold be awarded seats (up to 9) on the SCIS subject to security vetting and signing of non-disclosure agreements regarding classified information. In the discussion that followed I was told that the Greens are very unreliable and obstructionist when it comes to intelligence and security matters. According to what I was told, their visceral anti-Americanism, anti-militarism and anti-intelligence stance, coupled with loose lips, made the two major parties equally distrust them, and that was a major reason why they were booted off the committee after the last election and Andrew Little’s rise as Labour leader.

    I find it hard to believe that the Greens would be that uncooperative, inflexible and unreasonable when it comes to such an important oversight role, but that is what I was told. So the Greens may harbour an intense dislike of spy agencies but that feeling is mutual and doubled when it comes to the major parties’ views of the Green approach to such matters.

  7. Pablo:

    Come on Pablo, you must know that there are many nicknames for the services. I just played this one up a bit.

    I often find those have worked in intel a bit sensitive to having their old occupation picked on and I get that but it is a bit overly sensitive on your part. Its that change one gets when one gets a high level clearance, that shift in view and attitude that ends up to people taking themselves too seriously when their old job gets painted negatively.

    Also what exactly is patronizing and infantile about detailing the problems faced when trying to do ones job? Those were concrete examples given not something made up.

    Also if you have worked in the Service space then that makes two of us and I stand by comments about their behaviors and you should have experienced it as well. If you have not then you would be one of the few, complaints about timeframes and clearances exists for a reason and are common (specially on security clearances) and as I detailed in my post parties do make efforts to find accommodating solutions only to be rebuffed by the old chestnut of “secrecy”.

    Also I think Cullen and Reddy’s comments in the report about creating a new single agency bear out a lot of what I am saying here. You don’t just recommend a wholesale re-org of a countries main intel services on a whim, that’s being done for a reason and that is because the current arrangement of the services is not fit for purpose in this day and age.

    Almost every other government department in the last 20 years has been though change processes, some many times and while change for changes sake is an issue many departments do need to be re-orged. look at CYFs for example.

    The SIS and the GCSB do need to be brought up to date and by making them actually part of the public sector is a great start but organization traits die hard if not replanted in new soil, hence having a new agency.

    I am not knocking those who work in this space per se (as my comments in the post noted more than once) but if you have not ever been frustrated by the glacial pace of reform there then you have a much higher tolerance for such behavior than I and many others do.

    As for the Greens on the SCIS, Russel Norman used to be on it so why cant someone else from the Greens be on it, they cant all be rabid.

    What about James Shaw, her seems reasonable?

    I don’t agree that the services dislike of the Greens is fully mutual, I know a few people in the services who vote Green and one who is an actual party member. That dislike seems to exists more at the upper levels and is more knee jerk and institutional than individual.

    I also think the comments your getting about the Greens might be one sided, although I do admit that the Greens dont help their case when they behave as they have done recently but they can operate on other committees why not here? There must be someone among them who can.

    In painting the Greens as rabid as they were, dont you think you might have been fed just a wee bit of a line on that? Labour is not going to like the Greens much, that we know and neither is National per se and the loose lips claim, if true should be a strike against the individual who leaks, not the entire party.

    Fundamentally I think we might both have issue with the Greens but I see the vital point in the Cullen/Reddy report (and the bill itself) in aiming to keep NZ fair, free and democratic, excluding the Greens from the process (no matter their view) is clearly in opposition to that.

    I think they are having some sour grapes as well but I am not yet ready to exclude them all, better to work it through.

  8. EA: You experience with and my experience in the intel machines clearly differ (and note the difference between with and in). My jobs did not involve waiting around for security clearances, getting stonewalled because of “secrecy” and the like, as those conditions were a pre-requisite for gaining my jobs in the first place. I was fully exposed to all of the bureaucratic intransigence, sclerosis and ineptitude that you allude to but also found that when the pressure to perform was on or when there was urgency to a particular issue, the cream rose to the top and things go done efficaciously.

    As for your belief that having a clearance makes spies think that their s**t does not stink: it is like the people with Ph.D.s who insist on being called “Dr.” Only the insecure and/or third rate would pull that line.

    I also believe that the rot in the NZIC is much worse than in the USIC and is as you describe–and then some. What I do not think is advisable is having signals and human intelligence under one roof. That, to me, is a recipe for disaster and undemocratic to boot (since decentralisation of power is especially important in intel agencies).

