The Spooks & Maori – a brief history

A Brief History of a Long One-Sided Engagement (although Maori have long acted as informants for the other side)

A long essay (7,374 words)

Like death, taxes and politicians the intelligence gatherers or spooks have been with us for millennia, and will be with us forever. 4,500 years ago the Chinese master strategist Sun Tzu wrote on the use of spies in “The Art of War”, and the principles and practices he laid out then are as relevant today as they were in those ancient times. He was of course writing about human intelligence (HUMINT) long before the technology revolution.

Surveillance of Maori by the spooks, whether military, security or police, has been taking place for about 300 years and continues to this day. Our history with the spooks starts during colonisation. For many decades the main targets of the spooks were Maori.

“When British troops were stationed in New Zealand following colonisation, some of the engagements between the Government forces and rebel native tribes indicated serious shortcomings in the intelligence process, particularly with respect to analysis and interpretation of information, of which often there was no shortage from reliable sources.

Fast forward to Operation 8 in 2007. Nothing much changes with respect to serious shortcomings, and analysis and interpretation.

“Following the normal practice a Deputy Quartermaster General was appointed to the staff of the Officer Commanding the Forces in New Zealand. In addition to his responsibilities for the logistics of the forces, he and his staff undertook intelligence duties including observation and reconnaissance in the field.

“Many expeditions were small enough for the field commanders to act as their own intelligence officers and to deal directly with their sources among the friendly Maori, traders, missionaries and settlers. In the early days this led to some British officers, confident in the superiority of the British bayonet, refusing to accept the advice of those who knew the Maori and his capabilities.

“The local forces which were raised, at first to supplement and eventually to replace the regular forces, included men who were familiar with the territory, the bush and the Maori and who were able to play an important part in the intelligence process. Engaged at first as “Interpreters” they were often in the position of scouts, guides and intelligence officer, and a number went on to play leading parts in the Armed Constabulary when it was formed to take over from the British regiments that were being withdrawn from the colony.

“A few units were specifically raised to act as scouts but more often this function was undertaken by bush-wise men within ordinary rifle or mounted units. The term “Guides” had often been used by the British Army to designate a unit whose function was intelligence gathering, the most famous of these being the Indian Army “Corps of Guides”. A Corps of Guides was raised in Wanganui in 1869 and although small in number, at first seven and seldom reaching twelve, did excellent work in the campaigns against dissident Maori leaders Titokowaru and, later, Te Kooti”.

Sub Rosa Inc, NZ Intelligence Corps Assn contributed by Major (Retd) Ray Hurle.

At that time the military played a major role in intelligence gathering. They were spying on Maori before, during and after all of the many military engagements during the New Zealand Land Wars and other military actions up to and including the invasion of Parihaka in 1881.

In 1846 Governor Grey also established an armed police force to “preserve order and suppress rebellion”. This would have been the beginning of the formal intelligence activities of the police.

In 1863 the NZ Settlement Act and the Suppression of Rebellion Act were enacted in Parliament, and Governor Grey invaded the Waikato. The Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 has a whakapapa. In 1798 a Suppression of Rebellion Act was passed in the UK to suppress the Irish. It was the model for the NZ Suppression of Rebellion Act 1863. At Ruatoki in 2007 the police reached for the newest of those acts, the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The “suppression” acts all provide for extraordinary state powers of surveillance, search, seizure and arrest, and all remove democratic rights.

Governors and ministers also built their informant networks among Maori and those who dealt with Maori. Sir Donald McLean “Te Kiore Kaiwhenua”, land purchase agent, politician and farmer was almost certainly an intelligence agent as well. Of all of the early settlers he would have been one of the best placed to play the role of spy or spymaster. If the spymaster was not McLean it was someone like him. McLean was also a senior Freemason. Governor Sir George Grey was actively involved in collecting information and may well have acted as his own spymaster.

“ ….. and to deal directly with their sources among the friendly Maori, traders, missionaries and settlers”.

That snippet of history shows the extent of the informant network in the 1800s. Before the advent of the wireless and telephone, HUMINT (human intelligence) was the primary source of information; human spies. And before the telephone letters were used to convey much intelligence. In this modern era we focus our attention on the technological and electronic collection of intelligence employed by for instance GCSB, SIS and the Police. Despite the dominance of technology in the modern Intelligence process HUMINT remains an important source of intelligence and the informant networks are still embedded and active. The sources are still “friendly Maori, traders, missionaries and settlers” or their modern day equivalents. Your dodgy cousin perhaps.

