Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"We do not comment on security matters"

When brave leakers and journalists have revealed the dirty deeds of "our" spy agencies, the government's response has been to consistently stonewall. "We do not comment on security matters", they say. Unless, apparently, they think they have a success story to tell us:

Prime Minister John Key says the SIS has talked would-be jihadists in New Zealand out of joining Isis after their parents approached authorities.

"There are some people we believe we have actually talked down from wanting to get engaged and leave [New Zealand]," Mr Key said at his post-Cabinet press conference.

"Often family members are involved in discussions that lead to the SIS having discussions with those individuals."

There are two points to make here. The first is obvious: so much for not commenting. But I'm sure that if anyone tries to OIA the SIS for further details, it'll be back to the stonewall. Protecting "national security" apparently means the spies telling us only what they want us to know, while hiding everything else - including whether they're doing their job properly or acting lawfully.

Which brings us to the second point: if John Key is telling the truth, the SIS have broken the law. Why? Because their governing Act says explicitly
It is not a function of the Security Intelligence Service to enforce measures for security.

The Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence has previously found that warning people not to pursue certain courses of action is a measure to enforce security and violates this clause. When the SIS detect evidence of serious crime - and participation in a terrorist group certainly qualifies, as does attempting to do so - they should turn that evidence over to the police. And this makes sense: spies are there to gather intelligence, but its the police who are supposed to protect public safety. Letting spies - who regard evidence of criminal wrongdoing as leverage with which to extract more intelligence - make public safety decisions leads to the sort of shit we're seeing in the UK, where they cover up for pedophiles to protect their intelligence sources (and their budgets).

As for what to do about this, it sounds as if Russel Norman is going to have to make another complaint to the Inspector-General asking them to investigate the lawfulness of spy actions. And if an investigation confirms that they have broken the law, again, after being specifically warned not to do this sort of thing, then it would suggest an entrenched culture of lawlessness within the agency. Given the hideous dangers posed by lawless spies, slow reform is not an option; the only cure would be disestablishment or a full-on purge.