    I do not think I fell for any line in my discussions with Cullen and Reddy. The point was made that the Greens did not behave in the SCIS as a serious member would (Norman was mentioned), and could not be trusted in any event. I do not know the history behind that assertion but think that they should be included so long as they garner 5 percent or more of the vote. Shaw seems perfectly capable of filling a seat n the SCIS and taking things seriously.

    I remain firm in my belief that a lot of what you attempt to pass for humour is not (again, the squirrel bit is infantile and would not be considerably improved if you switched to words like “spooks’), and that your posts are way too long for this format. Heck, you make me look like an advertising writer in comparison!

  9. Pablo:

    In regards to length I work to a 2500 word limit at this time. I do trim but not always successfully. I find that If I do I end up not liking what I have got so I aim for 2500. Also and this is just what I have read but i read that the average serious blog post is around 2500 words and the best day to post is a Tuesday. Not verifiable but that’s what I know.

    But if the punters start grumbling I will aim for 1500 to 2000. Please don’t make me go lower!

    I don’t think all spies think their poop does not stink but I have met quite a few that did. As I noted my friends and acquaintances in this area are mostly hard working civil servants like myself who are plain human beings, so I have seen the human face.

    The issue for most of us is that the current culture in government, not just the spooks but all government, seems to prefer either really good or really bad managers and when that gets combined with security clearances… well its a lot like your PhD example but worse.

    Also there are many times when the services can do good work but that rarely comes out in the media and while its natural for these agencies to not be public about what they do and rely on secrecy I do believe that there are better ways for them to operate than their current structure.

    Again I don’t have to be inside one of these agencies to see the effect of their work or note the issues with their output.

    And while I have never actually been in the service my experience with them was not peripheral though, my work involved daily contact and I held my own clearance and in the end most of what I did would fit easily into what work they did, except I did not work for one of these agencies direct or have a direct line to offshore intel feeds but my colleges inside did similar stuff just with a few twists.

    I do disagree on the amalgamation but that may just have to be a point of contention between us. Personally I think the SIS fears being amalgamated (as its only 200 or so ppl) into the much larger (500 plus) GCSB.

    Probably the best way to sum up my position is I believe in serious intelligence reform, its a radical position I know and this reply is not the space for that discussion (but a blog post might be) so suffice it to say that I like a lot of what came out of the Cullen/Reddy report.

    The one area which I know for sure is being greeted with a lot of joy form those inside is the allowance for the being part of the public service and the various oversight and protections it brings, including in the employment space.

    But you do touch on a good point and one that the report notes as well which is the power that lies in these agencies and the often fear and distrust that many people have for these agencies (another thing noted in the report).

    In short I was pleasantly surprised by the reports findings, expecting it to be a bit of a white wash, but I don’t think the change process should stop there.

  10. I probably need to add that while I am disappointed with the Greens in this situation I feel that excluding them from the process would be as much of a mistake as you feel amalgamating the services would be.

  11. I wonder what it would take to convince Pablo, that the greens are ” obstructionist, viscerally anti-American, anti-militarism and anti-intelligence, anti science, anti disease prevention [GM], anti feeding Africa, anti common sense, anti humanity in fact, dishonest, arrogant, religious, and stupid.
    Pablo are you really the only one who does not know.
    Repeat after me in the native tongue now
    “Will he tell us whether the GCSB will collect information on New Zealanders ”
    Green, food for squirrel, and a treasure sent to keep the left wing out of NZ Government and forever.

  12. Paul, I am afraid that you have a profound misunderstanding of how democracy works. Democracies are characterized by social tolerance, legal equality and diversity of opinion. This includes diversity of political opinion and representation. One of the institutional features of democracy is legal recognition of political diversity in the representation of interests, something that extends from the ballot box to committee appointments.

    Unless the Greens cannot be trusted to keep national security secrets, they should have representation on committees such as the SCIS. My personal preference for representation is the 5 percent party vote threshold. Others may prefer a higher or lower threshold but my reasoning is that 5 percent offers a good compromise between electoral representation and diversity of opinion on the committee. Plus, it is my experience from dealing with US congressional representatives that even those who are most likely to be opposed to various aspects of security doctrine, intelligence operations and military affairs take their responsibilities seriously and do not behave like children when appointed to oversight mechanisms (although my view of the SCIS is that it is a poor excuse for an oversight committee because it is not proactive and does not have powers of compulsion under oath).

