Operation 8: The evidence and police spying methods

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

There was a lot of evidence and this is a very long post (9,114 words).

The previous post in this series examined the threads that led into Operation 8. In this post we will examine the information or evidence collected by the police to weave into those threads to create their terrorism narrative. It is also a revealing look at police spying.

The information collected by the Northern Special Investigation Group (SIG) amounted to over 100,000 pages and a stack of video recordings. In writing this post and the previous one I have read through hundreds of pages of court documents, interception warrants, affidavits and other material. I have watched the video evidence again. Over a period of months I have spent over two hundred hours summarising and analysing all of it.

The collection of information involved dozens of detectives and other police officers with meticulous attention to detail. That was the collection and collation that was meticulous, not the analysis.

Based on nearly 52 years’ experience dealing with people in various fields in the public, private and community sectors I broadly categorise the way people work into three types:

  • Those who focus on the detail and build understanding upwards from the detail into a coherent picture;
  • Those who focus on the big picture and don’t bother about the detail; and
  • Those who first discern the big picture (or pictures) from an overview of the detail before they delve into the detail to confirm or contradict those impressions.

It is of course a generalisation and it is stereotyping but it is a useful if not entirely accurate stereotyping. I try to include a mix of types in the teams I put together for tasks or projects.

Those who start with the detail are prone to cognitive bias, to making and forming unsubstantiated assumptions and conclusions from bits and pieces of detail without actually seeing the big picture. Big picture people on the other hand are equally prone and fall into other cognitive biases by not confirming their initial impressions against the detail. The best intelligence analysts are those who start with the big picture (or pictures) and then delve into the detail. Starting with the big picture does not mean forming a fixed opinion and then seeking out the detail to confirm that opinion. It requires an open mind, able to work with ambiguity, prepared to question any assumptions and conclusions reached in the process and to start again if necessary. In delving into the detail the good analyst always keeps one eye on the big picture so as not to lose sight of every potential interpretation.

As Miyamoto Musashi the famous samurai strategist wrote in another context in the 17th Century in his classic text “Go Rin No ShoThe Book of Five Rings”:

“Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things”.

“Sharpen the twofold gaze, perception and sight”.

The impression I get from the police documentation is that poor old Detective Sergeant (now Detective Senior Sergeant) Aaron Lee Pascoe must be a details person with a single gaze – sight alone. To be fair to poor old Aaron his bosses were the same. For the Operation 8 intelligence process was indeed meticulous in the collection of information and in the collation of that information into a cohesive narrative. But I have come to the conclusion that there was no competent analysis that would have turned all of that information into intelligence, and indeed no analysis that would have identified gaps or holes in the information that needed to be collected before reaching any firm conclusions. I have a suspicion based on a reading of the documentation that there was no meaningful expert analysis at all.

The proof of my assertion is that their preferred terrorism narrative fell over at the first hurdle when prosecutions under the Suppression of Terrorism Act were disallowed by the Solicitor General in November 2007. Their fall back narrative which was “participation in a criminal group” fell over in front of a jury in March 2012.

I will describe the evidence the police collected in nine categories and a tenth they didn’t get to:

  1. Finding suspects through network analysis;
  2. Profiling the suspects;
  3. Informant information;
  4. Who attended the wananga and when, and what were they wearing;
  5. Covert reconnaissance and observation;
  6. Video in the bush;
  7. Weapons and Molotov Cocktails;
  8. What were they saying?
  9. What did the police think they were planning? and
  10. What were they really planning?

The intelligence process never quite got to the last point which is surely the whole point of the intelligence process. The police and the prosecution later tried to infer a number of probable acts, firstly terrorist acts then criminal acts, but they could not back any of it with solid intelligence. They were relying on conjecture to get them over the line.

