Spy review slams former SIS director over Goff

  • Breaking
  • 24/11/2014

The Prime Minister has resisted calls for his resignation and will not apologise to former Labour leader Phil Goff over claims he knew secret operations were occurring in his office.

A highly critical report was released today into the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) which said the service provided Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater with "incomplete, inaccurate and misleading" information about a 2011 briefing Mr Goff received regarding suspected Israeli spies in Christchurch.

Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence Cheryl Gwyn decided to investigate one of the claims in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book in August, in which John Key's senior staffer Jason Ede was believed to have been working with Slater to dig dirt on Mr Goff in 2011.

The book claimed Mr Ede told Slater what to submit in an Official Information Act (OIA) request regarding a briefing Mr Goff had with the SIS about suspected Israeli spies who fled Christchurch following the earthquakes.

Mr Goff said he hadn't been briefed about the spies, but the official documents suggested otherwise.

The inquiry found Mr Ede provided Slater with unclassified SIS information, but did not breach the confidence of the service because it was understood the information was given for media purposes.

Ms Gwyn says no classified information was given to Slater.

The inquiry looked into allegations SIS staff colluded with Slater or were under the direction of Mr Key or his office.

Ms Gwyn says the claims were serious, but she did not believe staff contacted Slater to instigate his OIA request or that direction was given to the service by the Prime Minister or his office.

She says 22 people were summoned to give evidence during the inquiry and would have required Mr Key if it was necessary, but his involvement was "limited".

The report says the incorrect information was passed on to Mr Key and his office.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says it is "inconceivable" Mr Key didn't know about the so-called "black-ops" being conducted from his office.

He and Mr Goff have called for his resignation, with the latter saying Mr Key should also apologise for spreading misinformation about him regarding the briefing.

Dr Norman believes Mr Key is abusing his power to smear political opponents using the SIS.

"This is a danger to our democracy," he said.

He has called for a Royal Commission into the inner workings of John Key's office.

But Mr Key won't apologise or resign.

"Over what?" he said.

"The report is absolutely crystal clear. It says I played no role, it says insomuch as if my staff ever had a conversation with Cameron Slater, it was totally above board and legitimate. It didn't compromise anything."

He believes Mr Goff should instead apologise for the claims made against him.

He says Slater didn't ask for any information which was different to other media outlets.

"The only link in the whole report is that a person working on my staff did have a conversation with Cameron Slater, that's accepted. But that's true that political staffers and politicians talk to the media all of the time," he said.

Mr Key accepted Mr Goff had not had a briefing about the suspected spies as in-depth as he did.

SIS apologises to Phil Goff

As part of Ms Gwyn's report, she ordered an official apology to Mr Goff from SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge.

She met with Mr Goff in Parliament this morning and her apology is the first major consequence of Dirty Politics.

But Mr Goff says Mr Key needs to take responsibility, because he does not believe Mr Key did not know what his staff were up to in his office.

"John Key could not have imagined for a moment that he was going to have an Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security with the powers to follow telephone calls, to access all documents in the SIS office that it would catch the Prime Minister out."

Mr Goff says Mr Key should have given evidence in the inquiry.

"It is not too late now, after three years of denial, for him to acknowledge the wrongdoings of his office [...], to come clean and give an absolute undertaking to the people of our country that he will no longer tolerate the misuse of confidential information from the SIS for party political reasons," he says.

Mr Goff believes the report exonerates him and shows he did not lie about the nature of the briefing.   

The report found no evidence of political partisanship by the SIS, but did fail to take adequate steps to maintain political neutrality.

"Having released inaccurate information that was predictably misinterpreted, the then-director of the service [Warren Tucker] had a responsibility to take positive steps to correct the interpretation. He failed to do so."

Ms Gwyn has made a number of recommendations to Ms Kitteridge about OIA processes and "systemic changes" to manage SIS interactions with ministerial offices. She has accepted all the recommendations.

Former SIS director "between rock and hard place"

In a statement, Ms Kitteridge says the SIS will implement the changes "as soon as possible".

As well as apologising to Mr Goff, she has also said sorry to Mr Key for providing the wrong information.

Among the changes is a seconded adviser from the NZ intelligence community in the Minister's office.

"There is a question about whether any of the IGIS' findings should have consequences for current staff, and I have commissioned independent advice on this," she says.

Meanwhile, Dr Tucker has also accepted the findings and thanked Ms Gwyn for the work into the report of his decisions and the "systemic errors" made by the SIS.

"I fully accept the finding that my ability to both navigate these issues and discharge my obligations of political neutrality, of which I was well aware, was compromised by my view that my credibility had been placed in issue concerning events that I could well recall."

He felt he was "between a rock and a hard place" when dealing with his obligations under the OIA and the SIS Act and says he should have sought more assistance.

"I sincerely regret the errors of judgement this failure caused," he says.

Mr Goff says the report is an indictment on Dr Tucker's professionalism and his running of the SIS.

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