STATE OF IT: Police SIG Unit Wasted On Tag-Busting
By Scoop Co-Editor Selwyn Manning
Scoop Investigation: Mystery surrounds a case involving the Police's Special Investigation Groups (SIG), a peace advocate, and an Auckland-based United States owned defence contractor company.
Last weekend, the Sunday Star Times newspaper revealed how the SIG was caught out paying a civilian, Rob Gilchrist, $600 per week to spy on his partner, her friends and associates involved with political protest groups.
Sunday Star Times investigative reporters Nicky Hager and Anthony Hubbard revealed a web of deception where police informant Rob Gilchrist had used his partner, zoning in on her interests in animal rights and peace activism to probe the plans of political and peace groups and the lives and loves of members.
Subsequent investigations this week by unions and other media (including Scoop) have revealed how the Police special investigations groups have probed groups like Greenpeace, Save Animals From Exploitation, Peace Movement Aotearoa and others. Even the Green Party showed up on SIG's radar.
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A senior Police officer and a Global Peace and Justice Auckland marshal clash during a protest on Auckland City's Queen Street.
Through this week, subsequent investigations by union staff have revealed that several unions have been targeted. Unite Union general secretary Matt McCarten released a series of emails sent by Gilchrist to his SIG handler alerting the Police to Unite Union plans focusing on its move to increase youth pay rates and workers' rights.
- Scoop Video - Video: Unite Gives Starbucks a Taste Of Union )
McCarten writes: “These emails give lie to the police claim that only potential criminal actions by individuals were being targeted. A wide range of legal actions by unions, political parties and peace and justice groups came under the evil eye of the police."
And after a Scoop investigation spanning a month we can now reveal that the SIG had also conducted a thorough and expansive investigation into Harmeet Sooden, the peace advocate that was held hostage in Iraq by an armed group for approximately four months from November 2005.
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Harmeet Sooden during filming of a Scoop TV documentary earlier this year.
Back in November 2005, Harmeet Sooden had gone to Baghdad with Christian Peacemaker Teams. While there he, Tom Fox, 54, of Virginia, U.S.; Norman Kember, 74, of Pinner, London; James Loney, 41, of Ontario Canada were taken hostage and held by armed kidnappers. A group called the Swords of the Righteousness Brigades issued videos of the captives and threatened that they would be murdered unless various demands were met. Tom Fox, was found dead on March 9 in Baghdad. Sooden, Loney, and Kember survived the situation gaining their freedom on March 23 2006.
- Scoop TV Doco - Iraq – In Search Of Hope
- Scoop Video - Kidnappers Release Second Video Of Hostages )
Special Investigation Groups ' costly investigation was launched after Harmeet Sooden was identified as a suspect in a simple tagging complaint to Police made by his previous employer OSCMAR – a claim strongly denied by Sooden.
(Image, Harmeet Sooden at a vigil near the Auckland Town Hall campaigning for Palestinian human rights.)
But Police SIG files obtained by Scoop leave more questions than answers.
Questions like: why was a highly positioned, and highly resourced, Police unit interested in a mere case of tagging? Why, on receipt by Police, did OSCMAR's simple tagging complaint get bumped up the tiers of importance to finally be under SIG's microscope?
Did the SIG consider the opportunity too valuable to pass up? Clearly there was evidence of estrangement between the company and some of its employees.
But also, OSCMAR is a company with secrets, its deals involve contracts with several armed forces including those of the United States of America.
OSCMAR International is now called Cubic Defence New Zealand Limited.
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OSCMAR now named Cubic Defence New Zealand Limited.
The company's website states: "Cubic Defence New Zealand Limited is a leading supplier of training systems for defence forces around the world. The CDNZ simulators allow the users to train troops in the field providing a high level of realism, enforcing correct procedures and yielding outcomes that would be expected in actual operation."
A search of the companies office shows five directors, four with addresses in the USA and one in Singapore. The sole shareholder is a company called Cubic Holdings Limited. This company has two directors, both with addresses in the USA. Its sole shareholder is Cubic Corporation Inc which has a registered address in San Diego, California.