The surveillance warrants for February, March and April 2007 were based on alleged or suspected offences under the Crimes Act 1961. From May to October 2007 the warrants were issued under the Crimes Act 1961 and the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002, indicating either that the police had formed their terrorism conclusion and narrative as early as May 2007, or that they simply wanted to use the greater powers of the Suppression of Terrorism Act to get around the legal constraints on the surveillance they wanted to do. Both may well be true.

The May 2007 warrant application to the Court by Detective Inspector Bruce Good indicates that by then the “analysts” had already decided on a terrorism narrative:

“The purpose of this application is to obtain evidence of terrorist offences as outlined in paragraph 2 above which I believe have been committed and to prevent further terrorist offences being committed”.

They had not of course uncovered any terrorist offences by May 2007, nor did they ever uncover any. But they proceeded as though they had. They had already made up their minds and proceeded to mould their evidence around that conclusion.

But first, on a personal note …

The trail of evidence shows that on 3rd October 2006 the police compiled a profile on me and on other members of my staff. From then until 20th December 2006 they did five background checks on me including a check on my military background. On 20th December 2006 the names of 58 suspects were submitted to the Army to check if any had military service. I was one of the suspects. The check returned five positives including me. As far as I am aware none of the other four had anything to do with the wananga. So they were very interested in me and they dug deep including doing a background check on my whanau. They didn’t get far with that – a daughter was not registered with my surname and two other children were registered in Australia.

They were certainly trying to tie me into their narrative. Given the relative poverty of most of their targets they might have needed to find someone who was funding the “terrorists”, or maybe even a military master mind, to make their narrative complete. Who knows what they were thinking. They may also have pulled my mobile phone records from Vodafone but they would have been very disappointed. I hardly ever use it, certainly not for phone calls and only rarely for text messaging.

Nevertheless they now have me in their intelligence database where presumably I will remain forever. I don’t think they have my fingerprints or DNA yet. Perhaps they’ve downloaded my poetry looking for intimations of terrorist inclination in my random musings. I hope they load the contents of this blog site into their database too, as a permanent record of their incompetence.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, back to the evidence.

Casting around for suspects

Operation 8 appears to have been formally launched on 10th May 2006 with a request to Telecom for call data relating to John Murphy.

  • For the first month it was an Auckland and Canterbury centred operation focused mostly on Jamie Lockett, John Murphy, Kelvyn Alp, Kyle Chapman, and Jason Orme; a right wing conspiracy.
  • It had picked up Taame Iti through his association with Lockett and Murphy. There were only a few other Maori in the network analysis at that time. They included the late Milton Hohaia because he had been in contact with Taame Iti. A background check noted that in 1998 Milton was part of a protest group at Waitangi and he was linked to an associate of Taame Iti.
  • In that time they must have picked up information that wananga were being run in the Urewera and that Lockett was or would be attending them. Two police officers, D. Petherick and M. Cartwright, travelled to Whakatane and Te Urewera on 26 June 2006 “in attempt to locate camps”.
  • Through to the end of September 2006 the operation was still focused on Jamie Lockett, John Murphy, Taame Iti and Milton Hohaia. On 13 September 2006 profiles of all Taame Iti’s known associates were logged into the Operation 8 evidence.
  • By 3 October 2006 I was linked into the network, possibly through telephone calls made to Rangi Kemara at my office by Taame Iti and Jamie Lockett. By 4 October 2006 Rangi Kemara had been linked into the network.
  • By 18 October 2006 Emily Bailey from Wellington was linked, and by 24 October 2006 Marama Mayrick was in. The link was made to Urs Signer by 30 October 2006 probably through his girlfriend Emily.
  • In October 2006 the links from Taame into the activist networks had been made. From that time network analysis (see below) brought more and more suspects into the net.
  • In mid-November 2006 a police party deployed into the “Urewera forest” to conduct reconnaissance and a scene examination. They set up an observation post and heard shots being fired as though they were a shooting practice on a military firing range.
  • Through November and December 2006 more people were added to the network which started to widen and deepen. Taame Iti, Jamie Lockett and Rangi Kemara were the central figures in the network.
  • By early in 2007 the focus had shifted from Auckland to the wananga in the Urewera.
  • In mid-January 2007 a family tree for the Iti whanau was compiled and a check was made in “TESA” and revealed 54 subscribers with the last name “Iti”. At the same time family trees for the Lambert, Bailey, Himona and other whanau were being compiled and bank accounts were being accessed.
  • Reports of activist activity under surveillance in Wellington by the Wellington SIG were also added to the evidence.
  • There was a report on an anti-Howard (Australian PM) demonstration on 16 February 2007. The names mentioned were V. Morse, U. Signer, M. Eden and R. Gilchrist. Rob Gilchrist was the police intelligence informant and agent provocateur. Another report and photos on an anti-war demonstration at Parliament on 20 March 2007 was logged. Names were V. Morse, U. Signer and L. Rochford.

