The Not So National Interest


PRISM-operationLong before Edward Snowden or Peter Dunne were born a group of revolutionaries who had come to power decided that the national interests proclaimed by the ancient regime and its foreign allies were not the interests of the people they represented.

Thus in November 1917 the Bolshevik-Left Socialist Revolutionary coalition government of the former Russian Empire (later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) published the secret files of the Czarist regime and its successor the Kerenksy government. Lo and behold truckloads of files showed the new Soviet citizens that they, the ordinary people, were the targets of spying by their own government. Labour reformers, advocates of land to the peasants, newspaper editors demanding an end to censorship, mild, liberal or revolutionary organisations, Christian millenarians, pacifists and Uncle Ivan Cobbley and all were spied on.

Caught up in the net somewhere were those who still thought assassinating the Czar was the way to get reform. But the real target of the regime was those growing number among the mass of the people, who no longer believed that the national interests of the ruling class were their national interests.

The Worker , Soldier and Peasant Soviets formed in 1917 were even less than impressed with the large numbers of informers employed to suppress their yearning for democracy and redistribution of wealth in favour of workers and peasants. And they didn’t think much of the secret prisons where their comrades had been murdered. (Unfortunately one of their “leaders” was mightily impressed by the secret apparatus of the Czar. But that is for another blog on the ironies of history.)

Nor did the people consider that the once secret treaties the Czar’s regime had concluded with France and Britain and their junior allies to divide up German and Austro-Hungarian territories were treaties that should be honoured.

This piece of history is just to remind us that in a less technological age than ours, governments not represent the national interests of their citizens, have used the methods of spying and surveillance of the time to cover up dealings that would enrage populations if they were public.

Long before PRISM and Echelon, American and kindred governments spied on trade union organisers, peace activists, campaigners for racial equality¸ free thinkers, socialists, pacifists, advocates of free love and whoever else was deemed to be likely to upset the established order.

In countries with established democratic rights those marked as “ subversives “ acting against the national interest might find their career paths blocked and their houses broken into by spying agencies . In other regimes, aided, abetted, armed and trained by the “democracies”, the lists handed over of subversives and terrorists, were death sentences for those on them with torture often as a prelude.

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Thus Suharto’s path to power in 1965 was eased by lists provided by American intelligence agencies which had collected the data with the technology of the time. It is estimated that up to a million died in the consequential bloodbath. Saddam Hussein was given the same assistance a few years later as he was installed as a reliable “strongman”.

Other powerful nations used the same methods as they pursued their “national interests”. The United States set up its own secret programmes at the School of the Americas to train the military torturers who were to kill, maim and torture for decades in the Latin American countries that were their client states.
And New Zealand? Well we have happily gone along with the USA- UK led intelligence gathering operations that keep or try to keep governments in power which protect the national interests of the powerful states. We are just a junior in this whole operation but a collaborator all the same. And our contribution to the terrible end results warrants investigation.

Our own investigators such as Nicky Hager have shown that the information collected by our spy agencies is provided to the Echelon partners. What is collected, why and how is kept from you and me as we are not to know as if we did it might harm the “national interest”.

This begs the question: do all New Zealanders have the same “national interest”? Or are we like every other country and divided into those with power, a minority, and those without?

As a newly installed Associate-Minister of Foreign Affairs I called for the file on East Timor. A secret file. There in black and white were the reports of the then New Zealand ambassador cheering on the Indonesian illegal seizure of East Timor, denigrating the Timorese as barbarians and salivating at the rewards to be gained by siding with the Indonesian butchers while his department was preparing serious statements for Prime Minister Rowling which deplored the gross violation of international law and called for mediation by the UN.

The whole East Timor file and related files on Indonesia showed that contrary to fine sounding public statements MFAT and the intelligence agencies worked hand in glove with their American and allied counterparts to aid and abet the murderous Suharto regime both in its internal repression and it external aggression. Indonesia was, in their view, a rich economic and strategic prize.

Back to Mr Dunne. We still don’t know if he was the leaker of the Kitteridge report on the GCSB. But if he was I take my hat off to him. It would be the one honourable thing he had done in his long and less than honourable political career.

It would be really helpful to the cause of democracy in New Zealand if Labour and its Green allies stopped going after Dunne and blathering about betrayal of privileged information and sensitive state information (you bet some of it is sensitive which is why it is kept from us) and called for democratic parliamentary oversight of the undemocratic practices of our intelligence agencies.

