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Dapper SIS Head Seeks More Relaxing Times

Dapper SIS Head Seeks More Relaxing Times

By Kevin List

NZSIS Director Richard Woods

Come 31 October 2006 dapper public servant Richard Woods will be able to really get stuck into enjoying classical music, skiiing and spending quality time with his wife and Labrador dog who have both travelled the world with him. The Brahms loving son of a clergyman will be stepping down from his role as the Director of New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service after seven years in the hotseat.

Appointed by National's Jenny Shipley (with Helen Clark's blessing) Mr Woods has however spent most of his time answering to Ms Clark and the other members of the Parliament's intelligence committee (besides the PM this committee currently consists of Dr Don Brash, Jim Anderton, Winston Peters and Dr Michael Cullen).

Mr Woods has presided over something of a boom for the SIS. Following the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States advertisements began appearing in newspapers all over New Zealand for intelligence officers.

Mr Woods work environment requires drawn curtains even on a lovely sunny Wellington day

Currently the budget allocated for the SIS is around $17 million. Mr Woods himself is able to enjoy a salary nearing $300,000 for his work in the not particularly attractive environs of Stout Street Wellington. For his diligence Mr Woods is rewarded slightly better than the Chief Ombudsmen but his pay lags well behind that of the Chief Executives of the Inland Revenue Department, Ststaistics NZ and the Ministry of Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri).

What exactly Mr Woods does for his pay is not well known and even observers of intelligence affairs such as Wellington researcher Nicky Hager and Auckland Academic Dr Paul Buchanan would be hard pressed to describe the average day in the life of the country's top spook.

One aspect of Mr Woods' job that has come in for public attention in the last couple of years is his judgement on whether or not Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui should be enjoying the benefits of New Zealand residency. Mr Woods in early 2003 signed New Zealand's first Security Risk Certificate meaning a long and complicated battle for Mr Zaoui and his lawyers, lashings of ink from journalists and millions of dollars in legal bills all round.

It should be noted that when Mr Woods signed the risk certificate he was probably unaware of Mr Zaoui's culinary skills, ability as a backing vocalist (for Dave Dobbyn) and gift to interfaith harmony during his stay in a Catholic priory near K Road.

Couscous expert, security risk certificate holder and poetry enthusiast Ahmed Zaoui

Mr Woods would however have known that Mr Zaoui was not a person the French or Belgian Governments wanted very much in their countries and would probably have had no difficulty reading their legal judgements regarding Mr Zaoui.

During his early twenties Mr Woods was a student of the romantic languages at Oxford university gaining a Master of Arts in the French language.

Prior to becoming the head of the SIS Mr Woods enjoyed a distinguished career in the New Zealand foreign service. During the Iran-Iraq war Mr Woods was our man in Tehran where he no doubt talked up the delights of the lamb burger to the Mullah's that to this day have their grip on Iran.

Later, the devoted francophile retraced Napoleon's steps, serving for a time in Moscow and later retreating (probably gratefully) to Paris.

Oddly enough Richard Woods was only the second civilian Director of the SIS. The other former civilian SIS director, Paul Molineaux, was plucked from the judiciary. Both men attended that most English of New Zealand secondary schools Christ College, (Christchurch). Following his stint with the SIS Judge Molineaux went on to a career as a Privacy Commissioner.

Following Mr Woods retirement from the SIS it seems likely Mr Woods may still want to be involved in some way with the public service he has served all his life. Given Mr Woods career, and schooling, it seems likely service of the state and a natty pinstriped suit will continue to be facets of his life for some time.

This morning the Prime Minister paid tribute to the man that has kept her up to date with even better gossip and intrigue than Bridget Saunders Sunday Star-Times column has to offer.

"I have enjoyed working with Richard in my six years as Minister in charge of the Security Intelligence Service, and wish him well for his retirement later this year," she said.

A tell all book seems unlikely at this juncture.


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