In the early months of Operation 8 network analysis was the main activity, casting around for people to link into the network of suspects.

All of the police documentation and evidence states that Operation 8 began in December 2005 with “collating and analysing 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.” However the Operation 8 evidence strongly suggests that not to be the case. It suggests that it was an operation aimed initially at Jamie Lockett and that it did not focus on Taame Iti and his wananga in the Urewera until mid-May 2006.

The evidence alleging “terrorism” and presented to the courts in affidavits (to obtain warrants) and in trial evidence also relates mostly to the nine month period from January to October 2007. The police seem to have deliberately fudged the original intent of Operation 8 and the length of the operation, perhaps in order to add credence to their terrorism narrative.

The network was built from a bunch of Pakeha with Taame Iti on the periphery, and changed over time to a network with Taame Iti at its centre. The police were also reading text messages through the latter half of 2006 indicating some activity in the Urewera and began to try to locate and monitor that activity. The network analysis continued throughout the whole of Operation 8.

Network Analysis

This form of intelligence gathering is as old as the hills, building data on the social networks of targeted individuals and groups to find out who they are talking to or conspiring with. In my day we used to compile computerised database profiles of individuals and networks (foreign not domestic), and gradually build their profiles, but the harvesting and data entry was mostly by hand. In these modern times it has become a high art form (for IT geeks and mathematicians) through the automated harvesting of email, landline, mobile phone, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other communications and social media metadata and content. Sophisticated algorithms are then used to digitally analyse that metadata (i.e. who is talking to who), combined with time and frequency analysis, to build pictures of inner and outer networks and to predict likely conspirators or terrorist and criminal networks. A lot of that data can be obtained from open sources without warrant just by harvesting what is freely available on the Internet, and sophisticated software is commercially available to do just that.

Operation 8 was not that sophisticated and it appears that after harvesting metadata mostly from mobile phone communications but also from email and landline communications the Northern SIG team did the analysis the old way with pencil and paper, or spreadsheets perhaps. The phone metadata was obtained from Telecom and Vodafone under warrant. As new phone numbers were added to the networks the harvesting from Telecom and Vodafone increased from month to month with new phone numbers added to the electronic sweep. A great deal of effort was put into identifying the people associated with the phone numbers. Most but not all of them were identified.

The police were receiving daily emails from Telecom and Vodafone providing metadata and text messages from landlines and mobile phones.

They also used the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) code to identify mobile phones. Every mobile phone has a unique IMEI code. The SIM card is identified by the phone number. The phone itself is identified by the IMEI code. The IMEI code of a phone on the mobile network can be obtained under warrant from the provider, in this case either Telecom or Vodafone. In at least one instance they used the IMEI code to identify a user who was changing SIM cards on the one mobile phone. By identifying the use of one SIM card they were able to identify the same user on the other SIM card.

By far the most effort was put into the mobile phone networks. They tried to intercept the AoCafe forum and encrypted chat group communication for the juicy encrypted stuff without much success. Visual and video surveillance was also used to discover who people were associating with and talking to. A lot of effort was also put into the visual and video surveillance of individuals to track them from their homes to Ruatoki to prove that they were attending the wananga. Many of them travelled together, met along the way, or met at their destination. So that surveillance served the dual purpose of network analysis and wananga attendance.

