Green MP Golriz Ghahraman expresses 'huge concern' about NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge over 'inappropriate' targeting of Muslims

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has expressed "huge concern" about New Zealand's top spy Rebecca Kitteridge after her agency was found to have focussed too much on Islamic terrorism. 

The independent Royal Commission into the Christchurch terror attack was set up to investigate what state sector agencies knew about the Australian-born terrorist's activities and what could have prevented the loss of 51 lives. 

The Royal Commission concluded in its findings released on Tuesday that the concentration of counter-terrorism resources on Islamist terrorism was "inappropriate" and not enough was going into white supremacist threats. 

It found that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), which Kitteridge leads as Director-General, had "decided to concentrate its scarce counter-terrorism resources on the presenting threat of Islamist extremist terrorism". 

The findings also say that the inappropriate concentration of resources did not contribute to the terrorist's planning and preparation for his attack not being detected. But Ghahraman is calling on Kitteridge for accountability. 

"What is really deeply concerning is that after we've had our highest-level inquiry into this, there's been a damning finding of prejudice against her agency and she is denying that finding, which does make her - in my opinion - unfit to lead the change that the commission has recommended," Ghahraman told reporters on Wednesday. 

"She needs to read the report, come to terms with the fact that there's been a finding of prejudice against her agency, and commit to change," she added, when asked if Kitteridge should step down. "If she can't do that, then yes."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

A spokesperson for the NZSIS told Newshub Kitteridge is a politically neutral public servant and therefore unable to respond to comments such as this from a politician.

Kitteridge attended a press conference alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington on Tuesday where the findings of the Royal Commission were unveiled to the media. 

Kitteridge came under fire over comments she made in 2016 in which she framed terrorism as a Muslim issue by citing several terrorist attacks overseas by Muslim extremists but not mentioning shootings by right-wing radicals. 

"I accept the point you're making about the speech that I gave then," Kitteridge told reporters. "Just to explain, it was in a particular context... but I accept the point you are making."

Kitteridge said she has "reflected deeply" on the submissions made to the Royal Commission by different Muslim organisations and made to the media who felt they have been unfairly targeted by security agencies.

Wasseim Sati was shot outside Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, and told Newshub just two weeks ago he was made to feel like a terrorist

"I've been questioned if I'm terrorist or not by the police," he told Newshub. "I had visit by the police and they asked me 'Wasseim are you a terrorist, are you belong to ISIS?' I was very surprised, I was very shocked; it took me a couple days, I was really angry and really upset by the question."

NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge.
NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Kitteridge has apologised for upsetting the Muslim community. 

"NZSIS should have done better at explaining our role to the community and listening to their concerns. I know that a number of people have found this upsetting, and to them I apologise," she said. 

Kitteridge also acknowledged the "need to ensure that there is an appropriate and adequate focus of resources on the range of threats New Zealand faces".

She said the NZSIS struggled with resourcing. 

"I think one of the things people may find interesting about the report is that it shows how scarce the resources were in 2014 when I began this role," she said. 

"The reality is that there was a small number of individuals of security concern that we were monitoring from the particular group and as I say, until 2018 it wasn't possible to broaden our areas of investigation to broader threats.

"But the idea that we have ever or would ever monitor the Muslim community as a whole - that has never been the case, it never will be the case. We only are interested in individuals of security concern, whatever their ideology may be.

"I do really feel genuinely... I understand the concerns that the Muslim community have expressed and I know that it has been really difficult for them over the last few years and that they have found some of the interactions they've had with my service difficult and it has made them feel like they've been targeted.

NZSIS Minister Andrew Little.
NZSIS Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"And so my apology is genuine today."

Ghahraman doesn't buy Kitteridge's excuse that resourcing was an issue. 

"The finding was that her agency was disproportionately ascribing resource - what resource they did have - to monitoring the Muslim community and that that wasn't based on evidence of where they should be ascribing their resource.

"Knowing that she has received this Royal Commission report and found that prejudice existed in her agency and that she continues to deny that evidence, does give me huge concern about her leadership."

NZSIS Minister Andrew Little told reporters Kitteridge came into her role to make a culture change and organisational improvement. He said she has done a good job. 

Little said he continues to have confidence in her. 

"Yes I do."