Revealed: Senior ex-US military officers land high-paying NZ Government jobs

 Details have been officially disclosed by the Pentagon for the first time in a letter to US Senators.
Details have been officially disclosed by the Pentagon for the first time in a letter to US Senators. Photo credit: RNZ

By Phil Pennington for RNZ

Retired senior US military officers have been landing high-paying government jobs in New Zealand, including with the spy agency.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) hire in 2020 was of an ex US Air Force lieutenant colonel for up to $165,000 a year.

This was among 400 to 500 American veterans, including generals and admirals, who US media revealed have taken foreign jobs.

Details have been officially disclosed by the Pentagon for the first time in a letter to US Senators.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has approved almost all the jobs but two US senators were alarmed this was too relaxed and US secrets could leak.

The Pentagon letter shows the US army going after a general pardoned by Donald Trump - Michael Flynn - for $60,000 paid to him by the Russia Today media channel.

Among the 450 jobs on the Pentagon list were six in New Zealand, including the spy job.

It was described as GCSB's "manager, high assurance manager" on $110,000-$165,000 a year (it was unclear if that was NZ or US dollars).

The applicant's name was blanked out, as were the names of the other five.

Another of the six was a US navy commander approved for a civilian job for $185,000 a year at the New Zealand Defence Force in 2018.

Australians have learned through the Pentagon list that they were paying up to $8000 a day for military consultancy from a retired US Admiral.

One of America's top spies worked for Australian intelligence, a partner with New Zealand in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, the ABC's Andrew Greene reported.

The GCSB said in a statement to RNZ on Thursday: "The New Zealand intelligence agencies have a close working relationship with our Five Eyes partners, including the United States.

"We have strong collaborative links and the sharing of expertise is highly valued."

The two senators noted in the Washington Post's scoop report last year that many of the contracts were for military advisory work in countries known for human rights abuses.

"What has DoD... done to address security threats posed by retired veterans with knowledge of our military infrastructure working for foreign governments?" Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Glassley said in a letter to the department.

"The apparent lack of internal policing in this matter is gravely troubling given the national security interests at stake.

"The Department of Defense recognises the importance of this issue," the Pentagon replied.

Many more Australian contracts than New Zealand ones were on the list.

A former US vice admiral has been chosen to do a fresh review of Australia's surface fleet. Australia and the US recently forged a $A368 billion nuclear submarine deal, and the New Zealand military just did a deal to work more closely with Australia's army, including to support participation in a Five Eyes standardisation pact.

The pay rates range from several hundred thousand dollars a year to just $500 a month for an independent consultant to the Icelandic government.

The Pentagon list extends back to 2012 but no jobs in New Zealand appear till 2017.

Of the dozen applicants the Department of Defense turned down, one was for a New Zealand job in 2017.

This would have seen a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel work here as "Targeting & Director, Intel, Surveillance & Recon".

The most recent position, in 2022, was for a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel to join a NZDF programme run at Auckland University of Technology.

This was worth just $15,000-$55,000 for four years, with the Technical Cooperation Program that advances Five Eyes "defence science".

The pay rates of two other local jobs was not disclosed by the Pentagon - a 2019 deal for a senior master sergeant as a "Technical Support Boeing Controller" and the sixth job in 2017, for an Air Force lieutenant colonel to work as a strategic information communications systems officer here.

Overseas applicants for military jobs here must be a currently serving member of the UK, Australian, US or Canadian armed forces, or been a citizen of any of those countries for at least a decade.

The GCSB and Defence Force have been asked for comment.