Inside APEC Series - Scoop Exclusive - The Man Who Spooked The Spooks
by Selwyn Manning
Aziz Choudry: he became a household name to us after the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service bungled its break in to his Christchurch home. They rummaged through files, supposedly looking for terrorist paraphernalia.
But the SIS's reason for the break in of course was nothing of the sought. Choudry is no terrorist. They knew that. The danger which he inspired in the minds of his opponents was due to his own beliefs and opinions. It was a mind thing.
Of course in countries not so far from these shores an opinion can land you in prison or even into a grave. Strange how we are to welcome leaders of such lands to these shores over the coming weeks, have even relaxed laws so their minders can bare arms. But then APEC 99 is about trade, and in the post Cold-War period, money speaks volumes.
Here in an interview with Scoop, Aziz Choudry speaks of Spooks, APEC, foreign affairs, and the consequences of such pursuits on the socio-economic divide.
His office is a tiny side room off a hallway in the Auckland Methodist Mission on Queen Street. There's nothing secretive about that, nor is there anything spooky about Aziz Choudry. He wears his beliefs on his sleeve. Press releases regularly pump from his computer. His views are there for all to see. It's hard to place the accent, bits of Britain, bits of kiwi, Australian?
But these are mere distractions.
What makes Aziz Choudry stand out from the crowd is what ticks inside his head. And that is what our Government and the SIS considered a threat in the dark hours of the pre-APEC trade meetings, Christchurch, 1996.
For those who believe talk of spies, spooks, agents, of intelligence operatives is all a bit too much for good ole NZ, think again. Here is your living proof that it goes on. And he says it is all going on now: "One should be quite cautious in thinking that the SIS and others have moved on substantially from their psychological tendency to be living in a shadowy world of conspiracy theories.
"The irony is that these professionals bungled an operation, they were caught by a rank amateur, well amateur as far as this sort of stuff goes, we are not professional spy catchers or anything. But our gut feelings that we had at that time, about who those guys were and why they were in my house, were proved beyond all dispute."
Choudry says he has not yet received a "satisfactory" explanation as to why the SIS were in his house or what they were looking for: "What we do know is that they [SIS] and other state agencies such as the Land Transport Safety Authority and the police were working quite closely together in their operation. There is a web of organisations that pull together when called on to complete certain operations."
His case was not an isolated one. Choudry insists there were others: "In our case they [SIS] were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. David Small turned up at my place to pick up some stuff." Simple as that. Such was the luck involved in New Zealand's most costly spy-catching case.
The New Zealand Government last week paid Aziz Choudry an undisclosed sum in settlement over the break in. It issued an apology for allowing his home to be unlawfully entered into by SIS agents. Choudry is unsatisfied with the apology as it did not go far enough.
He reflects to the character slanging match the SIS and the Government issued after the break in and says: "After an operation, all the checks and balances are always justified to the public. Notions of 'National Security' are cited as good reason for the state to have exercised its arm."
And APEC, history has shown, is good reason for those involved with intelligence to get busy with their business. It happened in Seattle in 93, and in Vancouver in 97.
And today, Auckland is crawling with officers, police, security, plain clothes, men in clean overalls, agents. Just cast an eye around on any busy Queen Street day.
It's all due to APEC: "I think one would be naive to think that the police, intelligence agents, the SIS were not taking an active interest in a range of organisations like those opposing the issue of free trade, but also people involved with the Maori sovereignty movement."
History too shows New Zealanders have been spied on as a matter of course. Choudry points to Vietnam protests of the 1960s and 70s and indeed the Anti-Apartheid protests and leading to the clashes of 1981: "There are documents now that show there was active infiltration and surveillance of quite a wide range of organisations.
"And not just ones so called subversive, whatever that means, but also those where someone in the organisation was or has been outspoken on a particular issue."
Choudry says a cloak of paranoia has draped itself over those who support new-right free trade ideals. The Government has embraced the ideology, supports the objectives of APEC and considers anyone who believes otherwise as possessing decent.
"We saw it at the CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings] where decent was being criminalised, been marginalised, pushed into a corner. And now prior to APEC we have seen law changes, we've had one SIS law change and the Arms Amendment Act to allow overseas security to carry guns.
"All these changes are in preparation for the leader's summit in the weeks to come."
