Monday, February 24, 2014

So much for Parliamentary oversight

Last year John Key passed a spy bill granting vast new domestic spying powers to the GCSB. But he said that we wouldn't have to worry, because they would be coupled with greater Parliamentary oversight through the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As usual, he was lying":

The Government's spy agencies have refused to tell Parliament's intelligence and security committee if they receive funding from the United States.


The agencies' responses to questions were provided to the committee late last week.

Both GCSB and the SIS refused to answer questions about funding from the United States Government, or any other nation which is part of the Five Eyes spying alliance.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed last year the National Security Agency provided $200m in secret payments to the British GCHQ to secure access and influence.

Both agencies cited legislation which forbids the ISC enquiring about matters which are ''operationally sensitive'' and that relate to ''intelligence collection and production methods or sources of information.''

They also refused to say if any foreign government, or the NSA, paid for any position within the bureaux, or if there were any secondees.

Where the money comes from and what it is spent on is the cornerstone of Parliamentary accountability. But the GCSB apparently thinks that doesn't apply to it. And this doesn't just raise questions about their loyalty to New Zealand but also to our democratic system.

It may also breach the Public Finance Act. The cornerstone of that Act - and of our constitutional tradition since the C18th - is that public money cannot be spent without the authorisation of Parliament. Which means that Parliament controls what the government can do by holding the purse strings. But secret bribes from the NSA would permit the GCSB to circumvent that control, to do things not authorised by Parliament, to run riot in our name.

This isn't acceptable. If GCSB isn't accountable to Parliament, then it cannot be permitted to exist. ISC, which has financial oversight of the GCSB and is the only body which sees its appropriations, needs to conduct a line-by-line review of its income and spending, to ensure that they are obeying the Public Finance Act. And if the GCSB is not willing to submit to it and disclose totally the sources of their funding, then they need to be terminated as an organisation: their budget cut, their statute repealed, their staff sacked, and their equipment destroyed.