There is no direct evidence that he was an active spy but Rev Karl Volkner was certainly one of those sources and he may have died on 2nd March 1865 because of it. Volkner did keep up a correspondence with Sir George Grey informing him about Maori in the East Coast region, including information about military capacity and intentions. Many of the “Pakeha-Maori” who lived among Maori at the time also acted as informants for either Government or Maori, or both.

While Sir George Grey was primarily concerned with Maori he did keep his eye on French expansion into the Pacific. His successor Sir George Bowen was also concerned about Russian expansion into the region. Lieutenant General Sir William Jervois during his term as Governor (1883-1889) was greatly concerned with the threat of Russia and by the end of his term he had bequeathed a network of coastal and harbour defences looking outwards to the external threat of Russia. Japan became a concern early in the 20th century but Russia remained the primary perceived threat up to World War I.

Those bogeyman threats, like reds under the bed, the red menace, the yellow peril and the tangerine terror of the middle of the 20th Century served to divert attention from Maori to some extent but not entirely.

In the latter half of the 19th century the Fenians or Irish Catholics became a security concern because of their support for their homeland during the troubles with the British. The Irish in New Zealand earned the great honour of being a target of internal surveillance along with Maori. Perhaps they were the first of the non-Maori political dissenters to exercise the minds of the spooks.

The waterfront strikes and violence of 1913 would have momentarily diverted the spies eyes from Maori, but not for long.

The police were involved in spying on Maori in the early part of the 20th Century and leading up to their assault on Ngai Tuhoe at Maungapohatu in 1916. According to the SIS website the police took the primary official role in internal security and surveillance from 1919 onwards.

During the World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45) the German threat became a focus, as did the Japanese threat before and after Japan entered the Second World War.

However Maori did become a target during WW1 because of conscription and the resistance to conscription in Tainui-Maniapoto led by Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Herangi (“Princess” Te Puea). The government then targeted men of Tainui-Maniapoto to be conscripted and if they resisted they were jailed. A Te Putatara correspondent relates the well known story of how Te Puea was spied on at her home in Ngaruawahia. The spy used to park his car outside her house but instead of shooing him away she would invite him in for lunch or a cuppa.

In the period between the wars the Ratana Movement was founded, became politically aligned with Labour, and took its take to England and Japan. There is no doubt that Ratana and his followers would have come under very close police surveillance, especially after the visit to Japan.

Perhaps the participation of Maori in both wars, the Pioneer Battalion in WW1 and particularly the 28th Maori Battalion in WW2, helped to reduce the paranoia and surveillance of Maori. By then of course the spooks had other things to worry about.

From as early as 1840 the ideas of Karl Marx and the notion of workers’ rights had reached the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand but did not gain traction until about the turn of the century. Communism, socialism and trade unions eventually become the main target of the spooks, before during and after the wars, and remained so for decades until the capitulation of the trade unions as a dominant political force in the 1980s and 1990s and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The decades long history of that political “subversion” in New Zealand is covered in detail in “Spies and Revolutionaries, A History of New Zealand Subversion” by Graeme Hunt (2007, Reed Publishing, Auckland).

The decade and a half after WW2 was relatively free of paranoia about Maori subversives as the country recovered from the war, and once again immersed itself in the culture of rugby. A great many Maori families had sacrificed their sons to the European war, and there were a large number of Maori ex-servicemen, visible testimony of that sacrifice. It was a tragic and costly demonstration of Maori loyalty to the Crown. Many of the politicians and community leaders in the two or three decades after WW2 had served alongside Maori and were genuinely sympathetic to Maori aspirations. Many, including Sir Robert Muldoon, were not.

The economy also went through a boom led by an increase in wool prices as a result of the Korean War (1950-1953). Paranoia always reduces during times of prosperity and optimism. Despite that, the underlying ignorance and racism that are the seedbeds of paranoia did not diminish.

In 1955 the NZ Special Air Service (SAS) was formed for service in the Malayan Emergency. In 1957 a regular force infantry battalion was formed and was sent to Malaya. Both contained a proportionately large Maori contingent, to the extent that in my time almost every Maori whanau had a member serving in the Army. The battalion remained continuously in South East Asia until 1989. During that time and since Maori have moved up through the army’s ranks and some have also moved across into the security and intelligence services. The writer served in the Army from 1962 to 1982 and there was a greater acceptance of Maori as part of the “establishment” although it was not total.

The media and others speculated in 1988 that the late Brigadier Lin Smith, then Director SIS, had stopped surveillance of Maori in 1984 because of political pressure from the Lange government. However Lin Smith knew Maori better than most of his staff in the SIS and better than most politicians. His decision was based on his knowledge and experience. He was university educated and intellectually astute. He was a man of integrity and principle and would have been guided in his decision by his principles.

By 1965 he had risen through the Territorial Force and Regular Force to the rank of lieutenant colonel. However in 1965 he dropped rank to major to serve as second-in-command to Lieutenant Colonel Brian Poanaga in the battalion in Malaya. He did so at the request of his friend Poananga. Lin Smith worked closely with Brian Poananga for two years in the battalion and came to know Maori officers and soldiers at close quarters. The writer served in that battalion. The writer also served with them again in the early 1980s when Major General Poananga was Chief of Army and Brigadier Smith was again his deputy.

As Director SIS Lin Smith genuinely considered that Maori were not a threat and stopped SIS surveillance. The writer discussed the matter with him in 1987. Perhaps his decision was also influenced by Robert Muldoon’s abuse of power and his political misuse of the SIS during his term as prime minister and minister in charge of the SIS from 1975 to 1984.

But Maori remained in the sights and again became primary targets. Who are the watchers?

It might surprise those who are paranoid about the SIS that as at 2013 the NZ Police Force has actually had primary responsibility for surveillance of Maori for all but 30 of the last 94 years.

  • 1919 – 1941 NZ Police Force
  • 1941 – 1945 Security Intelligence Bureau (established by the military but under control of the police 1943-45)
  • 1945 – 1949 NZ Police Force
  • 1949 – 1956 NZ Police Special Branch
  • 1956 – 1969 NZ Security Service
  • 1969 – 1984 NZ Security Intelligence Service
  • 1984 – 2013 NZ Police Force

 – Primary source: NZSIS website

29 years ago in 1984 under the late Brigadier Lin Smith the NZ Security Intelligence Service relinquished its lead role in the surveillance of Maori and it was resumed by the police.

What needs to be understood is that the NZ Police Force has always been an internal intelligence agency in addition to its main law enforcement role. Throughout its existence that intelligence function has included political intelligence as well as criminal intelligence. They have often confused the two.

However in the 1970s and until 1984, the years of Maori activism and protest, the SIS was still primarily responsible for surveillance of Maori. For about nine of those years Muldoon was in power.

Maori were involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and 1970s and came under scrutiny along with everyone else. Maori also played a significant role in opposing the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. Many Maori activists who took part in those tour protests had been involved in the anti-Vietnam War protests and in the Maori protest movement from about 1971.

In 1971 Nga Tamatoa staged the first big protest during the Waitangi Day commemoration at Waitangi, They and other groups were to play leading roles in Maori political activism for the next decade or more.

In the early 1970s I became aware that the security and intelligence community was actively monitoring that broad Maori protest movement. I was working in the military as an intelligence analyst at the time on secondment to Australia. A visiting senior intelligence office from Wellington quizzed me on my attitude to Nga Tamatoa. I think I failed the test.

From 1975 Maori radicals and Socialist Unity Party members were the two whipping boys that Sir Robert Muldoon used to his political advantage during his own prime ministerial reign of terror from 1975 to 1984. Well he did destroy a lot of his opponents, real and imagined, including the ones he found in the bottom of a whiskey bottle and under his bed. He also used the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1980s to arouse the passions to his political advantage, and in his own version of paranoia committed New Zealand to a civil war in 1981, over a rugby tour. Throughout his reign he used the intelligence agencies to further his political agendas. In 1980 he released an SIS document highlighting infiltration by the Socialist Unity Party into trade unions. In 1984 he released another document about subversives and radicals in the anti-apartheid movement.

Why go on about Muldoon? Because another Muldoon could easily become prime minister and use or be used by the security and intelligence agencies. That is one of the major concerns about the 2013 GCSB Bill and other search and surveillance legislation. A future prime minister, given greater and greater surveillance powers by an apathetic and compliant parliament, might conceivably turn those powers upon Maori. Imagine a Robert Muldoon clone as a future prime minister.

In 1975 there was the Maori Land March from Te Tai Tokerau to Parliament. Some Maori involved in the march were members of Nga Tamatoa, the Communist Party and other “subversive” groups and would have been under constant surveillance. What governments and the agencies have never been able to understand is that Maori radicals and activists have always been first and foremost Maori, and their membership of the so-called subversive organisations has always been a means to an end – mana motuhake Maori.

In 1977 Ngati Whatua occupied Bastion Point and were finally evicted by force in 1978. In 1978 Tuaiwa Rickard was arrested for trespass after occupying part of her ancestral lands on the Raglan Golf Course. Ngati Whatua and Eva Rickard were both to eventually win their battles to regain their lands but were vigorously opposed by Muldoon. No doubt they were under surveillance by the security and intelligence agencies.

