Operation 8: Understanding the Intelligence process

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

And the lack of a professional intelligence process during Operation 8

Following the armed paramilitary operation at Ruatoki and elsewhere commentators were quick to attribute a variety of motivations to the operation. They included a show of force to Tuhoe who were negotiating a settlement, a police demonstration of the need for the amendment to the Terrorism Suppression Act that was in Parliament at the time, and many others. In this series of posts I take the view that it was cock-up and incompetence rather than conspiracy.

With that in mind I am examining the intelligence operation leading to the armed operation on 15th October 2007 to highlight the cock-ups and incompetence.

Intelligence analysis is a complex process previously an esoteric calling within the shadowy world of the military and security establishment depicted in the novels of Ian Fleming, John Le Carre and others. Nowadays it is a discipline researched and studied in the universities, and employed by dedicated intelligence units in a wide range of public and private organisations.

The traditional intelligence cycle involves the following steps and ensures that there is a system of checks and balances.

  • Planning and direction
  • Collection
  • Processing
  • Analysis and production
  • Dissemination

– Source CIA Website

It is not obvious that there was any formal cycle or process involving checks and balances in the intelligence leading to the Operation 8 armed paramilitary operation. There seems to have been much emphasis on collection and processing, but little emphasis on planning and direction by experienced intelligence managers, or on quality analysis.

In this post I will briefly outline the principles underpinning the intelligence process. I will also comment on the Operation 8 intelligence operation in relation to those principles.

Operation 8 was a deeply flawed intelligence led operation conducted by the Special Investigation Group (SIG) at Auckland, operating out of Harlech House in Otahuhu. The two detectives who conducted the intelligence operation and analysis were Detective Inspector Bruce Good and Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe. At Police Headquarters in Wellington Assistant Commissioner (Intelligence) Jon White was the senior officer in charge of Intelligence, answering to Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope and Commissioner Howard Broad.

It was deeply flawed in that it ignored either through ignorance or wilful intent the principles of intelligence analysis. After an study of the Police evidence associated with Operation 8 I reached the conclusion that it was unprofessional and incompetent.

The first factor leading to that conclusion will be described in detail in an essay on specialist knowledge, concerning the exclusion of Maori advice at all stages of Operation 8 including planning and direction, collection, processing and analysis.

Secondly, there is no indication that the Police observed any of the basic processes of intelligence analysis, specifically the reliability rating of information and sources, and the corroboration of information by alternative sources leading to quality control in the process. There is nothing at all to indicate that a professionally competent analysis process was in place. There is evidence however that a huge amount of information was vacuumed from a variety of sources including Google Search in order to support a pre-conceived conclusion; conclusion building upon conclusion lacking in quality control at each step in the process. The affidavits and warrants now available indicate that what was presented as evidence to justify Operation 8 was a mass of unprocessed or hastily processed and untested and unevaluated information.

Thirdly, there is nothing to indicate that the NZ Police made any effort to place all of their information in context (by involving their own Maori experts and others), and nothing to indicate that they made any effort to ensure the completeness of their information. Instead the impression is that they were rushing towards the dénouement of an operation with a mass of hastily and inexpertly analysed information. That was despite Commissioner Howard Broad’s later public admissions that there was no evidence at all of any immanent terrorist or criminal activity.

Fourthly, it seems obvious that the NZ Police considered only one possible interpretation of the events they observed and then focused all their efforts on proving that interpretation or conclusion. In my opinion that in itself demonstrates a lack of intellectual ability, and an absence of a proper analytical process.

The lead investigators/analysts for Operation 8 were Detective Inspector Bruce Good and Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe who appear to have sworn most or all of the affidavits to obtain the surveillance, intercept, search and arrest warrants for the operation, all of which record the progress of their “intelligence” operation.

They were at the time members of the Auckland team of the NZ Police Special Investigation Group which is an intelligence unit. It is reasonable to assume in that case that Operation 8 was an intelligence led operation coordinated by Detective Inspector Good and largely conducted by Detective Sergeant Pascoe.

