Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"Economic wellbeing" and "national security"

One of the most controversial ideas in New Zealand's national security legislation is the idea that "national security" includes "economic wellbeing". This appears to have been formally introduced for the first time in an amendment to the SIS Act in 1999 (the same one that immunised SIS officers for illegal burglaries), and it was greeted with immediate suspicion. And the reason for that was obvious: because historically, the government and deep state had regarded the left and the environmental movement's demands for higher wages and economic and environmental justice as a threat to the economic wellbeing of the rich.

Now, that controversial clause has just been used to justify the GCSB's spying on our friends and allies in a failed effort to advance the personal career of a government Minister - a move whose discovery upset those friends and allies and clearly undermined our peaceful diplomatic relations.

That "justification" comes from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in her report into the incident. From the summary:

First, the New Zealand government had made a foreign policy decision to support Mr Groser as a candidate. The decision reflected a considered assessment that Mr Groser would, if selected, advance the effective functioning of the WTO (an international, multilateral organisation) and so have a significant impact on New Zealand’s economic well-being.

Second, under the terms of the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 which applied at the time, the GCSB had a statutory responsibility to provide foreign intelligence assistance in support of New Zealand’s foreign policy objectives. In line with the government’s decision and the foreign policy basis for that decision, the GCSB acted lawfully and appropriately in providing its assistance to the campaign.”

And so that's that. The "economic wellbeing" clause and a stated view from MFAT that Groser would behave corruptly in office to advantage New Zealand equals corruptly spying on our allies. And presumably the same logic applies to justify spying on e.g. Greenpeace if MFAT decides that a strong climate change agreement would be bad for farmers. As for the solution, I think its simple: we need to get rid of the economic wellbeing clause, as quickly as possible.

As an aside, the Inspector-General's picture of the GCSB's decision-making process in this case is not exactly flattering. The GCSB director (John key's chum Ian Fletcher) seems to have decided himself that it was a good idea, then asked Groser whether he wanted his career advanced by spying on his rivals. Of course, Groser said "yes". Its telling that the Inspector-General is forced to rely on the GCSB's statutory objectives being "sufficiently broad" to permit this, rather than being able to point to a formal government decision to undermine our diplomatic relations. And there are recommendations about proper documentation of such cases, including consideration of improper personal benefit to Ministers who receive GCSB intelligence.