14 October 2014
So, we are embarking on a rapid, four week review of our intelligence and security settings in the light of the rise of ISIL and associated groups. But did we not have a major review of the GCSB legislation last year, and was not one of the outcomes of that review a new requirement that from 30 June 2015 the GCSB and the SIS would be independently reviewed every 5 to 7 years to ensure that they remain relevant and fit for purpose?
The answer to each of those questions is yes, so what has changed so dramatically in the last 12 months to apparently override all of this? The rise of what Minister Finlayson described as the “international terrorist” as evidenced most dramatically by the ISIL is the obvious answer. Repugnant as ISIL’s and related factions’ actions have been, the term is essentially pejorative, and needs to be treated with some caution. After all, we used to talk of “freedom fighters” to cover people who joined a variety of “liberation” movements to fight for decolonisation in Africa and Asia, without attracting huge security attention. When New Zealanders were killed in such actions, in East Timor for example, we took clear stances to find out what had happened. And in an earlier generation, many idealistic, progressive young people, New Zealanders included, joined the International Brigade to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
So what has changed? Is it the graphic display of the brutal atrocities being carried out by groups like ISIL? Or the cause they are perceived to represent in this post 9/11 world?
Whatever the reason, all governments (curiously most reporting always contains the adjective “western” governments, which may of itself be telling) are responding. That in turn is bringing renewed focus upon international intelligence sharing arrangements, in New Zealand’s case Five Eyes, and the extent to which national sovereignty is being influenced if not actually limited by the information being obtained and shared.
Now these are not necessarily reasons why we should be wary of the urgent review being undertaken, but they raise very serious questions about the timing and the apparent rush to complete it, compared to, say, the more deliberate way we are approaching the potential Ebola pandemic, arguably of far greater risk to humanity. (The Prime Minister has spoken of legislation being passed under Urgency by the end of the year.) Yet we are scheduled to have a fully independent review of our security services as soon as possible after 30 June 2015, and Minister Finlayson was reported at the weekend noting the importance of that process.
Until the case for urgency is made, we are all left to speculate. For example, has this got something to do with shoring up support for our UN Security Council seat bid, or placing New Zealand in a good international position ahead of next month’s G20 meeting? Or will the Prime Minister’s promised major speech in the next few weeks reveal a set of circumstances so compelling to make obvious the need to leap-frog next year’s planned reviews and introduce new measures now, which ironically may not survive those reviews?
Time will tell, but, in the meantime, a dose of healthy caution is warranted. Breathing steadily and deeply and focusing on the facts, not the emotive hyperbole, is the best way forward.