New Zealand spy agency NZSIS intercepted multiple potential threats to 2020 general election

NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge and GCSB boss Andrew Hampton.
NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge and GCSB boss Andrew Hampton. Photo credit: Newshub

As New Zealanders prepared to vote last year for who they thought should form the next Government, potential threats to the integrity of October's general election were being intercepted.

Newshub can reveal the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) identified and responded to "fewer than 10" leads relating to the general election, which had been postponed due to COVID-19. 

A 'lead' is the initial information that indicates a potential threat to national security. The NZSIS wouldn't confirm the exact number of leads and noted responding to them doesn't necessarily constitute an active national security investigation.

The NZSIS say it is responsible for collecting, analysing and assessing intelligence about foreign interference activities in New Zealand.

"During the 2020 General Election, we focused on triaging any leads related to foreign interference, and assessing whether they could significantly impact the outcome of the election, or public confidence in the electoral process".

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said in a letter released to Newshub that the National Cyber Security Centre engaged directly with the Electoral Commission to provide cyber security advice and support to reinforce their cyber security resilience. 

"This included investigation of potentially anomalous activity identified through operation of our cyber security capabilities and information provided by Electoral Commission Security staff," the GCSB said.

"We are unable to provide further details of this work as to do so might disclose aspects of our capabilities which could be of benefit to malicious actors (section 6(a) of the OIA applies: the release of the information would be likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand)."

Both agencies noted principles and protocols in managing foreign interference and cyber security threats were developed for the 2020 general election. They were put together by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in consultation with the intelligence community and they set out the processes that would guide any response. 

Both confirmed the Election Protocol wasn't triggered.

In 2019, both agencies revealed that "interference in New Zealand's elections by a state actor was, and remains, plausible".

NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge told Parliament's Justice Select Committee "there are credible reports of interference campaigns in the elections of other countries, and these attempts are increasing in their sophistication".

GCSB boss Andrew Hampton said his agency didn't pick up on any candidate or political parties being targeted by cyber operations in the 2017 election.