A Scoop Exclusive - Inside APEC Series
by Selwyn Manning
As the third reading of the SIS Amendment Bill No. 2 is put before the New Zealand Parliament, a Canadian Anti-APEC campaigner warns of spy infiltration of New Zealand groups. Those particularly targeted are organisations and individuals openly critical of the coming Auckland APEC leader’s summit.
But he also warns, passive groups and letter to the editor writers must also be aware.
He backs up his claims by pointing to official Canadian documentation produced at the ongoing Royal Canadian Mounted Police public complaints commission in Vancouver.
The documents reveal how he and his outspoken colleagues were bugged, watched, taped, photographed and videoed in the run up to, and during, Canada’s APEC leader’s meetings in Vancouver 1997; how groups were infiltrated by agency spies.
New Zealand, the campaigner says, can expect even more covert operatives than what was discovered in Vancouver. He cites moves by New Zealand Police to crackdown on protesters, arresting them for using loud-hailers close to constables is a sign of harder things to come. He says the drafting of SIS Amendment legislation which straightens the SIS’s arm in collecting its information from New Zealand citizens, and the paving of way for overseas security agents to carry weapons on New Zealand soil, is all part of a hardening state attitude to those who possess opposing views.
The bungled burglary by New Zealand SIS agents on GATT-Watchdog spokesperson Aziz Choudry’s house in 1996 also shows, he says, how determined the SIS is to search for information.
The break-in occurred just before APEC trade ministers met in Christchurch in July 1996. Two SIS agents were caught at Choudry’s home. They had entered his house, disturbing documents, but nothing seemed to have been taken.
The break-in also coincided with an alternative forum on free trade organised by GATT Watchdog, a coalition of NGOs and community groups campaigning against GATT/WTO, APEC, the MAI and other free trade and investment arrangements.
All this mirrors his Canadian experience prior to APEC 1997 in Vancouver.
Then, the Canadian authorities set up a special organisation called Threat Assessment Group [TAG] to gather intelligence on anti-APEC groups, student organisations, unions, groups protesting Canadian indigenous rights; even the Canadian Catholic Church came under the spies eyes.
TAG included agents from the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service, Defence Department officers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police special branch, and customs officers. Other countries also were involved, particularly with security. CIA and FBI were active.
Other countries undertook their own covert surveillance. Indonesia got into trouble with the Canadian authorities for overstepping the mark. Indonesian agents wanted to know what rights they had if they shot protesters. Five were later arrested while doing their own surveillance on anti-APEC groups, two were arrested for being inside a secure area and mounting recording electronic equipment on top of a hotel roof.
The Canadian campaigner’s name is Jonathan Oppenheim, a leader in the Canadian organisation APEC Alert.
Oppenheim was and is an outspoken critic of APEC and the free-trade ideology which drives the meetings. He became one of a large number of so-called leaders which were targeted by intelligence agents. All associates of the leaders were scrutinised. The information passed on to elite security officers charged with creating a cacoon of silence and peace around those attending the 97 APEC leader’s summit.
“TAG was set up to monitor protest groups. They were also concerned about people who came to our meetings. If we talked to someone they monitored that as well. If someone wrote a letter to the editor with a view which criticised APEC, they too were monitored.
“It is incredible how paranoid they [TAG] were. APEC is a pretty unpopular organisation and to monitor everyone who is opposed to it is a pretty big job.
“They even monitored the Anglican Church of Canada, which was basically a bunch of 60s plus grannies who sang a few anti-tunes.”
Oppenheim says anyone, any group which had a view contrary to APEC was investigated by TAG’s agents: “It wasn’t intelligence gathering of groups suspected of acts of terrorism, it was any organisation, even those most passive.”
At the time, Oppenheim and his associates knew little of what cloak and dagger operatives were taking place around them: “We didn’t have a clue at the time that we were being monitored. They never did openly come to our meetings. They never made direct contact or talked to us. There was never any overt presence. But since we have waded through their paper trail, notes after notes after notes on anything from a talk to a discussion to a rally was recorded.
“They would take pictures, they had profiles of all of us, they even checked to see if we were on welfare. They then used the photographs to identify us. A number of us were arrested.”
TAG mounted a pre-emptive strike on APEC Alert members. Jaggi Singh another leader was arrested prior to any protest action taking place.
The pre-arrest of Jaggi Singh surprised the groups and the Canadian public at how determined the authorities were to prevent those critical of APEC for having their say.
Singh told Scoop this week: “You can be sure that all anti-APEC groups [in New Zealand] are being monitored in some way, as well as various ‘radical’ Maori groups. The documents I have seen from APEC Vancouver show that even mainstream groups are the subject of monitoring. For example, here the British Colombia Federation of Labour, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Students were all targeted.”
Oppenheim says members were arrested on warrants they knew nothing about and later found out the warrants did not exist: “I’m sure the same is about to happen in Auckland, if not worse,” he says. “Worse because of the clamp down on megaphone use, the breaking into people’s homes, it is all the same as what we witnessed.”
Here in New Zealand, seasoned campaigners also expect the spies are watching.
Scoop met this week with APEC Monitoring Group spokesperson Aziz Choudry. He confirms that like in Canada, police have been taking photographs and videoing while anti-APEC campaigners protest. They are building up a identikit file on all those who believe APEC is wrong, he says.
Choudry says the invasion of privacy experienced by Canadian APEC critics is a clear indication of what is happening here and of what the security agencies of other countries expect of New Zealand authorities.
Oppenheim says official Canadian documents obtained after APEC show the intelligence gathering didn’t stop once the APEC leader’s returned home: “The police continued to gather information on protesters, it became quite obvious that they regard activists with a huge amount of suspicion. Any decent is regarded quite antagonistically. Certainly they saw a terrorist in every corner.”
New Zealand anti-APEC groups, Oppenheim says, should not get too paranoid about infiltration: “We had nothing to hide. We were peaceful but the police and TAG still felt they had to infiltrate us. It was a huge invasion of privacy. And it is important to expose the paranoia and infiltration. I think it is pretty serious how anyone who showed any view contrary to pro-APEC was and is regarded as an enemy of the state.”
His advice to New Zealanders is: stick to your views, let your views be known, disregard any infiltration of your organisations: “It is important just to be open. In our [the Canadians] case it was the Government that had things to hide. The documents which have become known through the courts and official investigations have shown that to be the case.”
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* Scoop’s Inside APEC Series: - Stories To Come: An Exclusive Interview With Aziz Choudry - An Interview with Canada’s Jaggi Singh - the Police’s Response - APEC Releases - and much much more.
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