The police also used the Births, Deaths and Marriages register at Internal Affairs not just to find birth details of their suspects but also to discover marriage and other relationships. They were not just building social networks but familial networks or family trees as well. With no Maori on their intelligence team they didn’t build the tribal networks.

In their network analysis they spread the net far and wide. It is quite standard practice to build the networks out to at least three degrees of separation, that is, out to three connections from the target. That can bring a lot of people into the network. In my case I was just one degree of separation from at least five of the primary targets or suspects. Which partially explains why they were so interested in me for about three months in 2006. Most people who were background checked would still be unaware that they were but if you talk to someone who talks to Taame Iti or one of the other primary suspects you might have been checked.

Network analysis does not provide definitive proof of past, present or planned activity but it is a valuable starting point for more targeted intelligence collection by other means. It was for instance the method by which Osama bin Laden was eventually tracked to his compound in Abbotabad in Pakistan even though bin Laden used no electronic communications at all. It was done through the identification and tracking of his most trusted courier.

The thing about network analysis is that it is a blunt instrument, especially now that everyone carries a mobile phone and phone metadata can legally be harvested by GCSB and passed to the police. I would think that network analysis out to about 5 degrees of relationship would scoop up just about every New Zealander into a suspect database.

Scary stuff.

Now that the Police have Facebook and Twitter to harvest it gets even scarier. For instance the average Facebook user has 190 “Friends”. So if you start with my own 500 Friends, my Friends have 95,000 Friends, and their Friends have over 18,000,000 Friends.

Much  scarier isn’t it. And time consuming and counter-productive of course.

Profiling the suspects

As new suspects were added to the network the police built profiles on them. The profiles on their main suspects were quite shallow, especially those on Taame Iti, Tuhoe Lambert and Rangi Kemara. Deeper profiling would have yielded more valuable information and would perhaps have led the intelligence gathering in different directions. These are most of the sources of information that were accessed:

  • Police intelligence database (NIA – National Intelligence Application);
  • Police weapons licence records;
  • Court records;
  • Births, deaths and marriages register;
  • Electoral rolls;
  • Defence Department personnel records;
  • Banking records;
  • Credit card statements;
  • Companies Office database;
  • Transactions on TradeMe and at other traders;
  • Power company client records;
  • TradeMe;
  • Overseas travel movements, in one case as far back as 1983, another from 1992;
  • WINZ records;
  • Passport office records;
  • Customs records (airport arrivals and departures);
  • Property ownership records;
  • Vehicle ownership records;
  • Car registration records;
  • NZ Post records;
  • CCTV footage;
  • Web searches; and
  • Newspaper articles.

There is no indication that tax records were accessed but they certainly would have been available.

The police almost certainly ran their network of suspects through the NZSIS database. There are several items in the Operation 8 evidence with the notation “Document withheld”. Some of those probably refer to NZSIS background checks and possibly to information from GCSB. They may also contain undeclared evidence of further unlawful or illegal surveillance activity by the police.

Public and private information about individual New Zealanders is becoming increasingly digitised. Data matching, data mining and data correlation are becoming increasingly automated. Governments are giving more and more surveillance powers to the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. They will very soon have access to every individual’s complete set of private information from the keyboard. The collection and collation of information as it was done during Operation 8 will become more and more automated, faster, more efficient and increasingly commonplace.


The warrant served on TradeMe by Detective Sergeant Pascoe was outrageously broad and collected information on something like 3000 accounts.

“Then there’s Detective Dean Winter who left the police very quietly in 2006 and then surfaced in a cushy job as head of security with Fairfax’s online auction site TradeMe only to again be quietly shoved out the door when he was caught colluding with detective sergeant Aaron Pascoe, the cop responsible for the seriously dodgy October 2007 “Operation 8″, to pass on information the police were certainly not entitled to”.

