Monday, 18 March 2019

When terrorism breaks out down-under: the security failings behind the Christchurch mosque massacre

Rebecca Kitteridge, CVO, Director-General of Security for New Zealand (who was appointed to post in May 2014) told members of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington on 20 February 2019, in evaluating New Zealand’s ‘terrorism threatscape’ that “currently, the national terrorism threat level is set at ‘low’, which means an attack is assessed as possible but not expected.

She added ‘Low’ does not mean no threat. The threat level is continually under review and can change, and we need to be prepared for that.”(

Less than three weeks later to most devastating terrorist attack, leaving at least fifty muslim worshipers dead in two mosques in Christchurch. (“Christchurch mosque shootings: In one day, more people were killed in New Zealand than usually murdered in a year,” NZ Herald, 15 March 2019;

Ms Kitterigde – who has a background in law -  joined the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) after six years as Secretary of the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council, within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and has served under four Prime Ministers and four Governors-General in that role.

She is reported to believe that a ‘secure state’ and a well-informed government as fundamental in supporting and maintaining the New Zealand way of life.

But in an exclusive interview with the NZ Herald last May, she admitted to a hole in the law in a memo (dated 30 June 2017) to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson  "the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant" or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.”

 The same article alarmingly revealed “A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of "an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment" in New Zealand.NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.

The documents, declassified and released through the Official Information Act, also revealed NZ spies had been involved in ‘high threat operations’.”

(“Our spies disarmed by legal blunder amid 'high threat operations' against terrorists”; NZ Herald, 8 May, 2018;

In her evidence to the NZ Parliament three weeks ago, Ms Kitteridge outline the key threats she believed New Zealand is facing and “what we are doing about them.”

Terrorism and Violent Extremism

At any one time, around 30 people are of particular interest to the NZSIS, she stressed But, this number is not static. As investigations into individuals of interest are resolved or their activities of concern diminish, other individuals of interest emerge. The overall number accordingly fluctuates over time, but during the reporting period the number of  more serious concern remained steady.

A small but concerning number of New Zealanders continue to engage with often violent online radical Islamist content and radical ideology which presents a risk to others, she added, going on to state:

“As I have said previously, there is a small number of New Zealand citizens – men and women, some of whom are dual citizens – who are likely in the conflict zone in Syria.  As you can imagine, it is very difficult to obtain accurate information about the fate of those individuals because the situation is very fluid.  We are working with international partners to obtain intelligence about any New Zealand person who may be involved in the conflict.”

But it was clear the main concern was Islamic terrorism. She emphasised that “In the event of a return of a foreign terrorist fighter or somebody who has travelled to the conflict zone to join ISIL, we would work closely with New Zealand Police and other agencies. That contingency planning has been in train for some time.Within the wider geographic region, extremist groups remain influential in Southeast Asia. There is an ongoing threat to travellers and Western interests in the region.”

Observing that “over the past three years, many Southeast Asian countries have experienced a second wave of extremist attacks, “ she pointed out  “Just last month (January 2019) ISIL claimed responsibility for the bombing of a church in Jolo, Philippines. The attack killed at least 20 people and injured over 100 others”.

Internationally, Al-Qaida retains influence and capability, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, but with links elsewhere. Their capability has been degraded but not destroyed.

Finally she added -almost as an afterthought- that “Internationally the slow, but concerning rise of right wing extremism also continues.”

Yet it was this species of malevolent manic terrorism that devastated Christchurch last Friday morning.

After her Cabinet meeting on Monday 18th March, Prime Minister Jacinda  Ardern announced a new review of government agencies including the Security intelligence Service and Government Communications Security Bureau. (“Christchurch mosque shootings: Changes to gun laws coming, NZ Herald,19 March

This, despite the fact that just last August  Ms Ardern’s office announced publication of  the Performance Improvement Framework (PIF) follow-up review of the New Zealand Intelligence Community, 30 August 2018;

NZ’s Counter-Terrorism legislation under review

NZ’s intelligence chief told the NZ MPs’ intelligence public hearing  last month that as  “has been stated publicly, the Government is seeking to review New Zealand’s counter-terrorism legislative settings,” adding that NZ’s counter-terrorism legislative regime spans several statutes, and has evolved over time, often in response to significant events like 9/11. 

But, she stressed; the NZSIS does not lead policy work on legislation, but are actively working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Justice and Police to analyse the counter-terrorism legislation regime “to ensure that it is fit for purpose.” However, she qualified this with the cautious “As this work is still underway I am unable to comment further at this stage.  Outcomes will be reported to Ministers in due course”.

