20 May 2014

PM under pressure over drone attacks

10:30 pm on 20 May 2014

The Prime Minister is coming under pressure to tighten controls over information that could be used to help United States drone attacks.

But John Key says he is confident that information shared with other powers, including the US, met New Zealand's obligations under local and international law.

Prime Minister John Key.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ

Mr Key on Monday confirmed that information gathered by the Government Communications Security Bureau could have been used in identifying targets for American attacks using unmanned aircraft.

However, he said the GCSB did not supply information leading to the death of New Zealander Daryl Jones in a drone strike in Yemen last year.

Mr Key said New Zealand has shared information with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, but he cannot be sure exactly what use it was put to. He said it was possible it was used to pursue people seen as a threat.

United Future leader and government minister Peter Dunne said on Tuesday that a public debate was needed about just how much information should be made available.

Mr Dunne said the issue of New Zealand-sourced information being used for purposes not necessarily in the country's best interests needs an informed public discussion.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said most people would be appalled information gathered by the Government's electronic spy agency could help target drone attacks.

He said there are serious ethical questions about New Zealand's supplying information that may lead to extra-judicial killings.

Dr Norman said New Zealand should shut the Waihopai facility, as it is a crucial part of the intelligence-gathering system.

John Key will meet US President Barack Obama at the White House in June and said he was comfortable about the drone attacks.

Call for more debate

Defence analyst Terence O'Brien said New Zealand's membership of the Five Eyes intelligence network needs to be more widely debated.

Mr O'Brien, a senior fellow at Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies, said Five Eyes is being used to help the pursuit of the war on terror. He said there is a question as to whether New Zealand should continue to be involved in that.

However, Lance Beath, another senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies, said he has no qualms about information being used in that way.

Mr Beath said intelligence-sharing is standard procedure and is part of New Zealand's work with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

A human rights group in Britain says the New Zealand Government is complicit in drone killings, which it says are the death penalty without trial.

Reprieve legal director Kat Craig told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday there is no transparency over America's drone programme and New Zealand should not be providing intelligence which could assist it.

Security researcher Nicky Hager said New Zealand's intelligence work for the United States is pulling it into wars that it has no place in.

He told Morning Report that New Zealand is turning its back on its principles by aiding unjustified attacks in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.

Mr Hager said Mr Key is being flippant about New Zealand's role in foreign wars and is not taking it seriously enough.