13 Jan 2015

Labour questions spy boss move

7:19 pm on 13 January 2015

Labour Party leader Andrew Little is questioning the reasons for the sudden resignation of the head of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

Andrew Little has been announced as the new Labour Party leader.

Andrew Little - pictured after his announcement as the new Labour Party leader. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

GCSB director Ian Fletcher is stepping down after three years in the role.

Ian Fletcher

Ian Fletcher Photo: SUPPLIED

Chris Finlayson, the minister responsible for the spy agency, said Mr Fletcher was making the move for family reasons.

He said the last three years had seen significant change and improvements at the GCSB and the the statutory review of the intelligence agencies, due to start shortly, would be likely to herald a further period of change.

The minister said Mr Fletcher had decided that opening the door for a new director now meant the same person could be involved in the review process, as well as in subsequent decision-making and implementation, rather than changing leadership mid-programme.

"Mr Fletcher has been instrumental in the significant improvements that have taken place at the GCSB over the past three years, where he has led the implementation of the Kitteridge Review and increased the public openness and accountability of the organisation."

Mr Little said when he met with Mr Fletcher before Christmas, he was on top of his job and was talking about developing relationships with the opposition leader's office.

"So it's come as a big surprise, certainly to me," he said.

"What I find intriguing is, in the published statement, the references to the upcoming review of the security agencies and whether or not he's now been told of something that he finds disagreeable, and this is the real reason he's going. I mean, that remains to be seen."

100914. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Winston Peters talking about police numbers at Hutt Gables Retirement Village.

NZ First leader Winston Peters also called for further explanation of the resignation. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the Government must give a more thorough explanation about the sudden departure.

"Given the status of this appointment, how serious the issues are, with respect both to domestic and to international concerns that the GCSB would be associated with, this is a most extraordinary announcement," he said.

"It suggests there are other reasons other than the ones that are given."

But the Green Party's security and intelligence spokesperson, Kennedy Graham, said the reasons given for leaving should be respected.

"The timing is quite politically significant. There is a statutory review coming up this year of intelligence services," he said.

"With great respect for what he has done, we wish him well for the future, it's probably a very good idea that he does go and clear the decks for somebody new once the review has finished."

Mr Fletcher's appointment as director was heavily criticised by opposition parties, who claimed he was shoulder-tapped by the Prime Minister because they were 'old mates'.

Mr Little said it was important that the recruitment of a new director be open and transparent.

Mr Fletcher will finish in the role on 27 February and an acting director will be appointed from that date.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs