Operation 8: Weaving the police “terrorism” narrative

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

which was full of holes

Operation 8 brought together a broad range of activists into the series of wananga facilitated by Taame Iti in the Urewera between 2005 and 2007. It must have seemed like Christmas to the police, especially to police intelligence, who had been watching all or most of them anyway and would never have expected them all to converge on the one place joined together in common purpose; which they later thought was terrorism.

The police spooks must have wet themselves in excitement. They should have paused to ask themselves if it really was possible for a totally disparate bunch of activists to find common illegal purpose, and to keep that illegal purpose secret or expect it to be kept secret, given that  all or most of them knew that they were always or almost always under some sort of surveillance. The excitement prevailed and no-one in police intelligence or in the chain of command stopped to question that assumption. When you’re following your nose into an intelligence operation you really should pause occasionally to draw breath, to look about you for other information that may contradict your nose, and to critically engage the brain.

In the next post I will outline the huge amount of information or evidence the police collected and examine how and why the “analysis” of that information led them into the conclusions they made.

These are some of the threads, general and specific, that were woven together to become Operation 8:

  • 9/11 to 15/10
  • The compact between Labour and Maori destroyed
  • Taame Iti & Tuhoe Lambert;
  • Rangi Kemara & Teanau Tuiono;
  • Jamie Lockett & Phil Le Compte;
  • The anarchists, peace activists, environmentalists and animal rightists;
  • Aotearoa Café;
  • The military connection; and
  • The threads that weren’t.

9/11 to 15/10

The Al Qaeda attacks on the USA on Tuesday 11th September 2001 by mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists, the Bush/Cheney initiated “war on terrorism” that followed, and the security paranoia that began in the the USA and swept across the Western world was a thread that led directly to the armed paramilitary operations at Ruatoki, Taneatua and Manurewa on Monday 15th October 2007.

New Zealand followed the USA lead with the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 which did not specify any crimes not already covered by the Crimes Act, or which could not have been introduced into the Crimes Act by amendment. Its real purpose was not to specify new crime but to appropriate to the State and its security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies vastly increased powers of surveillance, search, detention, arrest, secrecy and suppression. In doing so it eroded democratic rights and freedoms that had been built into the democratic ideal and practice over many hundreds of years in the pursuit of which countless lives had been sacrificed. All without any appreciable increase in the direct threat to New Zealand or a threat that could not have been dealt with under existing legislation and within existing powers.

The new security regime also imported “security theatre” from the USA through which the paranoia and  empire building foreign policy aspirations of the Bush/Cheney administration were converted into mass public hysteria through lies, propaganda and a range of highly visible “security” measures. In introducing legislation and policies to combat terrorism the Bush/Cheney regime introduced new previously unthinkable mechanisms designed to control the population of the USA. The NZ Government blindly and subserviently followed with its own population control measures.

The increased budgets for the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies spawned a raft of new special units and staffs dedicated to the task of finding and prosecuting terrorists. The NZ Police widened the meaning and scope of terrorism to include domestic political activists, and cynically used their new specialist terrorism intelligence units as political intelligence units. In doing so the police raised the stakes, their own level of paranoia, and the level of antagonism between themselves and political activists to new highs.

During the 1981 Springbok Tour and the sometimes violent confrontations between protesters and police the police weapon was the long baton. By 2007 pepper spray was routinely carried and used, and tasers were on trial. The police also had a paramilitary force armed with pistols, carbines and rifles. Not only had the police raised the level of antagonism between themsleves and political activists, they had also increased their weaponry. And they had demonstrated through their increasingly confrontational tactics when dealing with political activism that they had no respect at all for the democratic right to dissent, demonstrate and protest.

In that climate of internationalised Bush/Cheney paranoia, and increasing NZ Police paranoia, antagonism, aggression and confrontation, it should not have been surprising that the level of paranoia in the activist groups increased in direct proportion. No doubt a few might have fantasised about arming themselves against the threat from within the supposedly democratic State.

The fourth Labour Government led initially by David Lange (1984-1990) had been a friend of the peace movement and other activist causes. In that government Helen Clark herself was a key link to the peace movement. Caught up in the paranoia of the Bush/Cheney “war on terrorism” the fifth Labour Government led by Helen Clark (1999-2008) bought into the security, intelligence and law enforcement agenda that quite quickly marginalised and criminalised political dissent. The fourth Labour government under the guidance of Sir Geoffrey Palmer had introduced important new consitutional legislation including the Bill of Rights. The fifth Labour government put in place legislation that started the sliding erosion of those rights that continues unabated to this day.

The compact between Labour and Maori destroyed

Not initially related to the terrorism paranoia but developing alongside it was a hardened attitude to Maori activism. The Lange government started a process that paved the way for new forms of relationship between Maori and government. In 1998 while still Leader of the Opposition Helen Clark was humilated and reduced to tears at Waitangi. That no doubt hardened her personal attitude to Maori political activism.

In January 2004 the Waitangi Tribunal reported favourably on a claim to ownership of the seabed and foreshore. In January 2004 also Don Brash triggered a racist response in New Zealand with a speech at Orewa. The Clark government, in a signal decision in November 2004 motivated by political considerations, legislated to extinguish any Maori claim to the foreshore and seabed despite widespread protest. In doing so it destroyed a decades long electoral compact between Maori and Labour. The Maori Party was the result.

The Clark government had created new enemies for Labour out of old friends both Maori and Pakeha, and by granting undemocratic powers to the police and others had institutionalised some of those new antagonistic relationships.

Within that general atmosphere of betrayal and distrust Ngai Tuhoe was steadily working towards recognition, validation and settlement of its claims. The first of many claims was laid in 1987 and the Waitangi Tribunal heard them between 2003 and 2005. There was no guarantee that the Clark government would negotiate towards the outcomes Ngai Tuhoe wanted and to many it seemed that it would not. The gievances against the Crown run deep and there has been a simmering collective anger passed down through the generations. No doubt many in Ngai Tuhoe were impatient with the process. And there were a few hotheads, but they were held in check.

Taame Iti & Tuhoe Lambert

Taame has been an activist for decades, since the days when they were called “radical Maori activists” and rated as equally subversive as communists in the minds of the watchers and some politicians like Robert Muldoon. Taame’s activism became more focused on the Ngai Tuhoe cause as the years rolled by. He even rates his own entry in Wikipedia:

“As the Maori nationalist movement grew in New Zealand in the late 1960s and 1970s, Iti became involved. He protested against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, and he became involved with Nga Tamatoa, a major Māori protest group of the 1970s, from its early days. He joined the Communist Party of New Zealand, and went to China in 1973 during the cultural revolution. He has taken part in a number of land occupations and held a hikoi to the Parliament of New Zealand”.

There can be no doubt that he has been under surveillance for all or most of that time, whether by NZSIS or NZ Police. Taame and my old mate Willie Wilson were comrades in the union movement and the Communist Party together. Robert Muldoon certainly kept an eye on them through NZSIS and once named Willie in Parliament as the most dangerous man in New Zealand. There can also be no doubt that Taame knew that he was under surveillance from way back then and that whatever projects, protests and schemes he was involved in would be observed. In many interviews with the media he has said as much. He seemed to carry on regardless and do whatever he decided to do anyway. Of all the activists in New Zealand who are or have been under surveillance, or who think they have been under surveillance,  Taame stands out as one who has learned to live with it as part of his life. Unlike many he has never seemed overly-concerned and has rarely if ever protested about it in righteous indignation, or wishful thinking.

In the Operation 8 police evidence a police intelligence note from 2002 noted that he was seen at Mangere in the company of Rangi Kemara. They weren’t up to anything but his presence was noted anyway, and filed in a police database in case it became useful. In that case it did become useful for it seems that it might have been the first time police intelligence had added Rangi Kemara to his social network. Rangi didn’t have a police record. Social network analysis of persons of interest is going on all the time to build a picture of who might be involved in the activities of the people the police are watching. That’s partly what mass surveillance of the Internet by GCSB is about. They’ve probably got me tagged as part of his network as well as half of all Maori. They must have put the late Tuhoe Lambert into that network from about June 2006; maybe earlier.

On 16th January 2005 Taame shot a flag on the marae as part of an elaborate theatrical presentation before the Waitangi Tribunal sat to hear the Ngai Tuhoe claim. Local police understood what it was about, were not perturbed and did nothing about it. But after the matter was raised in Parliament by some righteous MP he was charged by the police and in June 2006 was convicted and fined.  At the time of the trial he was already under surveillance as part of Operation 8. On 4th April 2007 his conviction was overturned on appeal. That was just six months before the armed paramilitary operation in which he was arrested as an alleged “terrorist”.

It would be interesting to find out who in Wellington made the decision in 2005 to charge him with firearms offences. Commissioner Broad and Deputy Commissioner Pope had not been appointed at that time. Was Helen Clark involved.

On 27 February 2007 Taame was tipped off that someone was talking to the media who were interested in his wananga activities. On 28 February 2007 Melanie Jones of the Sunday Star Times contacted Taame and told him SST had received an anonymous letter that suggested he was “doing guerilla training for activists in the Ureweras”. The police intercepted that communication. Taame knew from a tip off on 3rd June 2007 that his wananga activities in the Urewera were under police surveillance and had been discussed at Police Headquarters. The police obtained those text messages.  He received another tip off about police surveillance in September 2007. In June 2007 an intercepted conversation clearly indicated that Taame knew they were under surveillance. He did nothing to stop or hide what he was doing.