During that time the anti-apartheid movement was building with significant Maori participation. The SIS had infiltrated the movement and on 25th August 1981 Robert Muldoon released an SIS document listing a number of people who were classed either as members of subversive groups or as radicals. Of the 15 named individuals three were Maori who were also active in the Maori protest movement.

In the 1980s the Waitangi Action Committee was at the forefront of Maori protest. Included in their network were former members of Nga Tamatoa and members of Orakei Action Committee, Bastion Point Working Group, Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination, Pakehas Against Racism Campaign and the Ponsonby Black Women’s Movement. These were all under surveillance. At least three of the “radicals” under surveillance later became Members of Parliament. For some detail about their activities see “Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, Struggle Without End” by Professor Ranginui Walker (1990, Penguin, Auckland).

In 1987 in his maiden speech in Parliament Ross Meurant, who until then had been a police inspector and had been heavily involved in policing the Springbok Tour, spoke at great length about the threat of Maori radicals and terrorists. He named individuals and organisations. His information was culled from police intelligence files. I reproduce in full that part of his speech dealing with Maori terrorism. It makes fascinating reading.

“I now wish to speak briefly about the advent of racial terrorism. They say that until an alcoholic acknowledges that he has a problem there is no hope for a cure or a remedy; I say that until we are able to admit that we have a problem with our race relations they will steadily deteriorate. When white middle-class New Zealanders turn on the television they see radical nationalist Maoris demanding land and compulsory Maori language in schools; insulting white New Zealanders; swearing that white man’s blood will run in the streets; and threatening the rest of the country with armed revolution. White New Zealand hears calls for absolute Maori control of our country, sees Maori gangs involved in shocking crimes—and white New Zealand turns off. The backlash has begun.

“We must also maintain our vigilance against extremist elements in our society that would exploit our racial difficulties and that advocate the overthrow of the New Zealand Government by armed force and the removal of white New Zealanders. Who are the people who want total Maori control of New Zealand? They are Maori radicals who espouse a philosophy of nationalism, yet accept assistance from communist States and training in Third World countries. Those people include Atareta Poananga, Titewhai Harawira, Hinewhare Harawira, Rebecca Evans, Donna Awatere, Hilda Halkyard Harawira, and Emily Karaka, who are the principal cell of the Maori nationalist movement in New Zealand. They call the shots. Males are regarded as inferior, and sit in the second row. They include Arthur Harawira, Hone Harawira, Mangu Awarau, Benny Dalton, Dr Pat Hohepa, Eru Potaka-Dewes, Norman Te Whata, Syd Jackson, and Haami Piripi. Those people operate under several organisational labels — the Waitangi Action Committee appears to be the umbrella group, with PENAK, NFIP, MLPA, Rangitahi Action Group, and Te Ahi Kaa some of the subsidiary groups.

“As an inspector of the New Zealand Police, I — along with others — watched the movement grow. Those people were first seen at Bastion Point in 1978; they then moved to Waitangi, and turned our national day into an annual battle between police and protestors. In 1981 New Zealanders experienced unprecedented violence in the streets as members of the group recruited, organised, mobilised, and motivated gang members across the nation, from the Mongrel Mob to the Headhunters, to clash with the police. They have moved underground, and they are now a greater danger; they now plan to overthrow the New Zealand Government. Poananga stated: “We want all the land back, every inch of it.” She also said that they will resort to the barrel of a gun to achieve their goal. That group will never succeed with its objective, but — as with the Black September movement in the United States — it will cause a lot of misery and turmoil, and the danger it presents to the nation must not be underestimated.

“What are those people doing now? They have even moved inside the system. Rebecca Evans, for example, has taken a job in broadcasting. Goebbels understood the importance of the news media. Others have taken up a variety of welfare positions, particularly within the mental health field. The group is now ensconced at CarringtonHospital in Auckland, and uses that hospital’s telephone, stationery, and office space. At one secret meeting they had with Abu Laghood, a Palestine Liberation Organisation representative, the principal question asked of Laghood was: “How do we get firearms and explosives from the PLO?”