Back in 2003 Harmeet Sooden applied to work with OSCMAR as a computer engineer. His application was successful and on November 19, 2003 he signed a probationary employment contract and began working as a systems test engineer. On March 11, 2004 he re-signed a probationary contract and continued his work with OSCMAR.
The job title was simply stated as: Software Development Engineer with OSCMAR describing the "overall objective" of Sooden's tasks as: "To provide OSCMAR customers with products that are fit for purpose and competitive in price and functionality. This task will be primarily filled through the design and implementation of embedded software solutions for products and systems."
Sooden tendered his resignation on February 1 2005, giving three week's notice.
On February 23 2005, Sooden's employment with OSCMAR concluded. As was standard practice, he was asked to fill out an exit questionnaire.
All this is in the Police special investigation unit's files.
The exit document asks: Why did you apply for a job at OSCMAR? Sooden answered: "To survive."
The above answer and those that follow showed Sooden did not take the questionnaire seriously and perhaps a degree of disenchantment.
On August 21 2005 the New Zealand Police filed a report, citing a complaint by OSCMAR International.
That file states an act of wilful damage had taken place at 25-34 Shaddock St Mt Eden. The detective sergeant in charge wrote that the building had been spray-painted with "several slogans" and that the damage was found by the general manager Ernie Armijo. The SIG file shows the complaint was initially reported to the Auckland Central Police and "from there the matter was fowarded to the SIG," the SIG officer wrote.
Much of the SIG file is censored. But what is visible, details how OSCMAR is a company that is "involved in the defence industry; it is American owned and exports around the world". It further stated that Sooden knew, on taking up employment with OSCMAR in September 2003, that he was working in a defence industry company.
The SIG files make it clear that Harmeet Sooden was a suspect in a petty crime. But for reasons known only to the Police special investigations group, it directed considerable resource to investigating what began as a simple tagging case.
The Police SIG team searched the internet, noting Sooden's leisure and sport activities, political writings, protest and peace groups he may have been affiliated with.
The SIG files show copies of Harmeet Sooden's Canadian passport, border customs stamps, New Zealand Immigration residents visa, his New Zealand driver's licence, and recent photographs of him. Oddly, in one segment the file refers to him as a female. The Police have since corrected the error, at Harmeet Sooden's request.
Copies were taken of Sunday Star Times, New Zealand Herald, and NZPA articles citing how Harmeet Sooden had been taken hostage in Iraq in late 2005 and how he was subsequently released from captivity approximately three month's later in 2006. Police took copies of a poem Sooden wrote and published on Znet, also a copy of a letter dated April 19 2005 from Sooden to Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, including this quote from the letter:
"Kashmir Solidarity Day is more than a commemoration of those who have sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of justice. It is a manifestation of the hopes of these martyrs. It is part of the struggle so that there will be future generations of the Kashmiri people."
Perhaps intrigued by Sooden's political sympathies SIG further investigated, sourcing a newsletter from the Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, and filing a list of 18 groups that had expressed "letters of solidarity" – including Amnesty International (Netherlands) and significantly for SIG, Peace Movement Aotearoa.
Focussed, SIG began a Google search of Peace Movement Aotearoa. The returns led SIG investigators to a portal site called "The Internet Peace Gateway" and included a network of groups like Pax Christi, the Peace Foundation, Anti Bases Campaign and other like organisations.
The file seems to peter out and concludes with a page from Sooden's curriculum vitae showing his work and employment history including past employer web addresses.
The cover-sheet to Sooden's file is littered by blacked out text, blocked out by Police censors. One gathers that it makes reference to events surrounding Harmeet Sooden's capture in Iraq, as it continues with a description of how the hostage incident "made world headlines and obviously the New Zealand media to [SIC] great interest in it as well..."