Protective security functions

Later, she added “In addition to our intelligence functions, NZSIS also has protective security functions for which it is responsible.Ensuring we have strong protective security settings across our public and private sector is a way we can help protect New Zealand from some of the key methods deployed ...”

She closed by asserting she was extremely proud of the “unwavering commitment” [of her staff]  to protecting the security of our country, and the safety of their fellow New Zealanders.

Through their hard work and dedication the Service has positively contributed to the ongoing security and wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

In the annual Intelligence and national security report, which was evaluated in the hearing, Andrew Little, Minister Responsible for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service it perspicaciously stated in his introduction:

"Overseas experience shows that it is possible for someone who is not known to security and intelligence agencies to move from radicalised to undertaking a terrorist attack or other action in a short timeframe, often with minimal forewarning. While the NZSIS and law enforcement counterparts work hard to identify and mitigate threats, it is possible that an isolated individual, unknown to these agencies, could be inspired to carry out a terrorist act in New Zealand "


The report also adds: “the world is becoming increasingly challenging and uncertain. The New Zealand Intelligence Community must be agile to adapt to this changing environment.

We must be alert to the risk of interference in New Zealand’s domestic affairs by hostile states inappropriately influencing New Zealand communities or seeking to access sensitive information and intellectual property for their own purposes. At the same time the threat posed by terrorism has not reduced and continues to evolve. Lone actors are being influenced by radical and violent ideologies online and may be mobilised to act, as we have seen in other countries.

Over the past year, I have seen the proactive efforts of the Directors-General of both the NZSIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to increase public awareness about the work done by the intelligence organisations and the role they play in safeguarding our country and institutions. Sharing what they can is an important part of building and maintaining the trust and confidence of the New Zealand public and this is something we will continue to see.

New Zealand should be confident the work the New Zealand Intelligence Community undertakes to understand, mitigate and manage threats will continue to keep New Zealand and New Zealanders safe and secure. “


In her Director-General’s Overview, Rebecca Kitteridge said: “It is essential that our work is underpinned by a high level of public confidence and trust. New Zealanders should feel safe to go about their daily lives knowing that our institutions, infrastructure, and information assets are protected…”


She interpolated a sadly very accurate prediction:  The threat environment we operate in is changing and we need to remain agile and capable to respond to, and counter, the challenges ahead of us. One of our main priorities is to counter foreign actors seeking to advance their own interests to New Zealand’s detriment….”


The report itself stated: “The majority of leads identified during 2017/2018 were linked to ISIL. Most related to individuals allegedly viewing violent or objectionable extremist propaganda, supporting or seeking to support the activities of ISIL, or seeking to travel offshore in order to associate with extremist groups or terrorist entities. Upon receiving lead information, the NZSIS considers whether a national security threat exists and if the threat meets the threshold to trigger an investigation or a wider government response.”


It added: “With partners such as the Police, Customs, and Immigration New Zealand, the NZSIS works to ensure threats do not escalate to acts of violence and that New Zealanders do not become the perpetrators or victims of terrorism” (emphasis added)


Here are some conclusions from NZ spooks agency  most recent annual report, which in retrospect, read somewhat over-optimisticly.

Delivery Excellence

“The NZSIS aims to deliver high quality intelligence and security products and advice to inform enable decision makers to make the best decisions possible.

The NZSIS continues to work with our customers to ensure that the intelligence provided to them is impactful, meets their requirements and is delivered in a timely manner. We are constantly looking at our processes to see what can be done to improve the overall customer experience.

Investing in our Capability

Over the past four years, a number of initiatives have been underway to strengthen and build our capabilities. These initiatives were a result of the NZIC Performance Improvement Framework in 2014, the Independent Review of Intelligence and Security in 2015, the Strategy, Capability and Resourcing Review (SCRR) and subsequent Budget 2016 decisions, and the implementation of the ISA in 2017. Change has been necessary to ensure we are fit for purpose and significant resources have been devoted to improving our systems, policies, processes and organisational structures.” (emphasis added)

Last year the NZSIS continued to focus on building strong foundations for future growth. We have completed the second year of our four-year growth path and are now focused on lifting the operational   outcomes and impacts delivered by the agencies.



On its fiftieth anniversary, the Māori name for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service [NZSIS] -established in 1956 -  Te Pā Whakamarumaru, which translates to The Sheltering Citadel, was adopted as part of its official emblem. It reads rather sickly now


Christchurch mosque shootings: In one day, more people were killed in New Zealand than usually murdered in a year

NZ Herald, 16 March 2019

When a gunman opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch yesterday, and a second mosque came under attack, the resulting death toll of at least 49 people meant that more were killed on one day than are usually murdered in an entire year in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the public last night, calling it "one of New Zealand's darkest days."

