Story: Intelligence services

Page 3. New Zealand goes it alone, 1984 onwards

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Nuclear-free New Zealand – the end of the alliance?

Following the election of a new Labour government in 1984, nuclear-powered and -armed warships were denied entry to New Zealand ports. While the USA officially suspended security cooperation with New Zealand after the nuclear-ship ban, the GCSB continued to operate as part of the SIGINT network (also known as the Five Eyes) with the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. The GCSB expanded its capabilities, opening signals interception stations at Tangimoana, in Manawatū, in 1982, and in Marlborough’s Waihopai valley in 1989.

In 1985 NZSIS helped police apprehend the French agents who bombed the Rainbow Warrior.

The fight against drift netting

Drift-net fishing was a form of large-scale fishing, involving kilometres of nets in a ‘wall of death’. The fishing fleets of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea used drift netting to catch tuna in the South Pacific. In 1989 New Zealand launched an international campaign against the destructive fishing method. New Zealand used information gathered by the GCSB to prove the massive scale of drift-net catches. This in turn helped in bringing about the Wellington Convention of 1991, which effectively banned drift-net fishing in most of the Pacific.

The SIS after the Cold War

The collapse of the Soviet bloc from 1989, with the subsequent demise of most of New Zealand’s small communist groups, forced major changes on the SIS. Its new areas of emphasis were now terrorism and ‘economic espionage’. In the 1997 ‘Pacific Rose’ case, they helped stop a Chinese delegation from stealing a premium New Zealand apple variety.

The SIS carried out tasks such as risk analysis to ensure the safety of world leaders gathered for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit meeting in Auckland in 1999.

Counter-terrorism work was boosted by the ‘War on Terror’ after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Another important role has been to protect the integrity of New Zealand passports. The SIS helped prevent the theft of passports by Soviet agent Anvar Razzakovich Kadyrov in 1991, and by Israeli agents Elisha Cara and Uriel Kelman in 2004.

New Zealand’s intelligence services in the 2000s

Security Intelligence Service

The SIS continues to provide intelligence to the government on internal security issues. It is responsible to the minister in charge of the SIS – traditionally, the prime minister. The SIS is a civilian organisation, with powers of investigation but not of arrest. In 2011 it had a staff of around 200.

Government Communications Security Bureau

The GCSB collects and reports on foreign signals intelligence. The GCSB processes, decrypts or decodes intercepted communications, but does not analyse them – that is done by the National Assessments Bureau and relevant government departments. The GCSB also works to keep New Zealand’s own information systems secure. The minister in charge of the GCSB is the prime minister. In 2011 the GCSB had about 300 staff.

National Assessments Bureau

The National Assessments Bureau (NAB), which was until 2010 called the External Assessments Bureau (EAB), provides assessments to the government on overseas events that may affect New Zealand’s interests. It uses public information, diplomatic reports and information from the SIS and the GCSB. The NAB is part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is accountable to the prime minister. In 2011 it employed about 30 staff.

Directorate of Defence Intelligence and Security

The Directorate of Defence Intelligence and Security (DDIS) is the combined intelligence service for the three armed services – army, navy and air force. With a staff of around 30, it directs and coordinates the work of intelligence personnel within the armed forces. The chief of defence force is responsible for the DDIS.

Strategic Intelligence Unit

The Strategic Intelligence Unit is a police unit established in 2002 in response to terrorism overseas – in particular, the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Its job is to provide intelligence on domestic and international security. This includes information on terrorism and on transnational criminal activities.

SIS burglars

In July 1996 University of Canterbury lecturer David Small visited the Christchurch home of his friend, anti-free trade activist Aziz Choudry. Small interrupted two ‘burglars’, who were in fact SIS agents. Choudry sued the attorney-general over the SIS break-in. The Court of Appeal found that the SIS had acted unlawfully, trespassing on Choudry’s property. Constitutional lawyer Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister, argued that the case proved New Zealand’s legal system ensures that the intelligence services are not above the law. Opponents of the SIS saw the case as an example of the service overstepping its powers.

Official monitoring of the intelligence services

The inspector-general of intelligence and security, a retired High Court judge, ensures that the activities of intelligence agencies comply with the law and that any public complaints are investigated independently. The inspector-general has extensive powers to investigate such complaints.

The commissioner of security warrants is also a retired High Court judge, who, along with the prime minister, must co-sign any authorised interception warrants.

Oversight on the activities of the SIS is provided by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the ombudsman, the privacy commissioner, and the controller and auditor-general.

Public concerns with intelligence agencies

Citizens’ groups continue to question the activities of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies. Protests have been held against the GCSB Waihopai facility since before construction started. The activities of the SIS have raised concerns, with high-profile cases such as the 1997 Aziz Choudry break-in and SIS efforts, from 2002 to 2007, to deport former Algerian MP Ahmed Zaoui. The police also made the news through intelligence work, with controversial arrests of political activists on terrorism charges in October 2007.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Intelligence services - New Zealand goes it alone, 1984 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 20 Jun 2012