Informant information

Informants are officially known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) and are registered and managed (or handled) by the Covert Operations Group (COG). They are available to the various Police operational units.

The Operation 8 documentation shows that at least two registered police informants provided information during the operation, and that there were possibly another two or three registered or casual informants:

  • one was Auckland based and provided the most informant information to Operation 8, specifically in relation to Jamie Lockett and his supposed involvement in terrorism training in the Urewera;
  • one was probably based in Wellington and provided some information about the Wellington based activists;
  • one provided information about Taame Iti in mid-2006;
  • there may have been another who provided limited information about the timing of some of the wananga in the Urewera, but this may be the same person as the one above;
  • a further person who was interviewed by the Operation 8 team and may have provided some general information about attitudes, beliefs and intentions; and
  • the Operation 8 team had access to profiles built on various people by the Threat Assessment Unit who also used informants to build their database.

This form of Intelligence is known as HUMINT (Human Intelligence). In the modern world of Intelligence there is often too much emphasis placed on non-HUMINT sources. It is now relatively easy to intercept, photograph and video. However the most important information should be about the suspects’ intentions to act, or not to act. That requires someone, a person, to gain access to the minds of the suspects, to their thinking. It requires the use of undercover agents or reliable informants.

By deliberately excluding Superintendent Wallace Haumaha and his team from Operation 8 the Police had no way of gaining insights into the real thinking and intentions of their suspects and had to resort to unverified assumptions.

Who attended the wananga and when, and what were they wearing

The police put much effort into this aspect of their intelligence collection. They needed to prove that individuals attended specific wananga on specific dates. They did that through network analysis to generally identify those in the network, and by visual and video surveillance to track individuals to Ruatoki.

They also used text messages obtained under warrant from Telecom and Vodafone. The dates for wananga were notified by text message. Individuals confirmed that would be attending by text, arranged to pick each other up or to meet along the way by text, and told each other where they were or when they would be arriving by text. Almost all of the coordination of the wananga was by text message. It was a rich source of information for the police and they were reading it for months.

Throughout most of 2007 the police were covertly (and unlawfully) video recording some of the activity at the wananga. They used that video footage to identify specific individuals involved in specific activities and to do that they relied in part on the clothing people were wearing. That is the reason why the “termination” warrant specified so many items of clothing that they were looking for, and the reason why they seized so much clothing during the searches on 15th October 2007. Some of those who were subjected to the searches report the police being particularly excited when they discovered items of clothing with the Tino Rangatiratanga flag emblem. I’m lucky the detectives didn’t discover the two TR flags at my office; one large flag and one small storm flag. I could have been done for possession of a TR flag.

Much of the clothing they were looking for was so generic, worn by so many people, that some of the clothing seizures resembled high farce at the time.

Despite the effort the Police put into identifying participants they came to this conclusion in October 2007:

  • not all attendees at the training camps had been identified by Police;
  • intelligence suggested there was an unknown “local group” in the area who could pose a threat to Police; and
  • the feelings of the community towards the participants in the training camps were largely unknown and thus it was stated that “the existence of sympathisers and supporters for their cause cannot be discounted”

The first was a statement of fact. The second and third conclusions were in fact nothing more than wild assumptions.

Cellphone location tracking

There is no evidence that the police wirth the assistance of GCSB accessed the global cellphone location tracking capability of the NSA. However there were several evidential documents withheld from the defence lawyers. Cellphone providers can also track phones under warrant. There is also technology such as the “Stinger” device available to police forces to conduct their own warrantless cellphone location tracking.

These technologies do not appear to have been used in Operation 8 but in the Police affidavits there were redacted paragraphs that referred to “Police Surveillance Techniques”.

EFTPOS location tracking

The police had access to banking records as part of their profiling process but they also used EFTPOS records to track the movement of suspects as they travelled to and from the Urewera.

