Rogue spies or coverup at the highest level? | The Jackal

25 Sept 2012

Rogue spies or coverup at the highest level?

A week after Kim Dotcom visited Parliament and spent a considerable amount of time in the gallery studiously watching John Key, the floundering Prime Minister made the announcement that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had illegally spied on the internet tycoon and Megaupload founder, who is currently facing controversial internet piracy charges in the US.

Is it just a coincidence that Key apparently found out about the supposed unauthorized spying at the same time Kim Dotcom was in the house? Was it the big mans imposing presence that perhaps shook some sense into those responsible? Certainly the week it took for the Prime Minister to inform the public, which just so happened to coincide with the announcement of 500-600 redundancies, looks very suspect. I bet Banksie's breathing a sigh of relief though.

But more importantly was the illegal spying really unauthorized? The Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 (PDF) makes it very clear that the GCSB is not to exercise its powers against New Zealanders, and sets out some pretty solid rules for when authorization is required.

Interceptions not to target domestic communications

Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person (not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

It's unbelievable that the Director of the GCSB, Ian Fletcher, was not aware of Kim Dotcoms' residency status. But even if he wasn't, an authorization warrant is still required to spy on foreigners. Before issuing a warrant at the request of the Director, the Minister in charge (the Prime Minister) must also consult with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Murray McCully, about the proposed warrant. That means more than one minister is implicated in what is turning out to be a huge disaster for National.

The Director of the GCSB is meant to report directly to the Minister responsible, John Key. The law requires that the Director consult with Key and attain a warrant to authorize the GCSB to spy on any foreigners.

You would expect there to be a warrant especially in such a high profile case, and it appears that Key is merely saying there is none because it implicates him in an illegal practice. If the warrant was uncovered with his signature on it, that would effectively mean an end to his political career.

In trying to say there's no warrant, Key is expecting us to believe that the entire chain of command has failed, and the GCSB is acting like a rogue agency, which goes far beyond it being a simple "disappointing mistake" by the Director Ian Fletcher. If the entire chain of command has failed because of gross incompetence, John Key as the Minister in charge is ultimately responsible.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.