SST: Spies Blow Whistle On SIS Bugging
Spies Blow Whistle On SIS Bugging
By ANTHONY HUBBARD
and NICKY HAGER
Scoop Editors’ Note:
In co-operation with the Sunday Star Times, Scoop publishes
this major series by Anthony Hubbard and Nicky Hager on
Operation Leaf – how the SIS has bugged Maori MPs, groups
and networks. This issue was first reported by Scoop’s
Selwyn Manning on Thursday November 11 2004. See…
Intelligence Sources Say SIS Investigating Maori Party
Courtesy of the Sunday Star Times: Agents claim they were hired to dig dirt on Maori leaders and iwi organisations
This article can also been viewed on the Stuff.co.nz website:
THE SIS has been involved in a widespread and probably unlawful campaign to infiltrate and bug Maori organisations, three spies have told the Sunday Star-Times.
They provided a detailed description of a top-secret programme called Operation Leaf, a major SIS campaign targeting a variety of Maori organisations and individuals over several years.
One of them says he quit the operation in September last year because he was “disgust[ed] at a system that was spying on decent, law-abiding New Zealanders’’.
“I met some nice people,’’ he said, “not activists or criminals, and I just started questioning myself what it was all about.’’
The Star-Times’ six-week investigation of the spy claims has taken us to Australia and Asia, where the men were interviewed.
Their allegations suggest the SIS is going well beyond its statutory role which allows it to spy on New Zealanders when the country’s security is at stake through terrorism, espionage, sabotage and attempts to overthrow the government by force.
A week ago, when hints of the SIS Maori spying story leaked to the Scoop news website, Prime Minister Helen Clark responded that “any rational reading’’ of the NZSIS Act showed the suggestion was “laughable’’. She pointed out the act prohibited the SIS from carrying out surveillance of anyone “engaged in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent’’.
When told this newspaper had carried out an extended investigation, she declined an interview, saying through a spokesperson that she never commented on security matters.
The spies claim:
The SIS contracted “computer geeks’’ to engineer contact with Maori organisations and plant bugging equipment on their computers or change the settings to allow remote access.
They were told to gather intelligence on internal iwi business negotiations, finances and Treaty claims and inter-tribal cmmunications.
They were instructed to watch for “dirt’’, including “personal information, relationships, money issues, family secrets’’ on Maori leaders.
Serious divisions exist within the intelligence community, with some spies believing the SIS is too deferential to Western agencies.
Clark is the minister in charge of the SIS and signs all interception warrants. However, the operations described in Leaf appear to have used surveillance techniques that did not require formal warrants and therefore reporting to the minister and parliament. It is not clear that Clark would have been informed of the existence or the scale of Operation Leaf.
One of the three operatives spoken to by the Star-Times says he was directed to win the confidence of senior people in the Maori community and to gain access to and bug their computers. Over about three years he covertly collected “thousands of pages of documents’’ from the computers and passed them to his SIS “handler’’ – a woman called “Margaret’’.
The operation targeted groups and individuals, from known radicals and people with criminal records to respected regional leaders, iwi organisations and Maori politicians.
In recent months Operation Leaf staff had been encouraged to forward “any nuggets concerning the current leadership of the Maori Party’’ to their handlers, one spy said.
The operation is at least several years old, the spies said. One said he had been spying on an iwi organisation between March 2000 and late 2003. All three said Operation Leaf was ongoing.
One said “even before Leaf there had been other Maori-related [SIS] surveillance’’ but this had morphed into Leaf.
Leaf staff are said to include six “arm’s-length deniable techies’’, SIS contract workers chosen for computer and people skills. Posing as “friendly computer geeks’’ and using other assumed identities, they had engineered contact with the Maori organisations to gather information.
The six included three in the Auckland region, two in the Wellington region and one in Christchurch. They met about every two months with their handlers at a secure facility near Wellington for training, technical support and to solve problems.
While they were apparently helping their targets to fix computer problems or upgrade software, they also planted bugging equipment and changed the computers’ settings to allow themselves remote access to all the files and email. This had occurred with home computers and office computer networks, one spy said.
The Star-Times has inspected the accounts of one of the iwi organisations said to have been targeted and found numerous invoices for visits by one of the operatives.
Until October 1, 2003, SIS operatives could covertly access other people’s computer systems without obtaining a SIS interception warrant. It is not clear whether warrants were obtained for the Leaf operations after that date.
The Operation Leaf spies say they were instructed to profile Maori leaders and gather intelligence on their internal iwi business, negotiations with government, Waitangi claim processes, inter-tribal communications and more – as well as keeping an eye out for “dirt’’.
They were not told whether the intelligence they gathered was passed to the government or how it was used.