Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dissident Solutions: What's Happening To Nicky Hager?

Targeted? The actions of the NZ Police in relation to Nicky Hager are deeply concerning. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the ability of New Zealand's foremost investigative journalist to do his job is being deliberately undermined.
 
MARTYN BRADBURY’S LATEST POSTING on The Daily Blog should give every member of the democratic public serious pause. The allegations levelled at the NZ Police are serious and deeply concerning. It is very difficult, having read Martyn’s post, to avoid the conclusion that Nicky Hager may be the victim of deliberate political persecution, and that among the principal agents of that persecution may be members of the NZ Police Force.
 
With the specifics of the actions taken against Mr Hager forming a significant part of active legal proceedings, it would be improper to rehearse them on The Daily Blog. What can be examined, however, is the enormous risk posed to the integrity of our democratic institutions by the merest suspicion that senior politicians, senior civil servants, senior policemen and senior jurists might be involved in an effort to both frighten and silence what used to be called, back in the days of the Cold War, “political dissidents”.
 
What distinguishes the “political dissident” from the more familiar “political activist” is their specificity. Activists may give public voice to generalised complaints against individuals and institutions, but dissidents sharpen such complaints by supplying the public with hard evidence of specific wrong-doing – often supplied to them by a whistleblower or, in Mr Hager’s case, a hacker. Alternatively, the evidence may simply have been uncovered by applying the techniques of good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism.
 
Liberal democracies have very little to fear from activists. Objections to government policy and/or corporate behaviour based on political ideology or religious belief constitute no real threat to the smooth unfolding of long-prepared strategies and plans. After all, the actions of powerful institutions – be they public or private – are almost always undertaken within the law and are, therefore, extremely difficult to stop. Indeed, it is only when the placard-waving (but otherwise ineffective) activists avail themselves of a lawyer or two that they graduate to dissident status – at least in the eyes of their opponents.
 
Lawyers, like the best investigative journalists, have ways of extracting information the powers-that-be would rather they, their clients, and/or the general public, didn’t see. In the hands of a good team of lawyers, legal discovery can be an immensely powerful weapon. The constitutional separation of powers means that the Judiciary can require the Executive Branch of Government, or a private corporation, to divulge all manner of secret material. Discovery cuts both ways, however, so those who go after the secrets of the powerful must be prepared for the powerful to come after theirs.
 
But if lawyers pose a genuine threat to the secret dealings of the powerful, they are also extremely hazardous to their client’s bank balance. This enables the State, by dint of having its very own “law firm” – Crown Law – and a practically inexhaustible supply of funds, to adopt a strategy of litigation attrition. By extending and multiplying the mechanisms of the Law, the Crown is frequently able to wear down or financially exhaust its opponents. If an out-of-court settlement is arrived at by the contending parties it will almost always contain a comprehensive confidentiality clause. The dissident and his or her lawyers may “win” their case, but the State’s secrets remain just that – secrets.
 
What truly terrifies the wielders of public and private power are processes of “discovery” that owe nothing to the operation of the courts. Edward Snowden was able to use his privileged access to the secrets of the United States’ National Security Agency, to expose its highly questionable (and in some cases illegal) activities to the whole world. The specificity of the information he released (that the US eavesdropped on the conversations of the German Chancellor, for example) produced the most acute diplomatic embarrassment. Likewise his detailed description of the architecture of mass surveillance.
 
Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics, delivered an equally destructive blow to the secret world of right-wing influence peddling and political character assassination. The hitherto unseen architecture of political manipulation in New Zealand was laid bare in a way that caught the subjects of Mr Hager’s investigation completely off-guard. It was the same with his earlier publications: Secret Power, Secrets and Lies, Seeds of Distrust, The Hollow Men and Other People’s Wars. In every case those under scrutiny had no idea that their activities were about to be exposed.
 
This “ambush” strategy has been criticised by Mr Hager’s opponents as unethical and contrary to the “rules of good journalism”. What it achieves, however, is the unimpeded distribution of his publications. Had the subjects of Mr Hager’s investigations been alerted to the fact that a book was in preparation, or, about to be published, it is highly likely that they would have attempted to legally injunct its release. Rather than offer his subjects the traditional right-of-reply, therefore, Mr Hager exhaustively checks and re-checks his facts to ensure that there is no possibility of legal restraint. That he has never been successfully sued bears testimony to the thoroughness of this pre-publication scrutiny.
 
What does a government “do” about a dissident of such consistent effectiveness as Nicky Hager? How reassuring it would be if we could answer, simply, that the powers-that-be, both public and private, redouble their efforts to conduct themselves ethically and openly. The revelations contained in Martyn Bradbury’s blogpost, however, strongly suggest that their reaction has been very different.
 