Three suspects are in custody, and one man, the only one so far charged with murder in the case, released a manifesto online hinting at the years-long relative peacefulness in New Zealand as one motive for the attack, which he suggested would show "that nowhere in the world was safe." His claim echoed remarks by an apparent role model, Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people — many of them teenagers — in 2011. Norway has roughly the same population as New Zealand and an even lower murder rate.

In the coming days, debate over New Zealand's gun laws is likely to take place in response to the massacre.

"I can't imagine a country less likely to let this slide than New Zealand," said Philip Alpers, a New Zealander professor at the University of Sydney who founded a website that tracks gun policy worldwide.

"Jacinda Ardern is not likely to say 'our thoughts and prayers are with you' and then move on."

In New Zealand, gun owners must be licensed to carry guns and gun ownership is seen as a conditional privilege, but firearms do not have to be registered. Gun licenses are valid for 10 years, and Alpers said the interview process for licensing involves interviews with individuals who have intimate relationships with prospective gun owners, including spouses, ex-spouses and roommates.

Gun laws came under scrutiny in New Zealand in 1997, when retired High Court judge Thomas Thorp released a report that endorsed mandatory registration and said self-defense should no longer be considered reason enough for purchasing a gun. The report also recommended that the government buy back military-style assault rifles, among a number of other suggestions that were not adopted in legislation. Now, Alpers said, essentially all those measures will be back up for discussion, particularly regulation of assault weapons. "They are the choice of mass killers and they will be the focus of everybody's attention," he said.

Although New Zealand's gun laws have triggered tense but restrained debates in the past, the conversation isn't as heated and ideological as it is in the United States. By comparison, American civilians are estimated to own nearly 400 million firearms, or about 120 per 100 people. In New Zealand, civilians hold around 1.5 million firearms, averaging out to approximately one gun per three people in the country of around 5 million.

"New Zealanders see themselves certainly not as a gun-free nation but as a nation with fewer firearm problems than most," Alpers said. "They look on the U.S. as most of the world does ... with some degree of horror."

In his alleged manifesto, the suspect charged with murder in the mosque attack implicitly hoped for a gun debate.

"I chose firearms for the affect it would have on social discourse, the extra media coverage they would provide and the effect it could have on the politics of United States and thereby the political situation of the world," the manifesto says. The implied hope was that the debate may eventually escalate tensions between supporters of gun rights and opponents and result in civil-war-like violence that would cause more damage than one attacker or group could do alone.

Although some New Zealand residents have joined Islamist militant groups, the threat of terrorist attacks has consistently been regarded as low. The European debate over the cycle of crimes blamed on migrants and right-wing violence has largely been unknown in New Zealand, where the far right remains marginalised. Instead, authorities have predominantly focused on bringing down the number of incarcerated indigenous Maori people, who are disproportionately represented in the country's prisons.

Until recently, police in New Zealand had not felt the need to carry firearms on duty. Last month, however, the Canterbury district on New Zealand's southern island broke with that protocol after a series of incidents that left a shooting suspect on the loose.

At the time, New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill told Reuters that "more and more policemen are finding criminals with guns, so unless we find a way of stopping these firearms from reaching them, we will have no other choice but to arm our officers."

Analysis: Christchurch massacre - what did we miss and who missed it?

How did we miss this? The little we know asks questions of those who would keep us safe.

At first reports, New Zealand appeared to have a terrorist in the style of Anders Behring Breivik, the far right terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

Breivik was a "lone wolf" - someone who planned alone and carried out his attack alone.

This killer was something different. There are signs which point to an ugly rotten core in our society which could have been identified earlier.

In his online manifesto, he said he had recently come to New Zealand from Australia to plan an attack.

When he settled in, he decided New Zealand was the place to carry it out.

Something happened in Christchurch which changed his views. In his manifesto, he said "an attack in New Zealand would bring to attention the truth of the assault on our civilisation, that nowhere in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands".

That sounds like he's been radicalised. And the fact the attack happened here suggests whatever influence there was on his thinking, it was domestic in origin. He found like minds.

Then there's the firearms.

He had multiple firearms and, of those he did have, witnesses report the shots sound like "firecrackers".

While some semi-automatic rifles can be bought with a basic gun licence, repetitive semi-automatic weapons with extended magazine capability of the sort witnesses describe need a special category of gun licence.

