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Sludge Report #180: Terror Comes To Godzone

Sludge Report #180: Terror Comes To Godzone

By Alastair Thompson For The Sludge Report

In This Edition:
Terror Comes To Godzone
Just The Facts: What We Know So Far (As Opposed To What Has Been Speculated About)
Involvement Of Security Agencies Other Than The Police - Domestic & International
The Reported Facts: What Has Been Speculated Through The Media
The Legal Peril Of Suppression In Political Cases - Both Of Names & Of Evidence
Some Common Themes In Media Coverage (And Why They Are Wrong-Headed)
Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For The Media
Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Parliamentarians
Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Families & Friends Of The Accused
Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For The New Zealand Police
Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Political Activism And The Public

*** # # # ***

"But what the raids tell me is this: If you give police a power, they will use it. Especially if you give a law a sexy name like the Terrorism Suppression Act. The police will look inside and find it encompasses a huge range of nonconformist behaviour just asking to be suppressed. And the public will give it much more cred than if it was called the Disagreeing With The Government Act."

Raybon Kan - Sunday Star Times Oct. 21 2007

Terror Comes To Godzone

The long Labour weekend in New Zealand is traditionally a time for a spot of gardening and resting. However for at least 16 New Zealanders (locked up in prison) and their families and friends, this Labour weekend has been nothing of the sort.

Rather it has been overwhelmed by a palpable sense of fear. Fear of the organisation that is sworn to protect and serve the people of New Zealand. Fear of the New Zealand Police force.

According to police spokespeople inquiries in "Operation 8" - the multi-million dollar police operation cracking down on alleged "Terrorist Training Camps" held in the Urewera mountains - are continuing and more arrests are possible.

All around the country, activists, Maori and Pakeha, anti-war and pro-environment, are wondering whether they will be the next to get a loud knock on the door at dawn.

They have heard and read the stories from friends of house searches conducted by armed police which can take up to nine hours, during which people have been held captive having to ask permission to go to the toilet.

They also know of people who have been questioned by police for hours at a time - though not arrested - about comments recorded in police communication intercepts.

Some have been to court to watch (or more accurately tried to watch - but been prevented from doing do) their friends apply for bail, only to discover that their friends have been:
- denied bail (even though many have no criminal history, and on the face of things pose no threat to anyone.);
- had all evidence against them suppressed so that their friends do not even know what they are accused of doing;
- had their cases transferred to Auckland (where they will be unable to visit them in prison and where access to legal counsel will be difficult);

And meanwhile, though no official information is forthcoming, they get to read and hear bizarre allegations made in anonymously sourced stories in the media alleging among other things: "Napalm Blasts" (TV3 - Tuesday); "IRA Style Declarations Of War" (Dominion Post - Wednesday); and "threats on the lives of Helen Clark, George Bush and John Key" (Sunday Star Times - Sunday).

All the while in Parliament even their most stalwart supporters - people they usually work with opposing the war in Iraq, in favour of Maori land rights and against degradation of the environment - are sitting on the fence, waiting until all the facts are presented before taking a position.

And while on its face this wait-and-see approach seems a reasonable position for a politician to take, in practice it is one which may see friends left to rot in jail while the evidence against them remains secret for weeks and possibly months.

When Maori Party MP Pita Sharples was roundly criticised for the hyperbole of stating that race-relations had been put back 100 years by Monday's raids he was possibly overstating the case a little.

However the sentiment is not at all far from the truth. Especially among the communities who have been targeted by police in the past week.

The great un-told story of these raids is that they are not nearly as Maori Sovereignty focused as media reports to date have suggested. While Maori Sovereignty is something all the arrested have sympathies with, many of the activists are far more active in the environment and peace arenas than in the Tino Rangitiratanga movement.

After the decisions in the Auckland and Wellington District Courts on Friday to deny bail to all accused - and to suppress all evidence - veteran activist John Minto remarked to a Scoop reporter in Auckland that the events of the day marked an historical turning point for New Zealand.

And so perhaps it is not so great a leap to claim that the events of this week have put back activist-police relations 26 years - back to the heated days of the Springbok Tour of 1981.

*** # # # ***

"Our secret police and political establishment must be wetting themselves with excitement at finally capturing "real terrorists". The only problem is that New Zealand is such a small country, everybody knows everybody else. Do people really think Tame Iti is New Zealand's Osama Bin Laden? What a joke."

