The Dim-Post

May 12, 2013

Burn after reading

Filed under: intelligence — danylmc @ 10:42 am

Tracy Watkins has the odd story of Craig Lebamoff, a US border security expert who won a Fulbright and decided to write his thesis on New Zealand’s border security:

But the New Zealand sabbatical quickly turned sour after seven months and his thesis was never published after the New Zealand Government refused to clear its release.

In an extraordinary series of allegations, he says he was threatened with an investigation by the Security Intelligence Service, locked out of his office at NZ Customs, had his computer hard drive and research materials seized while colleagues reported his rubbish bins being searched – he believes by the SIS.

It all adds up to what seems like an extraordinary over-reaction to a report that largely concluded the major threat to New Zealand’s borders was not terrorism but a biosecurity breach.

It all adds up to what seems like an extraordinary over-reaction to a report that largely concluded the major threat to New Zealand’s borders was not terrorism but a biosecurity breach.

The government is cutting funding for biosecurity while expanding the funding and powers of our intelligence agencies, so it’s not too surprising someone saw red over such a finding.

New Zealand is a very remote, very small country, but we have a sizable intelligence apparatus with extraordinary powers and virtually no oversight. We keep getting told that these agencies are engaged in incredibly important work protecting us from terrorists and other evil-doers, and that the critical nature of this work justifies the utter secrecy.

But every time – EVERY TIME – we get a glimpse into what our spies actually do, it’s nothing to do with keeping us safe or fighting terrorism, or anything that even justifies the cost of their existence. If there is a case to be made that biosecurity breaches are a grave risk to New Zealand and the SIS – or whoever – suppress that finding then they’re actually endangering the state.


  1. Might want to take out the double para “It adds up to….” The word “extraordinary” appears at least one too many times with it left there 🙂

    Comment by ZenTiger — May 12, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  2. Hmm. I wonder if there is a connection:


    Comment by JC — May 12, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  3. Reminds me of Muldoon getting rid of the Commission for the Future after it said it was going to study the effects of a major financial collapse on the country’s future.

    Comment by Andrew R — May 12, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  4. Biosecurity breaches have been, are and will continue to be a huge risk/cost to NZ. Look at the gypsy moth eradication, for example, or possums, rock snot, pacific starfish and the “giant white butterfly” that’s currently trying to wipe out brassica in nz (that’s cabbage etc for any politicians having this read to them).

    Comment by Moz's Opinion — May 12, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

  5. maybe if we get the intelligence community to focus on some obvious threat, like wilding pines, and show they can deal with that before we give them the power to do anything dramatic? After the Urewera Terrorism … events that sounds like more their level.

    Comment by Moz's Opinion — May 12, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

  6. Moz’s Opinion, I think my quixotic quest for the next Labour party conference is going to be to get that passed as a policy proposal. Brilliant.

    Comment by Stephen J — May 12, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

  7. sounds good. Just call me the power behind the throne 🙂

    (I mean the leadership throne, not the one that flushes)

    Comment by Moz's Opinion — May 12, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

  8. I was under the impression that New Zealand’s biosecurity protocols were some of the strongest in the world. That’s certainly been my experience – I’ve never been quizzed as exhaustively about biosecurity entering any other country as I have in NZ.

    Comment by Hugh — May 12, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

  9. Oh Hugh stop getting in the way of a good green conspiracy. John Key eats babies and runs a facist junta oppressing the honest middle class urban green voter.

    Comment by Wimmmmmy — May 12, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  10. Hugh, that’s been my experience. I was shocked at how easy it was to get into Oz, for example. But then I had been aware of the fireblight controversy so I thought the ozzies were actually concerned. My bad.

    FWIW, there’s a rust called fireblight that is very bad for apples. Australia doesn’t have it, and for a long time wouldn’t accept NZ apples because we do. Then some people[1] found a local rust very similar to it[2]. And a few years later that non-tarriff trade barrier… was still in place.

    [1] kiwi horticultural scientists visiting australia
    [2] in the sense that it’s biologically identical but politically different.

    Comment by Moz's Opinion — May 12, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  11. That’s right Hugh. Nowhere else on earth do you have to tick so many boxes before they’ll wave you through.

    Comment by Adrian — May 12, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

  12. @Moz: I think it’s because New Zealand’s physical isolation gives us an opportunity to achieve a level of biosecurity that would not be attainable for many other countries, even with the most rigorous possible border protocols.

    I’ll note that Lebamoff doesn’t seem to have actually said that NZ’s biosecurity is inadequate, simply that the biosecurity threat is greater than the terrorist/criminal threat.

    Comment by Hugh — May 12, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  13. Human immigrants are only part of the biosecurity risk though. Those environmental crusaders at Federated Farmers are still extremely concerned about the risks with palm kernel…

    Comment by jps — May 12, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

  14. I totally agree. We still don’t who broke into the Electoral Reform Coalition offices in PSA House in Wellington in 1993. It was just weeks before the final referendum on MMP and only the computers were taken. Not cash. The aim was clearly to disrupt the ERC’s campaign. Given what we now know about the SIS, they would be top of the list of potential burglars…..

