The Dim-Post

September 1, 2014

New shit has come to light

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 8:43 am

Via Stuff (sorry about quoting so much of your story, guys): 

Judith Collins’ office processed an Official Information Act request in just two days to release an email embarrassing then Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley in 2011.

The revelation comes as ripples from the Dirty Politics saga widened during the weekend after a series of bombshells including:

■ Collins stepped down as Justice Minister after an email handed to the prime minister’s office raised questions about her involvement in what leaked emails appear to suggest was a campaign by Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater and others to undermine Feeley while he was SFO boss.

■ Prime Minister John Key confirmed there would be an inquiry into Collins’s actions in relation to Feeley, with details of the inquiry to be announced today.

In October 2011, Feeley was embarrassed after emails leaked by his former prosecutor showed he had toasted the prosecution of Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic with Champagne obtained from the offices of the failed finance company.

Emails obtained by Fairfax Media, alongside one released by the PM’s office, appeared to show controversy over the incident was in part stoked by Slater and fellow blogger Cathy Odgers who had talked of being being paid – it appeared from the emails – by Hanover Finance’s Mark Hotchin to attack the SFO.

The allegation that some insiders – most prominently Matthew Hooton – are putting around is that as-yet-unreleased documents show Collins passing on information about the prosecution to Slater, who then passed it onto Hotchin’s defense team. If that’s true then it will be the biggest corruption scandal in New Zealand politics for many generations (feel free to nominate contenders in the comments). It is hard to imagine that any Justice Minister would be crazy and horrible and dumb enough to do that. On the other hand, Judith Collins tenure as a Minister has mostly been about crazy, horrible dumb things. So we’ll see. 

Putting Collins aside for a moment, the revelation in the email released by John Key reveals some other pretty horrible stuff happening in our political-media culture. Mark Hotchin was under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office so he allegedly hired Graham, Slater and Odgers to smear the head of the office, and several senior journalists in the mainstream media are implicated in that smear campaign. 

Russell Brown has an overview of what happened. Herald journalists Fran O’Sullivan and Jared Savage have published comments on the material in Slater’s leaked email, and O’Sullivan is especially indignant at the suggestion she was collaborating with Slater. I guess it’s just a huge coincidence that Slater wrote in a private email: 

Cathy can outline her contact with Fran O’Sullivan separately. Basically though the Herald and other media are now picking up our lines that this situation is like “Caesar’s Wife” where the SFO must be beyond reproach. If he nicked a bottle of wine what else has he nicked or hidden from receivers and liquidators? …  

And that O’Sullivan then wrote her column entitled ‘More than a storm in a champagne flute‘ vigorously attacking Feeley in exactly the way outlined in the email. Savage wrote six stories about the same subject. There was also a column by Deborah Hill-Cone – who bestowed Slater with his Canon award: 

What does it say to his staff that it is OK to take a bottle of wine from one of the companies you are investigating? If that is OK – hey, it’s only a bottle of wine – what next? 

It would be nice to know what was actually going on here. Did the Herald’s staff know they were collaborating in a PR smear campaign? Jared Savage wrote that it was ‘naive’ of him not to know that he was being manipulated by Slater and Graham. It’s a shame that one of the top investigative journalists in the country is such a trusting, innocent naif.  I think we’re going to hear a lot of this over the next few months. ‘Gee, in retrospect I was wrong to trust Cameron Slater!’ But Slater hasn’t exactly hidden his utter, utter loathsomeness over the years. Pretty much the only nice thing you can say about him is that he’s been totally upfront about how incredibly unethical, sleazy, corrupt and hateful he is. 

Journalists need to hold people like the head of the Serious Fraud Office to account. They need to source their stories, and they source those stories off people with an agenda of their own, and sometimes those sources aren’t nice people, and journalists also need to keep their sources confidential – but it seems really, really wrong for people like Graham, Slater and Odgers to exploit those prerequisites of a free press to make a living conducting vendettas against public servants on behalf of the people they’re investigating. And there seems to be something going on at the New Zealand Herald that makes it very easy for them to be used in these smear campaigns. I hope they try and fix it. 

