1 Mar 2019

DOC’s chats with Thompson & Clark reveal anti-1080 surveillance

From Checkpoint, 5:18 pm on 1 March 2019

Pages and pages of secret chat room conversations between DOC and security firm Thompson & Clark have been released to Checkpoint, revealing how anti-1080 activists were being monitored.

- Scroll down to view the chat room documents

The Department of Conservation initially declined to release the information when Checkpoint requested it a year ago, arguing it could lead to DOC staff being harassed and ran the risk of "driving some of the conversations underground". 

It was forced to release the documents after the Ombudsman intervened. 

DOC was paying the security firm almost $4000 a month for the information, and the security company threatened to pull its services if it released the secret chats. 

The group chats via messaging app Slack were between three DOC staff including director of safety Harry Maher and three staff from Thompson & Clark including director Gavin Clark, and dated back to October 2017.

They also included someone using the handle "Natex". 

Each conversation had a title such as 'open source capture to aerial operations on the Coromandel' and 'Protest planning meeting against the upcoming Hunua drop'. 

Line after line, page after page, they shared the movements and activities of anti-1080 activists, including Facebook posts, letters to the editor, newspaper articles and information from chat forums, most notably the "Fish n Hunt" forum. 

The names of many people mentioned in the conversations are redacted but some groups are included and mentioned multiple times. They include Rangitikei Environmental health watch, Marlborough deerstalkers, Stop Poisoning Coromandel Peninsula, Brook Valley Community group and the Stop 1080 Now Facebook group. 

The chats flag up clashes and potential future protests and provide summaries of what's being talked about. 

In one chat on 30 January 2018, Thompson & Clark warned DOC about how people were commenting on Facebook that they planned to protest at the Kea Conservation Trust meeting in Te Anau on 6 February. 

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Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

They shared several more posts about the individuals planning on attending. 

On 6 February, Mr Maher thanked Thompson & Clark.

"Te Anau DOC crew very appreciative of the early heads-up on this one Gerry. Gave them lots of time to get ahead of the protesters. Great work," he wrote.

Another post from Thompson & Clark refers to a woman who lives in Wanaka. 

"... appears to be sent images from other activists from around the country for her to publish and comment about, she appears to be acting as a "de facto propagandist" for the anti-1080 movement."

They refer to people as being "of questionable lucidity", "a delusional type" and "paranoid and arguably suffering from mental health issues".

One anti-1080 activist Carole Sawyer was not impressed. 

"It's very concerning. More concerning is the fact that we were not able to access that information," she said.

DOC declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that Thompson & Clark was helping it develop a security policy, and staff and contractors had faced repeated intimidation including threats to kill during 1080 operations. 

It said the material shared in the locked, hidden chat channel was open source, meaning it was publicly accessible. 

It said it never asked Thompson & Clark to do surveillance on an individual or group or to harvest their private data.

DOC terminated its contract with Thompson & Clark last year.

Read the secret chats between Thompson and Clark and DOC here: