New Zealand’s Intelligence and Security Agencies lack proper control and oversight

The Green Party opposes the re-establishment of the Intelligence and Security Committee and its proposed composition.

The committee is not a select committee; it is a statutory committee. It is not governed by the select committee procedures of the House, and it can conduct its hearings in total secrecy, if it chooses, without Parliament having any real ability to judge its performance, or having any significant insight into its activities. The Greens have no idea what it did in the previous Parliament, apart from holding a couple of hours of public hearings on the Government Communications Security Bureau.

It is not a committee in the spirit of MMP, because, at most, five (and in practice four) parties are represented on it, and its membership is determined entirely by the Prime Minister, who can nominate two members, other than herself, and by the National Party leader, who can nominate one other member. It seems that the membership will be basically the same as in the last Parliament, with Winston Peters replacing Richard Prebble, which is not an improvement. Mr Peters will probably want the Security Intelligence Service to interrogate every immigrant coming into the country.

It is also quite wrong in a democracy for one person to be simultaneously the Prime Minister, the Minister in charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, and the chair of the supposed oversight committee. This accountability problem has increased since this committee was set up in the last Parliament, because the intelligence agencies have now been given powers to intercept electronic communications, and they have been given more resources.

Also, the Prime Minister has taken on the extra function of designating terrorist organisations, largely on the basis of information provided by intelligence agencies, as we have seen with the first designation of a terrorist organisation–Jemaah Islamiah.

The second motion not only sets the committee up as an oversight body, so-called, but actually denies the right of any other committee in this Parliament- that is, any real select committee–to “examine an intelligence and security agency”. The Intelligence and Security Committee cannot be a proper oversight committee. It is forbidden from seeing any operational information of intelligence agencies, and cannot therefore judge them effectively. It can deal only with financial and policy matters, and it is very difficult to assess what policy is actually being implemented in the agencies, if one does not get any operational information.

In the United States there are congressional oversight committees that do have access to operational information, without, of course, the identities of agents being disclosed. Even CIA Director, William Colby, said in 1995: “My message is that we in the intelligence and security services can work under a system of parliamentary control.” There is also a movement to broaden committees around the world. A formal inquiry by the British select committee on home affairs in 1999 recommended replacing its somewhat narrow oversight structure with a proper select committee oversight.

Without proper oversight, we cannot find out whether the agencies are targeting real threats to New Zealand, or are involved in espionage on legitimate dissidents or people of particular ethnic or religious persuasion. The issue of legitimate dissidents came into focus a few years ago when the home of anti-free trade activist, Aziz Choudry, was raided by the Security Intelligence Service. The Security Intelligence Service Act allows the agency to spy on any foreign organisation whose “clandestine” activities impact adversely on New Zealand’s “economic well-being”. So if Greenpeace, an international organisation, plots protests or civil disobedience against genetically engineered (GE) crops, it might qualify for Security Intelligence Service surveillance, given a likely right-wing Security Intelligence Service interpretation of New Zealand’s economic well-being.

I do not think that the intelligence agencies are coming at the GE issue from the Green Party’s political angle that pro-GE multinationals, such as Monsanto, are more clandestinely affecting New Zealand’s economic well-being than anyone else. Any right-wing interpretations of threats will be reinforced by the Security Intelligence Service’s intelligence partners abroad.

In this regard we have just seen the service’s partner agency across the Tasman, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, raiding the homes of Muslims, whose only crime was to listen to a fundamentalist Islamic sermon at a local mosque. It is very likely that the Security Intelligence Service here is targeting certain ethnic solidarity groups. The service claims in a recently released booklet that “there are individuals and groups in New Zealand with links to overseas organisations that are committed to acts of terrorism, violence, and intimidation. Some have developed local structures that are dedicated to the support of their overseas parent bodies.” But I, as an MP, am unable to find out what these overseas organisations or their New Zealand support groups are. I asked the Prime Minister via written questions about this and received a reply on Tuesday, 12 November, which stated that for security reasons she could not answer.

What types of organisations are being targeted needs to be out in the open and a subject for public debate. For example, is the Security Intelligence Service targeting those New Zealanders who give support to the Sharon Government in Israel that is occupying a foreign territory in violation of international law and UN resolutions, terrorising its Palestinian inhabitants, and that possesses weapons of mass destruction, or is it instead targeting any New Zealanders who support the Palestinian group Hamas that has a terrorist component to it?

Is the Security Intelligence Service targeting those New Zealanders who support the West Papuan freedom movement that uses arms, or is it targeting those New Zealanders who support the Indonesian government, whose army carries out human rights violations and killings on a much larger scale than any liberation movement in Indonesia?

Is the Security Intelligence Service broadly targeting the Islamic community in New Zealand, particularly migrants from Middle Eastern countries in the way that American intelligence agencies certainly are as part of their so-called war against terrorism, and in a way that is fostering racist responses in the community?

The problem with these secret intelligence agencies and the lack of proper oversight from the Intelligence and Security Committee, or anyone else, is that their agendas have been historically formed following discussions with their overseas intelligence counterparts, particularly in America, Britain, and Australia, rather than following any discussions with New Zealanders, or even the MPs who represent them.

Anyone following George Bush’s presentation of the war against terrorism and the case it constructs against Iraq to justify an invasion is aware that lies and distortion of the facts are his stock in trade, and that US intelligence agencies are conscripted to construct these lies. In the murky world of American intelligence it is difficult to distinguish fact from constructed fiction, yet our Government is increasingly using American intelligence, most recently to justify the banning of Jemaah Islamiah under the Terrorism Suppression Act with virtually no confirming information for that banning being available in the public domain.

We then have the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau that mainly functions as a small cog in Echelon, the worldwide communication spying network run by the United States National Security Agency. We have no real way of knowing whether the information from the huge volume of phone, faxes, and emails that are passed from the Government Communications Security Bureau to the National Security Agency is being misused.

The Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau are also a threat to our privacy, particularly since the passage of the Crimes Amendment Bill that gives those agencies an extra power to intercept our emails and secretly hack into our computers. Of course, it is argued that we need intelligence surveillance to protect our freedom, but as the fictional spy master, George Smillie said in a John Le Carre novel: , “We’ve given up far too many freedoms in order to be free.”

This committee, with its narrow mandate and narrow membership does not deal with the fears of the Green Party and many New Zealanders as to what the intelligence agencies might be doing.

We need a true parliamentary select committee oversight with a broadly based representation. We must trust Parliament. I agree with Peter Dunne’s comments that we need to broaden representation. If the National Party speakers are to criticise the Prime Minister for not giving sufficient information, surely they should support a broader oversight body, and a proper select committee oversight of these intelligence agencies.

We have an Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, but his powers are limited. Members just need to read his annual reports to see how ineffectual he is.

The Green Party cannot support these two motions.


Parliament – Debate on forming Intelligence and Security Committee