The Dim-Post

August 22, 2013

Politics and the GCSB

Filed under: intelligence,Politics — danylmc @ 10:19 am

I think the key point to take away from this Jon Johansson post on Public Address is that the GCSB and its involvement in the 5-eyes program is very important to New Zealand on a diplomatic level. That’s why there’s usually cross-party support (between National and Labour, at least) on intelligence issues. It signals our strategic allies that there’s certainty around the relationship.

But today we have new, highly controversial legislation, passed last night (with Attorney General Chris Finlayson helpfully explaining that anyone opposed to the expansion of the state’s power to spy on its citizens was a Nazi) and our allies have no certainty beyond the outcome of the upcoming election.

Key couldn’t reach a compromise with Shearer, presumably because he didn’t want to hand Shearer a political win. We’ll probably never know what happened between them. There seem to have been secret negotiations, revealed when Shearer complained in Parliament that there hadn’t been negotiations, Key replied there had, but they were secret, and Shearer got upset because the negotiations were supposed to be secret.

Anway, if Labour wins the next election there will be a review of our intelligence agencies. There will be new legislation. The Green Party will be involved. There’s no way for our allies to predict the outcome of that, or what might be disclosed in such a scenario.

From my perspective an inquiry and review into our newly empowered (and secretly merged) intelligence apparatus is great outcome. We (ie New Zealand) need an intelligence capability, but I have no confidence in the current agencies. Do they deliver any service of value to the taxpayers who fund them? Do we even fund them? The Prime Minister refuses to comment on allegations that the GCSB is funded by the United States government. If so, has the government just granted additional powers to spy on the New Zealand public to an intelligence agency funded by another country? It’d be nice to get answers to these sort of questions.

Correction: I’ve been sent a draft Hansard. Finlayson didn’t say this, but was still a horrible, sneering asshole


  1. I’d suggest the most likely outcome of the Labour-led review, if it happens, is minor change for which National votes. The Greens will be marginalised. Labour in government is much the same as National on these matters.

    Comment by Dave Guerin — August 22, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  2. The Green Party will be involved. There’s no way for our allies to predict the outcome of that, or what might be disclosed in such a scenario.

    Of course they will know. Otherwise what is the use of an electronic surveillance agency with untrammeled powers of interception?

    Comment by Gregor W — August 22, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  3. Key couldn’t reach a compromise with Shearer, presumably because he didn’t want to hand Shearer a political win.

    And Shearer himself wasn’t just playing politics?

    His promise of an inquiry is just a smokescreen to cover the fact what they would do is little different from what National have done.

    Comment by NeilM — August 22, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  4. After Snowden and Manning i doubt Obama will lose any sleep worrying about some inquiry Labour may or may not undertake.

    Comment by NeilM — August 22, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  5. NeilM, but Snowden just told people what 5 eyes was doing.

    The outcome of an inquiry and review that involves the Greens to a significant extent could very well be 4 eyes. That would concern Obama et al.

    Comment by RJL — August 22, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  6. “…We (ie New Zealand) need an intelligence capability, but I have no confidence in the current agencies…”

    Hear, hear.

    Part of the problem is that our security agencies are completely out of sync with popular perception as to what sort of country New Zealand is in 2013. The general popular view that has developed since the early 1970s is broadly that of a nationalistic “brave little New Zealand” – proudly nuclear free, regionally focussed, silver fern flag waving, and independent. The security establishment hasn’t evolved from the “obedient better Britain” – dependent, globally duitiful, and unquestioningly loyal. So who they spy, and who public think they should spy on, are completely different.

    “…Labour in government is much the same as National on these matters…”

    I would not be so sure. By reducing this to a partisan issue Key has given Labour much scope for manoeuvre. And it isn’t going to go away – the onging Kim Dotcom court case and Edward Snowden will make sure of that.

    Like the Springbok tour, this issue has potentially united a broad alliance of the centre-left, liberals and activists against a government supported by petite-authoritarians in a evenly split electorate.