“The group has become so powerful at CarringtonHospital that it is able to effect the channeling of hospital funds away from projects given priority by hospital management into the dubious area of Maori mental health. Maori mental health includes the indoctrination of young Maori gang members with the concept that they are in prison or discriminated against because of the white man, and that their salvation lies in revolution. The group at CarringtonHospital now controls a Maori ward. Access to that ward is only on the authority of Titewhai Harawira — even the doctors must get Harawira’s permission before they enter the ward. I say that that is an outrage — an outrage that has happened only under the Labour Government, and that is happening at this moment. The group has become so powerful that a hospital superintendent spoke out publicly about their actions earlier this year. He was not exaggerating about the group’s influence, because, unfortunately, when the issue was forced again last month it was Dr Radcliffe, the hospital superintendent—not the radical social workers — who was put off the hospital staff. I put this outrage before the nation as an issue that demands an immediate and independent inquiry now.

“Those Maori nationalists form a network throughout the country. Hone Harawira is the principal trustee for the Aupouri Ngati Kahu Te Rarawa Trust in Northland, which has received $1.5 million from the training assistance programme, the Access programme, and the Department of Maori Affairs in the past 3 years. Haami Piripi, who is chairman of the Aupouri trust, is also head of the Rangitahi Action Group, which is subservient to the Waitangi Action Group. The Aupouri trust administers some 14 training groups, one of those being Whakakoro Kohanga Reo — language nest — which is administered by Hilda Halkyard Harawira. Another of those groups is the Ani Wha Niwa in Kaitaia, which is administered by Hone Harawira. The Taumata Kohanga Reo spent its initial setting-up grant of $5,000 on the purchase of a vehicle. The accountability of the Aupouri trust for the moneys it receives is questionable, at best, with the opportunity for misappropriation being considerable. I share the concerns of intelligence-gathering agencies that the political activities of the Waitangi Action Committee are funded by moneys stolen from grants made to the trust or other welfare sources.

“Group members have extensive contacts abroad. In 1978 Awatere, Evans, and seven Socialist Unity Party members went to Cuba, where Awatere and Evans met with the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership for the first time. Evans says that she learnt there that 400 000 Maori people could take on 3 000 000 whites. Awatere and Hilda Halkyard Harawira went to the Vanuatu celebrations, and in 1980, together with Hone Harawira, they participated in the boycott of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. On 4 April 1987, Awarau and Dalton and two others booked to fly to Libya, and recently Hilda Halkyard Harawira went to Denmark to receive a communist-supported peace prize. As recently as last month, Poananga, Harawira, and Hohepa went to Fiji to seek Colonel Rabuka’s help to overthrow the New Zealand Government by armed force.

“I place this information before the nation, which also demands an inquiry into the distribution of $1.5 million through the hands of those terrorists. Those people are dangerous; they are growing in strength, and in confidence, and we must move to put into place the State machinery to deal with them. The police are neither equipped nor trained to deal with terrorists. A terrorist has a totally different psyche from the everyday criminal. As a nation, we must look at setting up a Government unit to maintain surveillance of and to infiltrate that kind of terrorist group.

“Up until now, the country has relied on the Security Intelligence Service to fulfil that type of role, but I believe that that service is in need of a major overhaul. The effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the Security Intelligence Service over the past 24 months may be due not so much to its ability to do the job as to the Lange Labour Government directing the Security Intelligence Service not to infiltrate or maintain surveillance of Maori radical gangs. “Do not spy on our terrorists”, it was told. That action by the Labour Government was a danger to national security”.

 – Hansard, 6th October 1987

It all seems rather ridiculous 26 years later. To his great credit Ross Meurant has long since recanted and admitted that after the mind broadening experience of university and the world outside the police he came to realise that he was wrong. He attributed his then attitude to 20 years service in the NZ Police within a culture of paranoia he callsDeep in the Forest.

The speech does however reveal how much surveillance of Maori was being conducted and how the police thought at the time. And if you compare that mentality to the mentality behind the Operation 8 raids on 15th October 2007 nothing much has changed.

Following the election of a Labour government in 1984 and a Maori Economic Summit (Hui Taumata) in October that year, funding started to be delivered to Maori through tribal and community providers. The paranoia surrounding that is told in full in the essay “The Origins of Corporate Iwi”. It was fairly intense and Maori came under some intense surveillance, as told by Ross Meurant.

The so-called Maori Loans Affair of December 1986 raised other security fears, that Maori were being used by the CIA to destabilize the Labour government. So now we were terrorists with communist links, and at the same time we were handmaidens of the CIA.

Throughout the 1980s there were rumours circulating about Maori terrorism, guerilla training camps, arms caches and gun running all thought to be financed via the new funding programmes aimed at Maori communities. At Te Putatara we discovered that those rumours were believed by some in the security and intelligence agencies.

On 14th June 1988 Roger Foley reported in The Evening Post in Wellington that several present and former officers of the SIS were calling for a probe into the operations of the SIS. Among other things they were upset that Maori activists were not being monitored by SIS, that activity having been stopped in 1984 by the Director of SIS Brigadier Lin Smith.