The late Tuhoe Lambert was an Auckland based Vietnam veteran who was also dedicated to the Ngai Tuhoe cause and who was involved in the wananga in the Urewera with Taame Iti. He came under surveillance from early in 2007 as a result of a check of the Births, Deaths and Marriages database at Internal Affairs, looking for the relatives of his brother who had  become part of the network analysis. Tuhoe Lambert then came under surveillance himself, was linked to Taame Iti and his activity in the Urewera and eventually became a prime suspect with Taame Iti and Rangi Kemara. Tuhoe had previously been interviewed at length by Melanie Reid of TV3 about his Vietnam service and through that had created a public profile. Melanie interviewed him again after 15th October 2007.

In September 2007 Taame travelled to Fiji to meet Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. He was accompanied by John Murphy of Remuera. The spooks would certainly have been monitoring that visit and had certainly added Murphy to the Taame Iti network quite some time before that. We will meet Murphy later.

Rangi Kemara and Teanau Tuiono

Rangi and Teanau are good friends. I met them both through the NZ Maori Internet Society which I co-founded in the 1990s and which they joined early on. Rangi eventually came to work for me as my IT manager, part time at first then full time from early in 2004. Rangi was arrested at Manurewa at Tuhoe Lambert’s place on 15th October 2007. He had been staying there in a caravan. The next day Teanau’s place at Palmerston North was raided but he was not arrested.

Teanau was a moderator of the “Tino Rangatiratanga” email group that started in the 1990s.  Rangi was also involved in that. I was an early subscriber and contributor to the group. Teanau has fairly close links with the Wellington activist community and with the international activist community as well. He’s an activist, with a law degree, and acknowledges that he has probably been under surveillance for a while, especially because of his international links.

Rangi discovered through a source in the IT industry that his email account was under police surveillance some time in 2002 or 2003. There was no possible reason for that other than the fact that he was Maori, was becoming an IT specialist, was friendly with a number of activists including Taame Iti, and had been a contributor to online activist discussions. That could almost describe me as well.

Both Rangi’s and Teanau’s connection to Operation 8 probably began in 2004. That year started with Don Brash’s racist speech at Orewa. Then there was the Labour Government’s decision to extinguish any Maori rights to the seabed and foreshore, followed by the hikoi to Parliament to protest that decision, Tariana Turia’s resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of the Maori Party. Throughout all of that the police were spying their hearts out.

Rangi and Teanau were in Wellington in March 2004 when the National Party website was defaced, probably in protest at all of that anti-Maori stuff that year, sparked off by Don Brash at Orewa. The website hack was aimed at Don Brash. The upshot of that is that the police electronic crime laboratory suspected Rangi the IT whiz of doing it, and perhaps had his mate Teanau in the frame as well.

Now, defacing a political website on the information super highway is no more serious than defacing a political billboard on any other highway. The recent revelations about wholesale spying by NSA, GCHQ, CSE, ASD and GCSB have finally proved that the Internet is open slather anyway. Our government is the biggest illegal hacker of them all. We already knew that at the time, and in my company we took our security seriously and built industrial strength protection around the websites on our servers, including our own websites. Most people actually believed the companies that built their websites, and believed that they were secure. We knew that most of them weren’t and we also knew that a lot of corporate websites were being hacked but that no-one was admitting it. It would embarrass them to admit that their supposedly secure websites were not. That’s why I say that defacing a political website billboard was and is a petty offence happening all the time, if it is an offence. If you want to protect your billboard on the information super highway or any other highway you should put a high fence around it topped by broken glass and razor wire with a strong lock on the gate. And don’t just believe the guy who takes your money and tells you there is a fence around it when there isn’t, like the Emperor’s new fence. If you don’t properly secure it and your electronic billboard gets the graffiti treatment then it’s your own stupid fault. Don’t go bleating to the police.

Anyway the Electronic Crime Laboratory (ECL) went after Rangi in a big way for allegedly doing a bit of graffiti on the National Party electronic billboard that was out on the highway without a proper fence around it. They seized all of his computers. But they didn’t find the computer they thought was used for the hacking of Brash’s billboard, or any evidence on the computers they did seize, and they didn’t charge Rangi with the hacking. All they had was that the hacking was done from a hotel connection in the hotel Rangi had stayed at in Wellington so it might have been him and it might not, and it might have been a Pakeha.