    To expand on what that might mean, I have a pet theory. They say that to understand America, you need to understand the civil war. The great historical engine that drives the USA is the conflict between the “confederate” and the “union” visions of what America means. My theory is that in order to understand the great historical engine of New Zealand, you have to understand the clash between urban and rural visions as to what it is New Zealand is. And the slipping of the conflict fault line between urban and rural visions, in this country, seems to occur on a forty or so year cycle. 1912 and Waihi miners strike saw townie, industrial socialists pitched against Massey’s farmer cossacks. 1951 saw cold war anti-communist farmers at war with the watersiders. 1981 saw apartheid as the battleground in the war between progressive urban NZ and backward rural NZ.

    We are now 32 years since the last time the fault line slipped, and the next big one is starting to fall due…

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 22, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

  7. I think this tweak to the legislation would have happened regardless of whether it was the blue team, or the red team in power, The green team is currently an untested subject but I think if they are ever in government they would dilute their alleged ideals in favour of practical policies. At least, I hope they would.

    Comment by Andrew M — August 22, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

  8. > I think this tweak

    It’s a lot more than a tweak. But you keep believing the Pry Minister’s rhetoric – the GCSB will only be reading our emails to keep us safe. 🙂

    Comment by Ross — August 22, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  9. Andrew M – By “tweak” you mean, “fundamental change”, right?
    And by “dilute their alleged ideals in favour of practical policies” do you mean “abandon the Green Party Charter”?

    Comment by Gregor W — August 22, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

  10. It’s removed the ambiguity the 2003 legislation unintentionally created.

    Plus there’s more oversight now than there was with Labour’s legislation.

    Maybe it’s not perfect but since no one in Labour are offering any explanation for why they didn’t fix this when in govt and are being very coy about what they would do now, it’s all that’s on offer.

    Comment by NeilM — August 22, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

  11. i think the ambiguity has been more a tool to create confusion today than any real ambiguity at the time

    its funny when people focus on the two issues of “well it wasnt clear before (when it was) and theres now more oversight” while completely glossing over the expanded powers, the fact that the GCSB is a foreign spy agency hooked up to a global netwrok and not an independant domestic one, that its likely funded by the NSA, the other world wide spying revelations and the rather detailed criticism of the bill, suggestions on ways to fix it and the calls to slow the hell down and get it right.

    If it was about removing confusion and adding oversight then thats what the bill would have been about, and the PM and the nats would have had an easy time arguing their corner. But we have a bill that does waaaay more than this and the most common argument in favour from our PM is – “youse is all stupid and have an agenda”


    Comment by framu — August 22, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  12. gah “network” not “netwrok”

    Comment by framu — August 22, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

  13. @Sanc: your theory is interesting, and you probably have a point in terms of ‘every 30-40 years NZ has a big country-splitting raruraru’, but you are wrong about the groups involved. 1912 and 1951 were basically unionists/socialists v everyone else, whereas 1981 was liberals v conservatives. Between 1951 and 1981 the urban middle classes switched from conservative to liberal – especially so with university students, who were amongst Massey’s Cossacks in 1912 but heavily involved in anti-Springbok protests. And of course there were people from all groups who took the opposite view to most people in their group. So this isn’t a tribal thing where every few decades the same groups square off – since the 1970s the issues, demographics, and ways of thinking have changed too much for that to work.

    Comment by helenalex — August 22, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  14. Sanctuary’s theory is also wrong about the groups involved because rural people are only 15% of the population, meaning they could not win a fight like that if it was rural vs urban. Like Helenalex, I agree it’s a good hypothesis apart from the identity of the groups involved. I presume Sanctuary was meaning to imply that the GCSB bill is the government’s preparation for this next great fight, whatever the subject of the fight may be. In which case, what is going to be the next major schism? My guess is climate change.

    Comment by kahikatea — August 22, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

  15. The last major schism we’ve had was not that longbago over the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

    That didn’t break down along liberal/conservative, country/urban lines very nearly.

    Comment by NeilM — August 22, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  16. My guess is climate change.