The intelligence process is based on tested principles and practice developed over a long period of time. In the modern world of intelligence management and analysis new strategies, models, tools and techniques are being developed and implemented as intelligence has become an academic discipline and as the innovative use of technology increases exponentially. New techniques revealed recently in the media include widespread population level electronic surveillance as well as targeted electronic surveillance, computerised data mining and correlation, and social network analysis.

The principles however are timeless. Some of them are described below.

A central principle: a thorough knowledge of the targeted persons, organisations or countries (or “know thy adversary”).

“The better you understand your subject the more likely you can produce material with insight”.

Evans, R Mark (2009), Influencing decision-makers with intelligence and analytical products” p192, in Ratcliffe, JH (Ed), Strategic thinking in criminal intelligence, 2nd Edition, The Federation Press, NSW.

Mark Evans is the intelligence professional appointed by the NZ Police to design and implement a professional intelligence capability.He has an impressive resume having worked in intelligence with British Defence, Australian Defence, the Northern Ireland Office  and Northern Ireland Police. He was appointed to the NZ Police after this Operation 8 intelligence process was complete, not long before the paramilitary operation at Ruatoki and elsewhere. He is now Director of Intelligence

Competent analysts are those who immerse themselves within the worldview of the target person or persons, or countries and cultures, and are thus able to reach valid conclusions based on their knowledge of the targets’ own worldview; their thinking and motivations. If the analyst does not have that background knowledge he or she must seek it out rather than reach conclusions based on just a limited understanding of the target or targets, or on their own worldview and experience, or lack thereof.

There is ample evidence that the NZ Police acted on incomplete knowledge of the targets of their surveillance and that they deliberately excluded those with that expertise; their Maori police officers.

Reliability of information

All collected information must be rated for reliability as intelligence, and only reliable evidence from reliable sources should be admitted to the process of collation and analysis. Information and intelligence are not necessarily the same thing, a distinction lost on the Operation 8 analysts.

Even seemingly reliable information such as video surveillance and intercepts of conversations or correspondence needs to be subjected to this process.

Do the intercepts contain the complete conversation or correspondence within the total context of the conversation or correspondence? Email and SMS conversations often consist of multiple exchanges over time and the complete context can be easily misinterpreted from analysis of only part or parts of those conversations. The selection of excerpts of those exchanges can be easily misinterpreted without the context of the full exchange.

Intercepted voice conversations can be also be incomplete as the targets move into and out of range of the recording device. Voice conversations are often linked by ongoing conversation over a period of time, and a single intercept of a single conversation, or a single excerpt of a single conversation can be misconstrued or even misrepresented out of context.

Do the targets know that they are subject to surveillance and intercept, or are they likely to know? If they are likely to know, then might they be inclined to conduct disinformation campaigns against the watchers and listeners; to feed them false and potentially damaging or embarrassing information, or even to deliberately provoke a reaction. The most effective disinformation campaigns are those that aim to feed information that the watchers and listeners expect to intercept.

This reinforces the need for information to be rated for reliability and completeness, and to be corroborated before it is accepted into the analysis process. The available evidence shows that the Operation 8 intelligence process did not include any rating of information for reliability or relevance.

This Admiralty Grading Intelligence System has been in use since about WWI. It relates specifically to HUMINT, that Intelligence obtained from human sources. There is some evidence that the information upon which Operation 8 was initially based should have been graded F6.

The Admiralty Grading Intelligence System
Reliability of Source Credibility of Source
A  Completely reliable 1  Confirmed by other sources
B  Usually reliable 2  Probably true
C  Fairly reliable 3  Possibly true
D  Not usually reliable 4  Doubtful
E  Unreliable 5  Improbable
F  Reliability cannot be judged 6  Truth cannot be judged


All collected information rated as reliable should be corroborated from at least one other reliable source before being admitted to the process. This requirement ensures quality of information. Quality of information is infinitely more important than quantity. The Operation 8 intelligence operation focused on quantity over quality.

Completeness of information

” …. focusing solely on what is known is unwise because this would lead to the intelligence picture becomoing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore …. finding out more about gaps in knowledge that are recognised … is generally accepted as a core purpose of intelligence collection.”

– Oliver Higgins, “The theory and practice of intelligence collection“, in Ratcliffe, Jerry H. (Ed), 2009, “Strategic Thinking in Criminal Intelligence“, Federation Press.