The person at ECL who was after Rangi was Juergan Arndt who later turned up at our office on 15th October 2007. He failed in 2004, and he failed again in 2007. The alleged 2004 hacking incident was mentioned in police evidence as one of the threads that led into Operation 8. It would seem that both Rangi and Teanau were in the crosshairs long before Operation 8 started and that they stayed in the crosshairs. And that was one of the threads by which both of them were woven into the Operation 8 narrative.

I had told Rangi in 2004 that because of his brush with ECL the police would have him under surveillance forever. He knew that. At a later time I also told him that he would be under surveillance because of his association with our friend Taame Iti and the wananga activities in the Urewera. He knew that too.

Computers were seized from a lot of locations around the country on 15th October 2007 and in the days afterwards but the ECL and Juergan Arndt were focused primarily on Rangi’s home workstation and on my fairly sophisticated IT network at Parnell. I will tell you why in another of the threads but I reckon that Fritz was also motivated by a bit of unfinished business from 2004.

Teanau’s house was searched but he was not arrested. Like me he contacted a lawyer who made sure the police did not exceed their lawful powers of detention and arrest. As in my case the search warrant itself was probably obtained improperly.

Jamie Lockett and Phil Le Compte

We met Detective Sergeant Phil Le Compte when he turned up at our Parnell office after we got an interim injunction to stop the search and seizure operation that was aimed at all of our computers. Le Compte worked at AMCOS, co-located with SIG, the special intelligence unit that ran Operation 8. On the surface he was not involved in Operation 8. But the cat certainly was curious.

Now to Lockett. The earliest record of Jamie Lockett in the Operation 8 database was on 24th September 2005 when he was observed in the Mount Wellington Domain in Auckland wearing a balaclava and carrying “something like a rifle”. The next record is on 5th February 2006 when he was reported to be at Waitangi with John Murphy.

Patrick Gower wrote this about Jamie Lockett in the NZ Herald on 27th October 2007.

“Whether it is proved right or wrong, Jamie Beattie Lockett will wear the title “terror suspect” with pride. It sits nicely alongside his boasts of being “the most trespassed man in New Zealand” or “84 arrests but 79 walk-aways”. Lockett has been at war with the police for years. He goads officers, they arrest him on disorder-related charges. It goes to court, he defends himself – and as his record shows, quite often beats them. Lockett will then take a private prosecution against the officers he claims have wronged him. It is a routine that has made him a regular fixture in the courts”.

“The 46-year-old stands apart from his 15 co-accused because he does not have an underpinning philosophy. Those who know Lockett say he is no anarchist or Maori activist: he is driven instead by a seemingly pathological dislike for police, said to have begun when an officer spat in his shoe while he was being held in custody. It began a belligerent feud that has become so all-consuming it has left him penniless, seen him fall out with friends, and means few who know him can recall what he was like before it began”.

“Terror suspect Jamie Lockett has been under tight police surveillance for at least 18 months. He was confronted by undercover police officers dressed as tourists at Waitangi Day 2006 and clearly told – while standing toe-to-toe with one detective – “we will be right on your tail”.

“The confrontation at Waitangi Day forms part of a short film titled Jamie made by friend and film-maker Miles Watson. It shows Lockett talking to uniformed police before two undercover officers dressed in board shorts and T-shirts take over. Lockett and one of the officers stand toe-to-toe as the “on your tail” warning is issued”.

The “undercover” police officer who stood toe-to-toe with Lockett was Detective Sergeant Phil Le Compte and the confrontation was not a coincidence. One of the main police protagonists in the long running feud involving “84 arrests and 79 walk-aways” was Phil Le Compte. It was personal. They hated each other. Lockett has told the story of how they had come to blows some time before the incident at Waitangi and how he had beaten Le Compte in the ensuing fight.

Lockett was at Waitangi with John Murphy. Murphy was a seemingly wealthy used car dealer who lived at Remuera, quite near to the late Sir Paul Holmes. On 5th March 2006 David Fisher of the NZ Herald wrote:

“There’s a Maori flag flying in one of Auckland’s poshest streets – and it’s raising the ire of some of its more influential neighbours”.

“Used car salesman John Murphy of Victoria Ave, has traded the New Zealand flag’s red, white and blue for the red, black and white of the tino rangatiratanga flag. Mr Murphy took the Kiwi flag down and ran the Maori flag up the pole just before last year’s election [17th September 2005]”.

“I went to see [Maori Party co-leader] Pita Sharples before the election to see how I could help because I believe in him,” Mr Murphy said at his $1.2 million home yesterday as a waiata played over stereo speakers. “So I put the flag up. And I’ve got a lot closer to Maori since I put it up.”

