Tacitly encouraging local conspiracy theories.

I do not mean to bang on about the Anne Marie Brady case but since it is coming up on one year since the campaign of criminal harassment began against her, I feel compelled to mention how the Labour-led government’s silence has been used as a window of opportunity by pro-China conspiracy theorists to question her credibility and defame her. Until I blocked the troll I shall call “skidmark,” this was even seen here on KP where he launched numerous attacks on professor Brady as well as question the very notion that the burglaries and vandalism that she has been subjected to were somehow related to her work on PRC influence operations in NZ.

What we know so far is this: the Police/SIS investigation has been passed on to INTERPOL and therefore is not yet complete. Professor Brady said that she was told by the Police that the investigation was complete, but perhaps that was just on the domestic side of the case. The fact that it has been handed over to INTERPOL suggests that the culprits are not common domestic criminals and that they have left the country. Otherwise, why involve INTERPOL? To be sure, it could mean that some local common criminals left the country once the heat was on, but given that what was taken in the burglaries were not items of common value but were related to her research, and given that the tampering with her vehicle occurred a few months ago, long after the burglaries, that suggests that it was not an ordinary crime done by locals. Repeated targeting of one individual spanning ten months using different criminal methods also suggests that there is more to the story than theft. The word “intimidation” comes to mind.

Because the government and its security agencies refuse to offer status reports or provide a fuller brief on what they know, the field has been left open for the pro-Chinese conspiracy trolls to jump in. They have three main angles of attack.

The first is to question Ms. Brady’s credibility because she receives external funding and spends time in US think tanks. They apparently believe that such funding and hosting is contingent on her spinning a particular anti-Chinese line. This betrays ignorance of how US think tanks and funding work, where scholarly independence is respected. Her critics also point to Taiwanese sources of funding, but there the link between money and research product is assumed rather than firmly established. I do think that it was unwise for professor Brady to be seen as closely associated with the US Embassy in Wellington and some China-focused US think tanks given the current state of PRC-US relations, but no one has credibly argued that her findings about PRC influence operations are wrong. In fact, they have clearly sparked calls for review and reform of NZ political contribution regulations, so her concerns are not imaginary.

The irony is that Brady pointed out that PRC-backed academic institutions like Confucius Institutes and various PRC funded scholarship programs do come with ideological strings attached. Perhaps the trolls simply believe that the same is the case for non-Chinese academic exchanges.

The second and third attacks centre on the criminal harassment against her. The first posits that it is a hoax perpetrated by Ms. Brady to increase public wariness of the Chinese and promote herself. I have already mentioned that she would be taking a great risk to her reputation and have to be pretty cunning to pull that off to the point that the cops and spies have not yet figured it out. Claiming that she perpetrated this hoax questions her mental stability and veracity on other matters (which has never been questioned before), and if untrue is defamatory. The latter has not stopped “skidmark” and others from propagating the claim.

The second line of attack is that the burglaries and vandalism are the work of the NZSIS and/or the CIA with or without professor Brady’s complicity in order to poison public sentiment against the Chinese. Again, as I said before, this would entail a degree of risk and expenditure of resources disproportionate to any potential gains. And if this was indeed the case, would not the Police and SIS have come out with a stronger move against the Chinese by now? After all, if you want to falsely frame a specific party as responsible for a crime you drop evidence pointing in its direction. Delaying offering proof of the accusation only casts doubt as to its veracity in part because it leaves things open to the type of bad-minded diversionary conjecture and speculation that I am discussing here.

It is very likely that the government’s reticence to talk about the case is due to diplomatic concerns, and that political pressure has been put on the Police and SIS to delay offering any more information about the status of the investigation until ITERPOL has come up with some answers. My feeling is that the culprits will  not be found and certainly not extradited if they are identified (for example, by checking the movements of Canterbury-based Chinese student visa holders in NZ in the days after the burglaries were first reported).

The problem is that the longer the government delays providing anything more than it has so far, the more oxygen it gives to the pro-Chinese trolls, which when added to the other doubters and conspiracy types I mentioned in my previous post serves to confuse the picture even if the circumstantial evidence pointing towards (even if indirect) PRC involvement is strong. That helps sustain the slander campaign against Ms. Brady and/or the view that it was all the work of the NZ and US Deep States working in concert.

Gathering from the tone of her recent remarks it appears that Ms. Brady is frustrated and increasingly frightened by the government’s inaction. I sympathise with her predicament: she is just one person tilting against much larger forces with relatively little institutional backing. I also am annoyed because this is a NZ citizen being stalked and serially harassed on sovereign NZ soil, most probably because of things that she has written, and yet the authorities have done pretty much nothing other than take statements and dust for fingerprints.

