In which a little spy agency finds that sometimes you can always get what you want, even if its not what you need.

[A note to readers - the following account is a purely subjective reimagination of history. You would be silly to accept it as being "factual". For in Toby Manhire's wise words, John Key's statements in recent days reveal an important feature of our universe: "Life is complex. Everything is contestable. Meaning is potato."]

Once upon a time, in a country not so far away, there was a little spy agency. Although it wasn't all that big, it had a very important job to do. It was told to go out and "obtain, correlate, and evaluate intelligence relevant to security, and ... communicate any such intelligence to such persons, and in such manner, as the Director considers to be in the interests of security." That is, spy on people to find stuff out, work out what it means and then tell other people about what it has found.

Because this job was so very important, the little spy agency was able to ask for warrants that let it, well, spy on people by "intercept[ing] or seiz[ing] any communication, document, or thing not otherwise lawfully obtainable by the person, or ... undertak[ing] electronic tracking." And in order to carry out this spying, the warrant permitted all sorts of intrusive actions such as breaking into peoples houses or other property, go through their stuff, take their documents, bug their phones, plant tracking devices on them or their cars, and the like. 

When could the little spy agency get given such warrants to do such spying? Well, they could get them whenever nasty foreigners looked like they might be going to cause trouble in the country, but let's not worry about these people because they aren't like us. More importantly, they also could get them whenever the citizens or inhabitants of the country looked like they might be getting up to no good by carrying out "activities prejudicial to security". And what is this "security" that could be prejudiced by activities? It means:

(a) the protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, and subversion, whether or not they are directed from or intended to be committed within New Zealand:

(b) the identification of foreign capabilities, intentions, or activities within or relating to New Zealand that impact on New Zealand's international well-being or economic well-being:

(c) the protection of New Zealand from activities within or relating to New Zealand that—

(i) are influenced by any foreign organisation or any foreign person; and

(ii) are clandestine or deceptive, or threaten the safety of any person; and

(iii) impact adversely on New Zealand's international well-being or economic well-being:

(d) the prevention of any terrorist act and of any activity relating to the carrying out or facilitating of any terrorist act

Which leaves us with one last little term to consider, before we get to our story proper. For subversion:

means attempting, inciting, counselling, advocating, or encouraging—

(a) the overthrow by force of the Government of New Zealand; or

(b) the undermining by unlawful means of the authority of the State ....

So, to recap ... the country had a little spy agency whose very important job included getting information about anyone who is encouraging the undermining by unlawful means of the authority of the State, and which could do all sorts of intrusive things to people in order to obtain this information. You might think it would be quite content doing this very important work using its quite intrusive powers. But the little spy agency wasn't happy. No, it wasn't happy at all.

You see, back in 2012 there was a law passed by the country's Parliament. And this law gave the country's Police the power to collect information by going onto people's land (and even into their houses) and using fancy video equipment to watch what they are doing there. It also let the Police carry out emergency or urgent searches in certain circumstances when there wasn't time to get a warrant to authorise such actions.

But the little spy agency didn't get these powers, even though it was doing the very important job of finding out about threats to New Zealand's security. Which means that if it wanted to have suspicious types videoed in their homes, it had to go to the Police and ask them to do it for them - which could only happen if there was reasonable grounds to suspect that the suspicious types were engaged in criminal activity that could get you locked up for seven years or more. And if the little spy agency wanted to use its own intrusive powers of breaking into houses and the like, it had to wait for its Minister to decide that it ought to be able to do so and issue a warrant to let it.

Poor little spy agency, to be treated so badly by its parlimentary masters.

But then, miracle of miracles, something happened. Stories began to circulate through the global village of a particular thoroughly nasty group of men who called themselves ISIS ... or ISIL ... or IS ... or something. And this particular thoroughly nasty group of men started calling on all those who dug their groove to come over and join them in their thoroughly nasty activities - as well as carry out similar thoroughly nasty actions in places like the country we are talking about. Which really put the willies up everyone.

So the little spy agency got asked, "what do you need in order to be able to make sure that no-one from our country tries to join this particular thoroughly nasty group of men, or does what this particular thoroughly nasty group of men suggests here?" Apparently someone forgot to write down the little spy agency's precise answer, but that doesn't matter because it seems everyone's got very good memories for what it said - for next thing you know the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill comes flying before the country's Parliament.

And what new powers for the little spy agency does that proposed legislation contain? Why, the very same video surveillance powers as the Police were granted back in 2012, plus the power to use all the little spy agency's intrusive spying powers without a warrant in emergency or urgent circumstances! How remarkable that the immediate and pressing threat of stopping people joining or acting on the call of one particular thoroughly nasty group of men just happens to require these exact things to combat it!!

And what is even more remarkable is that even though the the immediate and pressing threat of stopping people joining or acting on the call of one particular thoroughly nasty group of men relates to just one aspect of the country's "security" - that of "the prevention of any terrorist act and of any activity relating to the carrying out or facilitating of any terrorist act" - the little spy agency apparently needs to be given these powers in relation to all "activities prejudicial to security". So in order to stop people joining or acting on the call of one particular thoroughly nasty group of men, the little spy agency apparently also needs to be able to plant video cameras on the land of Maori activists who advocate the establishment of a separate homeland in the Hokianga (or similar) ... without a warrant if "emergency or urgent" circumstances apply.

Which, for once, ends our story on a happy note. By a miracle that can only be attributed to the looming celebration of Christmas, the little spy agency finds that it is being given just what it wants in order to do its job, thanks to the intervention of a particular thoroughly nasty group of men.

The end?


Comments (5)

by william blake on November 28, 2014
william blake

A bit Grimm.

by Raymond A Francis on November 29, 2014
Raymond A Francis

Meanwhile our Opposition parties who were meant to worry about this stuff (our Rights) were giving the PM grief about who he had emailed


by donna on November 30, 2014

By another happy coincidence (it must be the time of year), it just happens that David Mitchell over at the Guardian reached exactly the same conclusion as Andrew:

But this [counter-terrorism] campaign isn’t really about doing us any collective good. It’s about an institution justifying and aggrandising its position...This superficially fatuous leaflet is, in truth, a political message: terror is lurking everywhere and only powerful, well-funded (and possibly armed) security services can protect you from it. The people behind this campaign are using fear to get what they want. I thought that was the kind of thing we didn’t give in to. (

And yes, it is all a bit Grimm.

by John-Michael Au on December 01, 2014
John-Michael Au

Actually, a bit Fiddler on the Roof.

by Flat Eric on December 05, 2014
Flat Eric

The operation is understood to have been given the green light after months of surveillance of Australians believed to be linked to extremist terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

The Prime Minister said there were “quite direct exhortations … coming from an Australian, who is apparently quite senior in ISIL to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country”.

“This is not just suspicion, this is intent,” he told reporters


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