Spies reveal three counter-terrorism operations agencies involved in, national security dynamics changing

The head of one of New Zealand's spy agencies has for the first time discussed how its "unique capabilities" were used in three counter-terrorism operations.

Andrew Hampton, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) director-general, appeared before Parliament's Intelligence and Security Select Committee on Monday morning, which is chaired by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

He spoke of how the GCSB is increasingly working with other domestic agencies in the wake of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch shootings to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

"I will briefly touch on three examples of recent domestic counter-terrorism work that paint a picture of how our unique capabilities and authorities can assist domestically focused agencies. This is not something we've talked about before in public."

The first operation involved an individual making bomb threats last year "with an implied ideological motivation". Hampton didn't specify what this ideological motivation was.

The second operation involved a New Zealand-based individual who adhered to "white-identity violent extremism" who Hampton said was "displaying behaviour of increasing concern online".

"The third involved an individual claiming to be a white-identity violent extremist making threats to use firearms and explosives at a public event," he said.

"In all three operations, the GCSB was able to combine lead information with our unique technical capability to help identify the individuals, who had each taken great care to anonymise themselves online."

Hampton said the GCSB worked with the police and NZSIS to "develop a clear picture of the real-world threat they posed". In the third case, the GCSB was able to "provide information that supported the appropriate action to be taken by police."

Speaking to media, neither Hampton nor New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) acting director-general Phil McKee could provide further specific details about what happened in those operations.

"But we have really strong mechanisms to either work in creating our own intelligence - our own leads information - because of the really cool people we have working for us, our investigators, or we get that from members of the public, or through partnerships," McKee said.

Hampton said the lead information in these cases came from other agencies.

"But we were able to use our technical capabilities to help round out the picture about those individuals as these were people who were trying to obscure who they were online. That's where we can help out... They used a range of ways to try and obscure who they were."

During his opening remarks to the committee, McKee said there had been a "clear shift in the dynamics of our national security".

"Many of the threats we are facing stem in some ways from increased strategic competition… domestic terrorism still gives us cause for concern but the transnational terror is not where it has been in the last decade.

"We have seen competition between states intensify over the past year and this will have security implications for New Zealand for some time.

"Foreign states will be looking for a strategic or intelligence advantage in this rivalry. What that means for us and in our home region is more frequent attempts to disrupt and interfere in our democracy, our economy, our information environment and our social fabric"

However, McKee said there is potential for those dynamics to change again "rapidly" with domestic terrorism remaining "firmly on our radar".

Hampton, the GCSB head, will soon transition into the NZSIS director-general role after Rebecca Kitteridge left the position to become the deputy Public Service Commissioner.