Friday 10 October 2014

Daggers In The Dark: Why John Key Should Remain Minister-in-Charge Of The SIS and GCSB.

John Key's New Spymaster? Chris Finlayson has proved to be a politician of icy rectitude: an austere and unbending executor of his official responsibilities as Attorney-General. All well and good, it is an office well-suited to austerity. But John Key should think again before entrusting a person so confident in the unassailability of his own judgements with the awesome weaponry of the secret state.
JOHN KEY’S DECISION to hand off day-to-day responsibility for the national security apparatus to Chris Finlayson is deeply troubling. The tradition of making the Prime Minister the Minister-in-Charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and, more latterly, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), reflected the public’s expectation that foreign and domestic intelligence gathering must never be permitted to overstep the democratic boundaries. As the nation’s most powerful elected official, the Prime Minister is supposed to keep the spooks in line.
But now the Attorney-General – the country’s most important legal officer – is being asked by the Prime Minister to double as New Zealand’s Spymaster. Ominously, the responsibility for administering the law and supervising New Zealand’s national security apparatus is to be vested in a single individual. Inevitably, the biblical question arises: can Mr Finlayson serve two masters?
Historically, those charged with preserving the safety of the State have demonstrated little patience for formal legal protocols. In the words of the Roman jurist, Cicero: salus populi suprema lex – the safety of the people shall be the highest law. And when that safety is perceived to be under imminent threat, the first impulse of those in possession of the State’s defensive weaponry has almost always been to strike first and ask the judges later.
And if the Spymaster’s swift action results in the threat to the State being removed, then why should the courts be troubled with it at all? A spymaster is, of course, expected to declare absolute fealty to the Rule of Law and express nothing but horror at the thought of the Crown’s servants taking the law into their own hands. All quite right and proper. And yet, the State will have its reasons, as compelling as they are unacknowledged. What spymasters profess to believe, and what they actually do, have long been very distant cousins.
It is also worth bearing in mind just how difficult it is for those with the power to execute their judgements secretly to then have those same judgements subjected to wider  (even public!) scrutiny. Surely the expectation of any leader who sees fit to devolve such extensive authority upon a subordinate is that his servant will use that power to both protect and advance their master’s cause? And, surely, one of the best ways to protect one’s master is to ensure that he or she retains what the American’s call “plausible deniability”. To work from the assumption that there are some decisions best made and executed without the leader’s knowledge – or approval?
And therein lies the greatest threat to the liberties of the citizen. That an individual, having been given immense power within the State begins to use that power in ways that are accountable to no one – save the conscience of he or she who wields it. From Elizabeth I’s Walsingham to Joseph Stalin’s Beria to the FBI’s almost wholly unaccountable J. Edgar Hoover, spymasters have, practically without exception, regarded themselves as the system’s secret dagger: a weapon to be driven home in dark places, far from prying eyes, but always in defence of its most profound values. Often unacknowledged and frequently unthanked (at least in public) the Spymaster seeks no greater reward than the knowledge that he or she has kept the Crown/the Revolution/the Constitution safe from its enemies.

Sir Francis Walsingham: Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster.
And it is precisely for this reason that, hitherto, our prime ministers, by making themselves, alone, accountable for the exercise of the State’s secret power, have protected us from the rise of such individuals. Theoretically, it is an arrangement that denies our leaders all hope of “plausible deniability”. They know what has been done because they were the ones who gave the orders to do it. If the State’s secret dagger must be wielded, then better the blood be upon our leaders’ hands. That way, only the public, in full democratic array, has the power to absolve them.
Chris Finlayson has proved to be a politician of icy rectitude: an austere and unbending executor of his official responsibilities as Attorney-General. All well and good, it is an office well-suited to austerity. But John Key should think again before entrusting a person so confident in the unassailability of his own judgements with the awesome weaponry of the secret state. Let the Spymaster’s dagger remain in the Prime Minister’s hands – where we can all see it.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 October 2014.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Chris, I think it's a bit of a stretch calling our spies daggers :-). Particularly after the penthouse in the briefcase affair. Not to mention that they've been caught a couple of times haven't they in someone's house. It's always intrigued me that they're allowed to put bugs and things in your house in secret. I once put it to them in another forum, "what would happen if in the process of installing the bugs damage was done to my house – perhaps an expensive vase knocked over and broken. Could they be held responsible?" – Not so much as a free penthouse. For that matter, what happens if I find a bug? Do I have to leave it in situ? Can I destroy it? Or do I have to take it to SIS headquarters and give it back to them? Intriguing stuff.