Matt McCarten - Herald On Sunday Oct 21, 2007

Just The Facts
What We Know So Far (As Opposed To What Has Been Speculated About)

From the police press conference held Monday we know that the police have been conducting a surveillance operation using warrants obtained under the Terrorist Suppression Act 2002 for at least 15 months centered around the Ureweras and a group of activists apparently led by flamboyant Maori activist Tame Iti.

The group has been conducting activist training activities - Wananga - at bush camps in the Urewera mountains. The camps are alleged by police to have included paramilitary training, weapons training, ambush exercises and detonation of napalm bombs.

Activists spoken to by Scoop claim the camps involved other more innocent activity like climbing walls, issuing press releases and staging public protest events.

A participant in the camps interviewed on Campbell Live agreed that there was military style training at the camps but claimed it was purely for self defence. The police claim that actual targets had been discussed by the participants.

We know also that Tame Iti advertised his intention to hold training camps at public meetings around New Year 2006-2007. Numerous people were invited to attend them, and according to the police "10s of people"did attend them.

So far only some of these have been arrested. We can assume therefore that there are other people remaining at large who attended the camps but who have not been arrested.

On Monday 15 October police say they arrested 17 people in: Wellington (4); Auckland(6); Palmerston North(1); Hamilton(1); and the Bay of Plenty(5). Numerous additional search warrants were executed around the North Island on Monday and in the several days following.

Also on Monday police sought to enter the house of members of anti-coal mining activists in Christchurch - the Save Happy Valley Coalition. In the absence of a search warrant they were turned away.

All of those arrested have been charged in relation to one or more of the training camps in the Ureweras. And all of them have so far been charged with relatively minor offences under the Arms Act - collective possession of a illegal weapon under section 45(1)b. The current charges attract a maximum penalty of up to four years in jail.

The police told the court in Auckland on Friday they are continuing to collect and collate evidence for the purpose of deciding whether the accused should face charges under the Terrorist Suppression Act (TSA).

A decision on whether to apply for leave to the Attorney General to lay charges under the TSA may be taken later this week.

If charges are laid under the TSA the penalties faced by the accused will increase to up to 10-14 years in jail or even life imprisonment.

The earliest of the training camps that we know about (from the charges) was held in November 2006.

This tells us that the police surveillance operation began substantially before the camps - or at least the camps of interest in the police operation. We also know thanks to the controversy of "Operation Leaf" - reported extensively by the Sunday Star Times and Scoop in 2004 - that the idea of running surveillance operations against Maori activists and associated groups has been around for even longer.

Since the November 2006 camp charges laid against the accused relate to camps held in January, April, June, August and September.

According to news reports another camp was held on the weekend of 13-14 October just before the arrests took place.

Police have said that they decided to act when they did because they believed there was a real threat posed by the activities of the accused.

However we also know that the Prime Minister and leader of the National Party were briefed in the week before the weekend of 13-14 October about the planned arrests and so it seems unlikely that any events on the weekend actually triggered the arrests.

Few of the activists attended all of the camps and some claim that they have not attended camps for several months.

We know from newspaper reports that there has been police video surveillance of the bush camps. Some people who have viewed this footage claim it is compelling evidence, others are not so sure it makes the case claimed by the crown.

We also know there have been police interceptions of audio and text based communications among a fairly large number of people. One of the activists, Jamie Lockett, has told the Herald on Sunday that the activists deliberately made outlandish claims to each other because they knew they were being surveilled and they wanted to set up the police.

In Auckland there are reports that activists who have not been arrested (yet) have been confronted by police holding wads of paper which purport to be telephone intercepts.

The cost of the surveillance operation is reported in the media to be $8 million.

The activists who have been arrested in Auckland and Wellington include a number of people who could be described as leaders in a variety of protest movements, ranging from anti-war groups to Palestinian support groups to Maori activism. The police have said that the people arrested are the ring-leaders among the people who attended the camps.

The people who have been arrested are people who in the past have been involved in coordinating protest activity and collectively they are connected to a very large portion of the NZ political activist community.

During the course of the execution of search warrants around the country several computers have been seized. These computers can be assumed to contain emails and communications from a large cross-section of the New Zealand public.

*** # # # ***

Involvement Of Security Agencies Other Than The Police - Domestic & International

According to National Party Leader John Key he was briefed about "Operation 8" by the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) as well as the police.

Yesterday - October 21st - the Sunday Star Times reported that when the operation intercepted communications containing threats against the life of United States President George Bush - should he visit New Zealand - these threats were passed on to the United States authorities. The paper reported:

" Intelligence staff in Wellington informed their American counterparts of the recorded threat against Bush and an intelligence source told the Star-Times the Americans agreed to leave New Zealand police to handle any investigation. Bush and his wife Laura were tipped to make a half-day visit to New Zealand at the end of the Apec summit in Sydney in September.

