Sunday, November 21, 2004

Time to leash the spies

The Sunday Star-Times has broken a major story alleging a widespread spying by the SIS on iwi, activists, and other Maori groups - supposedly without the Minister's knowledge. The allegations are sourced from former SIS operatives, who also express discontent with our spies' handling of the Zaoui affair and their subserviance to foreign intelligence services (government agencies working for a foreign power - isn't that the sort of thing they're supposed to guard against?). The full story is available on Scoop:

Given the past activities of the SIS - spying on unions, the peace movement, and anti-globalisation activists - this is hardly surprising. And it again stresses the need for proper democratic oversight of our intelligence services. The danger of intelligence agencies defining domestic political opposition and dissent as a "security risk" which needs to be investigated has been well-known for quite some time (remember COINTELPRO?), yet our current oversight arrangements - a lapdog Inspector-General and a Minister who clearly can be kept in the dark - are manifestly inadequate. Our spies are a law unto themselves, with no commitment to democratic values and no accountability. This is not good enough in an open and democratic society.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Drag the fuckers kicking and screaming into the light of day and hold them to account. Parliament must hold a full and wide-reaching inquiry into the domestic operations of our intelligence services, and it must do so publicly and openly. Those responsible for initiating operations against domestic political activists must be driven out, and the institutional culture of hostility to democracy must be changed. The SIS must know in no uncertain terms that they work for us, and we will not tolerate them running wild.

At the same time, we must institute better oversight arrangements. Rather than being responsible solely to the Prime Minister, the SIS should be overseen by a Select Committee including the PM, Leader of the Opposition, and representatives of other parties. This will reduce the chances of "capture", while increasing the chances that our spies will actually be forced to justify their operations rather than simply being allowed to do whatever they want.

Spies are dangerous, and in a democracy they must be kept on a very tight leash. In New Zealand, it seems that the leash has grown too long; it is time we shortened it again.