Nicky Hager Interviewed by Darpan The Mirror
Nicky Hager Interviewed by Darpan The
Darpan-The Mirror: Hello Nicky, welcome to the programme.
Nicky Hager: Thank you.
Darpan-The Mirror: Nicky, when did your journey begin in the journalism field and your foray into investigative journalism?
Nicky Hager: I come from a different background than a normal journalist-I was a researcher. In the early 90’s I spent around 5 years writing a book about our largest intelligence agency The GCSB (The Government Communications Security Bureau is the NZ spy agency which runs the Waihopai satellite interception spybase, and operates as a junior branch of American Intelligence) that’s supposedly, that where a golf ball has been deflated. It was a long book on that and when the book came out an American professor wrote an introduction to it where he said this is the work of investigative journalism and I thought, hun, maybe there’s a job for me for this type of work and therefore I have been working on it for the last nearly 15 years.
Darpan-The Mirror: What is the standard of journalism in New Zealand? I mean how would you rate it?
Nicky Hager: I think we have got some really good journalists but over all the level of journalism when compared to even with Australia is very weak. I think New Zealand is, going across even when compared with states like Sydney or Melbourne, it’s a shock to see how good the newspapers and how fine the media is compared to New Zealand. Unfortunately, we are not very well served.
Darpan-The Mirror: Could you expand on that, I mean, there’s a general notion that corporate media has stooped to the lowest levels and is guilty of dereliction of duty in the way it portrays and hides the truth?
Nicky Hager: Yes. I don’t quite know why it has got so bad or I don’t know how long ago, but the media has serious factors, it’s very reactive in that it tends to be not journalists going out looking for the important stories but reactions to press releases that come in, the spin that comes from different organizations and the statements from the Ministers’ office, and in fact most news most days on the media, is not produced by the journalists, it’s produced by the people who are feeding them the PR (public relations) people… And on top of that there is very low standard of digging deep, the newspapers love it when they get it but they usually don’t put their efforts in these media organizations…trying to get behind the news, dig out the big stories, find out the truth in issues which are in dispute, find out who’s telling the truth, find out the stories which are being hidden which I think the public has great appetite for when they get it but they don’t usually get it.
Darpan-The Mirror: But then by doing so, they are not serving the grass roots or the nation as such….
Nicky Hager: Oh, I don’t think a lot of the media could be called serving the interests of the public, I think, they are almost, like if you sign some of these organizations, they are not, some of the people there are trying to do their best they can and some of the organizations trying to do the big stories when they find them but they are mainly thinking what stories we will stick on the front page so that people walking into the dairy will buy extra copies and that’s why we see the stories that we see; we see the All Blacks stories and you see the crime stories, and you see the personal immorality stories, and the anti-Maori stories and the anti-personal stories and the anti-beneficiary stories; those are easy cheap stories. In fact, the role of the media as many of us see it here is not to find fault and kinda entertain ourselves with the worries of the poor and the, you know, people whose lives are out of control but to scrutinize the powerful whose work affects large amount of peoples’ lives and that’s certainly where I try to do my work.
Darpan-The Mirror: In view of the Ploughshares direct action on Waihopai information gathering base outside Blenheim do you think the stage is set for a debate on New Zealand’s’ role in assisting US and its allies?
Nicky Hager: Ah, you are asking me whether I think what the spy agency is doing or the Ploughshares did?
Darpan-The Mirror: I am referring to the base…
Nicky Hager: I would have hoped, this is what; I think, this is what the public wants from the news media, the news media would like journalists in their news positions to be saying what is Waihopai, why did these people go there, is it true that there’s a big major power hood of war on terror but instead we got who are these nutters, why did they cost so much money, and then asking the opinion of people who shouldn’t have been asked because they actually had no way of knowing what the base is and so they were just giving their, off the top of their heads, prejudices. But actually there’s a very interesting discussion about the base because from my research, I wrote a book on it, it’s probably is New Zealand’s main contribution to the war on terror. So, it’s very interesting topic for us to be thinking about, at this time, lots of New Zealanders have grave doubts about the war on terror.
Darpan-The Mirror: What do you have to say about 9/11 itself? Credible engineers and architects have come out in the open challenging the government’s version of events on that day? I mean how do you see it?