    Just because you dislike the Green ideology or political agenda does not mean that a priori they should be disqualified from being represented on the SCIS. Only if they do in fact prove to be untrustworthy or obstructionist can they be denied membership, and I have not heard anything concrete, other than the anecdotal remarks I heard in the Cullen/Reddy meetings, to that effect.

    A good way of ensuring that the committee behaves as it should is to have all members sign secrecy oaths or non-disclosure agreements under penalty of law. I personally think that they should be security vetted as well, but that may be a step too far for some.

    in any event, it will be interesting to see what the Bill looks like at its final reading.

  13. Pablo:
    “What I do not think is advisable is having signals and human intelligence under one roof. That, to me, is a recipe for disaster and undemocratic to boot (since decentralisation of power is especially important in intel agencies).”

    I’d be very interested in reading your analysis of this issue in relation to the proposed new role for the GCSB. (Also the lack of split between outward-facing “offensive” and inward-facing “defensive” intelligence gathering.)

  14. Thomas:

    Good to hear from you.

    I am not as concerned about the shift towards domestic spying on the part of the GCSB simply because unlike other observers of the NZIC I see the GCSB as a SIGINT/TECHINT agency and the SIS as a HUMINT agency, not as foreign and domestic spy shops respectively. They both have feet in these arenas.

    In the past the bulk of what the SIS did was domestic in nature and what the GCSB focused on was indeed foreign oriented (at the behest of our partners). But the GCSB always had that ‘assist” role when it came to domestic SIGINT and TECHINT. The Bill pretty much eliminates the “assist” role and allows the GCSB to conduct domestic surveillance under warrant, and that warrant regime has been tightened a bit. It will allow closer “hand in glove” coordination between the SIS and GCSB and either agency can initiate an operation under the same warrant process.

    This eliminates the “assist” role because under current law other agencies like the SIS, Police or Immigration have to ask for GCSB help under warrant, and specify what type of help they need and why they need it. You and I both know that these rules were, to be charitable, interpreted loosely but the point is that the GCSB can not initiate operations domestically under the current Act (for that it must ask its 5 Eyes partners to do so and as Nicky Hager’s recent expose of the bungled Fiji “coup plotters” espionage case demonstrates, it farmed out that task to the NSA and ASIO, who then worked backwards to the SIS via the GCSB). Under the proposed Bill the GCSB can initiate and conduct domestic operations by itself with or without being asked by other agencies.

    To be sure, this is a major shift in emphasis for the GCSB, something that I believe has much to do with the growing threat of cyber espionage and cyber crime on NZ soil (and not the threat of terrorism, which the government regularly trots out to justify the ongoing expansion of the security and surveillance state). The threats posed to NZ are increasingly “intermestic” or “glocal” in nature: that is, there is no longer a clear distinction between where foreign threats end and domestic threats begin, especially in the cyber world.

    So the GCSB finds itself increasingly forced to play defense at home as well as continue its traditional “offensive” foreign SIGINT and TCHINT gathering. From the looks of things this is a shift in emphasis driven by externalities (primarily the evolution of technology) rather than a political desire to expand its role, but in any event it means an re-orientation inwards (domestically) on the part of the GCSB.

    The problem as I see it is that the GCSB can, has and does conduct a whole range of warrantless domestic espionage against “foreign agents” even if they are NZ citizens or residents. These can be people who work for foreign based MNCs, NGOs, IOs, CSOs (even Churches) and of course embassies, visiting diplomatic and military delegations etc. I believe that whatever their occupation or whoever they work for, NZ citizens and residents should be protected by the warrant system.

    Finally, although HUMNT is a consumer of SIGINT and TECHINT, it is a very different beast. The skills needed to conduct effective HUMINT operations are for the most part very different than those of SIGNIT and TECHINT. In fact, one can argue that HUMINT should act upon yet give direction to SIGINT and TECHINT operations, be they offensive or defensive in nature. Technology is great but context is what drives its application, and context in the intelligence field comes from HUMINT.

    Because of the extreme sensitivity of these very different types of intelligence operations it is wise to keep them organisationally apart yet supervised and coordinated by an executive board chaired by a minister responsible to the SCIS. The executive board should ideally have sitting on it independent intelligence professionals, or at least people familiar with intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination processes. That helps avoid concentrations of power and more importantly, political or partisan manipulation of intelligence flows and assessments.

    Alas, I do not think that is in the cards.But at a minimum I hope that efforts to merge the GCSB and SIS are rejected.

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