    I agree. With a handy test for the agency being the nascent ‘economic terrorism’ relating to the anti-TPPA movement.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 22, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

  17. Chris Finlayson a horrible, sneering arsehole?* Surely not!

    *(Note spelling please, we’re not American.)

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — August 22, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  18. @NeilM If the 2003 GCSB Act is ambiguous why did National MPs make the point that the Act was well drafted including section 8 the functions.

    What is much much much more likely is that the 2003 Act is clear but the GCSB didn’t want to comply with it, and concocted the “it is ambiguous” line when caught out.

    Comment by Andrew R — August 22, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

  19. Is an inquiry really necessary? Is there more information out there waiting to be discovered? Often an inquiry is just an exercise in passing the buck.

    But ultimately, if the real problem is that the operational regime for intelligence agencies has been politicised, we’re fucked. Once an issue has become politicised, it’s almost impossible to de-politicise it.

    Comment by Hugh — August 22, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

  20. I’m with Hugh, who cares right?

    There’s certainly no bad-smelling, unanswered questions aye?

    Who cares why those 88 New Zealanders were spied on and why those investigations didn’t lead to a single arrest?

    Who gives a shit if the GCSB was utilised by the USA to conduct an armed raid on a New Zealand resident who is allegedly guilty of facilitating copyright infringement in this country?

    Is anyone really interested in why Key has sought to ram this bill into law while ignoring ALL the experts and not providing a shred of credible evidence to justify the need for this urgency?

    I’m certainly not interested in whether the NSA is funding and controlling the actions of the GCSB. Anyone raising concerns obviously has something to hide and their objections only serve to illustrate why we need to provide the highly-competent GCSB even more powers.

    Nah there’s nothing more to this issue, no sir. The GCSB (and SIS) are totally apolitical and always have been. It’s those trouble-making lefties who have gone and made a mess of everything like always because they love terrorists and paedophiles and hate our freedom.

    Comment by Rob — August 22, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

  21. If we have sold out to the Yanks then what about the Second Amendment. I wanna AK47 a UZI and a Sub machine gun so I can go an deal to those Commie bastards.

    Comment by bosun — August 22, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

  22. bosun, I think that you’ll find that if we sold out, then we didn’t get paid in US citizenship.

    Comment by RJL — August 22, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  23. What is much much much more likely is that the 2003 Act is clear but the GCSB didn’t want to comply with it, and concocted the “it is ambiguous” line when caught out.

    Or their Minister under successive governments didn’t want them to comply with it. There’s nothing ambiguous about the 2003 Act at all – it says the GCSB can assist other agencies, but not to the extent of spying on New Zealanders. When Key calls that “ambiguous,” what he really means is “inconvenient.”

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 23, 2013 @ 8:48 am

  24. Welcome to the Key Autocracy. Whatever happened to democracy?

    Comment by amthom — August 23, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  25. Well public statements by Helen Ckark and Bruce Ferguson make it very clear that they knew the GCSB was giving assistance to other agencies and did not think it wrong or illegal.

    I interpret that as them not being aware at the time that the 2003 legislation had unintentionall made the legality of that unclear.

    There are less generous interpretations but that’s the one i think most likely.

    Comment by NeilM — August 23, 2013 @ 11:46 am

  26. @Rob: I’m not arguing that there’s no problem. I’m arguing that an inquiry is not the best way to address the problem.

    Comment by Hugh — August 24, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  27. That’s a real sweet argument you got there bro, a bit of a bugger you forgot to include how we’re going to get some answers.

    Maybe if you ask John Key pretty please with sugar on top he’ll tell us.

    Comment by Rob — August 25, 2013 @ 9:32 am

  28. @Rob: Well, isn’t the problem with the GSCB fairly obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention to the news? Do we really need an inquiry to tell us the obvious? The GSCB havebeen abusing their powers and they need more oversight. Can an inquiry usefully elaborate on that?

