The Dim-Post

April 16, 2013

Scaremongering for dummies

Filed under: intelligence,Politics — danylmc @ 8:09 am

Via Andrea Vance, who is probably developing a healthy paranoia at about this point:

The Government is to beef up laws to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders – including to protect private companies.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced sweeping changes in response to a scathing review of the Government Communications Security Bureau that found it had illegally spied on more than 80 people.

He said the security threat was low but claimed there had been attempts to use New Zealand technology to build weapons of mass destruction.

“There have been cyber intrusions in New Zealand and we believe that the basis of those intrusions has been to retrieve information that could be used in the creation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Individuals here were funding, or had links to, overseas terror groups, he said.

Let’s game this out. Say you’re John Key, you want these law changes, the opposition has called for an inquiry into Intelligence, and you genuinely believe that there are serious attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction using New Zealand technology. Why don’t you just agree to the inquiry? No QC or Governor General or former civil-servant, or whoever ends up running it is going to ignore a serious, legitimate plot to aquire WMDs. If the threat is real they’ll almost certainly recommend the same changes Key wants to make, and he’d get to score a victory over his opponents instead of spend political capital pushing through changes that make it look as though he’s engaged in a cover-up.

So why wouldn’t he do that? Probably because he’s involved in a cover-up, thus the WMD card which is synonymous with political deception. Is the claim even remotely credible? Consider this Herald story from 2009:

The Security Intelligence Service has approached university lecturers asking for help to stop foreign states gathering information on “weapons of mass destruction”, says the union representing tertiary workers.

Dr Ryan said the letter to universities alludes to a meeting between the spy agency and the New Zealand Vice Chancellor’s Committee.

He said the SIS has also sent out a brochure called “A Guide to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Your role in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

Dr Ryan said the brochure warns scientists and researchers to look out for people who could be trying to learn how to make “weapons of mass destruction”.

He said the pamphlet has been distributed widely and includes fax, email, and web contacts for the SIS.

“If any tertiary staff member sees something they suspect is illegal they should contact the police. Otherwise their job is to advance and share knowledge; it is not to create an atmosphere where colleagues and students don’t know whether they are being spied on or not. That can only inhibit genuine education and research,” said Dr Ryan.

Who wants to bet that this is the SIS’s critical operation against foreign acquisition of WMD technology case that the PM is citing? I’d put money on that, and also that the reason we aren’t getting an independent report is because said QCs – or whoever heads it – will just spray their coffee all over the rest of the committee with laughter when it’s used as a justification to increase the powers of the GCSB.

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33 Comments »

  1. The satire writes itself. Weapons of mass destruction? Seriously?

    Comment by nw — April 16, 2013 @ 8:20 am

  2. I didn’t know that WMD were still a thing. I thought they were a mythological creature used to justify a war and then it turned out they were unicorns?

    Comment by ruminatornz — April 16, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  3. Who knew NZ’s industrial and scientific base was so complex, secretive and wealthy that dread WMDs were laying around ripe for the plucking. Begs the question though – why didn’t the PM do something about this grave crisis of nationsl security far sooner?

    Comment by Teej — April 16, 2013 @ 8:45 am

  4. Well, I can see Key’s point if NZs nerve gas and nuke patents have been infringed.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 16, 2013 @ 8:48 am

  5. A PDF of the WMD pamphlet is available from http://ndhadeliver.natlib.govt.nz/content-aggregator/getIEs?system=ilsdb&id=1498583

    Comment by Pete — April 16, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  6. Given the opaque and highly suspect nature of your day-job, Danyl, I think you have a personal interest in this particular topic. I mean, how many lethal and highly contagious viruses have you been shopping on Trade Me? Hmmm?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 16, 2013 @ 9:01 am

  7. Once again, National is hell bent on proving that all the stupid used to such stunning effect by overseas right wingers will be DIFFERENT here.

    Comment by Phil Stevens — April 16, 2013 @ 9:02 am

  8. I have to keep reminding myself that this one isn’t parody.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — April 16, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  9. Geddis, سوق‎ Me has far better penetration into the target buyer demographic.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 16, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  10. Key’s comment about WMDs was part of a broader justification for having such agencies in the first place. He’s just talking about people trawling through universities and defence sites opportunistically looking for research that could be put to use.

