Friday 11 May 2012

In A Weakened State

Insufficient Evidence: The failure of New Zealand's national security apparatus to acquire the human intelligence (and thus the eye-witness evidence) to convince a jury of the defendants' guilt in the Urewera Terror Trial has exposed serious weakenesses in the protective institutions of the New Zealand State.

Salus populi suprema lex
The safety of the people shall be the highest law

THE DECISION NOT TO RE-TRY the “Urewera Four” sets the capstone on a comprehensive failure of New Zealand’s national security apparatus. At almost every level, the public has witnessed examples of ignorance, indecision and incompetence that agencies similarly placed in poorer and more marginalised countries would look at askance. After the Urewera debacle, it is debateable whether New Zealand even has a national security apparatus. That twenty or so highly politicised individuals could be observed undertaking military training with lethal weapons, on tribal lands with a long and strong tradition of resistance to the New Zealand state, for close to a year, and still manage to escape serious convictions, certainly argues against the proposition.

At the heart of this failure lies a paucity of intelligence. (And I’m using the word here in its double sense of intellectual sophistication and useable knowledge.) New Zealanders have been seriously let down by the tradition of anti-intellectualism that pervades our security services. It has fostered an institutional environment in which anyone possessing a sophisticated understanding of this country’s history and culture is treated with hostility and suspicion. Doubly so, if that knowledge extends to anything more than a superficial grasp of left-wing and/or right-wing theory and practice. It’s an environment in which the received “wisdom” of our (often even more ignorant) American and Australian allies counts for much more than specialised local knowledge.

Assistant Police Commissioner, Jon White’s, operationally brutal and strategically idiotic raid on the sleepy Tuhoe village of Ruatoki destroyed any chance the Crown might have had of mounting a successful prosecution of the fledgling Urewera guerrilla force. The NZ Police utterly underestimated the vigour and sophistication of the Left’s propaganda capabilities and, from the very beginning, were forced to play “catch-up” in the struggle for hearts and minds.

The other fatal flaw in Operation Eight was its (no doubt US inspired) fascination and reliance on technologically acquired intelligence. Neither the Police Security Intelligence Unit (PSIU) nor the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), appear to have anything remotely resembling an effective spy network. Indeed, in this regard, New Zealand’s private sector intelligence gatherers seem to be well ahead of the State’s. This lack of human intelligence drove the Police to what were subsequently deemed to be reckless and illegal attempts to acquire persuasive evidence of criminal intent.

Also lacking were the reliable media “assets” so highly prized by the British security services. Individuals to whom key elements of the Crown’s case might have been judiciously leaked as a way of counter-acting the Defence’s extremely skilful use of sympathetic journalists strategically located throughout the news media. Our own security services appear utterly unaware of the role social media and the Internet play in shaping public opinion. Where, for example, was the Crown’s equivalent of Wikileaks? Clearly no one was prepared to play the role of Private Bradley Manning by dumping all the evidence denied to the Prosecution on a suitably insulated and legally untouchable website.

From the very beginning of Operation Eight it should have been clear that the Crown was engaged in a full-scale political battle with the individuals behind the Urewera Training Camps and their supporters in the wider left-wing community. Every one of the agencies tasked with protecting our national security: the PSIU, the SIS, the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination  (ODESC) and the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) individually and collectively failed to meet this political test.

Bluntly, the accused’s’ defence team and their tireless army of propagandists ran rings around the Crown. They not only won a significant political victory in terms of the “Urewera Four” case, but their undeniable success in making the Crown look both weak and stupid will very likely deter its servants from attempting anything similar for many years to come. It will require a very brave Police Commissioner indeed to repeat Howard Broad’s gutsy call of 2007.

Nor will Tuhoe, and the Maori nationalist movement generally, be content to rest upon their laurels. Already we’re hearing demands for a Crown apology to, and massive compensation for, the traumatised residents of Ruatoki. Pressing forward from one victory towards another has always been an intelligent strategy – both politically and militarily. The Crown, already in full retreat, will be harried unceasingly by a Tuhoe nation intent on reclaiming as much lost land and mana as possible.