Finally, after what seemed a lengthy investigation, the SIG officer's recommendation closes with a request that "this matter be filed and not [SIC] further action be taken. There are no exhibits being held in connection with this matter and an Intel Report was submitted when this matter first came to light..."
Harmeet Sooden told Scoop he resigned from Oscmar International for ethical reasons.
It appears from the Police SIG files, there was no evidence connecting Sooden to the tagging. However, the files state him as a suspect.
In discussions with Scoop it is clear Sooden has been affected from realising he's been under investigation, his political interests, his pacifist leanings, his life explored in search of more sinister motivations.
He said: "Since my release from captivity in Iraq in 2006, I have been trying to find out more about our kidnapping from the Government via Official Information Act requests. A recent response from the Police included a file from the Special Investigation Groups (SIG)."
This revelation upset Sooden.
He told Scoop: "While the report recommends that no further action be taken at the time of writing, it is unclear whether the investigation itself has been closed or [why] my personal information has been retained for future use.
"The intelligence file includes my employment data, my political views (e.g. on Kashmir), information on Peace Movement Aotearoa, media reports on my kidnapping including information about my family, a poem that I wrote etc."
Harmeet Sooden sees himself as a victim of a covert investigation sparked by an act of vandalism that he had no role in.
Much of the information on file has been censored: "I currently have a complaint before the Privacy Commissioner's Office. In its provisional view, the complaints body believes the Police are justified in withholding the information in question in order to safeguard third party personal information and police operational procedures."
In his view the shroud of secrecy surrounding his file is unjustified and given the circumstances feels it is an erosion on his right to liberty.
Sooden cites the Police 2006 Statement of Intent, as quoted in the Sunday Star Times, where it claims: "the SIG is 'dedicated to the investigation of national security-related crime including terrorism'.
"I submit that there is no evidence that the 'tagging' incident is in any way related to a breach of national security; that I am being considered a suspect for a crime that I did not commit; that I am not in any way a threat to the national security of New Zealand. "At this stage, I can only conclude that I have been targeted by the SIG primarily on the basis of my political beliefs. More importantly, my case appears to be but one of many in which individuals and groups are being targeted by the Special Investigation Groups on spurious grounds."
The Police responded to Sooden's inquiries: "At the time of offence, due to the unrest overseas, any matters of this nature were taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by Police."
Sooden told Scoop the whole case has had an impact on him. He's reminded of how the Government of Israel considered him a 'threat to the security of Israel' – a term used when he was held in custody early this year and later deported from Israel to Ethiopia. (See, Sooden Files Complaint Against Israel Deportation)
Now, on discovering the SIG had investigated him and his lifestyle, Sooden feels "insecure and unsafe in my own home, in my own country, the implications on my emotional well-being being obvious."
That impact on Harmeet Sooden has similarities to those felt by the woman at the centre of the Sunday Star Times revelations.
On Sunday December 14 2008 Rochelle Rees, ex-partner of Rob Gilchrist - the spy – issued the first of a series of statements:
"I was devastated to learn that the person I was in a relationship with, and who I thought I could trust, was passing on personal information about me, my friends, and groups I had worked with to the counter-terrorism police.
"I have been involved in animal rights campaigning for the past 8 years - since I was 13, and that is how I met Rob Gilchrist," Rochelle Rees said.
Police tactics at this protest for peace on Auckland City's Queen St appeared well organized and informed.
"I am disgusted at the police, both for their extreme level of intrusion into my life, and for the way that they have used Rob and had him live a lie for the past 10 years," Rochelle Rees said.
The next day Rochelle Rees became concerned that Police Commissioner, Howard Broad, had publicly stated that the Police special investigations group targeting only individuals and not groups or organizations.
Shortly after, Prime Minister John Key said his concerns would be elevated should the Police have been targeting groups like Greenpeace rather than individuals who may be members of these groups. John Key and his Police Minister Judith Collins were largely reassured by Broad's comments.
