IF THE OFFICIALS’ Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC) hasn’t already met, then it should be meeting – right now! New Zealand’s Prime Minister is in danger.
Try to imagine what would have happened had a known white supremacist got within a few metres of the President of the United States and started firing ... questions. Further imagine that, upon investigation, it turned out that none of the accredited journalists present had been checked-off by the President’s Secret Service detail before getting close enough to make themselves heard.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine America’s leader being allowed to place himself in such a vulnerable situation. No unauthorised person gets close to the US President – not if the Secret Service can help it.
Yes, but, New Zealand is not the United States. One of the most endearing qualities of the New Zealand political scene is its easy-going intimacy. It is only relatively recently that our Prime Ministers were assigned a couple of bodyguards from the Diplomatic Protection Squad (DPS). Prior to then it wasn’t considered necessary. The long-serving National Prime Minister, Sir Keith Holyoake, regularly chatted with his fellow citizens over his street-facing garden fence. His number was printed in the phonebook. Prime Ministerial security simply wasn’t an issue.
Sadly, those days have gone for good.
Equally sadly, the thinking of those responsible for our national security has failed to keep pace with the social and political disintegration characterising the last 50 years of New Zealand history. The homogeneous New Zealand society of the first three quarters of the Twentieth Century has been replaced by a multi-ethnic society in which cultural and ideological unity has to a large extent been lost. Though the political class has done all it can to paint New Zealand’s growing diversity as an unqualified good, it has left a great many citizens feeling uneasy and unmoored. The resulting social dissonance is fraught with potential dangers. That the national security apparatus struggles to fully appreciate the full extent of those dangers is deeply troubling.
Part of the explanation for this dulling of institutional acuity lies in the Cold War origins of New Zealand’s national security apparatus. Threats were generally understood to be externally, not internally, generated. Such domestic threats as did exist were held to be connected umbilically to foreign actors.
Accordingly, New Zealand’s tiny communist parties, perceived as brainless puppets with strings attached to faraway puppet-masters in Moscow and Beijing, were closely watched. As were the seemingly ineradicable Trotskyite groups, whose orders were assumed (quite correctly) to come from revolutionary intellectuals based in the UK and the USA.
With the collapse of actually existing socialism in the late-1980s and early-1990s, the attention of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Police Intelligence shifted, quite uncharacteristically, towards domestic political actors without obvious connections to foreign powers. Māori Nationalists, radical environmentalists, opponents of free trade, animal rights activists: all came under close surveillance – often from “private” intelligence gatherers with whom the nation’s spy agencies could plausibly deny any “official” contact.
The terror attacks of 2001 once again focused the attention of New Zealand’s national security mandarins on external threats. Like the Soviets before them, the various offshore Islamic terrorist organisations were deemed to be the primary threat. Such domestic terrorist activity as did exist was assumed to be concerned primarily with recruitment and fundraising for the holy warriors overseas, rather than with the planning and execution of local terrorist attacks.
That the SIS and its sister agencies did not see the perpetrator of the Christchurch Mosque Massacres, Brenton Tarrant, coming was indicative of its wider blindness to the social toxins flooding into the national bloodstream as the failing Neoliberal economic and social order began to rot.
Don Brash’s near miss in 2005 was ignored: even though New Zealand came within 50,000 votes of being tipped into a racially-charged civil war. The rising levels of extremism exhibited by the opponents of 1080 poison were similarly disregarded. Even when Brexit and the election of Donald Trump served notice that all was not well in the profoundly unequal societies of the West, the obvious conclusions were not drawn. Those charged with protecting our national security still did not appear to grasp that if New Zealand society was subjected to new and excessive stresses, then the political centre could not – and would not – hold.
And the stresses of the Covid-19 Pandemic were nothing if not new and excessive. That the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was able to hold as much of the centre ground for as long as she did was a hugely impressive achievement. A national security apparatus worthy of the name, however, would have noted the evidence of disaffection and distemper bubbling-up in response to the measures required to manage New Zealand’s public health emergency. How the SIS could possibly have missed the evidence on display every minute of every day across all social media platforms is, frankly, unfathomable.
A functioning network of agents, lodged deep in the most volatile sectors of New Zealand society, would have seen and reported the enormous potential for a disastrous breakdown in social cohesion. The offshore evidence is overwhelming: with the inevitable arrival of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the situation can turn very nasty, very quickly.