Covert reconnaissance and observation

Throughout Operation 8 covert surveillance and “tailing” on foot and in vehicles was conducted on several suspects. Routine sighting reports were filed by police officers who saw them going about their daily lives. Some came into more intense surveillance than others. Examples are:

  • Jamie Lockett was followed around Auckland as he went about his daily life.
  • Video surveillance was in place for months outside the house where Rangi Kemara lived in Auckland. He was also followed around Auckland.
  • Surveillance was conducted on his workplace.
  • On 26 June 2007 Valerie Morse was seen walking up Adelaide Road, Wellington.
  • On 9 July 2007 “Emily Bailey spots cops at Railway Station taking photos of her”.
  • 28 August 2007. Valerie Morse flew into Wellington Airport. Picked up by Urs Signer and Emily Bailey. Several reports indicate that the airlines may well have been required to notify advance travel plans of suspects.

Some attempts were made to carry out visual reconnaissance and surveillance in the bush at Urewera. It seems not to have been very successful. Surveillance of the wananga was then carried out by placing video cameras at wananga sites before the wananga and later retrieving them.

  • On 21 April 2006 Constable Macey was hiking when he came across Taame Iti and others at “a makeshift camp”. No weapons were present. This routine intelligence report was added to the Operation 8 evidence on 29 June 2006 after the operatrion turned its attention to Taame.
  • On 22 June 2006 “Petherick and Cartwright travel to Whakatane and Te Urewera to attempt to locate camps”. The surveillance on Jamie Lockett and Taame Iti had by then learned of the wananga.
  • On 15 November 2006 Detective Senior Sergeant Jago (now Detective Inspector) travelled to the Urewera with his team to install video cameras. He was accompanied by a team from the Special Tactics Group (STG) including Sergeant Mark Miller and Senior Constable Tony Masterton. The STG team was there until 19 October 2006. They carried out some audio surveillance but did not manage any visual surveillance.
  • On 9 January 2007 Miller and Masterton and others again travelled to the Urewera to install video cameras and conduct on-the-ground surveillance. They were there until 15 January 2007 and again on 23 January 2007 to retrieve the cameras.
  • From then until October 2006 video cameras were installed at the time of each monthly wananga except for the March 2007 wananga which was cancelled.

Audio and visual surveillance of the wananga activities did not contribute much to the collection of information and seems to have been abandoned after the January 2007 wananga in favour of video surveillance only. All of the covert reconnaissance, covert audio surveillance, and the covert visual and video surveillance on private land without permission was unlawful.

Video surveillance

The police conducted or attempted to conduct video surveillance at seven of the wananga on the following dates:

  • 17 – 18 November 2006
  • 10 – 13 January 2007
  • 27 – 28 April 2007
  • 22 – 23 June 2007
  • 17 – 18 August 2007
  • 14 – 15 September 2007
  • 12 – 13 October 2007

They were aware that wananga were being held from about June 2006. They had some evidence that Jamie Lockett attended one in September 2006. The wananga for 27 – 28 March was cancelled.

The video footage was used as evidence to show what some of the wananga participants were doing in the Urewera. It did not however provide any indication of why they were doing it.

As it was visually sensational (except to the expert military eye) it became the pivotal evidence around which police and prosecution built their case in the courts, and in the media after suppression was lifted. Visual evidence of this nature is far more compelling than documentary or verbal evidence and far more powerful in that it has a subliminal effect, entering directly into the unconscious minds of the public, jurors (and judges) without passing through the filter of the conscious mind.

The police and prosecution fought hard through several court appearances over a four year period to retain this pivotal evidence as admissible even though it was unlawfully obtained. They succeeded in the case against the final four accused, the “Urewera Four”.