Nicky Hager: I have…I have read some of the materials which are questioning what went on, on that day Sept. 11 in the US and the attacks that happened there and I have to say…it looks credible…when people write that some of us don’t make sense in that how did this happen but I don’t think that anyone has credibly shown that there’s a great plot, that somehow this was all manufactured by the American government or by some intelligence service. And so I have to say, just in my own mind, I don’t know. I am not sure that …it will have to be just a huge thing for it to be a conspiracy that it seems unlikely to be a conspiracy and yet there are questions and so I hope people will be looking at it until they figure out…what…why there is that contradiction.
Darpan-The Mirror: How legitimate is the war on terror, I mean, how do you see it?
Nicky Hager: I got some strong opinions on that. I think that for about two weeks the war on terror was justified in the sense that from the very first days of the so-called war on terror there was a search for the people who had done a major terrorist attack in the United States and it was not surprising that they were being pursued. It was not surprising that the people were very frightened that there might be another one coming. Actually it didn’t last very long at all-a period where there was a serious search for Osama Bin Laden and a serious attempt to track down his people was looked through the first weeks of the war on terror and by the early next year…which is say March 2002 the war had already changed to Afghanistan and who they were fighting had nothing to do with Al-Qaida and certainly absolutely had nothing to do with anything that happened in the US and it’s gone on from there. So, by the middle of 2002 which is a long time ago now, the US military had forgotten about Afghanistan and was preparing for Iraq and the war that went on there and all that followed…I am afraid...that…it has become a corrupt and discredits the thing for many years past now.
Darpan-The Mirror: A hue and cry was raised all over the country by the politicians over the Chinese treatment of Tibetans. But then you never see the politicians rising or condemning the Israeli actions in Gaza Strip or in the Palestinian territories in occupied Palestine. How do you see the double standards?
Nicky Hager: The world of diplomacy and alliance is full of double-standards. When people want to understand what seemed like contradictory positions from apparently principled politicians…and the free principled politicians, why did they take a stand on this and not on that? You have to look at the big forces which underlie and in New Zealand’s case we are still in many ways a long term ally of the United States and if you don’t see our politics over that you don’t understand what goes on. The reason New Zealand takes a very moderate stand on what happens in the Middle East is that we are US aligned with our position. Criticism of Israel for US ally is almost impossible whereas in another part of the world where one is not US aligned country involved, is much easier to make a criticism. And if you look at it, if you look at the politicians actions through that filter, suddenly it will make much more sense.
Darpan-The Mirror: Now resistance fighters these days are classified as terrorists? How do you view this?
Nicky Hager: But that’s true. Ah…resistance fighters are always someone else’s terrorists while there are terrorists someone else’s resistance fighters. Ah…when…when countries or groups resort to violence the people who are the targets of that violence are not going to see them as anything other than a huge terrible threat. And so you can expect it to happen any other way but what you want is what you will hope for is that a country like New Zealand which is removed from the world’s conflicts will try to be non-aligned. And that’s the kind of role a country like ours can play…rather than looking at the world through the filter of us and them and our side and their side, you can have a consistent ethical approach to the different nations. That’s the best you can hope for. And that’s the role, even though you are a small country, that’s the special role you can play, where, I will say, you are non-aligned and non-combatant in the world’s disputes and can take a more fair minded approach to them.
Darpan-The Mirror: Two academics from the United States had come out with the AIPAC report (Effects of “Israel Lobby,” by the Kennedy School’s Stephen M. Walt and the University of Chicago’s John J. Mearsheimer) talking about the Israeli lobby and its iron grip on US foreign policy? How do you see it in New Zealand context?
Nicky Hager: I did some research and saw a film on Israel and Palestine and it was such a sobering thing to read the research and to look at the resources and to discover how influential the Israeli lobby is in the United States. This tiny piece of the world, it’s like a small province of New Zealand, has so much influence on the rest of the world and particularly on US politics. I would say New Zealand has some echoes of that but our country fortunately as in all things is less aligned, as more non-aligned on those things and we are not a …our dog doesn’t get wagged by that tail so much.
