Thursday, December 10, 2015

Spy propaganda and our national museum

Last month I highlighted the New Zealand Intelligence Community's Draft NZIC Communications Strategy 2014-2017, which included (among other things) a plan for a "museum exhibition" to "help deliver our key messages". While the proposed venue was redacted, there was only one real place where such an exhibition would be held: Te Papa. So I sent them an OIA request asking whether they'd been in negotiations about an exhibition with the NZIC or any of our component agencies, and if so, all communications relating to it and their vision for the exhibition. I got the response yesterday, and the answer, of course, is "yes". But the good news is that the plans have been shelved:

Te Papa had some engagement with the New Zealand Intelligence Community regarding their collections including possible collaboration with Te Papa for an exhibition. In March 2014 a brief 'Idea Summary' document was drafted and agreement to proceed to a proposal stage was approved.

Due to changes in Te Papa's long-term exhibition planning in July 2014, ideas for an exhibition With the NZ Intelligence Community did not proceed beyond this stage. No exhibition proposal document was developed, nor was further negotiation about an exhibition with the NZ Intelligence Community undertaken.

Te Papa doesn't currently have any plans for an exhibition on the New Zealand intelligence community.

Why is it good news that the plans have been shelved? Because as the communications strategy made clear, the aim was essentially for a propaganda exhibition designed to boost the reputation of the spies and increase their social licence. And according to the Idea Summary, it was to be "potentially paid for" and even possibly co-curated by GCSB - and with explicitly political timing:
Suggested timing: after the general election (September 2014) - follow Border Patrol (synergy of issues) - coincide/or be aligned to timing of Simon Denny's [mass-surveillance-themed - I/S] Venice Biennale installation (mid-2015) - before Denny's 2016 showing at Te Papa? DPMC would like the exhibition to be in the first half of 2015, if possible (before they embark on an internal evaluation process, we understand).

So, in short: the government and its spy agencies proposed spending public money to pay our national museum to host an exhibition to explicitly counter a pro-privacy / anti-surveillance exhibition, in an effort to shift public opinion in favour of their agencies, in the run-up to a statutory review of their organisation and powers. Which is something highly dubious in a democracy. Fortunately, its been cancelled. But we clearly need to keep an eye on the spies, and how much of our money they're spending trying to shape our opinion of them.