Jacinda Ardern, who personifies both the success and the failure of the Government’s fight against Covid-19, has become the lightning-rod for a nation emotionally-charged beyond anything experienced since the 1981 Springbok Tour. Indeed, the seething animosities now plainly visible across New Zealand society far exceed the passions of 40 years ago. It will not take much for the raw hatred out there to tip over into murderous violence.
This is not the New Zealand of 60 years ago, or 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago. We are in new, unfamiliar and potentially tragic territory. The Prime Minister is not safe – as the events yesterday (2/11/21) in Northland, and today in Whanganui, have made amply clear. As the Editor of The Daily Blog, Martyn Bradbury, so rightly stated earlier today:
“News that the Wellington mandarins will send Jacinda to Auckland when tensions are this high is as irresponsible as sending Kennedy to Dallas.”
ODESC needs to intervene, now. The Prime Minister must not be sent to Auckland. Or, at least, she must not be sent there without the same measure of protection provided to every American President since JFK.
For God’s sake, don’t send Jacinda to Dallas!
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 4 November 2021.
I remember the extreme left in the 60s. It was more concerned on the whole with its own ideological purity as judged against other sects, than worldwide revolution. In other words, they were batty, and pretty much no danger to anyone. And yet the security intelligence people in their idle moments when not reading penthouse spent an inordinate amount of time on them and other relatively harmless people, up to and including bugging their homes – or at least attempting to.
I think that these types of services tend to attract the sort of people who dismiss potential right wing terrorists as harmless because they are misguided but essentially 'one of us'. And I doubt if they have investigated the religious right which seems to be the core of the antivax crowd ever, except perhaps for that group of nutters who started arming themselves – possibly. But they were in fact eventually taking care of by the police.
It's interesting but not surprising that the only non-government terrorist activity in New Zealand - Tarrant and of course the Trades Hall bombing case - were undertaken by the right, yet it's mainly the left that has traditionally been investigated and surveilled however ham-fistedly
Personally, given their record I'm not at all sure why we even have a security intelligence service, I think the functions should be undertaken by the police who are at least bound by reasonably transparent rules of engagement. On the other hand they didn't even bother investigating Tarrant's social media activity did they?
I am sure that your comment about dont send Jacinda to Auckland is sarcasm.
How is she going to unite the country(which she seems to have divided) if she is treated like sleepy joe and locked in the basement???
Good political analysis is rarer and rarer these days and the sort of perceptive and brave takes that you would sometimes pull out of the hat have been replaced with cowardly windbagging. But you are not alone.
No, its not only recently that pms had heavy protection. The night after Jim Bolger became pm I was playing in the upstairs Il Casino piano bar. About 10pm two worried looking dudes in suits suddenly rushed in and started looking behind all the curtains and under the couches. One of them had a shoulder holster. The minders were in a flap because Bolger hadn't told them where he was off to before he went out to the restaurant.
Send her up then take her back. If she shows up I intend to go and express my displeasure. Let’s face it, she is ultimately being shown to be a vacuous show pony who can’t take the pressure of their own poor decision making or as it appears to most of us randomly made up BS.
It is beyond funny that your own world view with a far right extremist hiding behind every door makes you think that some is going to jump out and attack her. Who was caught training in the ranges? The Australian terrorist was definitely not right wing despite the medias best efforts, the recent knife attacker was not right wing, and the majority of murders are undertaken by our great gangs.
So much for your dreams of the great transformation.
The Prime Minister exudes an arrogance in the form of "I (or we) are right". She has promoted the concept of 'The Podium of Truth'. These images have certainly not been questioned by the media.
It is no surprise that she has driven an extreme division in some corners of society. Some think she is a saint - others think she is the devil. Those who think she is a saint offer no physical harm but certainly offer emotional and psychological harm -to themselves and others.
Its those who think she is the devil that are the physically dangerous ones. Some of these are those who will not get vaccinated simply because shes endlessly telling them to get vaccinated. But others will be the dangerous ones - they wont be out carrying signs or making themselves obvious. They will be fuming and are the ones likely to do something crazy.
The two cancelled/moved media events show that there are some people out and about who are putting in the effort to oppose her - so far verbally. The portends are that between now and Xmas will be a very strained period.
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