At the time of all of this Jamie Lockett was living with Murphy in Remuera. The two of them had embarked on their new cause to support Maori. They had tried to meet with Prime Minister Helen Clark and were supposedly at Waitangi to offer Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples $10 million to support the cause. It all sounds rather improbable. Their attempts to engage with the politicians had brought them renewed police attention.

Shortly after John Murphy had started to fly the Tino Rangatiratanga flag in Remuera it was noticed by Rangi Kemara. Rangi was on his way home from his work at my office, noticed the flag and stopped to introduce himself to Murphy to find why he was flying it. He told me about it the next morning. One thing led to another and John Murphy and Jamie Lockett were introduced to Taame Iti. Network analysis had now connected them.

Detective Sergeant Phil Le Compte must have been beside himself to have Jamie Lockett joined to a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Urewera. The prospect of having him lined up on a terrorism charge would have been beguiling. Alas it was not to be, he was charged with arms offences, and he eventually got off that one too. 85 arrests and 80 walk-aways.

Did Phil Le Compte have any role in kicking off Operation 8? Was part of the motivation behind Operation 8 to put Jamie Lockett away for a long time on a terrorism conviction? We don’t know. Le Compte was one curious cat at my office in Parnell on 15th October 2007.

Since the Supreme Court appeal and the subsequent dropping of charges against most of the Operation 8 accused Lockett seems to have gone quiet. Phil Le Compte, son of Alan, was put back into uniform and sent up to Kaitaia. One can only speculate why but the feud seems to have subsided. Geographical distance has worked its magic. Lockett is still around but I hear that he has since done a three month stretch inside. 86 arrests and 80 walk-aways?

The interesting thing about the surveillance of Lockett and Murphy is that they are the main targets in the Operation 8 database of evidence up until July 2006 when the main focus shifted to Taame Iti. This is the timeline:

  • 4 May 2006 – “Surveillance log starts. Auckland Court. J. Lockett, J. Murphy, M. Watson”.
  • 10 May 2006 – “New investigation Op 8”. Request to Telecom about cellphone data for J. Murphy. Was this the actual start of Operation 8?
  • 17 May 2006 – “1st search warrant. T. Iti, J. Lockett, K. Alp, J. Murphy, K. Chapman” [probably cellphone records]..
  • Throughout May and June 2006 the database records are mostly concerned with links from Jamie Lockett and John Murphy to right wing white supremicists and members of the Direct Democracy Party; Kyle Chapman, Kevin Alp and Jason Orme.
  • 19 July 2006 – “1st search warrant. J. Lockett, T. Iti, M.Hohaia”

Perhaps Jamie Lockett led the police to Taame Iti and not the other way around. In which case Phil Le Compte would certainly have played a leading role at the start of Operation 8. Here’s the question – was Operation 8 already under way as an operation aimed at Jamie Lockett before it switched its focus to the Urewera? The police have always said it was an operation that started in the Urewera but the evidence of their Operation 8 database says otherwise. They’ve indulged in a bit of parallel construction of evidence.

The other interesting thing about Jamie Lockett and Operation 8 is that he too knew that he was under almost constant surveillance by the police and did nothing to hide his activity. In fact he had a record of provoking police into arresting him.

The anarchists, peace activists, environmentalists and animal rightists

So how did all of those activists from Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and elsewhere come to be involved in the Urewera. Taame Iti is a networker and a collector. He collects people. A millionaire associate at one time was arts patron Jenny Gibbs although she disassociated herself from him after the Operation 8 arrests. He drew millionaire John Murphy into the network. There have been many influential people drawn in. He spreads the word about the Ngai Tuhoe cause as far and as wide as he can. He does it through his theatrical protests and the media, through his acting, through his painting, through his networking and through his wananga in the Urewera. He is the unofficial Ngai Tuhoe spin doctor.

But if they wanted a terrorist warlord they wouldn’t leave it to a spin doctor. They’d look for someone else, someone like me with high level military training, not Taame Iti and not even the late Tuhoe Lambert. By the way the only people ever to have approached me about that were two young Black Power members who asked me to run a wananga for them on guerrilla warfare. It was a long time ago and I didn’t of course. But Taame did arrange to have me briefed about the Ngai Tuhoe claim, as “a person of influence”, by chief negotiator Tamati Kruger. Flattery will get you nowhere Taame.

Ngai Tuhoe have been quite brilliant in their image making and have portrayed themselves as the last holdout against colonialism and the last repository of traditional ways of life and values. They have their history of invasion, suppression and confiscation which has been told and retold from generation to generation. It finds expression in “Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe” the ongoing never ending cause for some form of political autonomy. It is a compelling narrative that has created an aura around Ngai Tuhoe of the Urewera, the children of the mist. It is a narrative that is true, as far as it goes, and the substance of their claim is valid.

