24 November 2014

Dirty Politics redux

The report of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) into the deliberate release of an SIS briefing note to an attack blogger does not support every single detail presented in chapter 3 of Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics. But it does confirm the basic story, and it vindicates Hager's decision to publish, based on public interest.
As the Herald reported it, the attack blogger "requested and published politically damaging material about former Labour Leader Phil Goff from the SIS after being instructed to ask for the material by Prime Minister John Key's staff." This politically motivated leak from the PM's office was requested (after a tip-off) under the Official Information Act; and it was "expedited," according to the attack blogger himself, by a staffer in the PM's office.
Hager's case that the PM must have known about this skullduggery has not yet been supported, however. The PM will deny that he knew. But this will put him in an awkward dilemma. If he knew, then it would imply that he gave permission to release a classified security briefing for political ends, and that would be bad for his credibility, especially as he is about to ask Parliament to increase SIS powers.
But, if he didn't know, then why didn't he know that a breach of conventions of the democratic rule of law was going on in his own offices. Surely, if he were a trustworthy PM, he would have put a stop to it, had he known about it!
His excuse before the election when all of this blew up was that he was on holiday in Hawaii at the time of the briefing. And anyway, he said, "New Zealanders don't care about" the whole affair.
You might ask, "Why should we care? It wasn't anything major." 
The reason why we, the public, should care is that the SIS's former chief executive and the PM's staff had deliberately used normally classified intelligence-service information for a political purpose that had nothing at all to do with national security. That is, they just wanted to embarrass the leader of the Opposition. Now, this particular incident may not have turned out to be very harmful, but it could have set a very dangerous precedent by which the SIS and GCSB get used for spying on and discrediting political opponents. And that, dear readers, signals the beginnings of a Police State. So, yes we must take this incident seriously. And this kind of thing must be stamped out. Hence, if the PM did not know about it, then he ought to have known. And he certainly must exert greater control over his advisers in future.

(NB: Written before the release of the full report).


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