Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself: What would a true master of the dark arts of politics have made of the actions of the Ira Bailey and Keith Ng, who told the MSD about the acute vulnerability of its IT systems? Or of David Shearer, whose bungled handling of leaked information about John Key's visit to GCSB headquarters snatched ridicule from the jaws of embarrassment?
A MASTER of the dark arts of politics would shake his head in disbelief. A former staffer in the Prime Minister’s office and a radical environmental activist discover a “hole” in the Ministry of Social Development’s IT network – and they immediately inform the Ministry, the Privacy Commissioner and the public.
The first question our black political magician would ask is: “Why?”
Because it wasn’t a little hole that IT specialist, Ira Bailey, and investigative journalist, Keith Ng, discovered. No. It was a vast portal; a royal road to virtually every piece of information the MSD possessed.
“Did it never occur to either of you that this discovery invested you with extraordinary political power?”
The tone of incredulity in the Political Wizard’s voice is easily imagined.
“Have you any idea what even an absolutely useless Opposition politician could have done with this information? Can you not imagine the havoc it might have created? Paula Bennett would have been beside herself. The paranoia levels in the MSD would have gone off the scale. Properly managed, this discovery could have seriously destabilised John Key’s government. At the very least it would have destroyed the Minister’s career.
“But what did you two upright citizens do? You told the MSD about their IT vulnerability. You told them! At least you, Mr Bailey, had the wit to enquire about an incentive. But you, Mr Ng, did not. Presented with an extraordinary opportunity to do real political damage you acted pro bono publico – for the public good. Honestly, words fail me!”
Could there be a better testimonial to the basic honesty of ordinary, decent New Zealanders than this extraordinary incident? Because our Master of the Dark Arts, in identifying the huge opportunity for political mischief-making Mr Bailey’s and Mr Ng’s discovery represented, is not mistaken. All of us, with a little thought, will be able to think of at least one politician who would have exploited the MSD’s massive failure without hesitation - or mercy.
We should be proud of Mr Bailey and Mr Ng. Their public-spirited behaviour was so very different from the sort of behaviour exposed during the Leveson Inquiry. Would a journalist working for The News of the World have handed such a treasure-trove of confidential and potentially damaging information over to the UK Privacy Commissioner? Would Julian Assange have contacted the US Department of Defence and offered to identify a potentially devastating security breach?
What do you think?
The Bailey/Ng revelations weren’t the only example of less-than-perfect state security to enliven the past week. It would seem that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has more than its fair share of “disgruntled former employees” – and maybe even one or two still on staff.
Once again, however, the recipients’ exploitation of covertly acquired information was enough to make our Master of the Dark Arts throw up his hands in horror.
“This is, quite simply, unbelievable!”
We must imagine at this point a shame-faced David Shearer shifting uneasily in his office chair.
“It’s Political Destabilisation 1-0-1, Mr Shearer. Page One of The Beginners Guide to Political Scandals. Evidence first. Evidence second. Evidence above all else. You never – and I mean never – launch a political scandal unless you are in possession of all the evidence required to prove it. Do you know what I’m talking about, Mr Shearer? No? Then, let me spell it out for you.
“If you claim the Prime Minister joked about Kim Dotcom’s arrest, in a cafeteria full of GCSB operatives, and there’s video evidence to prove it, what do you absolutely, positively, have to have in your possession, Mr Shearer? That’s right, you have to have the bloody video!
Did you have the video, Mr Shearer? Did you have any evidence to back up your claim? No, Mr Shearer, you did not. You walked out to confront the most popular Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history holding nothing but an accusation. By the battlements of Barad-Dur, Mr Shearer, what were you thinking!”
To which those past masters of the dark arts of politics: Michael Laws, Richard Prebble, Pete Hodgson and Rodney Hide would undoubtedly add: “Amen”
An idealist might argue that Mr Shearer’s ineptitude in these arcane matters is rather endearing.
A realist would simply conclude that the next victim of the dark arts is likely to be Mr Shearer himself.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 October 2012.