Saturday, 9 April 2016

Call The Vet! Protecting The State From The Virus Of Dissent.

Vetter-in-Chief: Rebecca Kitteridge has a legitimate role in identifying potentially dangerous vulnerabilities, such as drug and alcohol addiction, in candidates for senior roles in the civil service. Where the SIS veers away from legitimate "vetting", however, is in its role as the state's ideological gatekeeper. When it comes to senior civil service positions, it is still very much a case of "anti-capitalists need not apply".
 
THAT THE SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE (SIS) has failed to protect the privacy of the people it has “vetted” is no surprise. Information is power, and what is the SIS if not the official gatherer of the information needed to keep the core institutions of the state secure? It will take more than criticism from the Inspector-General of Intelligence to persuade the SIS to give up its role of keeping potential security threats as far away from the Government’s doors as possible.
 
Ideally, the whole notion of security vetting would be insupportable in a nation whose laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of political belief. The persistence of the practice offers proof that Capitalism is still ready, willing and able to defend itself.
 
If you’re one of those who find it difficult to accept that our civil service is dedicated to the preservation of the capitalist status quo, then try this thought experiment.
 
A left-wing coalition government is elected on a platform of enacting root-and-branch reform of New Zealand’s economic system. The new government’s overall goal is the eradication of social inequality through radical changes to the prevailing fiscal and workplace regimes. The government announces that a major purge of the civil service will be necessary for its reforms to succeed. Accordingly, all present and prospective members of the senior echelons of the civil service are required to submit themselves to a comprehensive vetting process.
 
Senior bureaucrats found to have strong neoliberal sympathies are dismissed from their positions immediately. Neoliberals seeking employment in the reformed civil service are weeded out as real, or potential, threats to New Zealand’s national security. By the end of the purge, scores of civil servants have been advised that, having failed the SIS’s vetting procedure, their services are no longer required.
 
Now imagine the outrage that such an exercise would precipitate. Newspaper editors would thunder their disapproval. Leading law firms would announce their intention of challenging the purge in court. Civil rights advocates would prepare to stage protest demonstrations against the Government’s “Blue Scare” tactics. All of the defence mechanisms of capitalist society would be mobilised to ensure that the system’s ideological guardians remained in place.
 
Clearly, it would be next to impossible to purge a capitalist society like ours of its official defenders without being accused of abandoning democracy itself. And yet, we tell ourselves that democracy remains unimpaired in a country which actively discriminates against those who threaten to bring anti-capitalist ideas into the upper-echelons of the state bureaucracy. Why do so many of us simply accept that the SIS, having subjected such individuals to the most rigorous vetting, is justified in recommending they not be appointed to senior civil service posts?
 
That question was much easier to answer during the Cold War. (1946-1991) Back then it was entirely possible that state servants harbouring strong sympathies for the cause of International Communism and/or the Soviet Union might feel moved to pass on sensitive political and economic information to their ideological soul-mates. The national security implications of appointing such persons to sensitive positions could not (and were not) ignored.
 
National security concerns were also raised in regard to civil servants’ sexual orientation. While homosexuality remained legally, morally and socially unacceptable, gay civil servants were acutely vulnerable to blackmail.
 
In the twenty-first century, addictions to prohibited substances and/or alcohol can make state employees similarly biddable. It is, therefore, difficult to argue against some effort being made to uncover such vulnerabilities prior to appointing someone to a position where nationally important and highly confidential information is regularly circulated and discussed.
 
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the decriminalisation of homosexuality has, however, removed the most obvious justifications for SIS vetting. The background checks undertaken by today’s security personnel should, accordingly, be restricted to identifying drug and alcohol abuse. Discrimination based upon a civil service job candidate’s political beliefs is, surely, be a thing of the past?
 
Don’t you believe it.
 
Today’s civil service, and most of our society generally, functions in an environment of aggressively enforced ideological orthodoxy. Neoliberalism is, without doubt, the most pervasive and effectively defended ideology in human history. Not to be a neoliberal in the early twenty-first century, especially in the upper echelons of the dominant public and private bureaucracies, is to risk career death. To openly espouse ideas hostile to neoliberalism is to make that career death certain.
 
The SIS stands as the last line of defence against the occasional incompetence of those specialist recruiting agencies entrusted with delivering short-lists of acceptable candidates for senior positions in the civil service. Personality tests, CV checks and exhaustive interviews with referees can usually be relied upon to filter out all the ideologically inappropriate applicants. Should the commercial gate-keepers prove derelict in their duties, however, Rebecca Kitteridge and her team of “vets” stand ready to protect the key institutions of the capitalist state from the deadly virus of dissent.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 9 April 2016.

17 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I remember Brian Easton once saying in a column, that once Roger Douglas came in you couldn't get a job in treasury unless you were extremely "dry" economically/ideologically.

