Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Our racist spies

Over the weekend, the Herald had a piece on the racist and sexist attitudes of New Zealand's spies. The New Zealand Intelligence community had commissioned a report on diversity from a Massey University intern, which uncovered racism and sexism in their workplaces. Maori and Pacific employees were subjected to constant low-level racist abuse, while women reported being victims of sexual discrimination. An "old boy" culture and a view that diversity and difference were threats to security rounded out the horror story.

Unexplored by the story: the consequences of this racism and sexism on the GCSB and SIS's work. Because if the spies think being anything other than dead, white and male makes you a security risk and that all Maori are criminals, and feel comfortable expressing this to their non-DWM colleagues in the workplace, you really have to wonder how that spills over into their work - and how many people have been spied on and had their lives poked through as a result.

And here's the kicker (from 6.2.3.b of the report):

It became apparent through discussions that there was a significant proportion of staff who did not think of their organisations as a government department. This was more apparent by staff within GCSB but was evident in the NZSIS. This perception was perpetrated by staff that had significantly long careers in intelligence or had not worked in external government agencies, and did not see the work being performed
as a "public service". it was often mentioned by these employees that they did "not see the point of reflecting the outside community" because of this.

That public perception that "our" spies don't work for us? They don't think so either. And while its a problem for diversity in the workplace, its a bigger problem for our democracy. After all, if "our" spies don't think they're a government department or public service, you have to ask who they think they're working for and accountable to. And I wish that that Massey intern had followed up on that, because the answers would be enlightening.