Charles Etherington said...

Chris this theme you return to now, and the two related ones immediately below it are quite a puzzle to me but I presume that will only serve to reinforce your thesis. I guess it makes a pleasant change from the woes of Labour. Parker is the man to pick by the way..... but too late....

Like most NZers I really don't care about the spies and the dirty politics. They are just not important in silly little NZ, thank heavens.
And before the election I predicted the muck raking by Hager would push the National support towards 50%, did I not?
And what is probably even worse, I suspect from your point of view, is I maintain this is very healthy. A sign of a sound society.
You see, most of us in NZ do not trust people like Hager but we do trust people like Key & Findlayson. Why? Because the former clearly opposes our society, tries to undermine it, thinks it is flawed and corrupt, which it isn't and the latter two blokes are the opposite. Yes they are politicians and can be a bit more devious than average but the likes of Hager cannot be trusted even to lie straight in bed at night. So in the view of the man in the street Hager is just another pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theorists, and therefore lacks all credibility.
Now I accept he does raise matters of importance sometimes but two things disqualify him entirely from being taken other than a far left hack: Firstly his timing when he launches his latest grandstanding. You can set your clock by him. Secondly his preposterous claim to be an 'investigative journalist'. He is 100% activist, and the receiver of stolen property. Real journalists are sound professionals who put their allegations to their accused and remain detached, apolitical.

So my suggestion on all this stuff is to move along, nothing of importance is to be found here. This is not Tudor England or House of Cards. It's not even Shortland Street.

Davo Stevens said...

Yes it is Surgeon.

How much of this is John Key wanting to distance himself from the hassles that Hager's book and the subsequent "Inquiry"?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hello Charles, I'm back :-). Davo you are entirely correct I suspect. He wants to put himself at one remove from the dirty politics thing. Which as Chris pointed out some time ago has been Key's policy all along.
Couple of points Charles. Hager is an activist, but he's a better journalist than whale oil. And both of them have stolen things, and both of them face prosecution or civil action if I remember rightly. And whale oil has been designated a journalist legally so Hager must be if we judge by the same criteria. Except IMO whale oil is more of your "Truth" kind of journalist.
You also seem to forget that this "far left hack" almost cost Helen Clark an election a few years ago. Most of the right wing seem to forget that when assessing his impartiality. Lastly of course and I'm not sure I necessarily approve this, but he did not put his allegations to the accused because the book would never have been published if he had. :-) Goodbye Charles.

pat said...

who would like to join Charles, John and I in denouncing that filthy commie Hager, wrap ourselves in Old Glory, clutch our hands to our breasts and burst into a rousing version of Star Spangled Banner?....come on. you know you want to.

Davo Stevens said...

Oh Charles, you just can't help yourself can you? John Key once described NZ as a "Rock Star" economy, of course, he's wants the be that "Star"! He has a pathological need to be loved and adored by his loyal fans. But he's not a "Rock Star" Charles, he's a psychopath!

If Slater is a "Journalist" then he's one of the ilk of Murdoch/Fox News. Just a muck-raker who thrives on scandal.

Nicky Hager is a world recognised Investigative Journalist who researches his sources thoroughly and publishes what he finds. Hager is a Capitalist too, when he has a product to sell, he promotes it at a time when it will maximise his sales, surely even you can see that technique!

As Surgeon and others have pointed out Hager almost un-seated Helen Clark just before her last Election with his "CornGate" book. By cherry-picking your data you are doing yourself no favours my friend.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Davo, you are correct – I think it's a blind spot that I never even thought that his motive was to sell the most books he could. As you said, a good capitalist idea.

Grant Hay said...

@GS 18.49 "And both of them have stolen things, and both of them face prosecution or civil action if I remember rightly."

Hi GS. I usually find myself nodding in agreement as I read you comments but on your comment above I feel I must butt in with a correction. Hager has stolen nothing, been charged with nothing, has not been accused by anyone other than the usual nut-bars of doing anything illegal. Even the wing nuts turn tail and snarl off into the distance when asked to specify what Hager should be charged with and under which Act. I have yet to see a single one of them come up with an answer to those questions.

