The Bradley Manning verdict sends a clear message to the chiefs at the top of our Defence Service (and Parliamentary Services). They should listen and hang their heads in shame. Investigative journalism is not treacherous.

The right to report on controversial matters that go to the heart of government is something that should be protected at all costs. It is never the job of the public service or our army to stop journalists embarrassing governments.

Bradley Manning has been found guilty of breaking military law, but not of aiding the enemy by leaking information to journalists. He’ll still face a lifetime in jail, but a democratic principle has been upheld.

The prosecution tried to argue that by leaking information to media (or Wikileaks), Bradley Manning was helping Osama Bin Laden, the enemy of America, because Bin Laden would see the leaked material too.

A guilty verdict would have validated the misguided fools who wrote the NZ Defence manual, claiming that journalists are subversive. It would have dealt a toxic blow to investigative journalism and those who leak to journalists.

If you follow the prosecution’s logic, any article that criticised the war in Iraq could be seen as ‘aiding the enemy’ because the enemy would read it. Seymour Hersh’s article in The New Yorker for example, which drew attention to the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib would almost certainly have been seen as ‘aiding the enemy’. Stores of torture helped to recruit new blood to al-Qaida's cause. 

There was an even more alarming case in Virginia in 2006. Not only was a Pentagon official indicted for leaking classified information, but the two executives at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee were also indicted for receiving it. In the end the case against the executives was dismissed. And free speech and the right to scrutinise governments and have information leaked to you, were upheld.

But it shows you that vigilance is necessary for each generation. 

I’ve got no time for the conspiracy theorists who compare present day New Zealand with Nazi Germany. If you can shout in a megaphone that New Zealand is a police state, it almost certainly isn’t.

But neither is it ok to do the John Key shoulder shrug and claim anyone who is concerned about the growing number of  surveillance stories is just an alarmist. This is lazy thinking and dangerously complacent. The casual way in which democratic principles can be chipped away is always the most shocking revelation of history. 

Right now that list of stories should be setting off alarm bells. 

  • Defence Force manual puts journalists like Andrea Vance and Jon Stephenson  - and Osama Bin Laden in the same category, and warns about the threat of ‘subversive’ investigative journalists who undermine ‘the morale, loyalty and reliability of citizens.’ ‘Reliability? What the hell does that mean?
  • A contractor or a staff member in Parliamentary Services thinks it’s ok to hand over phone records of a journalist to help a politically motivated enquiry (not a constitutional one) into the leaking of a government report.
  • That same journalist has her parliamentary swipe card monitored so the same enquiry can track down who leaked the GCSB report to her.
  • The Ketteridge report into the GCSB reveals that 88 New Zealanders were illegally spied on.
  • PM John Key orders police into newsrooms in 2012 to find and seize the ‘teacup tapes’. Cops in newsrooms at the government's behest is something that hadn’t happened since Muldoon.

This is not the time to rush and extend the powers of the GCSB.  There’s something rotten in the State of Denmark - or at least parts of it. First we have to shine some light on that.

 

Comments (9)

by Andrew Geddis on July 31, 2013
Andrew Geddis

PM John Key orders police into newsrooms in 2012 to find and seize the ‘teacup tapes’.

While I was not a fan of how the "teapot tapes" saga was handled, I do feel the need to question this account of it. Key didn't (and couldn't) "order police into newsrooms in 2012". He did complain to the police about the taping. The police did then decide to search for evidence from news organisations. Both of these decisions may have been unwise (even wrong), but they fall short of the PM "ordering" the Police to act in any particular way.

by stuart munro on July 31, 2013
stuart munro

Ok Andrew, what's your take on Key's chief of staff ordering parliamentary services to hand over phone records? Is that deniable? Because the buck ought to stop somewhere eh.

by Andrew Geddis on July 31, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Stuart,

Assuming Key's chief-of-staff did this (which hasn't yet been proved, has it ... at least in regards Vance?), it was wrong. Just as his demand that parliamentary services hand over the swipe card information that allowed Henry to track Vance's movements around the House was wrong. And I hope the Privileges Committee smacks both his nose (for asking) and the nose of Parliamentary Services (for agreeing) with a rolled up newspaper.