Security assessments were reportedly under way, but by late June Clark was saying a visit was unlikely.

American Embassy spokeswoman Janine Burns also declined to comment on whether any threat to Bush was a factor in his decision not to come to New Zealand. "We do not comment on security matters."

We can assume from this that the U.S. Secret Service - who are responsible for Presidential security - have also been informed of the New Zealand operation.

*** # # # ***

"On the global front, the so-called 'war on terror' has been horribly mishandled and used as a pretext for foreign invasion and illegal domestic surveillance. Here, our intelligence services have been discredited by the Zaoui fiasco, and the police damaged by internal corruption and incompetence. Trust is not something they can take for granted."

Finlay MacDonald - Sunday Star Times Oct. 21 2007

The Reported Facts
What Has Been Speculated Through The Media

On Wednesday the Dominion Post reported:

" A source close to The Dominion Post said the documents disclosed by police to legal parties for the accused showed police had been monitoring Iti's movements for 18 months, videoing and photographing his Urewera commando training camps and intercepting text messages sent by Iti to his co-conspirators.

Iti christened the group "Rama", the Maori word for enlightenment, and is alleged to have stated three months ago that he had stopped all his other activities in order to "make war on New Zealand".

The source described the movement as "comical" and "amateurish", with the group purchasing military uniforms from an Auckland army surplus store.

Numbering about 20, the participants were predominantly based in Auckland. Many were in their late teens, the youngest a 15-year-old girl.

During the training camps members were required to wear balaclavas in order to hide their identities from each other, and many of their methods were based on a "green book IRA manual". "

On the same day a report by Hank Schouten also in the Dominion Post reported that "Arsenal fits kidnap possibility".

The most lurid allegations however - as might be expected - emerged in the Sunday Newspapers.

According to the Sunday News, "Top Maori Were Terror Targets". The paper quoted an anonymous source saying:

"If this got off the ground, it would have been a multi-pronged campaign launched simultaneously against a number of individuals and targets. It would have been crippling,?" the source revealed.

… snip…

"Each different splinter group was training under the one umbrella and they were going to carry out attacks on targets and infrastructure," said our source.

"You would have had Tuhoe carrying out attacks on their selected targets, animal rights groups targeting their lot and the so-called `peace freaks' carrying out their acts.

"There were a number of different groups at the table. They were going to wreak havoc according to their own agendas. They were going after a broad spectrum and broad range of targets.

"There were prominent Maori who they'd call Uncle Toms including heads of government departments and those who'd used the system to get ahead."

The police source scoffed at claims the raids, by about 300 officers, were racially motivated.

"Half those arrested are Pakeha," he said.

Our source said activist groups' terror-attack plans were firmly in place.

"They were pretty well advanced in what they were planning to do," he said.

And finally - also quoting anonymous sources - the Sunday Star Times lead story yesterday reported, BUSH, CLARK & KEY identified as possible 'targets':

"As protesters in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin yesterday rallied against the detention of suspects arrested in connection with alleged weapons training camps, the Sunday Star-Times has learned police alerted the US after recording threats against President George Bush who was tipped to visit here last month."

*** # # # ***

The Legal Peril Of Suppression In Political Cases - Both Of Names & Of Evidence

All of which begs the question whose interests are served by continued suppression of evidence, submissions and decisions and reasons for decisions by judges in the District and High Courts?

Since the story broke we have been told repeatedly by the great and the wise that it is responsible to suspend judgment about the police case until it has been properly presented.

However there is an obvious problem with this approach.

On the one hand the actual evidence - which has been seen by lawyers, the accused and a small number of media in court (and presumably been briefed to some politicians) - is all suppressed.

On the other hand numerous leakers have been feeding anonymous speculation about the operation - mainly from a police perspective - to the newspapers.

This has led to a situation where talk-back radio is being driven into the twilight zone by understandably energetic imaginations of newspaper readers.

Newspaper and talk-back driven speculation is resulting in anonymous demonisation of the accused. And this problem is further compounded by the name suppression attached to most of the accused who, without names, can be easily accused of all manner of dreadful schemes.

But when name suppression is eventually lifted the public will see these would have to be among the most unlikely bunch of assassins and terror plotters imaginable.

All this begs the question when is the suppression of evidence and information around this case likely to end?

