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Paul Buchanan: A Corporate Makeover for the NZSIS

A Word From Afar: A Corporate Makeover for the NZSIS

A Word From Afar is a regular column that analyses political/strategic/international interest.

By Paul G. Buchanan

In February the NZSIS issued its annual report for the year ending 30 June 2009. As such it represents the latest statement of the corporate reform project at work within the NZSIS since the appointment of Dr. Warren Tucker as Director of Security and Intelligence in 2006. At the time of his appointment Dr. Tucker signaled a change in the NZSIS corporate culture, which had seen a series of embarrassing episodes culminating in the false accusation by his predecessor that asylum-seeker Ahmed Zaoui represented a clear threat to New Zealand’s security.

Shortly after his appointment Dr. Tucker ordered that the Security Risk Certificate issued against Mr. Zaoui be withdrawn, and promised to institute a new regime of transparency and accountability in the way the NZSIS discharged its duties. This included releasing historical files on individuals and organizations (such as the Sutch files and those on MP Keith Locke and human rights activist Marie Ledbetter), and a promise to improve the way in which the NZSIS handled Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests. As a former director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Dr. Tucker has a career in the intelligence field, in a departure from his NZSIS predecessors. There was, consequently, reason to hope that he would deliver on his promises.

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The latest annual report represents the latest expression of the organizational reform process underway within the NZSIS, but in this case it may be a turn towards corporate public relations spin and managerialism rather ongoing commitment to the promises made early in Dr. Tucker’s tenure. In order to understand why, we must dissect the report.

The first notable aspect of the report is its jargon. Written as if by a PR firm, the report is heavy on slogans, catchphrases and managerial doublespeak. In the introductory section on the role of the NZSIS, it is claimed that the agency is “a dynamic professional intelligence service focused on the requirements of our customers and stakeholders in government…” (p.7). We then hear repeatedly about “inputs,” “outputs,” “stakeholders,” “output class summaries,” “primary” and “intermediate” outcomes (the latter ensuring the former, which are depicted in a simple chart on page 10 titled “Linking Outputs to Primary Outcomes” in a section labeled “NZSIS Outcomes Framework”). When it comes to protecting critical infrastructure, we are told that the NZSIS delivers “ an integrated suite of information” to government agencies (p.12) (presumably with lounge furniture and a wet bar). Taxpayers will be glad to know that the NZSIS “used the Balanced Scorecard for management information and tracking of (its) performance” (p.8).

The largest sections of the report are dedicated to corporate governance, finances, and legal matters and auditing. We are told that there are 219 FTEs in service as of June 30 2009, and that they spent 2481 training days (11 per person) on 65 training courses. 1056 days of sick leave were taken and there were 8 days lost due to work-related injuries (wrist sprains, presumably). Women comprise 45 percent of the workforce but less than 30 percent of senior management, something that is to be remedied via 50-50 gender recruitment using the Hay gender-neutral recruiting system. With a budget of NZ$37 million, the NZSIS handled 378 OIA and Privacy Act requests (the report does not state what were the responses to these requests, but does state that the Inspector General of the NZSIS handled several complaints and found them all without merit), and 20 written and one oral question from Parliament (the latter on NZSIS spying on sitting MPs). 24 domestic warrants were issued or continued during the year under review (14/10) with an average duration in force of 158 days. Foreign interception warrants were authorized but their number and duration in force is not specified (p.22). On September 16 2009 John Key, as Minister of Intelligence and Security, signed off on all of these warrants.

The NZSIS senior leadership team is made up of the Director; Deputy Director, Corporate (DDC); Deputy Director, Intelligence (DDI); Deputy Director Relationships, Outputs and Communications ( DDROC); Deputy Director, Operational Enablement (DDOE) and Deputy Director, Protective and Operational Security (DDPOS). That means that only two of the leadership team (and presumably the branches they are responsible for) are actually involved in intelligence gathering/analysis and security vetting. In fact, the Deputy Director for Corporate Spin (DDROC) has equal status to the Deputy Director for Intelligence. That says much about Dr. Tucker’s reorganization.

Details of actual intelligence and security operations occupy less than 5 pages of the 29-page report and are couched in general terms. The Primary Outcomes listed by the NZSIS are worth noting. The first is pretty obvious: “A Safer New Zealand.” The second, however, is a bit vague and ambitious: a “Thriving and Confident New Zealand” (p.11). That raises some questions. How exactly is the latter objective achieved by the NZSIS? Does the New Zealand public know that the NZSIS is in part responsible for their being “thriving and confident?” Can we demand a refund if we are not? The larger point being that someone in the editing process should have flagged this second objective for the nonsense that it is. A dynamic professional intelligence agency with any sense of self-worth would never have committed such a statement to print.

In terms of Security Intelligence Priorities, the list is thus: those of critical importance to the NZSIS mission; those of high importance to the mission; and those of significant value to the mission. That is the extent of the discussion about priorities. What appear a few pages later are the areas of focus, which are counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and counter-proliferation. No details of operations relevant to these areas of focus are provided in the report. The “Output Summary” (p.24) lists these as threat management, protective security and foreign intelligence. No details of these are provided. Instead, what is provided is a wheel chart on the “Intelligence Lifecycle” that looks like this:
Identifying ThreatsSetting ObjectivesCollecting InformationInvestigating and Analysing InformationAssessing and Reporting InformationReassessing ThreatsIdentifying Threatsetc.

