Dear Michael Cullen: the GCSB is not International Rescue!







When a spokesperson for the government tries to employ scare-tactics to persuade the public that increasing surveillance powers for various arms of the State – in this case the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – is warranted, then suspicions arise.

In the week following the release of the first review of intelligence organisations in New Zealand, Michael Cullen  offered no less than three scare-tactics, that on the face of it, should send children and the naive running into the arms of spymasters at the SIS and GCSB.

On 10 March, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Michael Cullen on Radio NZ’s ‘Nine to Noon‘ show. Cullen was  one of the reviewers of our spy agencies.  In reply to questioning why the GCSB needed increased powers, he said;

@ 10.04

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“…Suppose, let’s take an example, you know that a Chinese agent is arriving on a plane at an airport, for whatever reason you also know that they’re only going to be here for a short time but you’ve no idea what it is they’re going to be up to, and you can’t find a judicial commissioner, you know you’re only half an hour out from a landing kind of thing…”

@ 10.34

“…In extreme circumstances where you can’t find the Attorney General, or the the Minister deputed by the Prime Minister [to] act on the Attorney General’s behalf, or the judicial commissioner, then the Director can issue a warrant, but that’s in the case of immediate threat to life or the fact that if it doesn’t happen quickly then the opportunity to gather that intelligence will have passed…”

Aside from a “Yellow Peril” hint to Cullen’s reference to “a Chinese agent”, one has to ask why he is suggesting that the imminent arrival of such a person would strike fear into the heart of our government and it’s agencies.

Did the announcement that we are at war with China miss the 6PM news bulletin on both TV1 and TV3?

If  such a mythical “Chinese agent” is a “threat” to our security and well-being, then a simple phone call to New Zealand Customs should be sufficient to  detain the person and return him/her home on the next available flight.  NZ Customs already has this power, as Mario Quintela learned to his misfortune last February;


Portuguese tourist gifted free flight to NZ after immigration debacle


Not only was Mr Quintela detained after disembarking his flight; he was held for ten hours, and promptly deported thereafter. (As the story reports, Customs then had to pay for Mr Quintela‘s flight back to New Zealand.)

So why the “imminent arrival” of a foreign agent should send the GCSB or other state agency into a tizzy is unclear. Our Customs department already ‘has our backs’ on such matters.

Cullen then painted a frightening picture where “in extreme circumstances where you can’t find the Attorney General, or the the Minister deputed [sic] by the Prime Minister [to] act on the Attorney General’s behalf or the judicial commissioner”.

Really? In the 21st century, with mobile phones, smartphones, email, faxes, landlines – Cullen is deeply concerned “where you can’t find the Attorney General, or the the Minister deputed [sic] by the Prime Minister [to] act on the Attorney General’s behalf, or the judicial commissioner“?!

If such an unlikely scenario ever eventuated, my concern would not be for the GCSB unable to have a warrant-to-surveil signed   – but where the hell our Attorney General, or the the Minister deputed [sic] by the Prime Minister [to] act on the Attorney General’s behalf, or the judicial  commissioner” were, that they could not be easily located.

Perhaps the most disingenuous,  anxiety-laden scenario from Cullen was his implausible Lost At Sea fantasy.  On Radio NZ’s Focus on Politics, Cullen maintained that expanding the GCSB’s surveillance powers was a “safety” issue;

@ 2.30

“Let us suppose a New Zealander is in imminent danger, in terms of their life overseas. Maybe lost at sea or some other example. Under this legislation as the GCSB feels it has to interpret it, the GCSB’s capacity to trace an individual’s cellphone and to say exactly where it is, cannot be used.

We have no way of finding out where that person is, using that capacity, in order to take immediate and urgent action, in whatever way, to try to protect the safety of that New Zealander.”

I call total bollocks on Cullen’s example.

Aside from the fact that most yachties and other vessels now use modern emergency locator beacons, if a New Zealander is in “imminent danger”, a bunch of spooks sitting in Pipitea House, Thorndon, listening in on conversations and reading emails and txt-messages are hardly likely to be in a position to facilitate rescue operations to assist a person “ lost at sea “.

Checking Google, using the search parameters “spy agency locates lost person at sea” did not yield a single example of a spy agency finding anyone in such dire straits.

The GCSB is a spy agency. International Rescue, it is not.