SIS previously took a close interest in Maori activists, in particular Waitangi Day celebrations. But according to one source field surveillance of activists stopped in 1984 because Brigadier Smith regarded Maori activism as legitimate dissent and protest and it was too sensitive an issue in which to involve the SIS. For information on this subject the service was told to rely on newspaper accounts.

Ross Meurant responded in the media the next day saying that the SIS woes were known to the police. He was also reported as saying that the police received valuable information about Maori during the 1981 Springbok tour and at some time during 1985 “there did not appear to be the same availability of intelligence from the SIS.” He went on to reveal that “about that time the police were becoming more concerned about Maori activism.

In the same month Te Putatara was contacted by a journalist looking for information about surveillance of Maori who travelled overseas, especially in the Pacific. He was jokingly told to ring the Director of the External Intelligence Bureau (EIB), but to ring him at home. He did. He managed to contact Bernard Hillier at home after working hours and Hillier seemed to be intoxicated. When asked if Maori were under surveillance in the Pacific Hillier said that they were. His confirmation was reported in the Dominion. It was a massive blunder on his part and he was fired. The EIB was renamed EAB (External Assessments Bureau) and moved into the Prime Minister’s Department. He issued a media release as he left his job stating that the EIB was not actively involved in intelligence collection but was an assessment agency only. Hillier got himself a soft landing as a diplomat on a Pacific island. He was right about EIB being only an assessment agency but also right in confirming that others were spying on Maori in the Pacific.

In July 1989 Te Putatara reported that Paul Holmes had run a show about gun running and landing craft in Te Tai Tokerau in which the journalist Rob Harley had rubbished the claims Te Putatara responded with a spoof called “The War of the Blowfly” in Te Putatara 7/89, 20 July 1989.

In 1990 New Zealand commemorated 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Queen visited and attended the official commemoration at Waitangi. For the police that was a massive security and intelligence operation. For at least twelve months before that the police gathered intelligence about Maori activists’ plans. They may well have infiltrated some organisations. Te Putatara reported this in August 1989:

TV Plod

“The kumara vine reports a video crew travelling the motu passing itself off as an overseas TV crew. The funny thing is that they are only filming you Maori radicals, and activists, and veteran land rights campaigners (all you Te Putatara readers). My sources say they look awfully like Her Majesty’s Most Loyal New Zealand Police People, or Security.

“E hoa ma, this must be the Police Intelligence project to commemorate 1990 eh! Wonder if they got a grant from the 1990 Commission, or the Arts Council, or the Film Commission?”

 – Te Putatara Issue 8/89, 21 August 1989

Although tongue in cheek it was a serious warning to readers that the police did indeed have an intelligence gathering crew on the road attending many hui and posing as a TV crew. The commemoration on 6th February 1990 was quite uneventful from a security point of view. The police were obviously expecting a massive Maori demonstration or protest for they deployed a large contingent. They also erected a barbed wire enclosure to act as a temporary prison. The police themselves caused the only trouble at Waitangi by illegally handing out trespass notices to anyone they recognized as an activist, and even to some who looked like an activist.

In that year of celebration, in 1990, the Bill of Rights Act was enacted. It lacked and still lacks constitutional authority. If it had been made Supreme Law the courts would be able to strike down any existing or proposed laws in conflict with the Bill of Rights. Maori (and all citizens) would have greater protection from the spying and prying of the spooks, including the police.

The paranoia continued until the 1990 elections in October when a National government was elected. The Nationals continued with the process of Treaty settlements and with the delivery of services to Maori through tribal and community providers. The first two big Treaty settlements to Tainui (1995) and Ngai Tahu (1998) were iconic in that they signalled to Maori that grievances were going to be settled. Language revival initiatives including the Maori Language Commission, Maori medium schooling and Maori broadcasting finally started to address the core demands of activists from the 1960s onwards.

Those and many other initiatives started by Labour and continued by National took much of the anger and passion out of the activist movement. They also moved much of the impetus away from Maori activists into the hands of more conservative Maori. As the various programmes rolled out Maori conservatives moved in to manage them, many of the activists were effectively sidelined and many of them joined the establishment. Some became MPs. It seemed during the 1990s that the level of paranoia about Maori decreased. The ignorance and racism continued as many New Zealanders resented the gains that Maori were making. Many still do.

The National government led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Treaty Negotiations Minister Doug Graham seemed to have consciously decided to take the heat out of Maori activism and out of the Pakeha backlash (“race relations”) by meeting and settling many of the demands of the previous decades. The police continued their surveillance.