The New Zealand State has been seriously weakened by its failure to convince a jury that what was happening in the Ureweras constituted a clear and present danger to our national security. The Crown’s prosecutors appeared almost entirely ignorant of the philosophical, ideological and historical arguments which have, in other parts of the world, persuaded hitherto peaceful individuals to embrace the theory and practice of political violence. Where were the Crown’s expert witnesses? Why were no academics from the USA or the UK called to tell the Jury how and why people become terrorists? The defence team’s carefully fostered notions that Tame Iti and his comrades posed no sort of threat to the Queen’s Peace, and that the charges levelled against him were farcical, were never adequately challenged by the prosecution – and they stuck.

Partly, this is explained by the failure of the Police to supply the Crown with the right sort of evidence. But the prosecution’s ham-fisted use of the evidence it did possess reflected the susceptibility of even the Crown’s lawyers to the “two worlds” argument advanced by the defence. The latter insisted, with all the silky conviction a skilful barrister can muster, that events which looked like military exercises when viewed through Pakeha eyes, appeared no more dangerous than a job creation scheme when viewed through Maori eyes.

To insist that people running around with guns and balaclavas were terrorists, warned the defence, was to revisit upon these noble Maori “reformers” all the sins of our colonial fathers. According to their lawyers, the accused weren’t training to be terrorists. No, they were training to be security guards in Somalia and Iraq! This preposterous argument convinced not only at least one of the jurors, but also, seemingly, the Crown itself. Guilty verdicts on the most serious charges, it was cleverly insinuated, would be proof positive that Pakeha racism had triumphed. Not surprisingly, on the most serious charge - belonging to an illegal organisation - the Jury was hung.

Russel Fairbrother, Tame Iti’s lawyer, has hailed the Crown’s decision not to re-try his client as a victory for the New Zealand justice system. But there is another, much less sanguine, way of looking at the Crown’s capitulation. If, under the rubric of “national security” one includes the preservation of New Zealand as a unitary, constitutionally-coherent state in which the safety of every citizen is guaranteed by the rule of law, and where the state, and only the state, is permitted to maintain and train armed forces, then the Crown’s decision, and the lamentable way it has conducted itself throughout the entire Urewera affair, gives cause for grave concern.

A group of armed individuals, who gave every appearance of levying war against the Crown, have somehow escaped serious convictions. This entirely unsatisfactory outcome sets an extremely dangerous precedent. We should not feel in the least bit reassured that, ultimately, the guerrillas in the Urewera mist failed to inflict any harm on their fellow citizens. Next time (and given the extraordinary failings of our national security apparatus a ‘next time’ cannot be discounted) we may not be so lucky.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Anonymous said...

The outcome we got is because the public here is generally brainwashed into PC liberal muck. Noone is ever a criminal and apparently it was all harmless fun. Not! And how arrogant and smug the freed accused are. But the media is partly to blame, ultra PC. rabidly liberal and full of the no blame game. No wonder the Australians think we're a bunch of leftie loons on weed! Only in NZ. Elsewhere a jury would have convicted the perps to the full!

Is there something in the Marmite perhaps?

Dave Kennedy said...

While Tame was involved in silly activities, all evidence produced so far doesn't point to his group being much of a threat.

A simple phone call may have averted this whole debacle and waste of enormous waste of money.

Anonymous said...

Look, pretty much everyone knows that Iti and company think of themselves as revolutionaries.

Pretty much everyone also knows exactly what they were doing. They were half playing at soldiers and half training for revolution.

Pretty much everyone also knows that insofar as they were playing at soldiers, it's not really a big deal, other than the firearms charges that they were rightly convicted on.

But we also all know that insofar as they were serious about actual revolution, they were delusional. They will never be revolutionaries, because... look at them. They aren't even anywhere near as credible as the American militia movement, and everyone knows what a bunch of hopeless, ineffectual dreamers those people are.

Groups like the Red Army Fraktion and the FLQ posed an actual, credible threat of violence. Can you imagine Tame Iti and co. trying to rob a bank or kidnap a government minister? It would be like the Dad's Army of urban terrorism.

They weren't found guilty because, in the end NZ society sees no value in persecuting Walter Mitty figures.

Tiger Mountain said...

The SIS from a distance does appear well populated by ‘Jonny English’ types and the well worn ‘pie and Penthouse’ bungler legacy. I mean how about the Waihopai dome incident. Three god botherers with scythes bring Echelon down?

The blue bellies are not so circumspect and hold a grudge as John Minto, Jimmy O’Dea and others have found out recently at the GI state house removals. Did anyone with any sense of history at NZ Police really think they could form up on “Cullen’s Line” at Ruatoki and get away with it?

All that aside I still maintain the only thing the U Four could really be convicted of is behaving like prize dicks. The argument that the inefficiency of those charged with protecting this country could have serious consequences in future would cut more ice if the mulitplicity of spook squads went into the South Island and cleaned out a few of the camo clad white supremacists who also charge about with weapons in the bush.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

A pity you didn't see fit to lay a substantial part of the blame for this fiasco at the feet of Helen Clark's administration which drafted and had passed inept and inoperable anti-terrorist legislation, on which the police and other authorities naively relied.

Anonymous said...

It was the Keystone Cops chasing the Boys Brigade division of Dad's Army. Entirely a propos of the current kiwi reputation under a Benny Hill government.


scintilla said...

I think the police et al use some "situations" as timely opportunities for a practice run. Police & army used the Napier gunman siege as a real-life chance to check out their operational strategies, give the boys a run in their LAVs, lock-down a town, etc.
Whatever was going on in the Ureweras, it was enough to be used as practice for our Terrorist Response capacity. Otherwise, it was just a stunningly stupid response.

guerilla surgeon said...

"This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite." Godelpus

I thought it was a long quote from that idiot at Whaleoil.

"Elsewhere a jury would have convicted the perps to the full!"

Because their governments have wider powers than I'd want ours to have

"At the heart of this failure lies a paucity of intelligence."

Maybe they shouldn't have frozen out the Iwi Liason people, they're there for a purpose.

"It was the Keystone Cops chasing the Boys Brigade division of Dad's Army"

Yes except they scared the crap out of a lot of kids instead of making them laugh.

Anonymous said...

I think they got off cos they were a bunch of nillers!

thegreatgonzo said...

As both the Urewera raids and the more recent Kim Dotcom arrests have illustrated, the NZ Police are champing at the bit for any opportunity, no matter how inappropriate, to dress up in helmets and balaclavas, leap out of helicopters and wave around high powered weaponry. FFS guys, if that's what you're into, go join the army, get shipped off to Afghanistan and let's see how long you last with that sort of attitude when taking on someone who will most definitely shoot back.

Whatever Mr Iti and co were up to, any chance of a rational examination of their activities was lost in the (quite justified) furore surrounding the manner of their arrest...

Anonymous said...

"our security services"

Yours, maybe, Chris.

Lew said...

Congratulations, Chris. A strong endorsement of your argument from that famous left-wing radical Stephen Franks on Native Affairs tonight.


Anonymous said...

They were emphatically not " group of armed individuals, who gave every appearance of levying war against the Crown"

They were sad sack dreamers who could not afford the paintball fee.

If they'd been real revolutionaries they would have used the court as a platform, instead of hiding behind their lawyers.

jh said...

I was in Colombo Street when a group of supporters were addressing "the masses". The masses weren't taking any notice. A long haired bearded chap appealed to the passers by "we're just Kiwis like you". One laughed to oneself (titter, titter sort of thing). One suppressed an urge to call out something unkind. One continued down Colombo Street.

Ethical Martini said...

Chris, isn't the failure of the bourgeois state in this case a good thing?

A victory - ie: conviction of the Urewra 4 on terrorism charges - would have been a bad thing, surely?

I think you're right about the boy's brigade aspects, but you also seem to be playing into the hands of the right by slagging the Tuhoi.

I would think that you perhaps made a wrong call on this one Chris and should have the grace to retreat slowly, rather than blunder on through the undergrowth.

Chris Trotter said...

It's the blundering on through the undergrowth - armed to the teeth - for which I, and I suspect a substantial majority of New Zealanders, are still seeking a believable explanation.

And if it's a choice between "the bourgeois state" and a bunch of proto-terrorists, well, Martin, I'm quite happy to take the bourgeois state.