    That’s not unlikely. Anyone wanting to construct some new chemical weapons device would do that at some point.

    The changes proposed enable the GCSB to provide support to the SIS and police when they have the apprpriat warrants. There’s no need for any inquiry to determine whether or not one agrees with that.

    Any inquiry is going to come up against the dilemma of not being able to make public the information that would convince the skeptical of the need for a secret service and for the need for the GCSB to assist. No QC or Judge will release details of actual operations.

    I’ve looked at the proposed changes and to me the increased accountability and oversight is a very large step forward. If Labour have some specific changes they would like to then they can put them forward, otherwise their call for an inquiry is mere cover for them public ally admitting thus is what they would do anyway.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  11. That should be:

    “…mere cover for them not publically admitting this is what they would do anyway.”

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 10:54 am

  12. He’s just talking about people trawling through universities and defence sites opportunistically looking for research that could be put to use.
    That’s not unlikely. Anyone wanting to construct some new chemical weapons device would do that at some point.

    Or you could just use Google.

    I’ve looked at the proposed changes and to me the increased accountability….

    Yeah, yeah yeah…changes to spy agency legislation is always done with the best intent.
    Tell me this NeilM – if these changes were actually about improved accountability, why the WMD dogwhistle?

    Comment by Gregor W — April 16, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  13. “Key’s comment about WMDs was part of a broader justification for having such agencies in the first place. He’s just talking about people trawling through universities and defence sites opportunistically looking for research that could be put to use.”

    In which case, his example is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. No-one is saying the GCSB can’t carry out cybersecurity duties under the current law, so as to prevent and detect such opportunistic fishing expeditions. And if the person trying to access this information is from overseas, the GCSB can then spy the hell out of them (and give all thay info to our intelligence allies, who can then disappear said person into a black site prison for a friendly chat). So even raising this “threat” in relation to the current debate is careless at best and totally manipulative at worst.

    What I’d want to know is, exactly what capabilites can the GCSB give to the SIS and the Police that they do not possess on their own? And, is it appropriate for those capabilities to be deployed against NZ citizens – and what happens to information gathered using those capabilities (in particular, does it stay in NZ or go to all our intelligence allies as well?) But apparently that sort of info is classified and so we can’t know it. Leaving us to trust Key when he says it is “necessary” to make this change. And, given Key’s somewhat checkered history of openness and candour on intelligence issues, that is problematic. Which is, I would note, a problem that Key created for himself.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 16, 2013 @ 11:16 am

  14. What I’d want to know is, exactly what capabilites can the GCSB give to the SIS and the Police that they do not possess on their own? And, is it appropriate for those capabilities to be deployed against NZ citizens

    It could be that the nature of those resources is something that would never be revealed. We know its mostly been technical assistance and they may want to keep what that is to themselves.

    But what ever assistance they do give to the SIS or police that has to done under their warrants so if there’s an issue it’s not withtjebGCSB but with the SIS or police.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  15. The leader of the opposition is also briefed on security issues and from what I can see of the proposed change it will be much less a matter of trusting the PM.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  16. “Actual attempts to acquire WMDs carry severe criminal penalties under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 and the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1996, and can be prosecuted by police (who have access to wiretaps for that purpose under the Search and Surveillance Act 2011). And people with actual links to overseas terrorist groups – that is, acting as their agents, rather than just having some Facebook friends in common – are “foreign persons” under the GCSB Act, and the prohibition on domestic interceptions does not apply.”

    from NRT – but seems pertinent to the topic – if the above is true it appears we already have the ways and means to do exactly what Key is claiming we need

    Comment by framu — April 16, 2013 @ 11:31 am

  17. But what ever assistance they do give to the SIS or police that has to done under their warrants

    But that’s exactly the point. The activity wasn’t performed legally under warrant. It was performed illegally, possibly under warrant, possibly not.

    Furthermore to say that the responsibility for the “issue” resides solely with the Police / SIS in asking for assistance is hair splitting of the most absurd kind – just because one party commissioned a crime from another, does not mean the party that perpetrated said crime is not accountable.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 16, 2013 @ 11:31 am

  18. I don’t think anyone is arguing that we shouldn’t have an intelligence service, even one that protects our economic interests. Byproduct of a socially dysfunctional media; the debate risks being misconstrued into a case of those who do, and those who don’t want such agencies to exist.