In May 2000 Te Putatara published a piece on “Security & Intelligence – Watching the Watchers“. In it Maori were warned that it was the police who were the biggest watchers rather than the SIS. Although the article was re-published in a couple of other websites Maori didn’t seem to take much notice.

The period of relative calm ended after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11th September 2001. In 2002 the Parliament enacted the Terrorism Suppression Act. The SIS and GCSB were expanded and the police responded with new units and staffing:

“New positions established to increase capability to pre-empt and respond to terrorist attacks include:

  • An Assistant Commissioner to take an executive lead on counterterrorism and national security matters
  • A full time Special Tactics Group to respond operationally to terrorist emergencies
  • A full time Specialist Search Group and National Bomb Data Centre Manager
  • A new Strategic Intelligence Unit (SIU)
  • New liaison positions at diplomatic missions in London, WashingtonDC and Jakarta, and the pending creation of a further liaison position in Suva
  • Additional police at six New Zealand airports

The police then formed the Special Investigation Groups (SIGs) in 2005 with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. When he announced the formation of SIG in the 2004 budget minister Phil Goff said they were to boost New Zealand’s counter-terrorism capacity and would be “deployed for specific national security duties” by the Strategic Intelligence Unit at police national headquarters. Goff said at the time 29 new police staff would go to units conducting investigative and intelligence-related work. Most or all of these were likely to have been SIG staff. They were “intelligence” units.

The subsequent surveillance activities of the SIGs against civil activism rather than  terrorism are now publicly documented (see the Gilchrist saga). In the absence of credible terrorist threats (which would be the responsibility of SIS anyway) they turned their attention to political activism. They had in effect used the post 9/11 hysteria to build themselves an enhanced political intelligence capability under the cover of anti-terrorism. They had at last returned to their Police Special Branch roots officially disestablished in 1956 but this time they have much greater surveillance capacity and a paramilitary offensive capability. The Urewera (and Kim Dotcom) raids showed that they had become much more heavy handed than their Special Branch predecessors.

Much of this new police intelligence establishment was in 2006 and 2007 brought to bear on the so-called “terrorists” in the Urewera. Head of Intelligence Assistant Commissioner Jon White was involved, SIG Auckland led Operation 8, and the Special Tactics Group of paramilitaries was used to conduct the raids.

The Police Electronic Crime Laboratory also received more funding, staff and equipment and developed a new Electronic Crime Strategy.

The e-Crime Lab was heavily involved in the Operation 8 raids across the country as dozens of computers were seized from multiple addresses as the police went on a nationwide fishing expedition looking for evidence to corroborate their allegations of terrorism. It was as if they had imagined that there was a nationwide terrorist plot afoot. They found no evidence.

Prior to the 2007 raids there was a build up of surveillance of Maori by these new units. Prior to and during June and July of 2002 there was heavy surveillance and a heavy police presence at the protests against the Ngawha Prison being built in Te Tai Tokerau. Police surveillance cameramen were also present at the court hearings of those protestors who had been charged. Police acted very aggressively and unlawfully against those who tried to film their heavy handed tactics and their police cameramen. As reported to Te Putatara at the time the police assaulted several people who were trying to film them.

In 2002 a police note (referred to in the later Operation 8 evidence) recorded that Taame Iti and Rangi Kemara had been seen together in Mangere. It is probably not surprising that Taame was under police surveillance and had been under surveillance for decades. He knew that too.

In 2004 police tried and failed to charge a person they believed was the Bl@ckMask who had allegedly defaced a National Party website after its then leader Don Brash had delivered a speech at Orewa that many considered inflammatory and racist. The e-Crime Lab was the lead agency in that investigation. This alleged offence was brought into their evidence about Operation 8 in 2007, indicating that it was one of the long lasting intelligence threads leading to Operation 8.

The Foreshore & Seabed Hikoi to Parliament took place in April & May 2004. Police surveillance of that event was heavy and was reported to Te Putatara by a source involved in the surveillance.

In November 2004 following the Seabed & Foreshore Hikoi and the formation of the Maori Party there were allegations in the media that the SIS had been conducting an operation called “Operation Leaf” against Maori. The allegations were:

  • The SIS contracted “computer geeks” to engineer contact with Maori organisations and plant bugging equipment on their computers or change the settings to allow remote access.
  • They were told to gather intelligence on internal iwi business negotiations, finances and Treaty claims and inter-tribal cmmunications.
  • They were instructed to watch for “dirt”, including “personal information, relationships, money issues, family secrets” on Maori leaders.
  • Serious divisions exist within the intelligence community, with some spies believing the SIS is too deferential to Western agencies.