Update: Fran O’Sullivan wrote: My column was written b4 Slater’s email which quotes my column & NZH editorial.

August 29, 2014

How most people get hacked

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:13 am

Chris Trotter writes about hackers

LISBETH SALANDER is the archetypal hacker: a damaged outsider; phenomenally clever; contemptuous of society’s rules; but possessed of an unflinching, if somewhat quirky, sense of right and wrong. Without Lisbeth, the journalist hero of Stieg Larsen’sThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, could never have brought the guilty to justice. In a world of mendacious millionaires, giant corporations and impenetrable public bureaucracies, the hacker provides the only credible means of moving the plot forward.

 In mythic terms, Lisbeth is Ariadne, the Cretan princess whose precious linking threads allow the Greek hero, Theseus, to find his way through the impossibly complex Labyrinth and destroy the Minotaur – the monstrous, bull-headed man who dwells in its depths.

Maybe whoever hacked Cameron Slater is a Salander/Ariadne-like computer hacker, but most people carrying out this sort of activity have minimal technical skills. Here’s what usually happens: 

  1. You set up your accounts with gmail, facebook etc, all of which are password protected. 
  2. You set up an account at, say, Adobe, to download acrobat reader, or Apple or Ebay to buy stuff, and use the same password as your gmail and facebook account
  3. Ebay, or Adobe, or some other entity with your account credentials gets hacked. 
  4. The hackers post the list of account credentials online where anyone can download them
  5. Someone decides they want to hack you. They download a bunch of these lists, find your name, use free, publicly available, easy to use software to crack your password and then try logging onto your gmail account. Since the passwords are the same across both accounts they succeed. 

Obviously the people hacking the Apple database are technically skilled, But Slater’s email and Facebook could, in theory, have been hacked by anyone with the ability to download a couple torrent files. 

The way to prevent this happening are: 

  1. Change your passwords on your important accounts. Use different passwords. 
  2. Set up two-step verification on your gmail so that only certain computers can access your account. 

Quick post debate comment

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:28 am

The general consensus seems to be that Cunliffe ‘won’ the debate although not overwhelmingly. Various pundits have wondered what happened to Key. Why wasn’t he funnier? Didn’t he prepare enough? 

I think Key’s problem last night went a bit deeper than that. The premise of National’s campaign is that everything is basically okay; they haven’t introduced any significant policy this election, but Key ‘hopes’ that there will be tax cuts at some stage in the future. 

If you look at the polls most people agree that the country is heading in the right direction, so National’s ‘don’t rock the boat’ strategy makes a lot of sense. But when you put Key up on the debate stage with Cunliffe, who hammered issues like house prices and foreign land sales which the majority of the country thinks are not okay, and which Labour has policy solutions for but National does not, then Key is at a huge disadvantage. Most of the debate consisted of Cunliffe identifying problems and proposing solutions, with Key insisting that the problems didn’t exist and Cunliffe’s solutions wouldn’t work. Key never had the chance to articulate his solutions or his vision, because he doesn’t have any. It’s hard to joke your way past that. 

August 28, 2014

Debates don’t change anything unless they do

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:23 pm

Leaders’ debate tonight! Reading through some of the political science about debates over lunchtime and the general consensus seems to be that debates don’t really change voters’ minds unless one of the debaters dramatically under-performs or over-performs.  But all other things being equal, viewers generally think the politician they liked going into the debate ‘won’, and the greatest impact of most debates is to persuade viewers towards the policies and viewpoints of the politician they’re already predisposed to like. 

But its possible that either candidate tonight could dazzle us, or disgrace themselves. Key is likely to be the usual chilled out entertainer who sees everything in All-Blacks analogies and played golf with Barack Obama, but he’s very crafty and quick-witted when he wants to be: he ran rings around Phil Goff in 2011. On the other hand, his judgement over the last couple weeks hasn’t been great. 

And then there’s Cunliffe. I was one of those idiots who thought he’d make a better Labour leader than David Shearer, because Cunliffe could ‘take the fight’ to Key, and I had events like tonight’s debate in mind. So this would be a good time for Cunliffe to deliver on what now seems like his very distant promise. Sadly I think he’s just as likely to say something inane and narcissistic and further repel voters. I hope he doesn’t do that. 