It’s as if someone, somewhere, has echoed the anguished cry of King Henry II.
 
When confronted with further evidence of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s, Thomas Becket’s, political and religious defiance, Henry bellowed: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Did Henry know that four of his knights had taken him at his word and were on their way to slay the Archbishop before his altar? We shall never know. He always claimed ignorance of his men-at-arms’ intent, and did penance for the crime his words inspired. At the end of the day, however, his problem had, actually, been solved.
 
Rogue elements in the Police Force? Or a carefully devised plan to bring down a dissident? Either way, the outlook for the democratic public is grim.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 13 July 2015.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with the credits you give Hager, much of his book was opinion and/or conjecture. The rest was hacked emails, the police should investigate that matter vigorously. I hope they are successful in their endeavours.

Nick J said...

A contemporary biographer (Edward Grim)recorded Henry's words differently. "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"
Henry shames his henchmen into action, and declares his total primacy, and the debt of his servants to him, the King. Spurred by these words Henry's men commit both temporal and spiritual crime, murder within a consecrated building of Gods servant.

Flick forward to 2015, and ask yourself if you can remember a head of state in NZ with such easy assumption of his own powers, with so many willing functionaries, and with such regimented public approval? Did anybody high up in our establishment even need to prompt the police, or was it just unspoken "teamwork".

Anonymous said...

I agree with you in general about Political Dissidents being free from Political/Police action designed to silence them Chris.

However the same Dissidents still have a civic responsibility to act and live within the law.

If you happen to be a Dissident/Activist and you chose to break the law, you cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from sanction because you describe yourself as a 'dissident'

Obviously the matter is still before the courts however if Hagar has allegedly profited by using stolen information then the question has to be asked as to whether he has crossed this line or not.

I'll put it to you another way, say a right leaning commentator received all of Andrew Littles personal emails from someone who had illegally hacked his computer and this commentator then published all this information in a book prior to an election with an obvious goal of influencing the election (and with no right of reply for Little) then how would you react? The same as with Hagar? And if he made a healthy profit as well?

Cheers
Jimmie

Anonymous said...

So someone hacked the hackers in National and Act, exposing what amounts to Watergate level crimes that the police refuse to investigate and prosecute, and the messenger gets the blame?

Anonymous said...

The fact that life of anyone can be over in a second and in a society like ours that can condone the actions of what you would expect from a totalitarian state in our own police force and is also specifically moving into the realms of FASCISM obviously being enacted by legal process somewhat biased by our own ministry justice
anyone can see that Nicky doing what he did under the arrogant noses of Key and co who operate in an environment of absolute power deserved to be exposed and now we see just how much dismantling of the laws of this land by this govt 3 term tenure ensures that the right wing National party stated aim to destroy socialism is in full cry and to rule by fear over this land
Personally thru my own life experience I see those who do what has been done in Dirty Politics as being traitors to this nation and they dont deserve the democratic right to be the govt of this country
There is very little actually to this govt that gives it the right to be the govt of this country after reading Dirty Politics
This govt believes in less govt for the people and more power to the rich to manipulate the democracy to prove that history dictating the likes of McCarthyism Muldoonism Thatcherism Bushwacking which is about all you can describe the Bush presidency as and modernday proponents Shipley and Key will continue to leave their mark on our society in a way that the left will still continue to struggle and the power to the people will continue to be a farce in the eyes of this govt.

Charles E said...

There is of course a major difference Chris between now and then which should see your man right: Our judicial system is very independent and quite liberal. There is every chance the fuzz will be exposed as ham fisted or worse, as in several other cases in recent years.
Right wing nods and winks behind it? Well Banks was done over by the Crown Prosecutor, but exonerated by our excellent Judiciary. What twisted underhand evil was at work there? None I expect, as with Hager. They are doing what they do because it is in the public eye and exciting stuff compared to ordinary burglary. They would see it as a crime growth area, this nicking of digital info. Plod are like that and want new 'resources' for this area so off they go with a high profile case.

And as far as the Right wanting rid of Hager, I doubt it. He helped them win the election! I would not be surprised if they see him as a 'useful idiot', just as the left see some on my side. Names withheld.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous, I wouldn't mind quite so much if they investigated whale oil's hacking of emails with the same vigorocity. :-)
I imagine most of the upper echelons of the police service are right wing, and a great deal of the minions as well. In my experience the police do tend towards the authoritarian – though I've met some really good ones. I'd particularly like to thank those ones who caught me with a bag full of beer in New Lynn when I was 15 or 16, but let me off. :-)
Having said that I'm surprised that the government hasn't set the spies onto him. I've always wondered about the responsibility of spies breaking into your house. Are they responsible for any damage done? If they leave bugs behind what are you entitled to do with them? Perhaps Wayne, if indeed he be Wayne, could answer this :-). Be a damn sight more use in most of the rest of the crap he spouts. :-)

N Miller said...