Another narrative is that Ngai Tuhoe is not an entirely united “iwi”. There are at least two hapu opposed to the direction of negotiations with the Crown. Ngai Tuhoe is also fast heading into becoming a corporate iwi like all the rest of the corporate iwi. I’m sure they’ll deny it but that’s their future. They’re becoming through the claim negotiation process a modern or neo-tribal “iwi”. And most of them don’t live in the Urewera, with perhaps the largest number of them living in Auckland. Those out in the diaspora are living ordinary mainstream lives as beneficiaries, workers, public servants, academics, teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen, soldiers, broadcasters, journalists, businessmen and businesswomen, criminals, and whatever else you can think of. They are concerned with raising their families and getting ahead if they can just like everyone else. Most of them are never going “home” to live in the Urewera although many of them are frequent visitors.

It’s the first narrative that draws in the romantics and the idealists to support the Ngai Tuhoe cause. It’s the narrative that has been brilliantly portrayed in academic publications, on film and in the media. It’s the narrative that would have drawn all of those activists to the wananga once invited. Were they drawn in to help Ngai Tuhoe wage war, or were they drawn in by the romanticism and idealism of the Ngai Tuhoe narrative which is the longest running ever in-your-face challenge to the sovereignty and closely guarded power of the NZ Parliament? The stuff of activists’ dreams.

Te Kotahi A Tuhoe ki Poneke, a group of activists to support the Ngai Tuhoe cause, was formed in Wellington in November 2006.

So were they there to wage war or to dream? Some of the activists actually refused on principle to participate in the war games in the bush, and went off somewhere else when that was on. The police didn’t tell you that but it’s true. Those ones at least weren’t there to wage armed warfare on anyone. Nor were the rest.

But some of them did act out a bit of fantasy in the bush. None of them would have made the grade into my platoon.

We know that after 9/11 police intelligence units had focused their attention on activists in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. We know that they paid informants to infiltrate the activist groups and to act as agents provocateur. It should have been no surprise to any of them that police intelligence followed their noses to the wananga in the Urewera. The police interpretation of what they saw there was the real surprise.

Am I soft on activists? Over the last 35 years since I retired from the Army I have met and become friends with a lot of activists of all varieties and causes, Maori and Pakeha. I have worked with quite a few on various projects, socialised with many who were also artists, writers and theatre goers. Some of them had SIS files going right back to the 1940s and 1950s. And do you know what? They are ordinary people just like the rest of us; mostly nice people and some who are not of course. Instead of looking through keyholes or relying on lunatic infiltrators the spooks should get to know their targets personally. They’d be a lot less paranoid if they did.

Aotearoa Café (AoCafe)

In the early days of the World Wide Web we had the Tino Rangatiratanga email discussion group at Yahoo.com. I was an early subscriber and sometime contributor. I’m still one of 1,394 subscribers but these days I never contribute. I got tired of it although some of the discussion was interesting.

There were the leading activists of the day, the people who set the activist agendas and did the stuff. Ideas were debated and things were organised. News was passed on. Like every online discussion group or Facebook group most of the people were watchers who read some of the stuff but never contributed. There were a few people who led most of the discussion. Then there were the armchair activists who had a lot to say and bugger all to contribute. Some of those were radical and legendary activists in their own minds, full of revolutionary rhetoric but who never got off the sofa. Much the same as the online crowd today.

If the post-9/11 era police spooks had been spying on some of that promised but never delivered revolution they would have been positively orgasmic. But the revolution was all trash talk and no-one seriously believed it except for the dreamers. The real activists got on with their activism.

We discovered one fact about online Maori discussion groups, especially activist groups, and that was that there were a lot of journalists watching and reading, waiting to pick up a story. And there were the cops hoping to uncover our conspiracies, or perhaps just looking for early warning of protests and other events.

Fast forward a few years to our company in Parnell. From early 2004 onwards we got serious about our communications security. Having been in the intelligence and military game myself I was always aware of the insecurity of the telephone, fax and email, and acutely aware of the vulnerability of websites and IT networks. We ran our own email server, file servers and web servers with our own and some of our clients’ websites hosted there, and we had to make sure that they were secure from hacking. Nearly all web servers are the subject of almost constant hacking attempts, usually by curious hackers from all over the globe just looking to see what damage they can do. Our Maori websites have long been the target of racist nerds in New Zealand and elsewhere trying to take them down. And from 2004 onwards we were aware that police intelligence were interested in Maori websites, data and communications.

We believed then and still do that it is our own responsibility to protect our data and communications and that if we get hacked it will be our own fault. The total takeover of the Internet by NSA, GCHQ, CSE, ASD and GCSB (known as 5-Eyes) has caused us to rethink that but we still do our level best to be as secure as we can, even from them.

