Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Who's the security threat again?

RNZ has followed up last month's story about the SIS burgling the Czech embassy in 1986 to try and steal a code-book with a story about further SIS embassy burglaries, of the Indian High Commission and Iranian embassy. Like the burglary of the Czech embassy, both were a violation of the Vienna Convention, and of the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1968 which implements it in New Zealand law. There's the usual questions about who the hell our spies are working for - at the time the US was definitely Not A Friend, while India I'd consider a friendly nation. So "our spies" were spying on our friends for a foreign power. Who's the security threat again?

But the more interesting bit is that the Prime Ministers at the time - Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger - cannot recall ever being told about the burglaries, let alone signing a warrant for them:

Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's prime minister between August 1989 and September 1990, said he had not heard of the raids on the Indian and Iranian embassies but should have been alerted by the SIS if they occurred when he was in charge of the agency.

"If it was at the time I was prime minister, I most certainly should have been."

Jim Bolger, prime minister from 1990 to 1997, said he could not recall ever signing any warrants to allow the SIS to break into foreign embassies.

He expressed surprise that there had been a raid on the Indian High Commission and asked why New Zealand would want to carry out a covert attack on that country.

"I have no recollection of that ever hitting my desk and if it did, I have to say, my memory is not gone yet, I'd be very surprised if I was ever advised of any such event. I have no recollection - and that's not just a brush-off."

If accurate, that puts the spies in a very dicey position. Because without a warrant, this was simply a crime. And because the government's retrospective legalisation of SIS crimes in the 90's applied only to those covered by an intelligence warrant, it is one for which the SIS officers involved - which means not just the burglars, but the support and planning staff, and those who purportedly "authorised" it, because they're all parties and co-conspirators - are still legally liable for. Burglary is punishable by ten years imprisonment, and that means it is a Category 3 offence and there is no time limit on bringing charges. If the SIS truly was an ethical organisation committed to democratic control and the rule of law, it would report these crimes to the Minister, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and the Police, and cooperate so that charges could be brought against its (probably former) agents. Instead, they're probably trying to work out who is talking, and will try and have them prosecuted under John Key's anti-whistleblower law. Because at the end of the day, the spies seem to be all about protecting themselves from public scrutiny. Whereas it really looks like we need protection from them and their lawless behaviour.