Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sunday Star Times Spy Scandal

The Sunday Star Times has on its front page an expose about what it thinks to be a spy scandal. The stories, by Nicky Hager and Anthony Hubbard, are here, here and here.

In my opinion, the allegations about probably illegal operations can be quashed right away. The article claims six agents (although it's never actually made clear wherther they were actual officers of the SIS or not) in an operation that was ongoing in 2000. If the six agents were paid at a rate of $30,000 a year, that suggests a operation that has cost $720,000 since 2000. The annual operating budget of the SIS was only on the order of $20 million and so an ongoing operation like that would stick out like a sore thumb on the spook's budgets, which would have to be justified not only to the management but also to the government.

Moreover safety is built into the system by having the SIS brief leading politicians. For example, when Helen Clark was the leader of the opposition, she was briefed about David Small's tackling of an SIS agent at his friend Aziz's house. We know this because she inavertedly revealed the purpose of the agent's mission to Divd McLoughlin, a journalist then working at North and South, who promptly printed what was supposed to be secret in his column.

Furthermore Nicky Hager's fingerprints can be detected all over the story:
The spies have also revealed division within the service over its stance in the Zaoui affair. One says the service leadership made a bad call when the Algerian politician first arrived in New Zealand. It had also wanted to impress the Americans, and had foolishly painted itself into a corner over the affair.

There is also division about the orientation and leadership of the SIS, which he says is far too deferential to the larger western intelligence agencies, especially the Americans and the British. New Zealand, he says, needs to develop its own intelligence and security network abroad, instead of passively accepting what the other services told it.
The first paragraph is just the agent parroting some rubbish that Nicky Hager had duckquacked from Paul Buchanan. The second betrays remarkable ignorance of financial realities. We simply do not have enough money to set up our own foreign intelligence service on a budget of $20 million and are forced to rely on fellow agencies. If we are to make alliances with non-western intelligence agencies, above and beyond the normal intercourse that already happens, who should we ally with?