And the answer to that question is no time soon.

For starters there are legal questions around the admissibility of evidence collected under Terrorist Suppression Act warrants for criminal proceedings. Until a decision is made on whether charges are laid under the Terrorist Suppression Act suppression of evidence is therefore likely to be maintained.

Secondly if Terrorist Suppression Act charges are laid then it seems likely that the novel jurisdiction of that Act - never used before in NZ - will lead to numerous legal procedural arguments about both admissibility and disclosure similar in nature to the protracted legal positioning that surrounded the Ahmed Zaoui case.

If TSA cases do eventually go to court then evidence will hopefully be presented in open court, however some legal observers think that the path to trial could take months and possibly years.

*** # # # ***

"I have a cure for homegrown terrorism. Love. Most of these people are marginalised because no one loves them. If they lived fulfilling emotional lives then any desire to anarchy would be atomised by the contrary motivation. Nothing satiates silliness quite like sex."

Michael Laws - Sunday Star Times Oct. 21 2007

Some Common Themes In Media Coverage (And Why They Are Wrong-Headed)

…if the Government intervenes in police operational matters then we really will have a Police State…

This is a suggestion that has been made repeatedly by the Minister of Police Annette King and Attorney General Michael Cullen when asked about this affair this week.

It is however a very simplistic and somewhat inaccurate description of the relationship between the police and the executive branch of the Government.

Firstly in relation to the police it is worth observing that the office of the Minister of Police has an oversight relationship over Police operations. While it does not and should not interfere with operational matters it can and does advise the police on policy.

In this case issues such as whether warrants under the Terrorist Suppression Act should have been used against domestic activists is a legitimate policy issue for the Minister to concern herself with.

This is especially the case since when the Act was passed in 2002 this very fear was articulated and the government gave assurances that it would not be used in this way.

In addition the Minister of Police can and does accept complaints against the police. This is an additional complaint mechanism to that provided by the Police Complaints Authority, and is one which the activist community should consider using.

Complaints made to the Minister of Police about police conduct are - like all Ministerial complaints - passed from the Minister to the police to be answered. Should the Minister receive a large number of complaints then she might legitimately request an explanation from the Police as to what it is up to and why there are so many complaints.

Secondly the legal position of the Attorney General Michael Cullen in this legal process is even more involved.

Under the Terrorist Suppression Act Dr Cullen's leave will be required for charges to be laid against the accused.

In making his decision Dr Cullen will be advised by the Solicitor General David Collins. However such ministerial discretions are not expected to be exercised in an automaton like fashion.

Dr Cullen is required to make an informed decision and he is not bound to follow the advice of his Solicitor General although it ought to be very persuasive. He is entitled to ask further questions about the case and to request additional evidence - if he wishes to do so - before he decides to grant or refuse leave for the charges to be laid.

Importantly he does not as a matter of law have to follow the advice of the Solicitor General in this matter.

... the Police must have had a good case otherwise why would they risk so much by proceeding in the way they have…

This argument is one that is made commonly on talk-back radio as well as by political and media commentators and it is a superficially attractive argument.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad is said to be a liberal-minded chap who must have been acting on a pile of very compelling evidence to have allowed this operation to proceed.

On its face this argument would hold a great deal more water if it were not for what this writer knows about who has been arrested and the extent of the case against these people that has been presented to court (and suppressed) so far.

In the circumstances this argument does beg numerous questions on what the Police are seeking to achieve in taking the action they are in the midst of.

*** # # # ***

"Silly myths about hardline Maori preparing revolution in hangi pits have come and gone over the years. All hunting fraternities have a few hare-brained but harmless military fantasists. The two may come together here."

Dr Rawiri Taonui - Sunday Star Times Oct. 21 2007

Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For The Media

To date media coverage of this issue has been a somewhat schizophrenic affair. On the one hand the allure of the exciting headline "Bush Targeted" "IRA Style War Declared" is too great and too good for ratings to be allowed to pass (all credit to the Herald on Sunday for not playing this game yesterday).

On the other hand most of the media are aware of the relatively harmless nature of most of the accused in this case and are also justifiably concerned about the impact of it on both race relations and civil and political rights.

As time passes the initial excitement of the case is likely to diminish a little. When that happens it would be extremely positive for democracy, the rule of law, and talk-back radio sanity if a more tempered approach could be taken to headline based stories and anonymous sources.

*** # # # ***

"Clark and her co-protestors like Phil Goff might care to pay a trip down memory lane as they consider where to go after this truly frightening week."

