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Police Terror Boss Has Activist Harassment History

Police "Terror" Boss Has History Of Activist Harassment - Nicky Hager

By Joseph Barratt

Assistant Police Commissioner Jon White who commanded last week's so-called "terror raids" around the country arresting 17 political activists has a history of harassing and imprisoning protestors engaged in legitimate political protest according to noted author and investigator Nicky Hager.

Hager is author of the acclaimed "Hollow Men" and of a series of investigations on the US, UK, Australian, Canadian and NZ intelligence services' "Echelon" global surveillance programme. Last night he addressed a talk hosted by Auckland University Law School and NZ Council for Civil Liberties on the subject of New Zealand's security laws.

According to Hager the New Zealand police has - since 9/11- increasingly targeted activists for special attention. In the process the police was eroding New Zealander's freedoms of speech and political action

During his talk Hager unveiled research looking at increasing police powers and attempts at restricting people’s freedoms over the past six years.

In doing so he noted that Assistant Deputy Police Commissioner Jon White seems to be involved in many of the police actions against activists over the period.

It was also under White's supervision that last week's controversial “anti-terror” raids around the country were conducted.

Nicky Hager told the meeting that since the September 11 attacks it has become “open season” on civil liberties in New Zealand . Any new ideas or suggestions from our allies on how to better participate in the "war on terror" are very quickly introduced, he said.

“[Since 9/11] The SIS budget rose enormously and they received large numbers of new staff and new equipment.”

The SIS (Security Intelligence Service) and New Zealand’s other lesser-known intelligence service the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) have since stated in their annual reports that their main activity is "fighting terrorism".

At the same time the police established for the first time a dedicated anti-terrorism capability.

Nicky Hager said it was at this time that Jon White was made Assistant Commissioner of Anti-Terrorism and “institutionalised terrorism into the New Zealand Police Force”.

Hager says the police have had an intelligence unit which looks at terrorism since 2002.

They also receive funding for a full time special tactics group that is effectively a police commando force tasked to respond to terrorist activities.

However, said Hager, “there is a golden rule with [security] capabilities, when you have a build up of security capabilities and security forces they tend to find terrorists.”

This works, “the same as a build up of military equipment increases the likely-hood of armed conflict.”

Police security capabilities were built up in 2002 and by the end of the year they began to find threats.

Hager listed the jailing and accusing of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui as the Police's first “terrorist” action. This took five years and millions of dollars of resources expended before they finally backed down and decided to let him go.

Hager says it was in 2003 that police began to “beef up” the idea of terrorist threats to the New Zealand public.

Normal police procedure is not to publicise or make a big deal out of bomb threats so as not to give satisfaction to the person making threats. However, in 2003 police publicised the fact the American Embassy had received a threatening letter with a satchel of cyanide inside.

The police set up a 0800THREAT phone line and declared that 28th of March as the date they were expecting a “demonstration of capabilities,” says Hager. The Iraq war began on March 20th.

Hager said that when there are threat letters like this, the police have a duty to investigate, but in this case the response was dramatised when considering how many threat letters in New Zealand actually lead to anything, he says.

Jon White ran the O800 THREAT operation which coincided with protests outside the American Embassy in the lead up to the Iraq war.

A briefing on the protests sent to the Police Minister at the time was obtained under the Official Information Act.

Hager said this report was signed by the Assistant Commissioner of Anti-Terrorism Jon White, a person you would not expect to be monitoring peaceful protest activities.

“It was the same staff working on terrorism stuff and normal peace protests,” Hager said.

Hager then said, that from 2003 onwards, anyone involved in protests found the police much heavier to deal with.

This is despite the fact that, "in the police manual it emphasises protecting demonstrators freedom of speech and the right for peaceful protest.”

Soon the police began to routinely arrest activists in protests around the country for minor offences such as burning flags or writing with chalk on the ground.

While usually charges were not laid against the hundreds arrested, Hager said, “what started was a cycle of acceleration of distrust and confrontation between police and protest groups.”

In one case some animal rights activists staged a peaceful protest outside Tegel's offices. They scattered hay out the front of the shop to represent the chickens tiny cages, and then went inside to deliver a letter.

Police, including several detectives involved in the Zaoui case, did extensive interviews in the area and lined up people as potential witnesses in court.

They confiscated the car of the person that delivered the letter and raided his house. During the raid they took everything that was vaguely related to his protests, including phones, computers, books etc.

They even took his posters off his wall and a t-shirt that said “GE- You are what you eat.” They took all this and then kept it 6 months, said Hager.

The police arrested him and charged him under a recent bill that was introduced to prevent home invasions. This carried a maximum sentence of 10 years prison, they also charged him with intent to damage, with a potential 7 years in prison, and unlawfully entering a building an offence with a maximum prison sentence of 3 months.

Police refused bail and when he was finally released he was constrained in what he could do by strict bail conditions.

Hundreds of police hours were spent on this case to arrest a person who had been protesting peacefully.

According to the police report the total cost of cleaning up the hay outside the Tegel building came to around $111, says Hager.

In the end the arrested animal rights activists received no conviction, but he had no computer or phone for months and was unable to protest for that time.

It was examples like this that showed how the police was threatening to people's civil liberties. And, says Hager, something needs to be done to prevent the police from having the ability to arrest peaceful activists and then confiscate their personal computers and phones.

Nicky Hager's talk was organised by the Auckland Council For Civil Liberties, the University Of Auckland Faculty Of Law and the International Law Association (New Zealand Branch).


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