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Protesters at this Global Peace and Justice Auckland march were largely unprepared for extreme force used by Police that day. Experienced protest leaders John Minto and Mike Treen were absent from that protest. Police tactics divided the march and moved in arresting specific individuals in the crowd.
However, information emerging this week clearly shows the Police were targeting groups, among these peace groups and networks, unions, even the Green Party. Emails released by Rochelle Rees shows the SIG was even concerned about the Grey Lynn Festival!
Rochelle Rees writes: "The intelligence documents that I discovered on Rob Gilchrist's computer clearly prove the Police Commissioner's statement to be untrue. Included in Gilchrist's emails were questionnaires sent from the New Zealand Police, with the police identification number PG4369," Rochelle Rees wrote.
The following are excerpts from those documents:
Climate Change Groups
What is happening with climate change groups in Auckland.
Who is involved?
What actions might they be considering for the future
What specific plans are in place for Climate Day of action 07/07
Q - What is the structure of AAA and who fills the key positions?
Q – How does AAA comminicate and promote demonstrations?
Q – Do they use / have access to chat rooms etc?
Q – Update Addresses / Ph (cell and landline) Numbers / Vehicle details of AAA members.
Q – What is the proposed activist activity for the rest of the year?
Q – Who is responsible for the stickers on Tegel products?
Q – Where is the printer / scanner / etc for the above stickers?
Q – What other activity is proposed against Tegel or any other chicken suppliers?
Q – Are there any anti war / anti US demonstrations planned to coincide with the Turkish Prime Ministers visit? (Early December)
Q – Information regarding the 26th November Grey Lynn festival.
Q – Are there any other plans for that weekend? Anti War/Anti American Groups
What is happening within these organisations.
What sort of numbers are now involved
What activities or targeting do they have planned for the future
Who from New Zealand will be looking at travelling to Melbourne for ANZCCART in early July.
Where will they be staying and and mode of travel in Australia
Who is their contact person in Australia
US independence Day 04 July
What protest activity is being organised around this event in Auckland and Wellington
Who will be involved
APEC Sydney September 2007
Who will be looking at going to this event?
Realistically who is likely to end up actually traveling?
Where will they be staying?
Who will their contact person be in Australia?
What will their mode of travel be?
Pre/Post APEC in NZ
Is there any intell that suggests people are aware of the possibility of visits to NZ by VIP's either side of APEC
Are there any plans afoot for protest activity for any such VIP's they think may be visiting.
On Tuesday December 15 2008 Rochelle Rees issued a concluding statement.
"Upon discovering the emails leading to Rob Gilchrist's spying, I didn't have quite enough of the information required to prove how all the bits and pieces fell into place. I made a decision that my priority had to be to get everything I could, prove everything I could, and do everything I could to prevent the police doing what they did again.
"I flew down to Christchurch and installed spyware on Rob Gilchrist's phone to monitor his phone calls and text messages, and a script on his computer to continue sending his emails to me. I also downloaded the past 12 months of his phone bills from telecom, and managed to decrypt documents in his emails that had been encrypted.
"In regards to comments made today by Police Commissioner Howard Broad, I would like him to have a think about what I might know before he makes comments that are blatantly untrue.
"The police reaction to me as a protester has been completely and utterly over the top. They have intruded into my life more than I could ever have expected was possible. It felt good to feel like I was giving some of it back. This whole thing is like something out of George Orwell's 1984, not something that happens in the real world," Rochelle Rees said.
Scoop conclusion: There appears to have been considerable public expense applied to an investigation with an outcome that, on the surface, was never going to justify the expense. The public, the taxpayer, deserves to know why.
Why did the Police elevate this tagging complaint to the special investigation group?
Was it an opportunity too good to miss? Was this investigation actually a Trojan horse of sorts, designed to infiltrate political groups like Peace Movement Aotearoa, aligned with Harmeet Sooden, a person known for his pacifist views and passive protest?
Or was SIG more interested in having a peek inside a US-owned company that develops high-tech training and simulation equipment for the armed forces of several countries.
Perhaps it was both.