Fran O'Sullivan - NZ Herald Saturday Oct. 20 2007

Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Parliamentarians

Politicians of all stripes need to realise that they cannot sit on the fence and wait for the police case to be revealed in court before they are able to usefully contribute to the debate around this case.

As indicated above, revelation of the police case against these alleged terrorists is unlikely to happen in court for weeks, possibly months and maybe years. In the meantime the political damage being done to race-relations, freedom of expression, and the police's relationship with the political activist community is acute and immediate.

Should the accused remain in custody - and it seems likely that some of them will if Terrorist Suppression Act harges are forthcoming - then this case will become even more of a cause celebre than the case of Ahmed Zaoui has been.

In an election year an ongoing terrorist case with these characteristics would be likely to become a very hot election issue. At first blush the beneficiaries of the case would be the Maori Party and the Green Party.

All of which puts politicians in a difficult position.

An alternative to simply breathing through the nose and waiting would be to survey the evidence that is in the public domain already, talk to family members and lawyers of the accused (and those caught up in the police raids) and then attempt to come to a position on the wisdom of allowing this case to continue.

There is a brief window of opportunity in the next few weeks - before charges under the TSA are decided upon - during which political influence over the course of this case will be possible.

After charges are laid under the Terrorist Suppression Act the course of events will likely be dictated by the courts alone, and as everybody has learned through the case of Ahmed Zaoui, that can be a very frustrating process.

*** # # # ***

Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Families & Friends Of The Accused

The situation is presently very grave. While it seems possible that for some bail will be forthcoming over the coming month, for others it may not be. From a policing perspective it will be difficult to reconcile the granting of bail to people who are considered so dangerous that they warrant potential 14 year or life sentences for their actions.

Families and friends of the accused will have observed the situation is somewhat surreal at present, especially when it comes to the nature of the allegations being made in some of the media.

If evidence remains suppressed - as it most probably will - then in the absence of an organised effort to put the other side of the story - to tell people who the accused really are - public ignorance about the real nature of the evidence and the accused is likely to compound.

In this environment the name suppression of your friend, sibling or child is possibly the biggest obstacle to securing their release.

Over the past few days there have been numerous profiles and human interest stories about Tame Iti. In the Sunday News his wife is quoted as calling him a cuddly bear and not a terrorist.

If name suppression is lifted then the character of your friend, sibling or child will be able to be examined in the media. It is in their interests for this to happen and it will empower the sympathetic voices in Parliament to speak in their defence where it counts.

*** # # # ***

Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For The New Zealand Police

Notwithstanding Police Association President Greg O'Connor's widely reported remarks about this case, the public perception of the NZ Police force is likely to by hugely damaged by this case in a manner not seen since the days of the Red Squad circa 1981.

And on that point it is worth noting that Ross Meurant who led the Red Squad back in 1981 was extremely quick to warn about the excesses evident in the current operation.

Sooner or later it will become apparent to the public that the people arrested in these raids are not remotely capable or indeed inclined to shoot George Bush, Helen Clark or "Uncle Tom".

Meanwhile New Zealander's sense of fair play and privacy is also likely to be grossly offended by the widespread use of telephone and text interception warrants against political activists.

*** # # # ***

"I want answers and I want them bloody soon because all citizens' rights are now under threat."

Pam Corkery - - Sunday News Oct. 21 2007

Implications Of The Terrorist Camp Case For Political Activism And The Public

Political activists spoken to by Scoop over the past week are feeling besieged, afraid and more than a little disoriented. Meanwhile with several of their leadership in jail it is proving hard to respond in an effective fashion.

In all too many ways the events of the past week have illustrated how necessary it is for a society to have groups of people actively expressing skepticism about misuse of power by the security structures of the state.

It appears that concerns raised about misuse of the Terrorist Suppression Act when it was passed in the heat of post 9/11 fear and loathing were well founded.

In coming weeks it is vital that activists learn to work effectively with both the media and with the sympathetic voices in Parliament.

In doing so there is strength in transparency. Whereas secrecy and suppression engender fear, an approach of openness with the public may result in sympathy and understanding.

There is a window of opportunity in the next two or three weeks which needs to be taken advantage of.

Before the Attorney General decides whether to grant leave for charges under the Terrorist Suppression Act the public need to be assisted to understand as best they can what actually happened in the Ureweras over the past year.

At this point it is hard to imagine how the truth could be any more damaging that what has to date made it into the newspapers.


Anti©opyright 2007

**** ENDS ****

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