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Intelligence and Security Committee Act Repeal Bill

This bill seeks to repeal the Intelligence and Security Committee Act. If it passes I intend to have the bill referred to the Government Administration Committee.

A 1996 Act set up the Intelligence and Security Committee, supposedly to oversee the two intelligence services in this country, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.

But this committee is not a democratic committee of this Parliament, like the Select Committees we have. It is a statutory committee, made up only of the Prime Minister, the leader of the National party, and three of their appointees. It's a first-past-the-post committee, not an MMP committee.

Secondly, the Committee has very limited powers. It's allowed to look only at the policy, administration and expenditure of these intelligence agencies.

This is very limited oversight, because the committee is forbidden from seeing any "operational" information about the intelligence services. It means, for example, that the committee can never get to the bottom of why in 1996 two SIS agents invaded the Christchurch home of an anti-free trade activist, Aziz Choudry. So it is very hard for the committee to find out what policy the SIS or the GCSB are actually carrying out. Consequently, the committee can't really develop effective "policy" for these services. The committee has to take the SIS's word that it is doing the right thing.

The only other restraint on intelligence services is the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, set up in 1996 alongside the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Inspector-General does have the right to see operational material but only "to the extent strictly necessary" when he investigates an individual complaint.

The record of the inspector-general is not good. On May 8 a Christchurch lecturer David Small received $20,000 for his home being illegitimately searched by police. The Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence had earlier described the search as "not unreasonable". He had also justified the 1996 SIS raid on Aziz Choudry's house, only to be embarrassed when a court upheld Mr Choudry's claim against the SIS.

It is quite clear from the Small and Choudry cases that the SIS supports the targeting of law-abiding political dissenters. That is the real policy of the SIS regardless of what the Intelligence and Security Committee might, or might not, say.

The GCSB likewise targets legitimate dissenters.

Its primary function is to operate the Waihopai electronic interception station, which monitors all the faxes, phone calls and emails on two Pacific communications satellites. The data from Waihopai is combined with that from US, Britain, Australian and Canadian stations in a network called Echelon.

Last month Greenpeace disclosed that Echelon puts a lot of effort into spying on its organisation. It gets detailed information, regularly, on Greenpeace activities. The evidence comes from a former Canadian spy, Fred Stock.

When Echelon is not being used to spy on dissenters, its being used to for economic espionage against the European and Japanese competitors of American and British multinationals.

This is why the former director of the American CIA, James Woolsey, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on March 17:

"Yes, my continental European friends, we have spied on you. It's true that we use computers to sort through data by using keywords .... We spy on you because you bribe."

And he refers to the allegations that the American firm Raytheon won a contract against the European firm Thomson-CSF in Brazil - because of successful Echelon spying on what the European firm was up to in terms of bidding and bribery.

This is why the European Parliament is going to conduct a full investigation into Echelon. That's why they're very upset. And that's why the GCSB in New Zealand, far from protecting our security, is seriously undermining it.

The spying at Waihopai imperils our relations with Europe, damaging our diplomatic and trade relations.

Waihopai is also a threat to the privacy of New Zealanders, because New Zealanders' phone calls are intercepted by the five Echelon countries, and there is provision, in circumstances deemed appropriate by the authorities, for the names and conversations of New Zealanders to be transcribed and used.

The narrow oversight committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee, has failed to deal with the real threat posed by the SIS and the GCSB to first, the privacy of New Zealanders; secondly, the right to political dissent without penalty' and thirdly, the ability of New Zealand to have good relations with all countries, rather than be seen as an agent of Anglo-American economic interests.

The statutory oversight committee is also an insult to Parliament.

The Finance and Expenditure Select Committee is unable, under the Act, to look at the estimates and supplementary estimates of the intelligence services. The Clerk of the House no longer has the ability to refer petitions on intelligence services to a Select Committee - which means petitioners will have less faith in the hearings on their petitions.

We have an established select committee structure. And other jurisdictions like Canada and the United States have a more open system, with their committees being given access to operational information from the intelligence agencies.

A committee in the British Parliament last year recommended that they move from a statutory committee system, like ours, to a select committee oversight system.

We need to really scrutinize and debate our security services, because they were established with a Cold War purpose and focus. We need a proper select committee oversight, and that would be a great start. But I think we need to go further and set up a full inquiry into the role and function of security services in the new century.

Firstly, we should do a proper cost benefit analysis, as we do in any other area of government activity.

The first cost is $30 million spent on the SIS and the GCSB annually.

But more important is the cost to our privacy, our right to dissent, and the right to see exactly what government agencies are doing in our name.

Don't think that 'it's only happening to bad people'. It isn't. Aziz Choudry, David Small, Greenpeace: they aren't bad people or bad organisations. They are, in their own creative ways, actively trying to chart a future for our people and our planet.

And what is the benefit?

Very little, if what ever reaches the public is anything to go by. Jenny Shipley claimed we got information from Echelon that indicated the Indonesians wouldn't resist our troops going to East Timor. Which we already knew because they went in under a UN resolution that Indonesia and its President agreed to. The other bit of information was that a visiting Chinese delegation tried to take samples of an apple plant with them.

But wasn't this a police or customs matter? Why do we need a separate intelligence service rather than just relying on the police? To catch terrorists? The police have anti-terrorist intelligence, and links overseas. Why do we need two anti-terrorist organisations, getting in the way of each other.

It is far from proven that we need the SIS or the GCSB. On the information available so far, we'd be better off without them.

So I would ask you to support my bill, putting surveillance of the security services under a normal select committee structure as the first step to properly supervising them, determining what they should be doing, and looking hard at whether we need them at all.


Speech in Parliament
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