[Update: I see you were referencing this story (which I hadn't seen) ... yes, Eagleson shouldn't have been telling parliamentary services that it was OK to release ministers parliamentary records. He should have told Ministers that he expected them to individually tell parliamentary services this, or else he'd go Tucker on them.]

by stuart munro on July 31, 2013
stuart munro

Well if Key had writers like Tucker's we wouldn't get so much white noise.

Can't wait to see him drivel and forget his way out of this one.

by william blake on August 01, 2013
william blake

I just popped upstairs because I got a creepy feeling, in the spare room where, under the bed, are the ossified remains of a communist spy, which I keep for nostalgic reasons, was an al-Qaida cell having a feed of fish and chips.

Could I get an SIS operative or even a copper to come and sort it out, not a chance; as they are all doing 'public relations' training. I ask you, what is this country coming to.

by Josie Pagani on August 02, 2013
Josie Pagani

Hi Andrew. John Key may not have personally given the order for police to raid newsrooms over the teapot saga (which as you point out, he can't legally do). But aren't you concerned that a Prime Minister formally laid a complaint with the police about journalists? Why on earth did the police decide to act on that complaint? Given recent revelations over the last week you'd have to agree they too might have a less than constitutional view of the media's role in society  - to hold politicians accoutable and even embarrass them if they've done stupid things.

by Andrew Geddis on August 02, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Josie,

I'm not defending either Key or the Police, and you can chack back on my Pundit posts at the time for my views on the whole "teapotgate affair". I'm just saying that there's enough to be concerned about (as you list) without over-egging things.

by Tim Watkin on August 03, 2013
Tim Watkin

Andrew, did Eagleson tell Parliamentary Service to hand over the swipe card info? What was his involvement in that? As this goes on, it seems in retrospect that may have been the most direct intrusion into Vance's privacy, if the phone records were never opened and the emails never read.

On the other hand, why shouldn't Eagleson have told Parliamentary Service to release the ministers' emails (after the ministers had been told by the PM their cooperation was expected)? I'm wondering about this. On one hand, if I write something on my work email and something goes sour I could expect my boss to look at my emails and check if I'd broken a confidence... so in an employment sense, doesn't Key as boss have the right to check out his cabinet's emails? Or do they have some protection under employment law?

Or, on the other hand, is there something different about being an MP? Do they require more privacy protection than say me from my boss?

Of course I want politicians to leak and I think the whole Henry investigation an over-reaction, but when compared to what would happen in any other NZ workplace I'm curious how abnormal this is, if at all.

by Andrew Geddis on August 03, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Andrew, did Eagleson tell Parliamentary Service to hand over the swipe card info? What was his involvement in that?

I misspoke - I thought Eagleson had been linked to that, but I accept I was wrong (or, at least, there isn't any evidence for my claim).

On the other hand, why shouldn't Eagleson have told Parliamentary Service to release the ministers' emails (after the ministers had been told by the PM their cooperation was expected)?

lt's a separation of powers thing - Ministers may be MPs, but their boss as a Minister (the PM) shouldn't be able to tell the legislative branch (in the form of Parliamentary Services) what to do. Parliamentary Services answers to the Speaker, not the PM.

That said, David Farrar pointed out to me in another comment thread that the phone/email systems of Ministers are no longer separately run by Ministerial Services, but are bundled up in the services supplied by Parliamentary Services. So we now have a messy system where the body whose job is to run Parliament also does things for the executive branch, with different people in charge of different aspects of that work. Thus, Eagleson telling it that the PM wants it to release ministerial records isn't as bad as it first looked (because the PM is in charge of what ministers do). However, the problem is that these phones/email systems will be used for both ministerial purposes and MP work (remember, that's why Dunne has refused all OIA requests for the emails with Vance, on the basis that they were sent/received in his capacity as an MP and party leader, not a Minister).

In short - this is messy and complicated and it looks like no-one really thought about potential problems when setting the system up,

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