To the trained eye and conscious mind of the military expert the video footage showed three distinct activities although the police chose through their lack of expertise, and for the purposes of their own terrorism narrative, to conflate the three activities into a single terrorism scenario:

  • Most of the activity was weapon training and infantry minor tactics including patrolling and contact drills, presumably conducted by Vietnam veteran Tuhoe Lambert perhaps with other expert assistance;
  • A demonstration of tactics used by civilian military contractors in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. These involved personal protection (bodyguarding) and convoy counter-ambush drills. The police chose to ignore the evidence that this was an entirely different activity and to interpret it within their terrorism narrative.
  • Experimenting with “Molotov Cocktails”, homemade incendiary devices made from bottles filled with petrol and/or other inflammable liquid.

None of that activity on its own was actually illegal unless it could be shown through other information that it was intended as training or rehearsal for terrorist or criminal acts.

War games or infantry minor tactics

Having watched the video footage many times I am still of the expert military opinion that the standard of “training” was so superficial and so inexpert that none of the participants would have been proficient enough to go to war against anyone, let alone the NZ Police or NZ military, whether as individuals or as part of a terrorist team. From my military perspective they were playacting and even if some of them really believed that they were becoming foot soldiers for the cause they were dreaming. That much could be determined just from watching them, and their “trainer” Tuhoe Lambert would have known that too.

Nevertheless the video footage was accepted at face value and fitted into the terrorism narrative.

A study of the uprisings in North Africa provides an interesting perspective. Whilst the instigators of those uprisings were political activists the shock troops who led the fighting were the Ultras. The Ultras are the tribal football fans across Europe and North Africa who battle each other in the streets on a weekly basis and fight vicious battles with the police who try to restore order. They are combat hardened and tactically sound, especially when fighting against the police. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya the Ultras from opposing football clubs combined forces and were in the vanguard of all of the fighting. In Libya they were joined by Libyan military defectors and by special forces from other countries. In Egypt the Ultras were supported by the Muslim Brotherhood youth wing. It takes more than an activist and a dreamer to make a fighter.

The Operation 8 team did no analysis on the capability of those they saw in the videos to actually carry out what they were accused of. None of the main accused, Taame Iti, Tuhoe Lambert and Rangi Kemara, were physically capable of leading the activities they were accused of. They were all overweight and unfit, one had diabetes and another was suffering from debilitating heart disease. There were no alternative leaders or combat leaders identified. Below them, after a few weekends in the bush at which there was only sporadic attendance except by the core group of activists, there were no combat ready troops.

There would be only two groups of Maori who would be able to fulfil that role, the criminal gangs and ex-military personnel. In the early phases of Operation 8 the police searched for ex-military personnel who might be involved including looking closely at me. They found only Tuhoe Lambert and later Rau Hunt. Knowing the military and ex-military community as well as I do I would be very much surprised to find military or ex-military personnel involved in terrorism or similar criminal activity. Most of us really are loyal New Zealanders who believe in our oath of fealty to Queen and country, as corny as that sounds. Accepting however that there are always exceptions to the rule I would expect that the contract price for an ex-military gunman would far exceed the ability of Taame Iti and his band to pay.

There have been many revolutionary dreamers who have fantasised about involving the gangs as shock troops in their revolutions. The gangs are not motivated by politics. They are motivated by money and their price is beyond the means of armchair revolutionaries and Taame Iti. The police did access the bank accounts of their primary suspects and would have found that all of them were skint.

Civilian military contractors

Despite the fact that the “trainer” in the October video, Rau Hunt, was in real life a civilian military contractor with experience in Iraq the police chose to ignore the relevance of that.

The October video showed that the activity at that wananga was almost entirely a demonstration of the techniques employed by civilian military contractors. Their skills are based on military skills including a high level of training in infantry minor tactics but their job is different. They provide close protection or bodyguards for civilians in the warzone. A major part of their job is also the protection of vehicles and convoys, and fixed installations, from attack or ambush. Their vehicle counter ambush drills are based on military drills that we all learnt and practised as part of basic infantry training.

