Findings released into potential GCSB and NZSIS involvement in CIA torture

An investigation has found no evidence New Zealand intelligence agencies were involved in a CIA torture programme, but they did receive information from interrogations.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's latest report on the inquiry into the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) detention and interrogation programme has found no evidence New Zealand was involved. 

But the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) received information from CIA detainee interrogations, which often involved torture methods.

The report also highlights a lack of support given to GCSB and NZSIS staff on the ground in Afghanistan over the 2001 to 2009 period. 

The intelligence services said they were not aware at the time that the detainee interrogations involved torture, but it was known that the detainees were being held by the CIA at an "undisclosed location", the findings say. 

The report said: "One request from a GCSB staff member to attend an FBI detainee interrogation was declined by the then-director."

Torture is prohibited in New Zealand law and in international law. But neither the GCSB or NZSIS raised any concerns about the CIA programme, either formally or informally, the report adds. 

The investigation into New Zealand's involvement began in 2015, following a US Senate Intelligence Committee report, which concluded the CIA's detention and interrogation programme used torture on terrorism suspects. 

It said 119 detainees were held at CIA sites between 2002 and 2008, and 39 were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, including sleep deprivation, waterboarding, prolonged standing and exposure to cold. 

One detainee died, whose cause of death was possibly hypothermia. 

New Zealand staff had a "low level of awareness" of the public allegations about the programme, even though there was "sufficient information in the public domain", the report said. 

In addition, those in charge of the agencies at the time did not "adequately identify the potential legal and reputational risks for their organisations and the Government" from engaging with the CIA, as an intelligence partner. 

"Thus the Prime Minister and ministers were not informed and enabled to make decisions about how to deal with the risks in the context of New Zealand's overall relationship with its foreign partners."

Were New Zealand personnel prepared?

The report found that the GCSB did not "adequately support its staff deployed in or otherwise engaged in intelligence activity in respect of Afghanistan". 

"Nor [did it] provide them with any policies or procedures relating to GCSB's human rights obligations, and the role of civilians, in a military environment working to support military operational objectives."

It found that NZSIS policies on human rights obligations relating to foreign intelligence cooperation were also insufficient. 

GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton said on Monday much has changed in the 10 to 15 years since the deployments covered by the Inspector-General's report.

NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge and GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton.
NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge and GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

He pointed to the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 which effectively allows the GCSB and NZSIS to work together more collaboratively and protect New Zealand's interests. 

NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge said the US remains a "valued Five Eyes partner" and the intelligence New Zealand receives from American agencies "makes a significant contribution to New Zealand's national security". 

New Zealand forces were sent to Afghanistan under Helen Clark's government in 2001, joining the United States-led invasion following the September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda. 

By September 2018, the New Zealand Defence Force had suffered eight combat deaths in Afghanistan - the first in 2010. 

The Government announced in June that New Zealand's presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be decreased. 

Cabinet agreed to continue New Zealand's deployment mandate to Afghanistan out to December 2020, and to explore opportunities to support women, peace and security initiatives there. 

Defence Force personnel will be decreased from 13 to 11 over that period.