Saturday 10 February 2018

Hypothetical Questions.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?  (Who Will Guard The Guardians Themselves?) All knowledge is power: and the acquisition, by your enemies, of knowledge you’d rather they did not possess, and of whose unauthorised transfer you remain entirely ignorant, could – hypothetically – give them a great deal of power indeed.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP and his White House staff are convinced America’s “Deep State” is out to get them. They’re probably right.

Regardless of their ideological leanings, a persistent base-note of paranoia thrums through the heads of most politicians. In the case of the Trump Administration, however, that drumbeat is growing faster and louder with every passing day. Making it stop is fast becoming a POTUS obsession.

It’s easy to imagine how vulnerable a political leader must feel when it becomes clear that the individuals and institutions charged with protecting the integrity of the state are, simultaneously, being encouraged to gather information about the private life of the head-of-state. Knowing that was happening could easily drive a person onto Twitter in the early hours of the morning!

If New Zealand even has a “Deep State”, then it is unlikely to be a very big or a very scary one. Our population is simply too small for big secrets. Always, there’s someone who knows someone, who heard it from someone who was/is directly involved. The fear of being exposed publicly is almost always enough to prevent those institutions best equipped to undertake covert surveillance of New Zealand’s political leaders – the SIS, the GCSB, the NZDF and the Police – from even considering such a risky mission.

But, what if the surveillance and the reporting-back was being undertaken unofficially? What if a group of renegade state operatives, motivated out of ideological conviction – or baser considerations – decided to act independently, outside the chain-of-command? What if, having seen their superiors escape any kind of meaningful official reprimand for engaging in unethical conduct, they decided to embark on a little free-lance politicking of their own?

Suppose, to illustrate these hypothetical questions, we imagine a small, democratic nation governed by a young, socialist, prime-minister. Like her immediate predecessors, this young prime minister is protected by a group of specially-trained and armed bodyguards.

These bodyguards are, naturally, sworn to keep secret everything they see and hear pertaining to the public and private life of the politician under their protection. Because, of course, anyone spending so much time in such close proximity to another person is bound to witness all kinds of behaviour; overhear all manner of exchanges; which, if wrenched from their context and passed on to an interested third party, could give rise to the most acute political and personal embarrassment.

Now, let us further suppose that a number of this young prime minister’s bodyguards, being strong supporters of the conservative political party which she and her left-wing allies have only recently supplanted, decided to “help” her conservative opponents by feeding them detailed information of a private, personal and politically highly-sensitive nature.

Obviously, our hypothetical prime minister’s hypothetical opponents could not use this information publicly without betraying its source. Nevertheless, the intelligence in their possession would likely prove to be of enormous benefit to them, both strategically and tactically. All knowledge is power: and the acquisition, by your enemies, of knowledge you’d rather they did not possess, and of whose unauthorised transfer you remain entirely ignorant, could – hypothetically – give them a great deal of power indeed.

Not that anything as dangerous as the scenario sketched-out above could possibly unfold in corruption-free New Zealand. Our happy South Pacific democracy is simply too small for really big secrets, and our public servants too big-hearted to pass on its small and private ones to unauthorised persons.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 February 2018.


peteswriteplace said...

Hope you are right.

Geoff Fischer said...

No longer hypothetical Chris. The leak of the "security chiefs" memo to Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little, which surfaced in the Financial Times on 11 December last year, but has been kept out of view of the New Zealand public (apart from briefly appearing on the RNZ website before being taken down) is evidence of how deeply the SIS is now involved in the political process in New Zealand, and at the same time the leak has revealed a deep schism between the "old guard" in the security-intelligence apparatus and its new leadership. It is a dangerous situation, and if Ardern fails to swiftly assert control over the SIS and GCSB the consequences for New Zealand democracy may be quite dire.

Sam said...

When nerds get adult money.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm pretty sure there isn't a deep state in New Zealand. I'm not even sure there's one in America, because public service attracts people from a variety of political opinions. Except perhaps the intelligence services. I suspect they don't attract anything other than conservatives. And people who read Penthouse obviously. But as you point out – in New Zealand everyone is someone's cousin, so things just get out eventually no matter who or what.

greywarbler said...

Bodyguards - Who was it in the prime position in her country who was murdered by her trusted guards?

Geoff Fischer - The NZ and Australian police co-ordinate on traffic policing I think occasionally, as if we were a state of Oz. The police? acted on
instructions from the USA relating to Dotcom IIRR. Why were Tuhoe targeted? The disinterest of civil servants is problematic; Steve Maharey I think objected to a well-known National connection in a confidential PR or secretarial position, and I remember it as being someone other than Ms Rankin.

sumsuch said...

