The Government’s intelligence agency inspector has revealed problems involving the Security Intelligence Service and its work in co-operation with other agencies.

The revelations are contained within the annual report of the Inspector General of Intelligence Services, Cheryl Gwyn, which was presented to Parliament yesterday.

Ms Gwyn is conducting an Inquiry into the issue of a category of SIS interception warrant applications which were approved in 2014.

She said the applications appeared to be relatively complex and sensitive.

“I have found that much of the relevant operational detail was and remains sensitive, and would cause harm to national security if publicly disclosed,” she said.

The relevant warrant applications related to information-gathering that had been proposed and undertaken in cooperation with other agencies.

She does not name the agencies but  a range of agencies are involved in monitoring emerging risks; identifying those that could become nationally important; gathering data or collecting intelligence where appropriate.

WHICH AGENCIES IS THE SIS WORKING WITH?

Logically these could include Defence, Customs, Immigration and the Ministry of Primary Industry plus possibly others.

But the problem identified by Ms Gwyn lies within the SIS Act itself which specifies that interception warrants may be issued only for  the detection of activities prejudicial to security; or for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence information essential to security.

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Ms Gwyn said:  “Some of the intelligence material sought under the warranted activities was principally useful, at least in a direct sense, to those other agencies rather than to the NZSIS itself.

“NZSIS may cooperate with other public agencies, whether in New Zealand or elsewhere, ‘as are capable of assisting … in the performance of its functions’ that is, such cooperation must serve the functions of NZSIS and is not an end in itself”

Ms Gwyn also had reservations about how much information the SIS divulged when it made the application to the Commissioner of Security Warrants. (Sir Bruce Robertson).

“Further relevant information was available to the Service, but was not included in the warrant applications,” she said. 

“The applications also lacked a sufficient assessment of the connection between the activity for which each warrant was sought and the requirements of the NZSIS Act, particularly in relation to the cooperative nature of the activities proposed in the warrant application. “ 

DID THE SIS EDIT ITS APPLICATIONS FOR WARRANTS? 

And she then suggests that the SIS may have “edited” the information they supplied to Sir Bruce. 

“There were therefore risks that, if that additional material and a more robust assessment had been provided  the application might not have in fact met the statutory criteria and/or  those involved in authorising each warrant might have reached different conclusions on these applications. “

In other words had the SIS told Sir Bruce the fully story they may not have got the warrant. 

A NUMBER OF INQUIRIES 

Ms Gwyn said her full report would be finished by the end of the year.

She is also conducting a number of other inquiries: 

  • Into the GCSB’s interception activities in the South Pacific.
  • Into possible New Zealand engagement with Central Intelligence Agency detention and interrogation 2001-2009
  • Into warnings given by NZSIS officers. Warnings are “an appropriately framed statement to one or more members of the public” intended to prevent a threat to national security. 

Ms Gwyn said the GCSB had altogether been issued with 43 warrants of one sort or another to allow it to intercept or access communications. 

The SIS had 29 interception warrants plus two visual surveillance warrants however it was decided not to report the number of warrants involving foreign person or organisations. 

FOREIGN WARRANTS 

The SIS Act has a very broad definition of a foreign person and organisation. 

It defines a foreign person as an “an individual who is neither a New Zealand citizen nor a permanent resident”. 

And it and defines a foreign organisation as:

  • a government of any country other than New Zealand:
  • an entity controlled by the government of any country other than New Zealand:
  • a company or body corporate or their subsidiaries that are incorporated outside New Zealand.
  • an unincorporated body of persons where less than 50% of its members are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents; and that carries on activities wholly or in part outside New Zealand. 

Since traditionally, much of the SIS’s work involved foreign embassies in Wellington, it is likely there are a number of foreign interception warrants in existence. 

But Ms Gwyn said that it was the SIS Director’s view that to publicly disclose the number of foreign intelligence warrants in force raised issues both of legislative intent and of possible security or international relations risks. 

However she was continuing to discuss the matter with the Director. 

This year’s report is the most detailed yet from the Inspector general since the office was expanded in 2013. 

Last year the report to 28 pages; this year to 52. 

What this marks is a step up in activity by the Inspector general and also a move towards a greater transparency for the Intelligence agencies.