Police he says have been collecting intelligence on perceived risks for some months. Officers went to visit a Chilean Aucklander, who has been politically active for a long time. He is a refugee of the Pinochet regime: "The police went and hassled him, asked him what he is doing, what's the Latin American community up to regarding APEC. He was really upset, he found the police acted inappropriately. He took a case [under the anti-harassment act] against the police to try and keep them off his property.
"One can question whether it is okay for police to turn up to someone like that's house and to his mother's house who speaks no English, and to cause feelings of intimidation in them.
"And this is not gossip, it has been admitted by the SIS that they have been going around interviewing some of the immigrant communities; Serbs and the like in relation to security for APEC.
"I think we need to start asking some questions when they admit they are looking at particular groups in the community, or targeting people because they are Muslim or Maori and questioning to see what is really going on here."
Choudry questions the SIS's role in spying on kiwis: "The Cold-War is over guys."
But the spy business is now all about money, the economy, and a government that believes it has all the answers to the Nation's Interest: "We are seeing this idea where all the rhetoric about debate, discussion and contest of ideas; the Government thinks it has the answers. And those answers are: believe in the market. And anyone who disagrees with that is treated like a heretic."
The clean-up of Auckland, the rubbish bags been banned from city streets, the hiked arrests of street-sex-workers, the hassling of the homeless around Queen St, Karangahape Road, and the domain, the hassling of the street-kids: it is all part of a move to present this successful example of free market ideology, Choudry says.
"The picture that is given to the international media, the international community, is 'look here, here is this wonderful, get-up-and-go, successful, vibrant New Zealand economy. That because of its free trade and market driven economic reforms is showing the rest of the world what can be achieve. But it isn't true."
He points outside the Methodist Mission on Queen Street: "It is clear from here that that is not true. The gap between rich and poor is wide. The people who work in this place can tell you how it is. The massive increase in food parcel demands, on food banks, on shelters for the homeless.
"But now the APEC show is about to hit town, all this is wiped away with in the name of security. But really, how much is this cleansing about providing security for the leaders of governments, and how much is it about sparing the New Zealand Government the political embarrassment?"
What's consistent with APEC: "Every leader's summit that I have been to, rather been to the alternative APEC forums that test the business agenda, it has always been the critics, the people who disagree with the free market policies, the homeless people that end up getting hurt at APEC. Then the authorities come up with some story how they foiled some danger."
Auckland, Choudry says, is being turned into a "militarised zone". With $18 million being spent on security alone the authorities will not put up with so called "fringe" citizens causing embarrassment.
"But this free market jam-fest is going nowhere fast. Basically APEC has virtually been paralysed by public opposition. Here people are asking 'Hey what's going on here? What is this all about that we New Zealanders are spending all this money on.'
"Now just across the road from the Town Hall one can see the distance between the haves and the have nots. And this divide has certainly been worsened by the free market reforms that we have seen here in New Zealand for the past 15 years. And these reforms are part of APEC's message. The free trade and investment and trade liberalisation policies are what APEC promotes."
And around the region and indeed the world, Choudry says big business' influence on governments neglects mention of the responsibility those governments have to their citizens. Once these governments embark on the free trade course all protection measures for their own manufacturers are lost. The onflow from here, Choudry says, is a loss of worker's rights and the ability to share in economic growth. The people of developing countries end up being poverty stricken, the "trickle down" theory does not work. The deployment of wealth is funnelled into the coffers of big business, of multinational corporations and conglomerates. Governments are almost powerless to resist, particularly when gatherings with an agenda like APEC draw consensus on market reform. To break away means being shown up as a rebel government, a maverick country.
And here, in Auckland, New Zealand proposes to be a showcase of freemarket success. But Choudry says here if one chooses to look, can be seen evidence of free market failure.
That, he says, is what the Government is afraid of when the world comes to town.
"The sanitised clean up witnessed around Auckland is part in parcel of what previous governments around the region have done when hosting APEC meetings. The hounding of homeless people, their removal from Auckland Domain, it is all about creating this people-less city so New Zealand's free market reforms look successful to the world."
Earlier Articles in Scoop's Inside APEC Series:
East Timor Talks Must Be Held http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL9909/S00015.htm
Minto Warns Protest Groups Against Police Call of Co-operation http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL9908/S00133.htm
Police issue Letter to APEC Protest Leaders http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL9908/S00127.htm
APEC 1997 - Canada's Highest Threat http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL9908/S00118.htm
Activist Warns NZ Groups of Spy Infiltration