10 December 2015
So, according to the Security Intelligence Service, increasing numbers of young New Zealand women are off to Syria to become what have been called “jihadi brides.” Well, actually, there are not that many. Of the thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, and assumed to be fighting for ISIL, it is understood that less than a dozen may be from New Zealand. Unless the so-called “jihadi brides” are marrying non-New Zealanders involved in the campaign, the actual numbers are very small, probably insignificantly so, indeed.
Therefore, why raise this spectre of alarm? One reason might be that, small as it is, the number has grown, and is consequently, in a time of increased international tension, worth noting. Possible, but unlikely. After all, whatever way you look at it, the numbers are still very low. And also, there has been no change in New Zealand’s terrorism alert status in the last year to account for it.
Well, it may be that New Zealand is becoming an active recruiting base for such people. Again, unlikely, and in any case, were it so, drawing attention to it would be the very worst thing to do, as it would only serve to recruit more people to the cause.
So perhaps it was just a throwaway comment, made just in passing. Whatever their many lapses, security agencies are not prone to passing throwaway comments, so that defence can be dismissed.
All of which leaves two possibilities. One is that our risk status has increased and this is a coded way of drawing public attention to it. This too is an unlikely scenario for the simple reason our official risk status has not been upgraded in the last year.
That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the comment was part of a softening-up process for the outcome of the independent review of the security services due in the first quarter of next year. After all, heightening the perception of threat would boost the case for increasing the powers of the security agencies. This is a little too obvious and we should be careful not to become too taken in by it.
But there is another, potentially more subtle aspect to this. The softening-up process may not be directed so much at the general public and the politicians, as it is to the review itself. After all, the review could recommend curbs on the way the security services operate, or even worse from their point of view, some rationalisation and reorganisation. That would be anathema to the shadowy practitioners of the craft, who since virtually forever have operated largely as a law unto themselves. But what if a tighter line was to be drawn between their activities, and those of say the Police under the Terrorism Suppression Act, for example?
Now all this I freely concede is but unsubstantiated speculation on my part, but I suspect issues like this will be focusing the minds of the spooks as they huddle furtively around their summer barbecues. They should also be topics for the rest of us to ponder as well.
On that note, Dunne Speaks takes its leave for the year. Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas and a safe and prosperous 2016.