BREAKING: Worse Than We Thought: Rebecca Kitteridge and the New “Community” of Spooks


Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 4.42.49 PMSOMETIMES IT PAYS to read important government reports in detail, rather than rely on the executive summaries which their author’s so helpfully attach for the convenience of hard-pressed, deadline-driven journalists. This is especially true of Rebecca Kitteridge’s Review of Compliance at the GCSB. Because, when it comes to national security, the situation is a whole lot worse than we thought.

The first clue Ms Kitteridge supplies is her reference to something called the New Zealand Intelligence “Community” (NZIC). This new kid on the national security block is the sum arrived at by adding the parts known as The NZ Security Intelligence Service, The GCSB and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

If you found that last listing a little disturbing, try the operative national security component of the DPMC, the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination (ODESC) on for size.

ODESC’s governance ODESC(G) is vested in the Chief Executive of the DPMC (Andrew Kibblewhite) the Committee’s Chair, the Secretary of the Treasury (Gabriel Makhlouf), the State Services Commissioner (Ian Rennie), the Chief of Defence Force (Lt-General Rhys Jones), the Commissioner of Police (Peter Marshall), and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade (John Allen). The Directors of GCSB (Ian Fletcher) and NZSIS (Dr Warren Tucker) are not members, but attend most meetings.

According to Ms Kitteridge, ODESC(G)’s role (as agreed by Cabinet in February 2010) is “to focus on systemic governance including performance monitoring, oversight, priority setting and allocation of resources across the New Zealand Intelligence Community (NZIC).”

In this task it is assisted by the work of three officials (and their staff) based in the DPMC: The Director of the National Assessments Bureau (Gregory Baughen); the Director of the Security and Risk Group (Steve Brazier); and the Director of the Intelligence Co-ordination Group (Roy Ferguson).

In July of 2012 the DPMC added a further “group” to its burgeoning national security apparatus. The National Cyber Policy Office, headed by Paul Nash, is charged with: “the oversight and coordination of the development, implementation and review of national cyber security policy and strategies”.

Few New Zealanders would have the slightest idea that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have such a comprehensive national security apparatus at their disposal.

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When Ms Kitteridge refers to an intelligence “community” she’s not kidding. Gathered around the Executive Branch of the New Zealand Government is a truly impressive array of individuals and institutions devoted to preserving both the internal and external security of New Zealand. Even more impressive (some might say frightening) is that a fair proportion these officials (and practically all of those involved directly in security and intelligence matters) are answerable to just one person: the Prime Minister, John Key.

And Ms Kitteridge’s Review makes it very clear that, from the first months of John Key’s ministry, all of the groups constituting the NZIC have been subjected to a formidable process of bureaucratic co-ordination:

“In June 2009 Cabinet initiated a review of the intelligence agencies, which was conducted by Simon Murdoch on behalf of the State Services Commissioner. The review proposed a number of initiatives to improve efficiency and co-ordination of the NZIC. The review also recommended strengthening governance, management and co-ordination arrangements, including adding a governance arm to the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination.”

This was followed, just three months later, by another review entitled A National Security and Intelligence Framework for New Zealand. Authored by Michael Wintringham (a former State Services Commissioner) the review considered the NZIC’s role in supporting a national security system:

“There is now a much more systematic framework for examining national security risks and prioritising work to mitigate them, including the NZIC’s roles of watch and warn, reducing vulnerability, and developing counter-measures.”

Ms Kitteridge concludes this section of her review with the following observation:

“There is no doubt that these reviews resulted in a better co-ordinated, more effective, more efficient and accountable NZIC. Real change has been evident in the way that the community operates as a collective, resulting in better use of scarce resources in the interests of New Zealand’s national security. The fact that my review identifies issues and recommends changes concerning compliance at GCSB should be seen in a larger context of very significant, ongoing efforts to improve the performance of the NZIC as a whole.”

Whatever the GCSB Act says, and regardless of the repeated assurances given to the people of New Zealand by their political leaders, it is very clear that the two institutions generally supposed to carry out the functions of preserving New Zealand’s internal and external security – the SIS and the GCSB – have long ago been stripped of their operational independence.

Perhaps it was always thus: what ruler has not lusted for information about his or her political rivals and opponents? And isn’t the civil servant foolhardy enough to object to such intelligence-gathering all-too-easily replaced? What is new at the Prime-ministerial and Cabinet level is the formalising of what, in the past, was a largely informal (and plausibly deniable) system of political spying.

Between the Prime Minister and the actual agents on the ground (or sitting in front of the GCSB’s computer screens) recent changes have inserted a whole new layer of policy advisers and co-ordinators. The SIS and the GCSB may still supply the eyes and ears and the technical expertise, but their missions are no longer assigned by Dr Tucker and Mr Fletcher. Today’s spymaster is ODESC(G).

And ODESC’s targets are not “international criminal networks”. (That’s the job of Kim Dotcom’s Police friends at OFCANZ, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand.) From the mid-1990s, the focus of the national security apparatus has shifted. From thwarting foreign spies, it priorities have turned towards protecting New Zealand’s principal economic interests from the “subversive” actions of internationally connected NGOs and activists.

Translated into today’s political and economic environment that means keeping a close watch on all those opposed to state asset sales and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Joe Carolan and Jane Kelsey beware!

It’s also worth noting, perhaps, that the news media’s earliest stab at the code-name of the nationally co-ordinated “anti-terrorist” arrests of October 2007 was “Operation O-Desk”. Wrong name – right committee.

Given the location of the command and control nodes of New Zealand’s national security apparatus in the DPMC, it is absolutely absurd for the Prime Minister to plead ignorance of its targets and operations. How conceivable is it that any of the men and women of the New Zealand Intelligence “Community” are going to involve themselves in domestic operations without the express prior authorisation of Prime Minister Key – the man to whom they are all, ultimately, responsible?

What we are witnessing at present is a frantic effort to mask and minimise the extraordinarily damaging exposure arising out of the Dotcom extradition case. Though you’d never guess it from our news media’s incurious coverage, New Zealand is going through a “Watergate Moment”. Kim Dotom’s lawyer, like the alert security guard at the Watergate Hotel, has sprung the spooks mid-mission.

With the concerted application of the right sort of political pressure, the entire NZIC – including its legally dubious tradecraft – could be fundamentally (and quite possibly fatally) compromised.

Ms Kitteridge’s assurances that all potentially illegal operations have been suspended should be accepted. While the spotlights of the news media and the parliamentary opposition swing wildly across the national security landscape, nobody in the NZIC can afford to take any chances. The slightest suggestion of a rogue operation and who knows how many “disgruntled employees”, threatened with restructuring and impending redundancy, might decide to pick up their whistles and blow!

Hence the mad rush towards a comprehensive legislative fix. The de facto unification of New Zealand’s security and intelligence work, under the rubric of ODESC and the DPMC, needs to be given de jure protection – and fast!

Behind the scenes, the Prime Minister and his community of spooks must be down on their knees, praying that their left-wing opponents continue to waste their collective energy pursuing Ian Fletcher and the GCSB.

Believe me, comrades, they are the least of our worries!


  1. So . . . with all this focus on governance going back to 2009 (which is great btw), did nobody notice in all time that the GCSB was operating out of governance and try to stop the train wreck?

    • Well somebody noticed something. Jerry Mateparae was gotten out of there pretty damn quick before he was tainted by what we now know was going on.

  2. Chris Trotter you will never know how it feels to be me, and to get to finally see this in print.

    People were accused of delusion and drugged with lithium, for daring to suggest things such as have been unravelling on this site now.

    “Conspiracy theorists” wildest dreams have become the tip of the very real iceberg.

    It means SO MUCH to see New Zealanders finally speaking up. Spread it like wildfire. Empower others to do the same. Only our collective raised voices will finally shut the true criminals down.

  3. That would explain the big surge in employing spooks a couple of years ago. They even advertised on trademe and seek. Domestic targets…

  4. “There is now a much more systematic framework for examining national security risks and prioritising work to mitigate them, including the NZIC’s roles of watch and warn, reducing vulnerability, and developing counter-measures.”

    Are we at war?

    It would appear so.

  5. The slightest suggestion of a rogue operation and who knows how many “disgruntled employees”, threatened with restructuring and impending redundancy, might decide to pick up their whistles and blow!

    Oh indeed yes. Something I’m keenly awaiting… Who will be the lucky blogger to receive the first batch of Wi-Kiwi-leaks?

      • The two issues are related because protecting the Government’s data security is one of the GCSB’s most important jobs, some might even the that it is THE most important. It actually comes at top of the list on their website:

        Information Assurance (IA)

        ‘As communications technologies advance, the need to protect information carried by those technologies also grows.