Victor said...


I don't think there's anything inherently more transparent or accountable about having the PM rather than the Attorney General in charge of the murky world of intelligence, let alone such dirty ops as might be required for the security of the realm.

By their very nature, such activities are likely to be sub rosa and involve morally ambiguous decisions and trade-offs.

Normally, I would prefer someone of Findlayson's ostensible integrity in immediate charge of such matters, rather than someone from whom I might be unlikely to purchase a used car.

But I take the point that Key currently wants maximum wiggle room for coping with the aftermath of "Dirty Politics" and the step sideways might help him achieve this.


I have considerable difficulty seeing John Key as either a rock star or a psychopath.

He's just a brighter than usual corporate functionary, whom, for reasons that largely elude me, is adored by a large quartile of the public. And he's human enough to enjoy the adoration. But that's not what he's there for.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, he's received stolen goods then. And that's akin to stealing. And isn't the oily whale pressing charges of some sort?

Charles said...

What? You clearly can't read straight DS. Who mentioned Rock Stars or Slater?
This is also the last time I respond to your scattering rants. I see Cosgrove describes you and GS precisely in yesterday's Press.
And pat. Grow up and also read what is there not what you fantasise. 'Filthy commie?' So passe. Not my words. He's just not a journalist, and therefore of no interest except to you lot, but you fail to see that.

Chris Trotter said...

If you cannot accept that Nicky Hager is a journalist, Charles, then it is clear that your visits here are a waste of both your own and Bowalley Road's readers' time and effort.

The only motive readily discernible in your contributions is a desire to deliver multiple variations on the theme of "We won. You lost. Eat that!"

I've had enough of it.

Pastures new for you, I think.

Victor said...


Unless I've got hold of the wrong end of the stick, this isn't a case of goods being stolen, as the originals remained in the hard-drives or other storage systems of their originators.

It's surely more a case of invasion of privacy and unwarranted copying.

I'm not sure that there's such an offence as receiving unwarranted copies. But, if so, everyone who's read "Dirty Politics" is presumably guilty, including, journalists reporting the story and even some of Hager's critics, as well as the book chains selling the volume and, of course, its publishers.

It might also be that Hager was an accessory to the original offence. But that would need to be proved and (short of applying the thumbscrews) I don't see how.

Moreover, is being an accessory to a lift of unwarranted copies an indictable offence?

Is there a lawyer out there who can offer something other than fact-free conjecture on these points?

Davo Stevens said...

Fair comments Victor.

I called John Key a "Rockstar" because of his constant need to be in photos. He would be at home on the red carpet in Hollywood. Yes, as a Psychopath he's very much at home in big business.

Bear with me for a bit; back in 2010, the ground here one Saturday morning rumbled and shook. Things came a-tumbling down!

Later that morning I went over the the East side to see that some old friends of mine were okay. They were albeit somewhat shaken. Whilst I was there our Johnny arrived across the street in a shiny new 4WD and an entourage that stretched away down the street. Most of whom were photographers!

He stopped outside a house where the family were sitting on their verandah of their nearly destroyed house, grasped the man's hand as the cameras went click, click, click then without saying a word walked away back to the 4WD and drove off. That's "Rockstar" Victor!

A short while later I had the fortune or misfortune depending on one's POV of talking to him in person. He was very smiley and friendly but when I looked into his eyes I saw nothing. It was like staring down the portal of Pike River! That is a clear sign of a Psychopath my friend.

I worked as a Prison Officer for the last few years of my working life and I had seen that very thing in the eyes of some of the worse crims this country has ever produced.

pat said...

touched a nerve Charles?...i certainly hope i never lose the childlike ability to see people as they are nor the ability to create the metal pictures their words create.

Grant Hay said...

@GS 19.40 "Well, he's received stolen goods then. And that's akin to stealing. And isn't the oily whale pressing charges of some sort?"