Tariana Turia was also concerned that her privacy had been compromised as part of that surveillance.

It proved to be a hoax after the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security reported that the SIS had not been involved. The Director SIS also assured Tariana that his organisation had not bugged her telephone. However there had definitely been surveillance of Maori and their computer systems by someone. Te Putatara knew about that from various sources prior to the “Op Leaf” hoax. No-one thought to investigate the police instead of the SIS. Tariana needed to question the police commissioner rather than the SIS director.

On 30 November 2004 The US Embassy reported on their discussions with SIS about “Op Leaf”:

“(S) Post’s RMAS spoke with SIS contacts, who stated that the press claims are not credible. They further stated that the SIS had monitored Maori groups in the past when they were considered a possible national security risk, but stopped doing so at least 10 years ago. In fact, when the RMAS asked SIS last year if they were looking at Maori groups in the wake of press reports that some Maori were embracing radical Islam, SIS said no, as they thought the police were doing an adequate monitoring job”.

– Wikileaks

On 16 January 2005 Taame Iti shot a flag with his shotgun on his marae during a theatrical powhiri to the Waitangi Tribunal. He wasn’t charged initially as the local police were not concerned but paranoia and pressure from Wellington had him in court over a year later. He was convicted in June 2006 but that was overturned on appeal in April 2007.

In December 2005 the police, according to their own evidence, started “collating and analyzing intelligence relating to a group of political extremists who are meeting and receiving military firearms training in an isolated area of bush in New Zealand”.

That culminated in the Operation 8 raids on 15th October 2007. The “collating and analyzing” of “intelligence” will be examined in future articles.

For a brief history this is a long essay. Hopefully it serves to add some context to the Operation 8 raids on 15th October 2007. Historically, the Urewera raids were entirely in context. They were a continuation of a long history of ignorance, racism, paranoia, suspicion and surveillance.

Whether or not the conclusions the police drew from that surveillance were reasonable or not is the subject of the series of “Operation 8” essays to follow.

The latest revelations in 2013 following Kim Dotcom’s legal team’s uncovering of further illegal spying, search and seizure, and in the wake of leaks by US citizen Edward Snowden about the extent of electronic spying in the “5-Eyes” network, as well as the introduction of a bill to allow the GCSB to conduct its operations in New Zealand against New Zealanders, has raised the spectre of even more enhanced and intrusive spying against Maori. The real threat is still from the NZ Police who will now legally be able to use the GCSB in their spying against Maori. And if the past is any indication of the future they will.

The NZ Police have demonstrated their ignorance, racism and paranoia about Maori and Maori activism over an extended period. The NZ Police have demonstrated their propensity to go beyond the legal boundaries in relation to warrants and surveillance and there is no reason to believe that their behaviour will change any time soon unless and until stronger legal safeguards and sanctions are put in place.

In a previous post Te Putatara outlined the need for a grownup threat analysis of terrorism. The same should be required of the police to justify their surveillance of Maori – a real grownup intellectually rigorous threat analysis based on knowledge, expertise and evidence instead of the immature ignorance, racism and paranoia that has prevailed for generations. In the interests of accountability It should be a public document.

Looking back over the history of the spooks and Maori I have reached the conclusion, strange as it may seem, that Maori would be much better off if the intelligence function were to be removed from the police and returned to the SIS. The lesser of two evils as it were. The problem with the police is that they are constantly engaged with criminals and criminality. Many of the criminals are Maori. Because their primary engagement is with criminals the police have a “Them & Us” complex, and that feeds their racism and paranoia. The mind of the policemen is hard wired thnrough experience and culture and they tend to see political activism or Maori activism through that prism of criminality.

The police also have a strong enforcement function, bolstered by a paramilitary force (Special Tactics Group). That combination of surveillance, intelligence and enforcement functions in the one organisation is dangerous.

Last night I watched for about the tenth time the film “Deep in the Forest” about the raids at Ruatoki and elsewhere on 15th October 2007. It was a huge over-reaction, locking down and terrorising an entire community in order to arrest just a few people. It was the culmination of an intelligence operation notable for the instances of illegal use of warrants, illegal surveillance, and on the day illegal detention, search and seizure. That much has been established by the courts and by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. No-one has officially been held to account for that unlawful behaviour.

There needs to be a mechanism that places a strong check on the actions of the State, enforced by strong sanctions. To start with Maori need the Bill of Rights to be entrenched as Supreme Law.

See also this 1998 study on racism in the NZ Police.

Links: The Operation 8 Series