If by some bizarre chance the GCSB did pick up an SOS call, or locator beacon, no person in their right mind would object if the information was passed on to rescue services. By definition,  SOS calls cannot be considered “private communications” since they are broadcast far and wide to anyone capable of picking up the transmissions.

Cullen is fear-mongering.




In the report,  Intelligence and Security in a Free Society Report of the First Independent Review of Intelligence and Security in New Zealand, under a section headed “Key Issues Identified“, the authors write;

7. It quickly became apparent to us that there were a number of deficiencies in the Agencies’ current legislative frameworks. The legislation establishing the Agencies is not comprehensive, is inconsistent between the two agencies, can be difficult to interpret and has not kept pace with the changing technological environment. This has led to some significant problems.

8. First, lack of clarity in the legislation means the Agencies and their oversight bodies are at times uncertain about what the law does and does not permit, which makes it difficult to ensure compliance. Critical reviews in the past have led the Agencies, particularly the GCSB, to take a very conservative approach to interpreting their legislation. While we understand the reason for this, and it is certainly preferable to a disregard for the law, this overly cautious approach does mean that the GCSB is not as effective or as efficient as it could be. The legislation needs to set out clearly what the Agencies can do, in what circumstances and subject to what protections for individuals.

It appears that Cullen and his co-author, Dame Patsy Reddy, are repeating the very same justifications that Key and other National ministers spouted in 2013, when they implemented an expansion of GCSB’s powers to legalise Bureau surveillance of New Zealanders.


Michael Cullen and Report co-author Patsy Reddy
Michael Cullen and Report co-author Patsy Reddy (Radio NZ)


On  9 April 2013, our esteemed Dear Leader claimed that the GCSB – as it stood at the time – was not “fit for purpose”;

In addition, the Act governing the GCSB is not fit for purpose and probably never has been.  It was not until this review was undertaken that the extent of this inadequacy was known


The advice we have recently received from the Solicitor-General is that there are difficulties interpreting the legislation and there is a risk some longstanding practices of providing assistance to other agencies would not be found to be lawful.


It is absolutely critical the GCSB has a clear legal framework to operate within.”

Now it appears that Cullen and Reddy are parroting the same rationale for advancing the “need” to expand the Bureau’s surveillance powers.

This appears to be the stock-standard meme that will be trotted out every time the government pushes for further extensions to State surveillance powers.

Council for Civil Liberties, chairperson, Thomas Beagle, was correct when he pointed out the obvious “mission creep” of stealthily increasing State surveillance in this country;

“I think it’s part of a shift towards an overall surveillance society and I think it’s part of a wider shift towards a government which is not of the people but a government which is actually working on the people.”

Cullen and Reddy have played their part in this latest chapter of an on-going process.

What next in two, five, or ten years’ time?





Parliament: Intelligence and Security in a Free Society Report of the First Independent Review of Intelligence and Security in New Zealand

Radio NZ: Nine To Noon – Spy law shake-up, heightened protection or erosion of privacy? (alt. link)

TVNZ News: Portuguese tourist gifted free flight to NZ after immigration debacle

Radio NZ: Focus on Politics – 11 March 2016  (alt. link)

Beehive: PM releases report into GCSB compliance

Radio NZ: Spy review aims to clarify powers


Radio NZ: Canada stops sharing Five Eyes data

The Guardian: Canada spy agency stops sharing intelligence with international partners

Other Blogs

Dim Post: Security and intelligence legislation: then and now

No Right Turn: As predicted

No Right Turn: The problem with the intelligence review

The Standard: New report on GCSB spying powers

Previous related blogposts

Audrey Young, Two Bains, old cars, and… cocoa?!?!

National Party president complains of covert filming – oh the rich irony!

An Open Message to the GCSB, SIS, NSA, and Uncle Tom Cobbly

Dear Leader, GCSB, and Kiwis in Wonderland

One Dunedinite’s response to the passing of the GCSB Bill

The GCSB Act – Tracy Watkins gets it right

The GCSB Act – some history

The GCSB – when plain english simply won’t do

The GCSB law – vague or crystal clear?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #1: The GCSB Bill

Campbell Live on the GCSB – latest revelations – TV3 – 20 May 2014

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Letter to the Editor: John Campbell expose on Key and GCSB

A letter to the Dominion Post on the GCSB

Big Bro’ is Watching You!

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!




No more anarchy




= fs =


  1. Great article, Frank.

    I suspect Cullen and his fellow reviewers started from the position that agencies like GCSB and the SIS are vitally needed in the modern era, but probably require re-tooling. If so, that’s an assumption that not all Kiwis agree with.