In 2006 we moved all of our internal company communication away from email onto a more secure encrypted platform. To this day we hardly ever use email for business communication. Communications security was part of our business and we took it very seriously. We were early adopters of encrypted applications, including end to end encryption where we held the encryption keys, rather than server side encryption where you trust the providers to hold the keys and to do the encryption for you.

In April 2004 my IT manager Rangi Kemara set up a website of discussion forums with an encrypted chat room. It was to all intents and purposes an updated version of the old “Tino Rangatiratanga” discussion group with much the same subscriber base as the original, but with a new generation of subscribers as well. There were a range of forum topics that covered just about anything a group of Maori might want to discuss. The site was called Aotearoa Café – “AoCafe” for short. It consisted of three separate means of communication’

  • AoCafe Forums – public discussion forums
  • AoCafe Chat – encrypted chat rooms located initially on a separate server
  • Aotearoa Email – located on a free email server in the USA

The end-to-end encrypted chat room within AoCafe was state of the art. There was a lot of the usual armchair revolutionary crap chat going on as well as some serious real time discussion. I subscribed (using an alias) and Rangi would sometimes get me to log in to take on or take down the odd “educated” person who baffled everyone with their ignorance dressed up as knowledge. I monitored it from time to time to see what was going on. The revolutionary crap chat was as unrealistic and as boring as it always has been.

The encrypted chat room software at AoCafe was the same as one of the applications we adopted from the overseas hacker community to trial for our own internal company chat room. It was very very secure especially when the private chat room facility was used by two or more subscribers.

AoCafe Forums and AoCafe Chat resided on my company webserver in Parnell for a while until taken offsite to separate standalone webservers. For security reasons it was better not to have a Maori activism website on a normal webserver with other websites in case it came in for some extra attention from racist hackers and others.

The police were aware of the AoCafe from 23rd June 2004. Based on intecepted text messages from late 2006 mentioning AoCafe, indicating that the recipient should login to AoCafe, Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe first did a search of its open membership list on 5th March 2007. From then on the Operation 8 applications for warrants included AoCafe Forums, AoCafe Chat and Aotearoa.com email as intercept targets. The interception was to be done remotely with the assistance of Orcon, the provider that hosted the AoCafe server after it was moved from my premises. However the server for the encrypted chat room was not co-located at Orcon with the main AoCafe website. It was at another offsite location.

By June 2007 the police had still not been able to place their remote interception devices at the AoCafe sites. However they had obtained the database of unencrypted forum communications at the www.aocafe.com address from Orcon but had not been able to read the contents. As at 1st August 2007 they had still not been able to place interception devices on any of the three websites associated with AoCafe. By 30th August 2007 they had located www.aocafe.com and chat.aocafe.com at their new location and had begun partial interception but had not been able to decrypt the chat room conversations. On 26th September 2007, just over two weeks before the paramilitary operation, they still had not managed to break into the encryption.

Sometime between 2004 and 2006 my company IT network and communications came under the scrutiny and surveillance of police intelligence, or the electronic crime lab, or both. We had written a small program that resided on our firewall server and that logged all attempts to hack into our network, and then traced the origin (or IP address) of the hacking computer and identified who it belonged to if it could. That’s all very simple stuff if you know how. One morning we discovered that an unsuccessful attempt had been made from a NZ Police owned range of IP addresses, indicating that it was probably a NZ Police computer. We thought that was pretty dumb to use an identifiable police computer to do some spying.

We found out on and after 15th October 2007 that one of the primary targets of the computer seizure operation was AoCafe. It was recorded in police evidence as “Al Qaeda like encrypted communications” and they thought it was the central communications hub for a terrorist network. They couldn’t hack into it so they assumed the worst. We know they tried and perhaps they enlisted the aid of GCSB as well. On 15th October 2007 they came looking for AoCafe files on my web server at Parnell, but they were no longer there. They did seize the offsite server it was on but there were no chat logs on that server either. We don’t as a matter of course allow applications or programs to store logs on our servers. And so there were no deleted logs for them to forensically restore. We had long been in the habit anyway of forensically “scrubbing” our hard drives and servers of all deleted files so that they could not be restored and read. It was just another aspect of the security measures we researched and implemented as a matter of course. But Maori folk aren’t supposed to be that sophisticated are we.

That was another thread in the narrative of Operation 8. After 2004 the ECL had Rangi Kemara under surveillance at home and at our office, they knew of and were suspicious about AoCafe and couldn’t hack the encrypted core of it. When Rangi and others were linked with Taame Iti and the wananga in the Urewera they had in their feverish imaginations uncovered an Al Qaeda like encrypted communications hub for a terrorist network, on my servers.