The closer to the centre of power the more the awareness of the flicks of the fingers of the powerful that can send you spinning off Pluto-ward for no more nonsense than is in anyone. When presentation rather than reality is the business. Hence Helen Clark's suspect law against the rich's financing of political advertising in her last 3 years.

A relative of mine was approached at university by the SIS to spy on his uncle. The uncle a mere liberal who irritated our ane monster Muldoon's paranoia. Back then we were a one horse town and that horse was Muldoon. Not as solid as we like to think.

Another relative left the renovation of the interior of the Beehive decided on not voting again. But all my close rellies are strange absolutist subjectivists, more indicative of a lack of early family warmth. I asked him if he had faith in any of the MPs he met but the one he rolled around to saying would reveal identities.

Patricia said...

Oh, I believe there was a a deep state in New Zealand in the 1980s. Just think of the complete reversal.of how they New Zealand economy operated prior to the Lange Government. There was a complete reversal in those years. As it was global it had to b an international deep state to do this. It wasn’t just Douglas, Brash and Prebble.. So if there was one then there could be one now. And it always relates to money.

Polly said...

Chris, we may not be deep state on the international scene.
However the secret NZ government coalition document rumoured to be 35-40 pages, is of concern to me.
Winston apparently does not have concern of its public release.
This raises the question.
What are Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern hiding?.
Apparently the Greens are NOT privy.
I am Labour but do not trust my Party because of this secrecy.
Chris and others of the left-middle do you?.

Victor said...

Perhaps it couldn't happen here because the hypothetical PM's hypothetical bodyguard would be in a hypothetical relationship with a hypothetical senior TV reporter and no journalist can ever be totally relied on to stay totally silent when there's a story as good as this one around.

countryboy said...

" Our population is simply too small for big secrets. "

No it's not.

" Two people / three agendas."

Geoff Fischer said...

"public service attracts people from a variety of political opinions. Except perhaps the intelligence services. I suspect they don't attract anything other than conservatives"

That might have been the case thirty years ago, but it is no longer. In no way do Una Jagose, Cheryl Gwynn, Rebecca Kitteridge, and Peter Thiel fit the classical "conservative" mould. They are liberal modernists to a man (or woman), and that is why we are witnessing the current ructions within the security-intelligence apparatus. Some of the old guard are clearly unhappy for a range of personal, professional and political reasons. But for the moment at least, the modernists are in charge.

"so things just get out eventually no matter who or what". A good theory, but the reality is that the hidden processes of state run deeper in New Zealand than in most other Western democracies. I think that is attributable at least in part to the New Zealand character. New Zealanders would rather not believe that their fellow citizens, or their rulers, might be up to no good. Thus giving rise to a wilful blindness, or, in Chris' case, a statement along the lines of "That couldn't happen here... could it?" which is about as far as one dares go in suggesting that something might be rotten in the realm of New Zealand.

manfred said...

And I wouldn't tell the Greens anything either. As well-intentioned as they are, they wouldn't know strategy if it rented out a hall and spelt it out to them using cue cards and engaging diagrams.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Geoff Fischer:

You make a good point. But I still think security intelligence tends to attract conservatives. Appointments are a different thing altogether. And under present neoliberal policies, a manager can manage anything. So they our getting what they deserve in a way. And as you point out, there are ructions. It may well be true that the intelligence services are the opposite of other government departments – conservatives being ruled by liberals, rather than vice versa. :)
And I stand by my point about it being difficult to keep secrets in this country. I've been told several things by junior civil servants that would probably make good headlines in Truth or something similar. In strictest confidence of course. :)

greywarbler said...

I think Geoff Fischer's point about the NZ character is relevant to this discussion. Wilful blindness yes, so that a politician can stand before the country and announce everything rosy when we have many citizens at their wits end trying to achieve a stable life for themselves and children in a house or even a stable! And dependent on export earnings to provide even basics because the government and economic advisors have allowed NZ business to be crushed and broken, and under-employment is rife, and minimum living standards are shrinking - 'mum' is abandoned and mini down to 'min'.

More than anything NZs are unable to debate, to criticise and argue, consider different ways. It's stick with the team, don't speak up, who asked you, you're breaking the togetherness and understanding. Just follow the confident and apparently successful leader and shut up, you stirrer. Maybe not said, but the eyes give the message.