I also hope the pundits and commentators lined up to comment on the debate have more substantive critiques to make than, ‘He looked masterful,’ or ‘He seemed nervous.’ 

In terms of strategy, I think Cunliffe will attempt to speak to older voters who are deserting his party for New Zealand First. Key will speak to current National voters and frighten them into turning out and voting ‘Unless you want David Cunliffe, Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom running the country.’  

August 27, 2014

PVR advice

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:48 pm

Yesterday I called Vodafone’s customer support line to get some help with my broadband internet. Today I cancelled my Vodafone account and signed up with Spark because that seemed like an easier way to get my internet working again. 

Anyway, part of the deal with Vodafone was the ‘T-Box’ which we used for recording/time shifting tv shows and Spark don’t got nothing like that. We could sign up for Sky and get MySky, but that’s $50/month and all we want to do is record and rewatch free tv. So buying a Personal Video Recorder looks like the way to go. 

Any recommendations? The DishTV devices look pretty cheap but the reviews suggest they’re horrible. Maybe the new generation ones are better? Has anyone used one of the Panasonic PVRs? Anything else out there on the market? 

August 24, 2014

First thoughts about National’s Housing Policy

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 4:04 pm
  • It is probably clever. $20,000/couple is not an election bribe any other party will be able to match and it is targeted at a very specific group of people: first-home buyers on low and medium incomes. Presumably National has decided that these are an important demographic in this election. 
  • It is easy to ridicule. Pouring taxpayer money into the housing bubble is not a great way to solve the housing affordability crisis. If the subsidy increases prices by $20,000 then the government is simply wasting money. I guess the Nats will argue that it will increase the demand for new houses, or that they’ll gut the RMA to increase the supply. 
  • It is not a ‘gamechanger’. It’s probably what the Nats were planning to do before Dirty Politics, and they’ve decided to go ahead with it and pretend everything is business as normal. Good luck with that guys!
  • National’s ideology and values are not (yet) delivering any policy ideas during this campaign. Free money for first home buyers, free doctor’s visits for children and MOAR ROADS are not right-wing (or ‘center right’) ideas, in the way that the partial sales of the energy companies was. Having a popular right-wing party simply unable to campaign on its values or ideas is a pretty sweet place for the left to be, long term. It would be nice to be in government, but having National in there implementing left-wing policies for us is the next best thing. 

August 21, 2014

The SIS OIA

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:23 am

Via Stuff:

Labour MP Phil Goff says he has evidence the prime minister was briefed about a decision to release Security Intelligence Service documents to WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater.

John Key, who is also the minister responsible for the SIS, has denied his office had anything to do with the release in 2011 of the documents used to embarrass Goff, who was then Labour Party leader.

Goff had denied being briefed by then SIS director Warren Tucker on a security matter, but the documents showed he had been fully briefed.

Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics, alleges Slater was tipped off by Key’s staff to ask for the papers.

Key has insisted that this absolutely did not happen, and that the SIS released the information themselves. Why did they do it so quickly? Because Phil Goff had questioned Tucker’s word, and so Tucker obviously had an incentive to get the information out as quickly as possible.

There are a few problems with that version of events. The biggest is that Fairfax had requested the same document a few days earlier and the SIS refused to release it to them. The second big problem is this dialog in the Slater/Bhatnager correspondence dumped by whaledump yesterday:

Cameron Slater, 8/2, 9:03am Should be a big day tomorrow if my PO Box has a nice brown envelope with OHMS on it
Aaron Bhatnagar, 8/2, 9:04am oh, whats that about?
Cameron Slater, 8/2, 9:05am I OIAd the briefing minutes and notes for Goff’s SIS briefing it has been expedited in the public interest
Aaron Bhatnagar, 8/2, 9:05am oh yes
Cameron Slater, 8/2, 9:06am it is devastating for Goff I am told

Surely if the SIS wanted this information to be published they’d have released it to Fairfax, who asked for it first? It is also hard to imagine the SIS Director’s office calling up Cameron Slater and crowing to him about the contents of his request that they’d just ‘expedited’. 

