5 Nov 2015

Minister 'not into witch hunts' over SIS failings

6:11 pm on 5 November 2015

Minister Chris Finlayson, who is responsible for spy agencies, has defended the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), saying he won't be drawn into a witch hunt over its failings.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has identified several problems with how the SIS has been operating.

Mr Finlayson defended the SIS, though he said its ancient vetting procedures needed updating.

The annual report of the spy agency watchdog yesterday showed three people complained they had lost their jobs after the SIS did background checks on them, and a fourth complained that their offer of a job was withdrawn.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn. Photo: RNZ

In the House this afternoon, Green Party co-leader James Shaw questioned the minister over the report.

"Will he remove the new visual surveillance powers he granted the SIS, given the finding that they have misused these powers 100 percent of the time?"

That was "totally wrong", Mr Finlayson said.

"I'm not some kind of [Joseph] Stalin who can simply remove provisions of a statute, it may be an aspiration - that is the job of Parliament."

The inspector-general had done a good job and the SIS had undertaken to improve its procedures, he said.

But Mr Shaw wasn't satisfied with that and asked how many people had been wrongly denied security clearance by the SIS.

Mr Finlayson told Mr Shaw he could not give him a figure but acknowledged the report had identified deficiencies with the vetting procedure, which he said the SIS was addressing.

The Green co-leader then asked if the director of the SIS would face any consequences.

Mr Finlayson rejected that:

"I'm not into witch hunts, I'm more interested in putting things right, as LV Martin used to say.

"It's extremely important that these lapses be addressed in a professional and thorough manner, and I have great confidence in the director to do exactly that."

The Greens sought a snap debate after question time but that was denied by the Speaker.

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