        There are two main reasons to protect information. . . . the confidential information of the Government of New Zealand needs to be protected from unauthorised disclosure. This means that Government departments can communicate information securely.’

        We need to ask why pimping themselves out for a dodgy copyright claim from the US was a better use of the GCSB’s resources than protecting the NZ Government’s data security when they were clearly under resourced.

  6. Despite having a long history of use, “intelligence” in these contexts is a euphemism as distasteful as “collateral damage”, it serves to mask and legitimise the core activity of spying and surveillance. Best to avoid it as much as possible and use the more accurate terminology if you wish to raise public awareness of its dangers.

  7. After giving kudos to Chris, Gordon Campbell and others for taking this issue to another level, I have to say I am not surprised by any of this. Most certainly Jane Kelsey, fresh water scientist Mike Joy and everyone else who is working hard to enlighten the public should watch their backs. No one who works for the government, especially higher up the ladder should dare expose any “left wing” tendencies too publicly. I’m a happy sort of guy, and am enjoying my life, but I’m under no illusion as to where New Zealand is heading under this government. Follow the excellent interviews at and you will see the same things going on in the United States. The only real protection we have is a population of good people founded on a history of egalitarianism and fairness who feel deeply uncomfortable with what is going on. I understand the petty motivations of various members of the government, but I’m still looking for an answer to the enigma of Prime Minister John Key.

    • The ‘enigma’ that is John Key not that hard to see
      Through that is!
      Look at the U.S .Look to U.K.
      Look at his career path.
      Look at the public perception.
      Look who helps craft that!
      Look much closer to home.
      Go back to UK.USA figuratively.
      Join the dots. Cross reference names.
      Agencies Huge global Corporates.

      Deals Agreements signed.
      Yet to be!
      The policies law changes or legislation changes
      That have or are about to take place.
      Cross reference the links again!
      Not just Jane or Joe who should be concerned !
      Chris forgot to mention
      Another three Johns. One spelt with an H
      One without one.
      John Minto. Hone Harewira too

      Start with what Key did to Jon Stephenson
      Metro story!
      No such things as ‘political enigmas’
      Not in my book anyway!
      Work in progress! I hopefully may get to
      finish if enough wake up eyes wide open here
      in NZ in time!
      Kia ora & yes a great article.
      Now the dingdong distractions over I trust.
      I will share as well.
      Chris may need to watch his back too!

  8. I can see that people have this real worry that in some way these spy agencies may develop into some sort of Stasi type organisation spying on its people to provide power to the government. I just don’t buy it, we have other democracy provisions that would prevent that from happening. However I do have a real concern that nowadays there are international organisations working at all levels without any democratic oversight that could do real harm to any and all countries. And that these people would not necessarily constrain their interests to (a) working within a country like New Zealand and (b) working with some sort of nice Chinese wall outside of New Zealand. Dotcom for example – probably innocent enough. But let us pretend he wasn’t, let us pretend that he was part of a drug cartel, a religious sect or maybe just an economic block setting up a trading system across borders in a way that isolates government interference in the various countries within which his organisation works. This to me is a very real situation – I am sure it is happening to our detriment in a variety of ways and so I think this very modern threat needs an agency that likewise has no borders. I think the two agencies should be combined. I see the external threat to New Zealand far outweighs any perceived Stasi type control of New Zealanders by the government

  9. “I just don’t buy it, we have other democracy provisions that would prevent that from happening. However I do have a real concern that nowadays there are international organisations working at all levels without any democratic oversight that could do real harm to any and all countries.”

    Hmmm … seems you answered exactly why you have legitimate concerns – our democratic provisions were abandoned by the very people supposedly bound by them!

  10. I have suspected for a long time that Key does not work for NZ interests but has morphed into a satrap for US interests…..Dot Kom, Warner Bros, Fletcher with expertise in copyright law, Lazard Australasia organising the sale of the energy companies who also happen to have ties to Goldman Sach’s privatisation of SOE’s world wide. and a myriad of other instances. Maybe he his spending more time overseas than he is in NZ, touching forelock to the great and mighty and is now suffering from delusions of grandeur. Someone needs to remind him we live on a couple of volcanic rocks in the South Pacific, next stop Antarctica and at a wild guess 99.9% of the peoples of the world do not know we exist ! And lets keep it that way ! Time for a full independent enquiry on our spooks, anything less will smell of a cover up and a charge of corruption in high places.

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