In constructing scenarios and narratives from the available reliable and corroborated information analysts should be aware not only of the available information, but also of possible or probable gaps in the available information. A common failing in intelligence analysis is to assume that what is known is all there needs to be known. It is as important to know what you don’t know, as it is to know what you do know.

This aspect of the analysis will be addressed in detail in another post.

Testing and Evaluation

Information gathered from covert sources or covert collection activities (usually classified as secret) can and should be tested against open source information, which is now available in abundance. Just because information is covertly obtained does not mean it is reliable or correct.

Personal knowledge of the target persons or groups should also be built over a long period of time and brought to the testing of assumptions and conclusions during the analysis process. In the absence of personal knowledge the intelligence should be tesgted and evaluated by those who do have the in-depth knowledge of the target.

There is no evidence that any of the Operation 8 analysis was tested and evaluated.


There are rarely absolute certainties in Intelligence analysis.

The scenario or narrative that is disseminated as intelligence must always be accompanied by an explanation of the reliability of sources used, whether or not the information has been corroborated by other reliable sources, whether or not the information is complete. It should also declare the probability of error.

A very good recent example was the intelligence analysis that found Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. That process has been partially declassified and released. The intelligence officials in that case gave President Obama a qualified probability rating on their conclusion that bin Laden was where they thought he was in Pakistan, and the President was then required to make a decision based on that probability of error.

Did Commissioner Broad apply such a probability rating to his advice to the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC) and to Cabinet? My information says that he did not.

If the evidence supports more than one scenario or narrative, that should also be stated. Did Broad do that at ODESC and at Cabinet? My information says that he did not.


“Timeliness is always a factor. There will always be intelligence gaps (unknowns) and it is usually the case that conclusions and recommendations need to be made on incomplete data. But this needs to be set against the fact that timeliness in the dissemination of law enforcement intelligence product is almost always critical – and this will often mean exercising judgement about when to publish or report”.

– R Mark Evans (2009)

Very often action must indeed be taken based on incomplete evidence. That is always a matter of the assessment of probablity based on that incomplete evidence and an assessment of the risk of not taking action. Conversely if there is no such time constraint then time should be taken to carefully progess the gathering and analysis of intelligence and to build as complete a picture as possible.

After the paramilitary operation Commissioner Broad publicly admitted that he had no evidence that there was an immanent threat of violent terrorist activity. Yet he rushed ahead with a full scale anti-terrorist paramilitary operation. There is however some evidence that he might have known that the available evidence would not support a terrorism prosecution and that he authorised a vast fishing expedition across the country aimed at seizing computers from at least 50 locations, in the expectation that the net would uncover and catch a terrorist network with evidence to secure terrorism convictions.

After the armed operation and after the Solicitor General declined to allow a terrorism prosecution to proceed Broad changed his tune and said that while the police had no evidence of immanent terrorist activity he deemed it necessary to “nip it in the bud”. That was his explanation at a confidential meeting with one of the NZ Police’s district Maori advisory boards after the event.

He “nipped it in the bud” with a full-on testosterone-fuelled armed paramilitary offensive against a rural Maori community and against family homes in other places, knowing full well that there was no immanent threat.

An intellectual activity

“Poorly written [intelligence] products will often confuse facts and opinion. At best this can lead to critcism – at worst it can lead to flawed decision-making and action. The separation of facts, evidence, opinions, judgements, hypotheses, conclusions and recommendations is a critical element of the analytical tradecraft and fundamental to the generation of effective product”.

– R. Mark Evans (2009)

There is no doubt that all of the available Operation 8 paperwork was poorly written, confusing fact with assumption or opinion.

The competent analyst is a person educated to think logically and able to put aside any personal or cultural bias in the interpretation of information. There was a total lack of intellectual rigour and intellectual capability in the Operation 8 analysis. It was dumb.

As was the decision to mount the “termination” phase on 15th October 2007. There were no cool heads involved in that decision whether in the police executive, or in Cabinet.

These aspects of the Operation 8 intelligence process are explored in posts to follow. They will explore the ways in which the analysts involved in Operation 8 totally ignored all of the accepted principles and processes of intelligence analysis, presuming that they knew of them in the first place..


Links: The Operation 8 Series