Anonymous said...

Chris , after reading your article several times all I can say is well done to Rebecca Kitteridge so far and good luck to Rebecca Kitteridge in the future.

I wish she had the ability to weed out some of the candidates for political office in this country.

How would you liked to governed by a coalition of political leaders such as Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw and Winston Peters?.

Personally I would rather slit my throat.

A very good piece of writing, I obviously do not share your concerns.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"How would you liked to governed by a coalition of political leaders such as Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw and Winston Peters?."

As opposed to John Key, Jerry (rebuild) Brownlee, Judith Collins and Maggie Barry? Yeah right.

"Personally I would rather slit my throat."

Well – sounds a bit harsh maybe but works for me. But seriously –Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

About a decade ago, a colleague & I attempted to get organised and unionise a Crown Entity.

These actions were met with an aggressive response from senior managers in Wellington and what followed was a hounding campaign against me & my colleague with subtle digs regarding our competence.

In the end I left, so a victory for them I suppose.

Misinformation was spread to potential union members like 'your salary could decrease', 'you won't be able to progress to management', 'union membership is a career-killer' etc

Good people bought the fear-mongering campaign; as a result despite our best efforts we couldn't gain a majority of union members in the organisation.

The striking aspect for me was the power-crazed mentality of Neo-Liberal senior managers in Wellington.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes anonymous, the state sector unions have been gutted – apart from the teachers and the police. It's interesting how the government dislikes unions, yet constantly kisses the police unions arse. There's a thesis in here somewhere. :) What gets me about these managers, and of course people like Charles and jigsaw, is that the 1% don't really consider them as "one of them". They're just peasants like the rest of us – 'useful idiots'. I find this hilarious. And of course a little sad.:)

Sam V said...

Well Anonymous, slitting your throat doesn't seem very pragmatic and the mention of politicians off-topic.
You can either tolerate different views or not, free speech/thought is for those we disagree with or not at all. You are either with the soviet comissar or against.
I put myself with Chris on the correct side of morality regardless of his political views.

Anonymous said...

All this means that when they are removed, it will be by force.

Wayne Mapp said...

Do you really think a left wing govt, say as radical as a Jermey Corbyn govt, would do a formal purging of the civil service, and more importantly why would it be necessary for them to implement their policy. Lets say 60% top tax rate, withdrawal from 5 Eyes, repurchase of electricity companies, compulsory unionism, etc. Surely such a Corbyn style govts polices would just be be implemented by the civil service as it is currently set up. That is what every civil servant understands to be what they must do.

Now I appreciate you were just using that example as a point of illustration about the current vetting and why it is not necessary.

But you keep suggesting that a true left wing govt would somehow be overthrown by either local "dark forces" or international "dark forces." I guess in your view such a govt would be a lot more radical than a Jeremy Corbyn style govt, or else it would hardly deserve the title of left wing. Thus it would inevitably be thwarted by these "dark forces" But would it?

All manner of countries have elected radical govts, especially in South Amercia, and nothing much seems to happen other than their economy imploding, but that is usually a direct consequence of their own policies. Pinochet style coups seem to be a thing of the past, South America now basically acts democratically.






Nick J said...

In effect Chris what you are saying is that there is no hope of a future government with a different ideological perspective changing the way things are run by their departments and ministries. This is a sad prognosis because it indicates that whoever is in power, Left or Right is going to nobble any chance of change.

Of course things do change, what each of the Labour governments of 1935 and 1984 did was to push through revolutions that took hold at all levels. I always felt that observing the Douglas cabal was like watching neo Leninists, change was pushed through so fast and in such contempt of any damage caused. The people who run the "deep state" as I have heard you describe it in my experience (I do and have known a few) are not ideologically pure. In fact if they have one commonality it is that they are "Corporate Jesuits" who understand how to wield power, which levers to pull. Like the Soviets apparatchiks they are the people who prosper in those roles regardless of the system.

Change will come, the stasis will fail when the preconditions that underlay the success of the current system fail. Events like the Panama papers are akin to the Affair of the Necklace that proceeded the fall of the Ancien Regime, they merely chip away at the legitimacy. Today anybody with half an eye open will be aware that there are storm clouds around finance, trade, environment, war, terror, population and resources. The papers and the politicians wont tell you that the dots can be joined. So the "crisis" appears in open view but unheralded, discounted by the beneficiaries of the status quo. A rapid change in bread prices and availability were the trigger for the French Revolution and probably for the Arab Spring. The one characteristic of both these events was that the regime and its apparatchiks failed to see it coming, they were so preoccupied with their own worth and rituals. As you say, defeating Key and replacing him with a Left parliament wont make an iota of difference, real change will be effected by circumstances.

Chris Trotter said...

Still wearing those blue-tinted spectacles, Wayne.