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — May 12, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

  15. Hugh: The biosecurity theatre at the airports is trivial nonsense compared to what goes on at the ports. Most containers aren’t checked….as in the vast majority.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — May 12, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

  16. I went to USA about a month ago had to que for ages to scan your fingers and get photo done went and got my bags then walked out of the doors no customs like we have here. Aussie easer than here

    Comment by Graham — May 13, 2013 @ 7:01 am

  17. Also when we came back to Auckland customs were opening 50% of bags at least. Now as to Pke all is fumigated before it can come in the country the fed farmers that are complaining are crop farmers. A bit like Mobil complaing that BP signs are to bright so we should shut down all their fuel stations

    Comment by Graham — May 13, 2013 @ 7:06 am

  18. @Graham: so you’re saying these Fed Farmers reps are deliberately trying to sabotage the business of farmers that use palm kernel? bullshit.

    Comment by jps — May 13, 2013 @ 8:01 am

  19. The complacency of people posting here is alarming. Border security is not just checking your luggage at the airport, and our overall biosecurity record has actually been poor over the last decade or so. Psa-V for Kiwifruit (2010), varoa mite for bees (2000), didymo (2004), and the Tomato-potato psyllid insect (2006) are off the top of my head four invasive species that have breached our borders since about 2000. And there has been the discovery of (thankfully) single examples of a Queensland fruit fly (last May) in Auckland and Asian Gypsy Moth (2003) in Hamilton. Changes in the rules around the importation of raw pig meat means that the introduction of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is a matter of not if, but when. And the clue to why the spies decided talking about bio-secuirty might constitute some kind of threat to state security lies in the nature of the way some of the new diseases were introduced, and the way they might intersect with the agendas of increasingly powerful globalised corporate organisations and our technocratic elites commitment to free trade whatever the cost. The extraordinary and undemocratic secrecy around the TPP talks is an indication of how the technocratic elites in our government regard the advancement of global business interests as a matter of national interest best prgressed in secret, and therefore anything that could be construed as unfavourable to this agenda is a matter for the purview of the state’s security apparatus. Varoa was was probably introduced from italian brood stock. Psa-V from infected imported vines. Raw pig meat rules have been changed as part of our hair shirt free trade policy. To the paranoid spies with not enough to do, pointing out we have poor biosecurity could easily be seen as an attempt to oppose free trade and since free trade is regarded as a matter of national security, they’ll come after you if you question it. What, then, are the odds on Jane Kelsey being routine target of our SIS and GCSB?

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 13, 2013 @ 8:02 am

  20. ps to Graham: are you comfortable in the knowledge that palm kernel being fed to nz dairy cows is fumigated with methyl bromide? it scares the crap out of me.

    Comment by jps — May 13, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  21. My guess is that the authorities involved decided that Lebamoff’s research provided ammunition for maliciously wrecking our food-based economy. Therefore they treated it as a counter-espionage issue. So instead of implementing new oversights to meet these border security shortfalls, which would be an expensive process at a time of public sector austerity, they opted to simply censor the report itself, hoping that this would prevent any gaps from being highlighted.

    Comment by Stuart — May 13, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  22. @Sanctuary: Don’t forget the snake discovered in a gutter in Lyttleton in 1988!

    Comment by Hugh — May 13, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  23. Can you imagine the SIS & GCSB on the Titanic? They’d move quickly to secure and throw overboard the lookout who squarked ‘iceberg!’, and rapidly put in place a public assurance campaign to soothe the frazzled nerves of passengers disturbed by the sight of tons of ice approaching, getting passengers to sign non-disclosure forms before letting them on the lifeboats…

    Comment by bob — May 13, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  24. Yes the crop farmers have a agenda . In regards to Pke . What they and others don’t understand is their is a limit to how much grain out cows can eat a day without getting acidosis and going tits up.i know one of the authors of the fed farmers report and he believes that people like me are not paying enough for grain and Pke is competition .my cows eat a blend of 50% grain and Pke a day

    Comment by Graham — May 13, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

  25. thanks Graham – very interesting and now I see why you don’t care about palm kernel being shot through with methyl bromide.

    Comment by jps — May 13, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  26. That’s right I use 300 tonnes a year of the stuff great product. The bonus is that it annoys greenpeace

    Comment by Graham — May 13, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  27. “…The bonus is that it annoys greenpeace…”

    Yeah, hilarious. Say, what’s it like to be married to your sister, Cleitus?

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 13, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

  28. It,s Cletus, ironstein

    Comment by petey — May 14, 2013 @ 7:25 am

  29. It,s it’s.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 14, 2013 @ 8:27 am

  30. ironstein

    I hope that was deliberate.

    Comment by Gregor W — May 14, 2013 @ 11:04 am

  31. “The extraordinary and undemocratic secrecy around the TPP talks is an indication of how the technocratic elites in our government regard the advancement of global business interests as a matter of national interest best prgressed in secret”
    What, like a conspiracy..?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — May 14, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

  32. @ Clunking – ssssh!
    Seriously though, surely the GCSB and Telco Bill’s now are an opportunity to call for the closure of the SIS and GCSB? What benefit do these 2 spy agencies bring? None that is on public record (and surely by now they can outline what benefits they brought to NZ for past ‘threats’ like the Fijian coups, Rainbow Warrior murder, Wellington Trades Hall bombing murder, etc? It’s not like Rambuka poses an ongoing threat to NZ in any way).

    Shift the securing of govt & council ICT networks and devices to a new govt dept within Internal Affairs, and use consultants & contractors for short-term projects. Just like all other govt ICT work. And any physical plot or threat to NZers already constitutes a crime, so let NZ Police cover those threats. And the SFO & FMA cover economic threats, sooooo….. which threats do we actually need spy agencies for? Put the technical expertise under a govt department for Police, SFO, et al to access under public scrutiny thru OIA, select committee, media, etc.


    Comment by bob — May 14, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

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