Beyond the simplistic and linear nature of this representation of the intelligence lifecycle, or of the lack of causal mechanisms that would trigger it or the information security needed to protect it, this wheel of intelligence lifecycle (such as it is) basically reproduces, with an intelligence-oriented twist, standard policy-formulation cycles common to most public agencies. It might be good to use in a training session for those uninformed abut intelligence matters, but it sheds little on the real process of intelligence gathering and analysis. It is, in a phrase, all show and no substance in pictorial format.

Even so, there are some very interesting items embedded in the report. Early on (p.5) there is the assertion that the NZSIS “undertook successful counter- terrorism operations which delivered important information about activities that posed a security threat,” but no details are given as to the who/what/when. Further in the text two other items particularly stand out. On page 14 the following statement appears in the section titled “Intelligence and Advice to the Government, Counter Espionage: “We give advice to internal and external stakeholders and disrupt, where appropriate and usually via third party, espionage activities prejudicial to New Zealand’s national security.”

Although the internal stakeholders are obvious (they are listed elsewhere in the report as being the GCSB, MoD, MFAT, NZDF, EAB (now reorganized as the National Assessments Bureau or NAB) Police and the Directorate of Defense Intelligence and Security), and the reference to external stakeholders presumably means intelligence partners such as the Australia, Canada, the US, UK and possibly France), the admitted use of third parties for counter-espionage operations is noteworthy. Again, these likely include the Police, Customs, Immigration and the GCSB, given their operational capabilities. But the question rises as to whether such third parties include foreign government agencies or private enterprise (such as private security firms, either foreign or domestic). In the case of the former, that would appear to be a willing surrender of sovereignty as well as admission of the NZSIS lack of operational capacity; in the case of the latter it blurs the line between proper governmental security activity and the profit-driven interests of private agents. If these private agents are foreign (say, such as Xe, the re-branded private military corporation formerly known as Blackwater, which has its own intelligence branch), this opens the door to NZSIS involvement with actors whose operations might well contravene New Zealand law and diplomatic positions. Moreover, in either case, it begs the question as to whether parliament, or at least the parliamentary select committee on Security and Intelligence (all five members of it) have been informed about the nature of those involved in the outsourced counter-espionage operations.

On page 19 there is an equally notable remark. In the section titled “Legal Matters,” mention is made of the coming into force of the new Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Amendment Act 2008 (thereby making it a Labour government creation). The Act “…also creates a new system for requesting the creation of a new identity for the purpose of protecting a person who is, has been, or will be an officer or employee of the NZSIS; or who is approved by the Director of Security to undertake activities for the NZSIS.” For the specific section of the Act in which these clauses appear see:

The first part of that clause is relatively clear cut, as it refers to NZSIS human intelligence agents who operate in the guise of official or non-official cover agents while discharging their duties (most likely abroad, but given NZSIS domestic espionage activities, perhaps at home as well). Official cover agents uses a diplomatic passport or government jobs as covers for their activities; a non-official cover uses a non-diplomatic or governmental identity for the same purpose, which exposes him/her to much greater risk in the event of discovery.

It is the second part of the clause that is most interesting. On the recommendation of the NZSIS Director, the language of the 2008 Act grants individuals who are not employees of the NZSIS a fake New Zealand identity in order to do, or for work done, on behalf of the agency (i.e., as so-called “contract assets”). The language of the Act does not exclude foreign nationals, which means that foreign agents using New Zealand passports under the assumed identity could be operating at home and/or abroad. This places such activity very close to the misuse of passports for which intelligence agencies such as Mossad are notorious, and which led to the diplomatic row between Israel and New Zealand resultant from the arrest of two Israeli contract assets in 2004 as they attempted to fraudulently procure New Zealand passports under the name of New Zealand nationals. Under the new language of the 2008 Act, all they would have to do now is ask the Director of Security for permission to assume a New Zealand indentity.

Therein lies the hard news within the vacuous corporate jargon that otherwise characterizes the latest NZSIS annual report. New Zealand contracts its counter-espionage operations to third parties, some of whom might be private agencies, and it provides false Kiwi identities to people other than NZSIS employees who do espionage work on its behalf. One can only wonder if parliament, much less the public at large, feels comfortable with either activity.

There is more to the report, much of it bureaucratic detail. The overall tone of suggests that the promise of increased NZSIS transparency and accountability has actually translated into increased public relations spin as a cover for vague assertions of threat and countervailing capability as well as expanded scope of authority. This has been approved by both the preceding Labour government as well as the current National administration, so it is clear that the political elite is satisfied with the status quo. That means that managing the NZSIS image, not transparency and accountability is what matters most to those who ostensibly oversee its operations. In a liberal democracy with a commitment to sovereignty and civil rights, this augers trouble on both counts.

For the full report, click here.

Paul G. Buchanan studies issues of strategy, intelligence and unconventional warfare. He is a member of the Kiwipolitico cooperative.


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