The police are accused of behaving unlawfully and it is they who are on trial. Nicky isn't innocent or guilty he is the one prosecuting the crown.

The trial pivots on a journalists ability to protect a source of damaging information, which is why it is a critical piece of law. There is much international interest in the case. If the police are found to have been acting lawfully and go on to prosecute the informant our access to information will be corrupted along with our ability to act on information democratically.

I think the police acted badly and will suffer the consequence, however I can't see this going as far as impeaching the PM.

Wally Strudelmeyer said...

If Nicky Hager is a 'journalist' then I am Santa Claus.

Richard Christie said...

Banks was done over by the Crown Prosecutor, but exonerated by our excellent Judiciary.

No, John Banks evaded justice on what was essentially a technicality.

Pretty obvious to anyone paying attention.

Charles E said...

RC assuming you paid attention you'd know that the case was thrown out due to the prosecution giving vital but false evidence, which when they found they had done that, failed to say so to the Court! Hardly a technicality, so clearly it discloses your prejudice.
The police were not at fault here as the case was not brought by them. They sensibly realised the relevant legislation was inadequate, so much so one may perhaps think it was designed to be that way.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't know what are contained in quote marks journalist is, but Hager certainly is an ordinary journalist – perhaps an extra ordinary one. He is a lot more ethical than the Glucina woman anyway :-). And I noticed that there wasn't a huge number of people disputing his facts. Just a lot of vilification.

Neil Miller said...

Ho ho ho Wally...

greywarbler said...

A fine piece of thoughtful journalism Chris. Are you a journalist? I would think you may be a diurnalist since you don't purvey news du jour.

I am bemused by the excuses for bad behaviour that the rigid critical commentators make here, while being 'relaxed' about Whale Oil and other government deliberate flouting of laws, regulations and accepted usage that is a continuing theme. At least when it gets to us through the deflection and entertainment curtain used so often by media.

Nicky Hager has the stickability and skill that Hillary drew on when he climbed Everest with Sherpa Tensing. I hope Nicky has his own skilled, reliable and skilled support in his endeavours. (I heard there was a doco in the Film Festival of sherpas' situation now that when viewed might offer some instructive insight into how good people can be abused or rorted.)

Robert M said...

Dirty Politics was a pretty light job, and could be scanned in a couple of reads at the bookstore. Given the rather vulgar nature of Judith Collins, with her obvious politics, of praise for the militarist idiot, John McCain, friendship with the odious whale oil, her hopelessly naïve relationships with the Chinese bureaucracy and milk manufactures, and general Coronation St, sensibility- Hager totally failed to deliver the hatchet job required. Hager seems to see the National Party as a mix of good and bad, but in truth the remaining Human and insightful elements finally ended when Jenny Shipley was deposed, by the gruff conservative Southland famer Bill English.
Hager fails to grasp there is no difference in the ignorant simple minded politics of Bill English, Nick Smith, John English and Judith Collins, they are all tunnel vision, social and moral conservatives. All have pursued the environmentally vandalistic policies of motorway building and dairy conversions.
Before the National Party farmers turned up New Zealand was pursuing and intelligent policy of tourist development, but bright lights and big cities and giving New Zealanders the opportunity to work in dazzling clubs, bars and hotels is far too frightening, for the boorish New Zealanders National represent. As National now draws its vote largely from the thick and rural, all educational standards and selection have been abandoned with the pursuit of meaningless 100 percent passes in NCEA.
Hager originally concentrated on the defence, intelligence and military issues but of late as concentrated on social justice issues and become a sort of male, Sue Bradford.

Anonymous said...

Charles E, I think you are simply an apologist the more I see you here. There is the small matter of the remarkable coincidence that the cheques were cut into two $25k amounts, and we know from the evidence of Sky City that this was requested, i.e. Banks had form. If it was random, why $25k x 2, of all the infinite sums in the world it could have been composed of? I think Banks got off because there was too much emphasis on when he said what, a burden the wording of the legislation brought to successfully prosecuting him. Most lay people would accept that the fact of signing off the declaration, and the $25k split, spoke for themselves, and the rest is what deliberately poor legislation and good lawyers can do for you.

Davo Stevens said...

There once was a fellow called Banks
Who got up to his usual pranks,
Got cash from Dotcom
Forgot where it's from.
Then phoned him up to say thanks.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wow Robert – I'm sure were all looking forward to working extremely long hours at night in clubs and bars, while (hopefully) someone looks after our kids, and the tip jar remains full. I wonder if you've ever worked in the hospitality industry? It's not at all glamorous.