25 Nov 2014

Report slams SIS over info release

8:48 pm on 25 November 2014

A report into the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) has criticised the way it released information embarrassing to former Labour Party leader Phil Goff, but says there is no evidence it was playing politics.

Intelligence and Security Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn this morning released the findings of her investigation, prompted by allegations in Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics.

Read the Inspector-General's full report - PDF 1.4MB

The report concludes the SIS release of information to right-wing blogger Cameron Slater under the Official Information Act, about a briefing to Mr Goff, was incomplete, inaccurate and misleading.

Ms Gwyn said the release resulted in misplaced criticism of Mr Goff in 2011.

While Ms Gwyn's report is damning, it also finds no SIS officer acted in collusion with Mr Slater, who got the information under the Official Information Act.

The SIS released a briefing note which purportedly confirmed Mr Goff had been fully briefed about alleged Israeli spies being caught up in the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011. Mr Goff had denied he had been briefed, sparking a political row between him and Prime Minister John Key.

The note was then released to Mr Slater within days of the blogger requesting it.

In his book, Hager used it as an example of Mr Key's office using Mr Slater to make political attacks on National's opponents.

It was alleged the SIS had been politicised and may have colluded in the political attack. That prompted Ms Gwyn to begin investigating before the election but her report has only been released this week.

She said the allegations that SIS staff had colluded with Mr Slater were the most serious, and she has used her full statutory powers to investigate them.

"From that thorough investigation I do not believe any NZSIS staff contacted Mr Slater to instigate his OIA request. Nor have I found any collusion or direction between the NZSIS and the Prime Minister or his office," she said.

But she said a staff member in Mr Key's office, Jason Ede, had provided relevant details of the documents relating to the-then SIS director Warren Tucker's meeting with Mr Goff and was speaking on the phone to Mr Slater as the latter made his request to the SIS.

The report reveals that when the argument between Mr Key and Mr Goff flared, Mr Key's then deputy chief of staff, Phil de Joux, said to Mr Ede the office needed to get the briefing note into the public domain using the Official Information Act.

Mr Ede then contacted Mr Slater.

But in evidence to the inquiry, Mr de Joux said he was not happy Mr Ede had chosen to work through Mr Slater rather than the mainstream media because it "would create an unhelpful perception".

Mr Slater also provided a series of emails between him and Mr Ede. In one Mr Ede said he "might be in the shit" over his use of SIS information.

The report finds no political collusion between the SIS and Mr Key's office but makes clear Dr Tucker was in regular contact with Mr de Joux about security matters.

It also discloses a conversation between the two men about the release of the briefing note and how Mr Goff had asked for the release to be delayed.

Dr Tucker said he had told Mr Goff he could give him a few more days.


De Joux: "Look, Warren, I think we should give him some space."

Tucker: "Well, what I said was ...'I wouldn't want to leave it much beyond about the close of play Monday, but let's do that. I'll hold it until then.' So, I've agreed to do that, I wanted to inform you about that."

De Joux: "Ok."

Tucker: "He's going to consult with his own team. I think what it does mean, though, is that he is clearly very nervous about where this puts him."

De Joux: "Well, he shouldn't have lied."

Tucker: "No, no, I know, but he's in a hole now. Anyway but what it does mean is he will call off the Annette Kings and Marian Streets..."

De Joux: "He's going to have to."

Tucker: " And he won't be using it politically in the House, either - parliamentary questions - so, I think, part of his you know, can I have a few days please, gives him order to, sort of, reign (sic) in his own..."

De Joux: "Absolutely but he will have wider problems."

Tucker: " Yeah, in terms of his overall credibility...But anyway, I have agreed to hold it till Monday, and if he still needs another day or two, I will do that, but I don't want to leave it...Are you happy with that?"

De Joux: "Yeah, I am happy with that."

Tucker: " Very good. Thanks Phil."

PM also received inaccurate information

Ms Gwyn said both Mr Key and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English also received inaccurate information from the SIS about its apparent briefing for Mr Goff.

"Having released inaccurate information that was predictably misinterpreted the then director had a responsibility to take positive steps to correct that interpretation. He failed to do so."

Ms Gwyn said while there was nothing untoward about the conduct of SIS staff she does question the relationship between them and political staff members in Mr Key's office.

"The events demonstrated that the SIS had taken no steps to put in place a protocol or policy to govern its relationship as between service staff and the political advisers they dealt with in the Prime Minister's Office."

Ms Gwyn said proper protocols were needed to manage that relationship.

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