August 20, 2014

Let’s not overestimate these idiots

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:05 am

One of the most prevalent responses to Dirty Politics is that it just shows us ‘politics as normal’. (Here’s Trotter insisting that dirty politics is ‘the only kind there is’.) This is weird on a couple of levels. Firstly, in the week before Hager’s book was released everyone was running around insisting that the crowd of students chanting ‘Fuck John Key’ meant that this was the dirtiest, nastiest election ever. Now that we have a book documenting behavior that is so far beyond that, and linking it to the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister’s office, people are running around scoffing that politics has ‘always’ been like this. 

Well, sure, people in politics have done nasty things before. Back in 2004 under Clark’s Labour government Leanne Dalziel  was caught leaking private information to the media and then lying about it. People were disgusted by what Dalziel did, and she resigned. We didn’t have all these very sophisticated world-weary cynics running around insisting that it was no big deal because politics is always dirty so nothing bad should happen to her. It is like saying ‘Well, duh, we all know crime happens so let’s not have a justice system.’ 

Also, I know a few people in politics on both the left and the right, and while some of them might be cunning and ruthless (Hi Honey) they’re not sociopaths. If you go around insisting that political operatives who ruin people’s lives because that’s what gives them pleasure is ‘politics as normal’ then you’re enabling these unusually horrible people to turn our political system into something very ugly. Don’t do that. 

Lastly, there’s a quote from Hager’s book that lots of people have picked up on by Simon Lusk about how negative campaigning and dirty politics favors the right. From the afterword: 

There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continues to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game, and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point; election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether.

Maybe that was the conventional wisdom in political science when Lusk wrote that, which I believe was in 2006 or 2007. But it’s not true. The Obama campaign ran a ‘two tier’ campaign against Mitt Romney in 2012. Their media advertising was almost 100% negative, and their direct targeting and ground campaign were positive. They won by suppressing right-wing voter turnout and maximising turnout among their own supporters. So let’s not assume that Lusk, Slater et al have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to political strategy, or that the revelations about them can only have negative consequences for the left. 

August 19, 2014

Social media election

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:48 am

The person behind the WhaleDump leaks gave the Herald an exclusive with all the emails about Slater and his prostitute friend. That’s significant for several reasons. (1) The Herald reaches the same conclusions Hager did, so this is an exercise in building confidence and integrity in Hager and his book, (2) it tarnishes Key with some of Slater’s most vile dirt and (3) this seems like a really, really well planned and well executed communications strategy, doesn’t it? 

Cameron Slater and Jason Ede considered themselves masters of political ‘black-ops’. (There was a Dom-Post editorial recently taking Nicky Hager to task for using such a loaded term, but someone who worked for National during their first term told me a while ago, with some amusement, that Ede did, actually refer to himself as a ‘black-ops’ guy, and that this mostly consisted of reading Hansards of Phil Goff’s speeches from the 1980s and 90s and finding ways in which Goff had changed his mind in the last thirty years, then running around the Beehive yelling ‘I’ve nailed the bastard! He’s finished!’) Anyway, Slater and Ede and look like amateurs compared to the black op currently being conducted against them and their party. 

We’ve seen third parties intervene in New Zealand elections before. In 2005 the Exclusive Brethren ran an anonymous negative campaign against Labour and the Greens. They put out a bunch of pamphlets. But that was in collaboration with National, even if they didn’t admit it. I don’t think these people are collaborating with any political party. And if they manage to change the minds of, say, 20,000 voters who switch from National to Labour, then a group of anonymous activists will have managed to change the government. 

That’s a big deal. I’m sure they would say they’re just helping voters make an informed decision by putting information before them. And I think voters should know about National and their contacts with Slater. That was a really stupid, horrible decision and people have a right to know about it. But having a group of anonymous activists breaking the law to target political parties they don’t like and then waging a full-scale war against them in the media during an election campaign is new territory. I don’t think this has happened in any other democratic country before. It’s one of the reasons National are so dumbfounded and clumsy in their responses. They can’t go to Crosby/Textor (or whoever) and say ‘What do we do here? What have your clients in other countries done?’ Because this hasn’t happened to anyone. 

August 18, 2014

State of play

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:43 pm

Various points:

  • People have been talking about what they think the most important revelation from Dirty Politics is. The SIS stuff? The blackmail? Judith Collins’ leaks? Etc? I don’t know, but I think that focusing on the individual bombshells eclipses what the overall book is about: a small cabal of vile, vicious ruthless people trying to take over one of our major political parties.
  • I don’t think many National Party members are going to read Dirty Politics, which is a shame, because I think they’d be shocked about what this handful of people are doing to their party. The chapter on the Rodney selection process – in which Mark Mitchell came back to New Zealand from overseas, decided he’d like to be an MP in a National safe-seat, and paid Slater and Lusk to run smear campaigns against his opponents who were all local members of the National Party, subsequent to which Mitchell won the seat – is something National Party members should take an interest in.
  • Now, there are always factions in political parties. There are always plots and gossip and leaks. And the argument some of National’s apologists are putting up is that if any operative from any political party got their emails hacked and selectively published it would look just as bad: filled with death threats and blackmail plots and lies and smears and bile. I don’t think that’s true. And we happen to have a really great real-life example of a leaked politician’s emails in one of Hager’s previous books, The Hollow Men. Hager published excerpts from hundreds of emails between National leader Don Brash and his staffers and advisers. There was a lot of cynicism in The Hollow Men emails, and a lot of material about the duplicity of the National Party (Brash’s beliefs and agenda if he because Prime Minister were very different from the way he was presented to the rest of the country) but there was nothing that came close to the contents of Dirty Politics, and I’m pretty sure that if there was anything like that in the emails from Brash and his advisers Hager would have published it.
  • Things aren’t going that well for John Key in terms of fronting the issue. There’s a lot of criticism of the way he’s handling this. Key’s problem is that this is probably the worst thing that could possibly have happened to him during the election campaign. Building a strategic alliance with Cameron Slater and incorporating him into National’s communications strategy was a terrible, terrible mistake. There’s no way to spin that. There’s no reasonable explanation Key can possibly give. ‘You can’t unshit the bed,’ as they say in US politics. Right now Key’s trying to tough it out because him and his team have decided that is the least terrible option. They might be right.
  • But the game changed again today with the emergence of the @whaledump account on twitter. This is, evidently, Nicky Hager’s source for Slater’s hacked emails, and they’ve published screen shots substantiating this.
  • Who hacked Slater? My first reaction – at the book launch for Dirty Politics  was that it was Kim Dotcom. Slater’s alleged the same thing. Dotcom and Hager have both denied it.
  • I’m inclined to believe Hager’s denial. Not because I think he’s a saint, but he’s a very smart man who has put his integrity on the line for very, very high stakes, and I think that if Dotcom did hack Slater he’s just as likely to have a falling out with a staffer or business associate who would then run to the media and tell everybody all about it, or just blurt it out on twitter at 4am. I don’t think Hager would risk that.
  • But the @whaledump account seems very Kim Dotcomesque, doesn’t it? Or at least very tech-geek, with the cute graphic and Futurama memes. It feels similar to the Team Key parody account which is widely suspected of being an Internet Party creation. And they’re posting their stuff on mega, which is owned by Kim Dotcom!
  • I suspect some heavy-duty trolling there. I searched for whaledump’s encryption key on the PGP server. They registered it on Tuesday the 5th of August, a week before Hager’s book was published, and listed their user id as: Whaledump <winston.peters@parliament.govt.nz>. It’s designed to keep us guessing.
  • Whoever it is it seems like a very different entity to Nicky Hager. Maybe that’s what we’re meant to think! But it means that National doesn’t know what’s coming. The very first dump of information contained emails that weren’t mentioned in Dirty Politics. Hager said that he would not release any personal details about MP’s private lives, but no one has any idea what the person or people running @whaledump will do.
  • Which means that Key’s office will have to vet Judith Collins’ correspondence with Slater because any of it might be released on twitter at any moment. Maybe I’m misjudging Collins here but I don’t think her career can survive that vetting. I think there’s a high chance that she’ll get a call tonight from one of her fellow MPs who she considers a friend and that they’ll ask her to stand down tomorrow ‘for the good of the party’.

 

 

 

 

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