    Further, because we are locked in to the security apparatus of our closest allies, I’d guess that their task was to find ‘efficiencies’, rather than to challenge the basic modus operandi of our spooks.

    btw, I’m not sure that the use of [sic] is required in the transcribed sections. Cullen seems to be using the word deputed correctly.

  2. I think it is obvious why Cullen was Knighted by the Nats…this latest effort is nothing more than pay-back…now we all know for sure that Labour is of the Right…

    • Cullen is not in the current Labour party that sits in parliament Very sad to see Cullen sell out, but disagree that Labour is of the right, there are a lot of lefties in there. The righties are dwindling.

      • What would you call, say, Goff, King and Mallard, if not the right wing of the Labour party?

        They’re holding on for dear life, long beyond the time they should have resigned, like all career labourites.

        I hope you are right but I really don’t see it myself. Labour is swinging right as usual and it’s depressing their poll numbers because reluctant voters won’t show up for centrist, politics-as-usual.

  3. Key and his cronies are a proxy government for whom….? Why are we putting up with this bulls#%t from this government???

    • America and China. John key works for both. And yep. I don’t understand why we are not all flowing onto the streets forcing this treason corrupt key National government out of office.

  4. There’s also the more devious method of getting around the ban on domestic spying.

    Ask a foreign ally to spy on your citizens while you spy on theirs, then exchange the info.

      • Why do institutional problems exist in general?
        Cultural power.
        Institutional Inertia.
        And absurd difficulties in creating a new replacement.

        GCSB was created without a pre-existing institutional and cultural knowledge and they had to learn the ins and outs of the trade as they went along. They managed to develop a lot of bad habits along the way. But not all bad.

        Trying to create a completely new organization is a lot more difficult then fixing the problems the current system has.
        However that would require persistant leadership that could outlive the problems and not vice versa. Which is not possible under the current administrative culture where change in presidency means reorganizations on the top level.

        • Wasn’t the GCSB created by Rob Muldoon back in the 1970’s? Typical of all National governments, they set something up without bothering with the details, that they say, can be done later. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. The key National government is the worst of them all for doing that.

          • according to wiki, yes.

            All this is a bit of a laugh, the powers that be are essentially trying to create a clairvoyant service that can tell the future.

            • And we all know that will never happen. What it really is all about is that a few will have complete control and power.

              • It’s to much information. We don’t have a lazy billion dollars to send on storage devices. So we have to pay in other ways to have all our data uploaded on to the NSA servers. With all that data you would need a bitching AI to make all that info useful. Remember, all this started because they can’t shut down pirate bay.

                The fact is that there is no physical solutions to the problems the Internet throws up.

  5. It’s a shame Kathryn Ryan doesn’t have the skill/intelligence to challenge Cullen on his spurious examples for the use of this legislation.
    Lost at sea, and they track your cell phone to find you….hilarious.

    • Brigid, yes, that thought crossed my mind as well. I was a bit taken aback that Ryan didn’t call Cullen on that piece of bullshitry. I think it was obvious to most folk that Cullen was using the most spurious of reasons to expand the Bureau’s surveillance powers.

      If that’s the best Cullen can offer, he has nothing of value to justify his position.

      • The correct procedure when lost at sea is to activate epirb. I don’t know weather to laugh or cry at these whole rediculousness.


      • Cullen has never had anything of value to offer.
        He was a complete fuckwit in the days of the Helengrad Cartel, and he still is.

  6. Superb article Frank.
    Where are the supposed opposition parties on this?:All missing in action as always and there in lies part of the problem.
    There is no effective opposition in NZ to vehmently denounce the violation of New Zealanders rights ceded to them under the Pivacy Act and International Human Rights Law.
    They all in some form agree in pncipal but refuse publicly to admit it. But as usual the fear from Terrorism is rolled out as the pretext to keep us all safe. Complete and utter bullshit, you have more chance of dying in a vehicle accident.
    If politicians from the opposition partys and within the Kim Jong Key party actually had the will and intestinal fortitude to make a moral and ethical stand on this they would. Weak flowery weasel worded rhetoric isnt going to cut it

    To those who think ; if your doing nothing wrong you have nothing to hide. Please leave your email addresses and passwords including banking details on this blog site, as of course you have nothing to hide do you?

    • Thanks, Pedro, for your kind words.

