Bullshit: The idea that the Director of the SIS, Dr Warren Tucker, would proceed with the release of highly sensitive political information to a right-wing blogger without his boss's, the Prime Minister John Key's, express approval is simply not credible.
THAT DR WARREN TUCKER, Director of the Security Intelligence Service in 2011, agreed to the release of politically sensitive material – thereby intervening in an on-going contretemps between the leaders of the National and Labour parties – without receiving the express permission of his boss, the Prime Minister, John Key, is simply not credible.
The release this morning of a letter written to Newstalk-ZB Chief Political Reporter, Felix Marwick, by Dr Tucker, states unequivocally, that:
“I notified the Prime Minister (in accordance with my usual practice to keep the Minister informed on a ‘no surprises’ basis) that I was going to release redacted documents in response to the request from Mr Slater. I advised the Prime Minister that I had received legal advice that there were no grounds for withholding the information given the public disclosures already made about the existence and some of the content of the briefing. I informed the Prime Minister that I had informed Mr Goff of my decision to release the information.” (My emphases.)
Shortly after 10 o’clock this morning, Radio New Zealand-National informed its listeners that the former Director, Dr Tucker, had issued a statement “clarifying” the information contained in his letter to Mr Marwick.
The crucial two sentences of Dr Tucker’s latest statement assert that:
“My practice under the ‘no surprises’ convention relating to Official Information Act requests was to brief the Prime Minister through his office. The reference to the PM in this context means the PM’s office.”
To which, I believe, the rest of the country is entitled to call – “Bullshit.”
The person under scrutiny here is a former Director of the SIS. In this role he would have been well aware (if he was doing his job!) of Cameron Slater’s identity; of the political complexion of his Whaleoil bog; and of the close relationship existing between not only Mr Slater and the PM’s Office but also with the senior Cabinet Minister, Judith Collins.
That he was about to expedite the release of sensitive political information to Mr Slater – a decision without precedent in the experience of the mainstream news media – was, of itself, extremely unusual and highly controversial. Especially so, considering the Director’s decision not to release the information to any other media outlets – in spite of a least one formal OIA request to do so. In other words, the Director of the SIS was planning to provide Mr Slater’s Whaleoil blog with a “scoop”.
All this, and we are being asked to accept that the Director was willing to rely on the people working in the Prime Minister’s office to just pass along the information, you know, when they had time!
I have spoken to two people who have worked in ministerial and prime-ministerial offices and both of them have told me that this is a preposterous suggestion. Ministerial and Departmental Chief Executives (not to mention SIS Directors!) do not mistake or conflate the Prime Minister’s Office with the Prime Minister him or herself. They do not put their jobs and reputations on the line – as Dr Tucker undoubtedly did when he organised the exclusive release of sensitive political information to a notorious right-wing blogger – without hearing the voice of their boss, or receiving a signed instruction, giving them the go-ahead.
Unless the intention of the Director was to provide his boss with “plausible deniability” by deliberately not seeking express (i.e. spoken or written) prime ministerial approval. And if that is the case then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Dr Tucker was behaving in an entirely inappropriate and highly politicised fashion.
He must have known that what he was proposing to do was extremely unusual and open to serious question, and yet he is telling us now that he handled Mr Slater’s OIA request in a way that, should his own actions be subjected to official scrutiny at some point in the future, the Prime Minister would be protected from any and all ethical, political and legal repercussions.
But that would have entailed Dr Tucker abandoning his role as a neutral public servant and becoming the Prime Minister’s political accomplice.
And that, if true, would be an utter disgrace. Even worse, it would be subversive of New Zealand’s democratic system of government.
This essay was posted simultaneously on the Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog blogsites on Thursday 21 August 2014.