Friday, June 22, 2018

The IGIS advisory panel mess

Back in April, Stuff published the news that our spies had been without proper oversight for over a year, due to the failure of the previous government to appoint members to the Inspector General of Intelligence and security's statutory advisory panel. At the time, I blamed the previous government, saying that they simply couldn't be fucked appointing anyone to it. I also blamed DPMC for dropping the ball, assuming that they didn't follow up the appointments process they began in February 2017. Documents I've received via the OIA today have shown both my conclusions to be unfair and wrong. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the failure to appoint anyone wasn't for lack of effort by either former Prime Minister Bill English or DPMC.

The full documents are here. They show:

  • DPMC ran a straight appointments process in 2017, came up with a shortlist and two nominees (one of whom English "had reservations" about). These were duly discussed by the Intelligence and security Committee in May, and only one of them was approved.
  • In June, senior DPMC staff consulted the Inspector-General about alternative candidates and shoulder-tapped two alternatives. English offered both of them to the Intelligence and Security Committee and invited them to pick one. Both were rejected (though it is unclear if this was a formal or informal rejection). National MP Amy Adams is specifically identified as vetoing one candidate.
  • Despite this, DPMC tried to get the (previously approved) panel chair appointed in the last cabinet meeting before the election, noting both the urgency of the appointment and that the candidate had been approved by both opposition members of the ISC. Cabinet rejected them, with the result that the panel remained vacant.
  • The rejection of multiple candidates by National Ministers presents problems for future appointments, as noted by DPMC in November 2017:
    IGIS Panel Email Nov2017
So, it wasn't Bill English's fault. But Amy Adams certainly bears some of the blame here. Meanwhile, its now been 20 months, and this panel is still vacant. I wonder if it will ever be filled? Update: A replacement panel was finally appointed a month ago. Somehow in my googling I'd managed to miss that.