For a start campaign to put an end to the little intelligence club of the Prime Minister which Helen Clark was so fond of and was used to keep Ahmed Zaoui in jail without trial for two years and replace it with an all-party representative parliamentary select committee with full powers of review and summons of all intelligence agencies operating in New Zealand.

And while you are fulfilling this worthwhile public service Labour and Greens, leave Peters, National’s new attack dog as he was aptly called by Colin Espiner, to huff and puff about Dunne breaching national security and go after the real target- the undemocratic and immoral practice of snooping on the legitimate activities of New Zealanders and collaborating with a worldwide security surveillance system that has given us Guantanamo Bay, renditions and murder by drones.

Now that would be in the public interest!


  1. I hope Labour and the Greens are reading this and thinking about their responses to the Dunne fiasco. Totally agree with everything you say.

  2. About time someone pointed this out, Matt. While I expect Shearer and his cohorts to stand firmly behind the spies whose salaries we pay on behalf of the Coalition of the Snooping, I’m more disappointed that the Greens haven’t seen fit to look at the wider issues. Why are we part of an intelligence network that has happily participated in disseminating lies and overthrowing elected governments ever since I can remember? Membership of this club is far more damaging than having a few nuclear ships visiting was ever going to be, yet there seems to be a cross party consensus on our participation. In my view, we need to disestablish the SIS and the GCSB (and probably a few others), turn Waihopai into a wind farm, and then have a public investigation with all the powers of a Royal Commission. The time to realise that being able to get up on our hind legs for a scratch behind the ears is not the same as standing on our own two feet has long passed.

  3. Governments representing and promoting the interests of the top 1% and ignoring the interests of the bulk of the populace have been the norm throughout history. There have been occasional exceptions, such as the Atlee and Savage governments, Castro, Chavez, Morales etc.

    Now that the resources and environmental squeeze is on, governments will have to suppress the general populace in unheard-of ways in order to maintain the lifestyles of the sociopaths at the top.

    Lying, spying, looting and polluting are the new normal. And it will all get a lot worse as the energy and environmental predicaments worsen.

    Over the next 5 years the general populace will wake up to their predicament, but long before then many will fall victim to the various scams that are currently being promoted because they refuse to become informed.

  4. Well said Matt Robson and a timely reminder that we need to take these proposed law changes seriously as they are not in our best interests.
    We have no need for a GCSB with its Waihopai and Tangimoana spy domes.
    This is tiny NZzzzzzzz, pop 4m, the former last outpost of the now defunct British Empire…..they threw us overboard to become a client state of the EU so we don’t owe them any favours. US likewise chucked us out of ANZUS (a plus for NZ) so they too can go jump when they come crawling to us to join the coalition of the willing – willing to assist them in their Wars OF Terror for broad spectrum dominance of the worlds resources, the big brother telling us and the world what we can do or can’t do, the killing of millions of innocent men, women, children since WW2 in their wars based on lies, propaganda, and their CIA the most covert-overt terrorist organisation in the world, making El Qaeda look like kindy kids. There is absolutely no reason to spy on Kiwis….for starters, who in the world of 6b has heard of NZ let alone knows where it is ? Who are our enemies ? If we do have enemies is it because we are complicit in USUK – NATO wars with the Echelon ‘Five Eyes’ spy system – guilty of war crimes by association ? Shut it all down and if we must have a security system the SIS and police is about as far as we should go. Our biggest problem is a PM who puts USA interests before those of New Zealand and he, along with the GCSB, have to go. A dangerous PM if ever there was one with this spying carry-on.

  5. Two parts.
    in a democracy, set up with checks/balances guarding against unwarranted abuse of state power, ESPECIALLY concerning security/privacy/surveillance matters-why would ‘arguably legal’ GCSB activity NOT be properly tested in the courts of LAW to establish its legality/illegality BEFORE introducing special retrospective legislation to authorise it?
    Second. Thank you for your candid reporting of the despicable animal behaviour of the ‘then ambassador of NZ’ supporting the nameless atrocities committed under Suharto at behest of the US corporate fascist superstate. That act of wanton murder, a holocaust….Phoenix by any other name, has yet to be properly addressed in the histories of hypocrisy. Of venality. Nor has our country properly understood or addressed the Amercian (sic) deepstate in its deliberate and murderous drive for full spectrum dominance. If the readership hasn’t read of operation GLADIO and P2OG -pentagon office of special plans- now would be a good time to do it.

  6. Have just discovered TDB since the excellent Town Hall meeting last week. And am reading all your articles, Matt. Enlightening.

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