Such a lot of nonsense has been spouted about the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) that it’s difficult to know where to start.
Let’s begin with the ridiculous. Peter Dunne has been publicly worrying that state agents are spying on him. Believe me, they aren’t. Dunne isn’t very interesting – especially not to our spies.
“Copy that, Foxtrot. Mr Boring arrived Churton Park Community Centre.” Our intelligence agencies have far more significant and pressing work than that.
We then have the notion that the GCSB has been spying willy-nilly on Kiwis. They haven’t been. The Kitteridge report found that over a 10-year period, the GCSB had assisted the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) in instances involving potentially 85 Kiwis, and over six years had helped the police in instances potentially involving three Kiwis.
That’s the GCSB doing its job – it is required by law to assist and advise the police and the SIS. The GCSB was doing exactly what Parliament had instructed it to do.
The difficulty arises because the law also prohibits the GCSB from intercepting the communications of Kiwis. It had always been assumed that the prohibition didn’t apply when assisting other agencies operating under lawful warrants. There’s now advice that the prohibition may trump the statutory duty to assist. The law is now to be made clear.
By its very nature, the work of our intelligence agencies is covert. That makes us understandably uneasy and raises hard questions about proper oversight, much-needed accountability and the necessary checks and balances.
But we should never lose sight of what’s at stake. We live in a dangerous world. There are individuals and organisations determined to attack Western targets, and it’s neither safe nor wise to assume New Zealand is immune.
The threat is global and our covert agencies must work with like agencies of other nations. That also makes people uneasy.
Nonetheless, the raw intelligence that our agencies gather and share is also enabling our independent foreign policy.
In critical decisions, such as whether to commit to war, our Government is able to analyse independently the raw intelligence on which such decisions are made. That, at times, has proved invaluable and has seen New Zealand take a different course from that of our allies.
I sat for six years on the Intelligence and Security Committee. The SIS and GCSB took the committee seriously. They answered every pertinent question in full and in detail. They would come to my office on request and whenever a briefing was appropriate.
In that room, behind the door, I learned of real and present threats that made my blood run cold. I know the work the GCSB did countering them.
David Shearer and Russel Norman now sit on that Committee. Peter Dunne used to.
In that role they have broken the cross-party consensus and the check-and-balance that the committee enables.
Peter Dunne at the very least discussed leaking a sensitive report. He now can’t be trusted.
Russel Norman has wrongly declared the GCSB a “rogue agency” and David Shearer has falsely accused the GCSB of illegally seizing and destroying a phantom video of the Prime Minister making a quip.
For the GCSB to do its job, our allies must be assured that it’s secure. That security must extend to the Parliamentary leaders overseeing its operation. That’s what Shearer and Norman have compromised.
Both men are in the unique position of having every concern they may have about the GCSB properly addressed through the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Instead, they have chosen to drag the GCSB into their political attacks. They have risked our national security to score political points.
This article was originally published by the Herald on Sunday on July 7 and is republished here with permission.