      Regarding your comment;

      To those who think ; if your doing nothing wrong you have nothing to hide. Please leave your email addresses and passwords including banking details on this blog site, as of course you have nothing to hide do you?

      I kept seeing that inane attempt by rightwingers to justify State surveillance all over various fora on the ‘net. And I noticed something interesting, as I pointed out here…

    • If I’ve done nothing wrong, you know what I still have to fear? People invading my privacy. People blackmailing me with personal information. My information being unnecessarily shared with other countries. The spy agency breaking the law because they don’t have adequate safeguards. The spy agency sending agent provocateurs into peaceful groups of activists to entrap them. Oh, and of course, state rape where undercover spies form relationships as part of their cover.

      In short, I have a lot to fear from a spy agency regardless of whether I’ve done anything illegal.

  7. The US wants us to fight their stupid copyright war for them. It’s not sensible – the biggest copyright violaters in the 19th century were the Americans – it didn’t ruin England or Europe any more than Asian piracy has ruined the US. We have no skin in this game, we should leave the big countries to fight their own battles.

  8. Yes agreed a great article Frank again,

    We do now clearly see how this treasonous Government is against the people and only for foreign corporations that they are simply agents for the acquisition of our last remaining assets the cowardly anti Kiwi creeps.

  9. Cullen ! ? Were people actually listening to that fawning, vein, old fart?

    He’s a dyed in the wool ( Remember wool? It’s what we did before cows ? ) Neo Liberal Machiavellian confederate protecting The Great New Zealand Institutionalised fuckin’ Lie !
    NZ ? Far too pretty for its base IQ.
    I hope I’m on-topic @ Frank. I’m a bit pissed and have driven 480 km and have yet to read your Post. Shame on me for jumping the pop gun.

  10. Here’s another brain fart for you.

    I like the saying; ” There’s great beauty in simplicity ”

    These are simple facts.

    Fact #1 What off-shore Monster Corp cares about us? Answer: None of them. No Corporation could give one small, moulting, flying fuck for any of us.

    Let that sink in. Not one corporation cares about the human population of NZ / Aotearoa. If they say they do? They’re lying.

    Fact #2 Since Corporations don’t care, for one millisecond about NZ/Aotearoa’s human population, then they must want something else?

    Fact # 3 . They want our country. They actually want our land. The land you stand on. The land you look out over and think ” Oh My God ! What a beautiful place. ” It’s the land our traitorous politicians stand and look out over and think ” Oh my God ! I bet I could make good coin selling this shit to Corporates ”

    Fact # 4 . You and I and everyone else must stop that happening.

    Fact #5 . How, you ask? You are asking that, I know you are. You would like to stop that, but how?

    Fact #6 No one has an answer, is that not correct?

    Swamp them with petitions, harass them in the street, phone them constantly, write letters, organise a mob and go visit for a cup of tea and a ginger nut.
    I’m proud of the Americans for making their politicians lives very interesting when The Dark Siders try to Trumpenate the USA. We should be looking and learning then doing.
    MAKE ! Your politicians do their jobs. MAKE them. Vigorously insist repeatedly until they do that. There can be no option. They either do their job or we get rid of them then find others who will do that job.
    There is NO compromise. They do their jobs ? Or they’re gone.

    For far,far too long we’ve had politicians who, once elected, please themselves. THAT MUST STOP. That’s a fact.

  11. “Cullen is deeply concerned “where you can’t find the Attorney General, or the the Minister deputed [sic] by the Prime Minister [to] act on the Attorney General’s behalf, or the judicial commissioner“?!

    Maybe they should just try the Golf Club.

    • Such a convoluted situation. So no Attorney general, no deputy AG, and no judicial commisioner? It can bloody wait for a real warrant.

      If you need three points of failure to have to wait on a critical warrant, you’ve prepared adequately, and can use other temporary measures in the meantime.

  12. Excellent analysis as always, Frank. Cullen’s bogus concern for “sailors lost at sea” has to be one of the weakest, most pathetic rationales ever used to advanced the spy agencies’ monitoring powers.

    As per usual, the msm is asleep at the wheel, not scrutinising the garbage we are being fed.

    • MSM are not just asleep, the are the co-pilot at the wheel.

      Neither could put this trash through without the other.

      Love how all the ex Labour are out with the sabotage too, Clark/Goff and TPP and Cullen – Spying.

      No wonder brand Labour languish in the polls.

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