It is meant to involve extensive police checks and background inquiries of the prospective owner.

It seems unlikely a recent immigrant - Australian or where-ever - whose introduction to weaponry in New Zealand is getting the most restricted licence would raise a flag.

It seems far more likely the weapons were supplied by people already here.

As information emerged today, we learned four people had been arrested - three men and a woman.

Not only did they have extensive weaponry, they also managed to plant improvised explosive devices across the city.

It's one thing to fly beneath the radar as a lone wolf.

It's a completely different proposition to join and develop a functional and organised terrorist cell which can deliver compelling rhetoric to new recruits and then provide weaponry, and knowledge, to carry out an attack such as today's.

Cells operating as a group require communication and co-ordination which increases the number of points at which authorities can notice and disrupt their plans.

We have a number of security agencies in New Zealand which will face serious questions.

The easiest to contemplate is the firearms. Police Minister Stuart Nash is looking at firearms law now. He needs to look harder.

In Whangārei, we had murder committed by an angry man who bought weapons illegally with extraordinary ease. In Rotorua, we had a killer convicted on forensic evidence which owed little to police systems but to exceptional diligence by a lone police office and ground-breaking Australian forensic work.

That's only the firearms.

The real danger are the people who choose to carry them and commit acts such as we have seen today.

St John staff working to help those injured during the rampage. Photo / Supplied

The police force, which expends huge effort gathering and ordering intelligence on gangs, will need to consider whether it committed sufficient resource towards the increasingly polarised, hate-filled groups which have sprung up across Western nations.

Gangs largely prey upon themselves. Groups with extreme views prey upon the rest of us.

These groups have been responsible for a number of massacres in Western countries, which should have tripped warning bells.

There are hard questions for the NZ Security Intelligence Service. It has - like its Western counterparts - a strong focus on potential threats in the Islamic community.

Has it dedicated the same effort to other parts of society? It certainly used to. Pre-September 11 NZSIS tasking files pay huge attention to neo-Nazi, far right groups.

The NZSIS - and its electronic counterpart, the Government Communications Security Bureau - have more funding than ever, and almost double the staff numbers they had six years ago.

This attack isn't a call for new powers or greater funding. The spies have all they need in a society such as ours - even with the shocks of today.

Instead, we need to check how they have grown into that accelerated growth in funding and broader legislation.

It was only last year NZSIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge told the NZ Herald it had struggled to match its improved capability against its need.

She had told the former National Party spy minister Chris Finlayson in 2015 "in the context of the threat environment we are facing, the NZSIS capabilities will continue to be less than the demand on our services".

"We will need to continue making difficult prioritisation decisions about which targets we investigate [and for how long] and which we do not."

A Royal Commission - in public, with open evidence - needs to ask those questions. The country deserves evidence and answers. And let's not hear overblown claims of "classified information".

It also needs to check when the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security should have funding and staff to match the agencies her office oversees.

There's a considerable gulf between what she has to work with and the work she needs to do.

There's nothing which sharpens the focus of a security service - unless it's an attack of this sort - than an oversight agency working hard to make sure it is doing its job properly.

NZ Herald journalist David Fisher is a member of a Reference Group formed by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security intended to hear views on developments possibly relevant to the work of the oversight office. The group has a one-way function in offering views to the IGIS. It receives no classified or special information from the IGIS or the intelligence community. The information in this story was not sourced from Reference Group discussions.

Our spies disarmed by legal blunder amid 'high threat operations' against terrorists; NZ Herald, 8 May, 2018;

NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge.

NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge.

David Fisher

By: David Fisher, Senior writer, NZ Herald

A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of "an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment" in New Zealand.

NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.

The documents, declassified and released through the Official Information Act, also revealed our spies have been involved in "high threat operations".

It did not state what those operations were and NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge, in an interview with the NZ Herald, would not elaborate other than to say they involved police assistance

She would not give details of the operations but said the NZSIS had taken active steps with the police to stop people who wanted to carry out terrorist attacks in New Zealand.

The details about the security situation in New Zealand is an unnerving backdrop to the blunder over warrants allowing visual surveillance.

Kitteridge revealed the hole in the law to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson last year.
In a memo on June 30, she said "the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant" or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.

The memo said warrants to allow visual surveillance were to "detect, investigate or prevent a terrorist act".

But she said the NZSIS was unable to do so for six months after the old law expired on April 1 2017 because the new Intelligence and Security Act did not apply until September 28 2017.

PIF follow-up review for core New Zealand Intelligence Community


Thursday, 30 August 2018

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