    Comment by Hugh — August 25, 2013 @ 10:29 am

  29. Hugh, well yeah. It can actually.

    For starters we are told that the old legislation wasn’t clear, and that because the GCSB and some pollies thought it meant one thing then that’s the way we should fix it. meanwhile those 88 don’t get there day in court to determine if it was actually legal or not. If it wasn’t clear, then there are two sides to the argument, and we have judges (or somesuch) to decide which side is right.

    Given we don’t know who the 88 are, it’s hard for anyone to have standing to lay a complaint. From history however we know that the SIS don’t just focus on dangerous people. An inquiry could shed light on exactly what categories of people the state is actually turning its 5-eyes on, and whether we want to endorse that.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — August 25, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  30. NeilM: the legislation wasn’t ambiguous. Helen Clark even publicly declared it prevented the GCSB from spying on New Zealanders. If I recall correctly, Key said the same until it became untenable. Their apparent awareness of what the legislation unambiguously said didn’t stop them signing off on the GCSB spying on New Zealanders. That’s not a “less generous” interpretation of events, it’s a “more accurate” one.

    The GSCB havebeen abusing their powers and they need more oversight. Can an inquiry usefully elaborate on that?

    Nope. But I doubt anyone will let that stand in their way…

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 25, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  31. @Pascal: At this point, if there is anyone remaining who believes that the GSCB’s spying has been legitimate, an Inquiry is not going to convince them otherwise.

    Great things are always expected of inquiries, and they almost always disappoint. It’s much easier to ignore the result of an inquiry than it is to ignore the incident that prompted it. An inquiry is basically a way of politically de-escalating a problem.

    Comment by Hugh — August 25, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

  32. Easier still to ignore an inquiry that doesn’t happen, also, the Church Committee would suggest otherwise.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — August 25, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

  33. Vacuous demands that we should just ‘do something’ about the GCSB without an inquiry to determine the details of what they have actually done is flat-out bad process.

    This is the sort of half-pissed, shoot-from-the-hip lawmaking that Key, Banks and Dunne performed when they passed the law to expand the GCSB’s powers the other week.

    Say your house has been fucked by an earthquake, you don’t need to be a structural engineer to know the house is damaged… But you don’t start repairing your house without first employing experts to investigate the extent of the damage and then use the resulting information to develop a sound repair strategy.

    Comment by Rob — August 26, 2013 @ 8:23 am

  34. The analogy is flawed. The question of what level of oversight intelligence agencies should have is fundamentally a moral/political question that does not require specialised technical knowledge. The rebuilding of a house is obviously not the case.

    Rob, you appear to not only be arguing for an Inquiry in this case, but that every major government decision should be preceded by an inquiry. That would obviously lead to paralysis and the redundancy of the parliamentary system.

    Comment by Hugh — August 26, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  35. What goddamn a load of tripe.

    You cannot make an educated decision regarding the oversight required without first quantifying the failures of the previously-existing oversight laws and the actions of the agency that exceeded them.

    Need I remind you that the GCSB broke the law? That alone should be grounds for an investigation into their activities.

    Hugh, you appear to be reframing my position so it makes it easier for you to dismiss, it is not unreasonable to have an inquiry to determine what happened in instances of major government decisions being made on the back of law-breaking by government departments.

    Face it, you made a naive and foolish call, most likely as a result of engaging your keyboard before you engaged your brain.

    I’m still waiting for your proposed solution as to how we are to get to the truth in this murky mess of obfuscation and lies. Put up or fucking shut up.

    Comment by Rob — August 26, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  36. The main NSA complex has 18000 carparks. They also have the CIA and the FBI. Intelligence appears to be the growth industry in the USA.
    To what purpose and who pays them. Half the American workforce earns $30000 or less. They obviously print money adding to their trillions
    of debt. The final outcome could be interesting.

    Comment by bosun — August 26, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

  37. As I say, Rob, my solution is to reduce the GSCB’s powers and increase their oversight. I don’t think an inquiry is necessary to do this.

    Comment by Hugh — August 26, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

  38. I propose we reduce bad things and increase positive things. Vote for me!

    Comment by Rob — August 27, 2013 @ 8:55 am

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