    Comment by barf — April 16, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  19. Gregor W, I wasn’t arguing that what the GCSB had been doing wasn’t illegal. I was arguing that if under the proposed law the GCSB assists the SIS or police than if there is anything untoward about that surveillance then that’s an issue over process for the SIS and police. They got the warrants.

    If there were to be something wrong with the SiS or police surveillance then it would be wrong whether or not the GCSB was involved.

    Maybe Key was using WMD for effect but there’s been lots of media attention on that and no analysis of the actual changes proposed.

    Calling for an inquiry and looking to see if the proposed changes are sufficient aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  20. Or maybe NeilM, we should just leave the law as it is and the agencies involved can follow correct evidential and legal process.

    The changes necessary are pretty simple – hold a few people accountable and possible have them serve a little prison time so they might learn the error of their ways.

    Lesson learned.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 16, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

  21. Key says he briefed Shearer yesterday on the specific warrant related to the supposed WMD issue.

    Today Shearer is saying the issue is a distraction but he’s not denying it or calling Key a liar.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

  22. Individuals here were funding, or had links to, overseas terror groups, he said.

    Assuming Key has been accurately reported, first question in Parliament should be …

    “Has anybody been arrested and charged? If not, why not?”

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — April 16, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

  23. What: no comment on the Boston bomber?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — April 16, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  24. “…What: no comment on the Boston bomber..?”

    http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/douglasboston.cfm

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 16, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

  25. Key’s comments seemed to have moved well on from “oh we’ll just let the GCSB help with the technicalities and maybe getting the scones” to active involvement in domestic interceptions based on security risk. That’s a COMPLETELY different argument and reasoning for law change

    Comment by garethw — April 16, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

  26. Key was on National Radio this morning. I nearly fell out of bed when I heard his voice there. The last time he was on was during the election campaign.
    So we might conclude his relaxometer is not reading ‘comfortable’ just now.
    I wonder how much pressure Key is under from the US: Warner Bros, FBI etc.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — April 16, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

  27. He’s probably just sick of listening to the idiots that usually clog up time on NatRad.

    Comment by Tim — April 16, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

  28. Yeah, wimmy. THAT’S the reason.

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 16, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

  29. “…they may want to keep what that is to themselves. ”

    Well tough. As citizens, we need to know what they’re up to so we can judge whether to allow it. I don’t share your apparent trust in them.

    Comment by Stephen J — April 16, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

  30. Well tough. As citizens, we need to know what they’re up to so we can judge whether to allow it. I don’t share your apparent trust in them.

    It’s a bit of a dilemma. Telling the public what and how they do things would very possibly assist those we don’t want to assist.

    Which leaves us with trusting the political oversight. Perhaps I’m overly trusting, I never had any particular concerns in this area with the Clark govt or with this one.

    Key claims to have briefed both Labour and the Greens on the supposed WMD warrant and as far as I can see neither have challenged Key on this. And Shearer had been briefed regularly as per usual protocol.

    That with the additional checks and balances being proposed appear to me to reasonable oversight. But it does come down to trusting someone.

    Comment by NeilM — April 16, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  31. Why did not George W Bush not invade us?

    Our anti-nuclear stance clearly made us out as anti USA.

    If we had any WMD info one aircraft carrier and a single marine battalion would have neutralised our threat to John Keys Wall Street cronies.

    Pinnochio’s nose is growing.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — April 16, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

  32. No one is arguing that external cyber threats against the New Zealand government and our companies do not exist. And even if there are covert attempts to get at information that could help with WMD production (srsly???), the GCSB was set up to stop these – that’s not the issue as it’s already legal – and not what the signalled legislation is trying to fix. So it is a massive massive deception campaign to bring these issues into the public debate.

    The issue is with cross agency cooperation where the GCSB spies on locals and government/parliament oversight of the whole shebang.

    However, there is a legitimate question to be considered here – what kind of hit rate is no prosecutions with 88 people being spied on?

    Comment by Bill Engrish — April 17, 2013 @ 9:19 am

  33. I am wondering when “Weapons of Mass Destruction for Dummies” is coming out.

    Comment by John — April 19, 2013 @ 6:44 am


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