Friday, July 07, 2006

A warning from Italy

It looks like Italy's SISMI intelligence agency has been doing a little more besides working for the Americans and kidnapping Italian residents for rendition. Now they're implicated in illegal domestic espionage and compiling dossiers on Italian citizens - including judges, journalists, politicians and prosecutors. I guess old habits die hard; the Italian secret services have done this before (notably in the 60's), using the secret dossiers to blackmail and victimise those they saw as enemies of the state (or of the intelligence sevices themselves). Clearly that culture of impunity and illegality is still around. And hopefully the Italian government will do a better job of purging it this time.

This is a warning that you can never under any circumstances trust spies. Power corrupts, and the agency established to "defend democracy" all too easily becomes a threat to it. Such agencies need to be kept on a very tight leash, and subjected to the strictest oversight, to prevent them from running amok and doing exactly what SISMI (and Hoover's FBI, and countless other organisations) have done. And arguably, New Zealand's "oversight mechanism" (a Parliamentary committee that meets for less than an hour a year to rubberstamp the accounts) simply is not up to the task.