The last attempted coup in South America wasn't in 1973, it was in 2002 - against Hugo Chavez. We may also be witnessing a slow-motion coup right now, in Brazil.

That the number of these interventions has tailed off since the 1970s is entirely due to the success of the Neoliberal counter-attack of the 1980s and 90s. The number of countries which have attempted to step outside the Neoliberal Paradigm may be counted on the fingers of one hand (not including North Korea or Cuba, which are essentially Cold War relics).

If you want to see what happens to a political party that dares to posit a new and more rational way of doing business, I suggest you get in touch with Alexis Tsipras of Syriza.

And don't try to tell me that Syriza was the irrational party at the Greek Debt Restructuring Talks, because even the IMF now admits that Yanis Varoufakis and his team were always talking much more sense than the representatives of the ECB and the EU Commission.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wayne – was there not a purge of people at the top of the bureaucracy after Douglas came to power, continued by Jim Bolger? Not necessarily formal, but that's not the way that these things tend to work in New Zealand is it? Just curious.

Wayne Mapp said...

I was going to refer to Syriza, but they have been in a difficult spot which makes them a somewhat special case. They wanted to stay in the Euro but also get bailout money. In that case the lenders had leverage. Of course they could have exited the Euro and taken their chances. Actually that would be a much less dramatic event than if the UK exits the EU.

So if a government wants to implement a radical agenda, they can. But they won't be able to dictate the terms of any borrowing, particularly of an emergency last resort kind as was the case with Greece, to their lenders. But isn't it ever thus?

So for instance if the NZ public wants a radical agenda, a much more radical agenda than would be the case under a Corbyn style govt, they will be able to get it. But also remember the opponents of the govt will seek to have them voted out of office just three years later.

And isn't that the strength of our system. If the public wants change they will get it, but the public also gets to change its mind in just there years if they don't like the result. Which tends to act as a brake on most governments.

pigman said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the post.

Further to the recent interim report from the Inspectorate, have you heard something anecdotal recently?

Mr. Mapp's response to your post, and essentially the allegations about the (mis)use of vetting was quite telling. There certainly wasn't much in the way of denial.

Frederick Miles said...

By about 1979/80 the criterion for even junior positions in serious departments, eg mfat, treasury, transport was at least some real economics as well as a good degree. And oddities, fanatics and fatties were not wanted in those unusual days. Roger Bartley the ex shell executive who was the Vic careers adviser said Economics 2 was the min eeq in 78.That was a slight exaggeration but not a couple of years later.But of course how did Tim Grosser slip into MTI a few years earlier and transfer to MFAT in the 86 merger.French fluency often overode every obvious failing with many key NZ Government departments and many key positions were still not vetted in the mid late 1980s for example the shipping section of MOT not even such critical positions as shipping controllers.Anti nuclear power activists ( how I was percieved) were rejected because really, MOT sections did not want the SIS in the department.
In many ways the situation in Government today is probably the opposite of what you suggest. I assume the JohnAllen/Grosser list of those to sack in MFAT included every real believer in ANZUS or the US relations.
Most significant espionage seems to have been due to technicians taste for hot teenagers.
The damage done by Phillby MacLean and Burgess is debatable.Burgess was clearly one of greatest British/USSR double agents doing invaluable service for both in the eyes of Eden Battle and Churchill in monitoring the frightening militarism if MacArthur Curtis LeMay and the haberdasher Truman.Macarthurs intention for tactical warfare with small nukes would have been communicated very quickly for an alcoholic deviant to London and Moscow.Philiby and MacLean admitted to some residual belief in red socialism at their interviews. Philby was obviously such a charming gentleman, public school Cambridge man that neither Moscow or London believed for a minute that Kim was anything but that he was the Queens loyal man.Philby's first report to the KGB that the British didn't have any agents in the USSR guaranteed he was never believed in Russia and anybody he sent across the iron curtain would have been disposed off automatically by the Russians as a double agent.

AB said...

Anonymous at 9 April 14:30:
"How would you liked to governed by a coalition of political leaders such as Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw and Winston Peters?. Personally I would rather slit my throat"

Works for me - is it completely necessary for you to wait for them to be elected?

Sam V said...

What's a "Radical Agenda", presumably anything that you disagree with Wayne?
Proving the point of Chris' article completely.
In the greek case selling off public assets to pay off bankers who fraudulently collapsed (for immense personal gain) the global economy then held the whole world to ransom - that's not "radical"?
The fact that most people are completely disenfrachised with our political establishment should tell you that the "extremists" are actually proponents of the status quo like yourself.

jh said...


If you’re one of those who find it difficult to accept that our civil service is dedicated to the preservation of the capitalist status quo, then try this thought experiment.
......
So what about political correctness (or) "institutionalisation of public discourse? That is a left-wing right-wing coalition deal where the enemy are nationalists (in so far as it relates to multiculturalism)?