Darpan-The Mirror: New Zealand’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; do you think are we complicit in the killings that are going on over there when we say we are there only for construction purposes?
Nicky Hager: I wrote about this and I think that New Zealand only went into Iraq when we said that we were doing … we were only there for a relatively short time and we have been gone for some years now. But I believe the only reason we were there was that the government felt it was kind of apologizing and making amends for not joining the original war. That was part of the basic setting of being a sort of US ally where they believe they should be there but then they didn’t want to be there. So, they paid them back by going in and helping.
Were we complicit in the occupation? I believe so. Not in the very upfront way. I would say that our New Zealand engineers could be described as part of the public relations campaign for the British occupation forces in Basra at that time. They weren’t doing evil or bad things at all. They were doing helpful things most of which now has been smashed down with the war that followed. But they were part of the public relations campaign to make the invasion and the illegal occupation that followed it look better because we were doing good work for them.
Afghanistan is completely different story. New Zealand went into Afghanistan supposedly to catch Osama Bin Laden and his people. And it’s been an amazing what might be called mission creep. As it went from that to fighting everyone called Al-Qaida which included people from Uzbekistan and all kinds of foreign fighters who had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and certainly nothing to do with New Zealand but hoping to kill them and bomb them in the mountains. And there, we were helping to round up Taleban and while New Zealand who had a military operation against a section of Afghanistan which is very hard to explain back in New Zealand I think, and now we have gone on to become a part of that civil war as the situation further degrades there. So, I personally think that no politician has adequately explained at all why New Zealand is still part of the war in Afghanistan. And again it comes back to, I know why we are there, we are there, to put it in kind of colloquial speech, because our military is sucking up to the United States and I don’t believe there’s any other good reason why we are there.
Darpan-The Mirror: Now, the mid-October last year’s terror raids-they have left an indelible mark on the Maori community being unfairly, as alleged by several quarters in the country, maligning the Maori community as terrorists. How do you see it? No terroristic activity ever touched the shores of New Zealand and why this fear mongering tactics are being brought to the shores by the government of New Zealand?
Nicky Hager: I think that was really tragic and damaging events that happened on October 15 last year with those raids around the country. Partly I think, unfortunately, there were some things going on involving political people using guns which partly justified the police taking an interest. And it’s wrong not to acknowledge that part of the story at least on the evidence we have to date. On the other hand the police reaction beyond that the huge surveillance, over-reacting attacks, the charges that they used, were damaging and force and are going to have repercussions in the years to come.
Darpan-The Mirror: Absolutely. I mean what I am trying to drive over here is Maoris are the indigenous population of this country and they have no history whatsoever of indulging in illegal activities especially relating to violence, then, the way, the manner in which it was conducted the world has seen. What sort of impact do you think it is going to have in this election year and in the years to come?
Nicky Hager: I think that any fair minded person knows in a long term way that Maori people get a hard time from the police on average than a Pakeha person does. You just have to walk down a street on a Friday night to see that. And I think that some of what went on last year in that Urewera raids is a reflection of that. And just like, as some people maybe unfair on a Friday night, has implications for a …society we don’t see, the police raids at that time did as well. It’s not good for the country.
Darpan-The Mirror: Do you think there is a need for policing the police?
Nicky Hager: I believe that any government agency, any organization that has so much power over other people’s lives, needs to have, and needs to be opened up. There needs to be information, there need to be procedures for complaints and for people to review what they do. And …um…to some extent New Zealand has that but I think our police, in particular, our police in intelligence are way too secret and way too unaccountable. And…kind of…that unaccountability and that not being controlled by public opinion will spill over sometimes inappropriately. That’s pretty much what happened with those terrorism charges last year, those Urewera terrorism charges. They have been heading down the track of chasing protestors and seeing terrorism threats when there weren’t, and using their new powers that they hadn’t before, have spilled over into heavily disrupting those peoples’ lives.
Darpan-The Mirror: Thanks for being on the programme, Nicky.
Nicky Hager: Great to be with you.
Syed Akbar Kamal is producer/director for the current affairs program Darpan-The Mirror on the World Wide Web. He has written extensively on a wide range of issues for numerous domestic and international publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .Some of his work can be viewed at www.teamworkproductions.co.nz