If this was a domestic dispute in which someone was burglarising and vandalising a neighbour’s or ex-partner’s property, I imagine that the cops would be quick to establish the facts and intervene to prevent escalation.  If that is the case then the same applies here. Because to allow these crimes to go unpunished without offering a word as to why not only demonstrates a lack of competence or will. It also encourages more of the same, and not just against Ms. Brady.

If one of the foundational duties of the democratic state is to protect the freedom and security of its citizens, it appears that in in this instance NZ has so far failed miserably. The government needs to step up and provide assurances that the investigation will proceed honestly to a verifiable conclusion and that it will work to ensure the safety of Anne Marie Brady against those who would wish to do her harm.

To not do so is to abdicate a basic responsibility of democratic governance.

8 thoughts on “Tacitly encouraging local conspiracy theories.

  1. As I read on another blogsite, Anne Marie Brady has just returned from a month long visit to China. So perhaps her expressed concerns over personal safety are a little bit overblown.

    Nevertheless she has every right to feel deeply troubled over what happened. My guess is it will be essentially impossible to ever prove conclusively who was responsible for the break-ins and vehicle tampering. After all a majority of burglary cases of any nature end up never being solved.

    Nevertheless the government could come out with a strong statement condemning the acts against Brady and in defense of academic freedom – they can do this without having to explicitly point the finger at any particular party.

  2. Paul:

    It would be supremely unwise and indelicate of the PRC authorities to retaliate against AMB while she was in country (and I need to hear from her about that purported trip before I draw any conclusions. All I have heard about it is from the trolls). Doing so would turn a diplomatic molehill into a mountain that would involve NZ’s security partners (since their concerns are the same as hers). So I am not surprised that she had an uneventful trip because if anything it does exactly what you mentioned in your first paragraph: it gives the lie to the claim that she is in danger.

    The trouble is that no one said that she was in danger in the PRC. The danger to her is here.

    I agree with your last two paragraphs. Perhaps the cops simply are incompetent and cannot find a culprit. And indeed, the govt can take measures short of a full public break in relations that would convey the message of disapproval–and the message that such behaviour must stop–without causing a major diplomatic row.

  3. “Perhaps the cops simply are incompetent and cannot find a culprit.”

    Pablo I’m sorry I have great respect for you but I would be careful to throw around charges of police incompetence so casually.

    The fact is many crimes are very difficult to investigate due to the nature of the crime, and burgarly is one of them. Many of my good friends are police in NZ and elsewhere and I think they would be very sympathetic to what you’re trying to say here, but would really frown on the idea that an inability to track down the perpetrator of a burglary is a sign of police incompetence rather than a reflection on the nature of the crime.

    I know that what you said about incompetence is kind of subsidiary to your point as a whole but still, it really stood out to me. And in my (admittedly limited) experience these kinds of strong accusations (even if they are asides) can undermine what is otherwise a strong argument.

  4. I hear what you are saying Erewhon, The truth is that the run of the mill difficulties with burglary investigations do not apply here because it is a potentially international incident. It is already admitted the the SIS and specialised Police units are involved. So at this point the delay is not about the evidence trail about something else.

  5. I realise that it won’t be the local duty cops, but even specialised police units can struggle through no fault of their own. There is no investigator so skilled that he or she can be guaranteed to be able to follow every lead. So I would still say there is no need to call out the investigators as incompetent when I think they are, whatever the wider political context, dedicated professionals doing their best at a job that is, even in the best of circumstances, innately a difficult one.

  6. Interesting to read that an international aggregation of academics and journalists have written the NZ government asking that they be more forceful in their defence of Ms. Brady and academic freedom. I am not sure if it will move the needle any more than the local letters to the government have (which is to say, not at all), but it may help counter the false narratives being spun about the case.

  7. The theories spun about Anne Marie Brady carrying out the intimidation herself as some sort of attention seeking stunt are simply outlandish and unbelievable – even if she was so inclined to do so. To fabricate a crime scene would require considerable skill, and Brady has no talents in this area, as far as we are aware. She would have been quickly exposed if she had tried it on. So I think we can safely dismiss this theory.

    We need to think who else could possibly benefit by what happened.

    If it was the Chinese government, they would have perhaps benefited by shutting Brady up. They have utterly failed in this regard, and the break-ins etc have drawn far more attention to Brady’s work than would have otherwise been the case. Surely they should have anticipated this?

    However if it was done by someone setting out to discredit the Chinese, draw attention to Brady’s work, and focus attention on China’s role in the region, then this is exactly what has happened. Who benefits from this? The Americans.

    So I would submit that it is more likely that these tactics were carried out by American rather than Chinese interests.

    The fact that an international aggregation of academics and journalists have written to the NZ government about the matter does little to counter false narratives, as their statement is a general statement in defence of academic freedom and Prof Brady, rather than an investigation into who carried out the intimidation.

  8. Paul:

    I have already addressed your theory and disagree, so lets just leave things as they are. One of us will eventually be proven right.

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