Did some of the 18 accused use AoCafe to communicate. Of course they did. And one or two of them had AoCafe chat logs on their computers that were retrieved by the police. But mostly they used insecure mobile phones. They were not in the main sophisticated electronic communicators. If they had seriously been plotting terrorist stuff they would have seriously secured their communications as well. They’re all smart people and one or two them are savvy about communications security.

Rangi Kemara was heard by the police to say this about the communications of the activists, indicating that he knew that wananga communications by mobile phone were probably being intercepted.

“… but at the same time they use their cell phones to communicate which means they might as well ring the Police and provide their story to media”

The military connection

There were two identified military people picked up and charged in the operation. The late Tuhoe Lambert was a Vietnam veteran having served in Victor Company RNZIR as a rifleman in 1970. After Vietnam Tuhoe had left the Army and had apparently done a short stint overseas as a contract soldier. The other was Rau Hunt who had been a petty officer in the Navy and who had later become a civilian military contractor in Iraq. Both were identified by the police as military trainers at the wananga and were charged.

On the periphery there was myself, a 20 year Army officer and war veteran with active service in Borneo (1966) and Vietnam (1967), and I was Rangi Kemara’s employer and occasionally in contact with Taame Iti and others involved in the wananga. There were other Vietnam veterans in the Urewera, not directly involved in the wananga but in contact with Taame Iti and some of the wananga participants. I had served with a couple of them. We all knew that there was firearms training at the wananga but were not concerned.

However in the period from October to December 2006, before the focus of Operation 8 shifted from Auckland to the Urewera, I was a prime suspect and the subject of numerous probes by the police. The police also ran a check with Defence on 58 suspects including myself to see if there were any with military backgrounds. They got five positive responses including me. None of us remained in their crosshairs after the focus shifted to the Urewera.

Tuhoe Lambert was not tied into the network until early in 2007 and Rau Hunt became part of the network analysis from about April 2007.

Tuhoe Lambert was identified as the trainer who was conducting “patrolling” type activity over a period of a few months. I watched all of the video evidence several times. I quickly came to the conclusion, as someone who had spent thousands of hours commanding real patrols on real patrol missions and as someone who had trained real infantrymen over a period of many years that they were just playing war games rather than doing any serious military training. A real infantryman can tell the level of training and expertise at a glance. Some of my former colleagues with Vietnam service and long periods of service after that have since agreed with me.

From the video evidence it was obvious to me that Rau Hunt was not training anyone but was demonstrating the tactics and techniques of personal protection, and vehicle and convoy protection used by civilian military contractors or operators in places like Iraq and Afghanistan., What the police inexpertly saw as training for kidnapping and hostage taking I saw as a demonstration of the personal protection of a client in an ambush situation where the client is hustled out of a vehicle under attack to a safe position or to another vehicle not under attack. Given Rau’s background and experience that was the most logical conclusion anyway.

Long after the era when Vietnam veterans were looked upon with derision, by the 2000’s many younger men looked up to us and respected us and still do. We don’t talk much about what we did but the younger ones are eager to listen to those who are willing to share their experiences. Rangi Kemara spent a lot of time around me, and also created a relationship with Tuhoe Lambert and eventually lived in a caravan at Tuhoe’s place. He was one who respected us and was interested in what we did in Vietnam. He didn’t get anything specific from me about my Vietnam experience but I understand that Tuhoe shared a few experiences. Rangi also never asked me about anything to do with tactics or strategy. We did talk about survival stuff occasionally. Rangi had also met two Ngai Tuhoe people who had served with me in Vietnam who had some experiences and observations to share. He told me about it at the time.

So there were military connections linked to the wananga participants, some of whom were very interested in our exploits 30 to 40 years previously. Why did that extend to some play acting in the bush? I’ll explore that in a later post.

The threads that weren’t

On 15th October 2007 and in the days following about 60 houses around the country were raided. The omnibus search warrant used to conduct those searches was broad in its scope, specifying weapons, equipment and clothing that they were looking for as well as computers. At our office in Parnell they were looking specifically for the AoCafe forums and chat room. But Fritz and his masters had also decided on an act of complete bastardry and they were intent on taking every computer, server and hard drive in the place and on putting us out of business. At most other places they were just fishing for computers where they hoped to find evidence to flesh out their terrorism narrative.

They found nothing of consequence. Those were the threads that weren’t. The police obviously thought they’d find some but they didn’t.

The woven terrorism narrative

Those are the threads that were the basis for the terrorist narrative the police would weave around the happenings at the wananga in the Urewera. In the next post I will examine the evidence they collected to weave into those threads. The finished narrative was full of holes.

Links: The Operation 8 Series