No. This has been covered in great detail by quite a few legal commenters in the MSM and on the main political Blogs ever since Dirty Politics was released. Firstly by Stephen? Price, Hagers Media Law adviser and also at length by Andrew Geddis and I think Felix Geiringer as well. Slater has not launched any action against Hager which in itself speaks volumes. The cops have not charged him and claim they only searched and confiscated his records etc because of his status as a "witness". Screeds has been written about this stuff in the last few weeks.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hmmmm. Digital information complicates things, but I'd say most businesses regard it as theft. Otherwise why the 'you wouldn't steal a car......' at the beginning of every DVD :-). Wouldn't mind a lawyer's opinion tho.

Victor said...

Hi Davo

Your comment on Psychopaths is instructive, as you clearly have experience thereof to draw upon.

I've only met Key once and, when I did, he said to me "nice to see you, again!"

As far as I was concerned, that said it all.

I agree he gets rock star treatment. But is that because he's asking for it or because the psychofantic media deems it appropriate?

Charles said...

Yes well Chris, you're right, I am wasting my time on you lot. You have not shown any ability to learn from your mistakes. Reading the blog over the few months before the election is very rewarding for my side, and certainly shows who won and who lost and pretty much why. Seems you are a sore loser too and so I shall leave you to your other regulars. All three of four of them.
It's been fun and I have learned things. Bye all.

Davo Stevens said...

Bye Charles!

@Victor: Thanks for your reply.

You could be well right about the Celebshit media and their fascination with "Celebrities". But it works both ways Johnny love the attention and is happy when thing go his way. He can't handle criticism at all though and hands it over to some-one else to deal with it.

A pathological desire to be loved and adored.

Got this from a Yank friend:

There is a new serious disease that is afflicting certain people in Washington.


Causes profuse sweating.

The Patient babbles incoherently.

Heart Palpitations.

Fox News has been seriously affected by it.

Patients run around in ever diminishing circles.


Grab a machinegun and parade around your local mall, scaring the bejabus out of other patrons there.

Shout out very loudly to all and sundry, "I LOVE LIBERTY!"

Sack as many Public Servants as is possible. Especially in the Health and Education sectors.

Scream out that Obama is a Commie, Muslim, non US born interloper.

Throw a tantrum whenever the President speaks about better health care for all.

Fortunately those of a Progressive Persuasion have an immunity to this debilitating condition and are not affected.

For Charles.

pat said...

As much as I enjoy ridiculing Charles apparent misplaced allegiance I think he is correct in respect of the wider publics lack of concern over the oversight of our security organisations and accompanying legislation. I find it odd that even with increasing media discussion and concern being expressed it dosnt seem to have registered with the man in the street to any great degree.Have we learned nothing?

Grant Hay said...

@GS 12/10 19.15 "Wouldn't mind a lawyer's opinion tho."

Steven Price and Andrew Geddis aren't lawyers?? I'm sorry GS but you seem to have either a blind spot or a bee in your bonnet over this business.

Victor said...


My impression is that John Key is a perpetual "work in progress".

He seems to have entered office as the cool, razor-sharp, low key (no pun intended)corporate functionary but as a newcomer to the celebrity balony that's increasingly part of politics.

Yet (like most top level corporate functionaries) he's a quick swot and swiftly learned to master the requisite skills. And he's started to relish it. But then he probably always did enjoy being good at things.

My sole meeting with Key, referred to earlier, was relatively close to the start of his premiership and I can't say that I noticed the dead look behind the eyes, although I have noticed it with a number of other corporate high flyers it's been my mixed pleasure to meet.

What I did notice in those eyes was an almost panicky desire to please and (perhaps)not to be found out. I momentarily felt almost sorry for him but then decided to pull myself together.

He's now much more assured. But I still see an insecure little boy, with a solo refugee mother, who doesn't quite fit in with his fellow high rollers (whose point man he has become) and who, above all, wants to succeed and be seen as a success.

But who am I to proffer opinions on psychology, a subject about which I know even less than I know about the law?

The mystery to me remains Key's allure to the average punter.

And, of course, the question remains as to whether that allure will continue as the economy turns sour, the job market starts to shrivel and the price soars for electronic gizmos et al.

Chris Trotter said...

Yeah, GS, Price and Geddis are lawyers who teach lawyers! If they don't know the answers, then nobody does.

pat said...

completely off topic I know, but it would appear from this mornings round of news that Labour have learned absolutely nothing....they could at least solve their financial problems and sell tickets.