The reporter of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security into the release of information by the SIS is now public, and it turns out to be largely about a democratic problem we've discussed plenty this year: the growing contempt in which New Zealand's public agencies hold their obligations under the Official Information Act.
It finds that the SIS and its director Warren Tucker provided "incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information" in response to an OIA request -- in a way that was unfair and damaging to then Opposition leader Phil Goff -- and made no attempt to correct that information. Moreover, it finds that the SIS simply "denied" requests for information on the matter from journalists, and yet responded immediately to such a request from Cameron Slater.
It also finds that -- in direct contradiction to John Key's pre-election assurances -- that the Prime Mininister's Office was indeed involved in expediting the release to Slater, for political purposes.
Astonishingly, Key's deputy chief of staff, Phil de Joux -- a political employee -- turns out to have been the Prime Minister's principal point of contact with with the Security Intelligence Service, an extremely sensitive public agency for which the Prime Minister had direct responsibility. Moreover, Key's senior political advisor Jason Ede is found to have directed Slater to make his request -- and was in fact on the phone to Slater at the time Slater made his request.
But there's more. The inspector, Cheryl Gwyn, has this to say:
Witnesses appearing before this inquiry also produced documents. Documents were provided voluntarily by Mr Hager and Mr Slater. I issued a production order to Mr Ede in respect of his personal email accounts after it became apparent from evidence, including evidence provided directly by Mr Ede, that some of the correspondence pertinent to this inquiry was conducted from non-official email accounts. Upon receipt of the production order, Mr Ede provided a supplementary written statement to the inquiry in which he advised that the emails had been permanently deleted prior to the commencement of the inquiry and could not be recovered.
Thus is deniability engineered. And it's not good enough. Political actions involving the state intelligence agency were conducted on private email accounts, and the records of those actions were covered up when the shit hit the fan. Tucker, De Joux and Ede have all, conveniently, since departed their jobs -- and the Prime Minister is now no longer the minister responsible for the SIS.
As Gwyn writes:
I was concerned to discover the use of personal email and telephone accounts by Mr Ede for some of his PMO work and indications that he did so in order to avoid any public record ... The use of such personal accounts in relation to NZSIS information poses significant risks for information security. While the information dealt with by Mr Ede was not classified security information, there would have been serious consequences had it been.
Phil Goff is receiving due apologies today. In a decent world, he would not be alone. Nicky Hager, who drew our attention to these sorry and troubling matters in Dirty Politics will never receive an apology from those he has exposed, and who have subsequently sought to smear him -- but he really does deserve one.
The other thing to ponder is this: if these people were prepared to do this -- what else have they been prepared to do in their own political interests?