One of the drills was clearly a counter ambush drill in which the client or VIP was hustled out of and away from the vehicle under attack. The standard drill is to get the client into another vehicle and away from the ambush, or to a safe location out of the line of fire, until the operators (bodyguards) are able to win the firefight and contain the situation. The police chose to interpret that as kidnapping.

At the trial in 2012 the prosecution’s own expert military witness agreed under cross examination that the scenario could have been a rescue from an ambush, especially as the person being taken from the car was not restrained.

In March 2012 I informally interviewed Rau Hunt who is a retired naval petty officer. His understanding was that Taame Iti had invited him to the wananga to see if any of the younger men would be suitable to be trained and employed as civilian military contractors. It is lucrative if dangerous employment. Rau and I agreed that it was unlikely that anyone without a strong military or police background would be suitable to be employed. He has since confirmed that none of those at the October wananga went on to employment as a civilian military contractor.

Rau Hunt was nevertheless accused and charged. The charges against him were eventually dropped after the Supreme Court ruled the video evidence unlawful. I find it highly unlikely that a professional like Rau Hunt would put a lucrative livelihood at risk for any hair brained terrorism scheme such as the one the police alleged. It simply doesn’t make sense. The lack of expert intelligence analysis by the police, and their single minded focus on only one interpretation of the information they collected and collated, put an innocent man’s career on hold for six years.

I empathise with Rau as the police tried to take down my business at Parnell on 15th October 2007 and in doing so would have put me and my staff out of employment. We stopped it in the High Court. Like Rau Hunt we too were all innocent bystanders.

The introduction of a civilian military contractor to the wananga in October 2007 might have indicated a shift in direction away from the war games that had been the focus to that point. It might not. It is the job of intelligence managers and analysts to find out. However the police chose to ignore that possibility and to assume that the demonstration by Rau Hunt was part of their terrorism narrative and to carry on with their armed paramilitary operation which was already in the process of being launched. That was a failure of analysis.

Weapons and Molotov Cocktails

Molotov Cocktails

A Molotov Cocktail is an incendiary device originally devised for use against armoured and other vehicles. It is basically a bottle containing petrol and/or other inflammable fluids with a cloth wick attached. The wick is lit and the bottle thrown at the target. When the bottle breaks the fuel ignites. The bottle needs to be of a type that holds enough fuel to be effective and not so strong that it doesn’t break on impact. In my day when we learned about booby traps and other improvised weapons the old fashioned milk bottle was an ideal container.

The Molotov Cocktail is known to be used in Europe and elsewhere by anarchists in their battles with the authorities, including police.

After the August and September 2007 wananga the police recovered several beer bottles from the area. They were mainly Steinlager bottles and a few Crown lager bottles. There was evidence (cloth and fuel) that they had been used as Molotov Cocktails. Several were broken and several had been used but did not break. They had been thrown against an old oven. The video footage from one wananga showed some individuals throwing what seemed to be bottles.

I used the term “experimenting with Molotov Cocktails” in the previous section because it was obvious to me that they were not proper Molotov cocktails. I could have described it as playing with Molotov cocktails.

They used the wrong sort of bottle to start with. The small beer bottles are very hard to break. I believe that they are made that way to prevent them from being easily broken and used as weapons to “glass’ people. There were a number of bottles produced in evidence by the police that were not broken even though they seemed to have been thrown. To make sure they would break on impact the Steinlager bottles would need to be thrown with great force against a hard target such as a vehicle, or an old oven. Ideally a Molotov cocktail should break even when lobbed onto a street surface.

The cloth wicks were also stuffed into the top of the bottles. The proper way to make a Molotov Cocktail is to wrap the cloth wick around the neck of the bottle to ensure that the fuel ignites after the bottle breaks, and not before. A cork or stopper can then be put into the neck of the bottle to make sure it doesn’t leak fuel before impact.

These were not real working Molotov Cocktails and some of them didn’t work anyway.

During the trial the prosecution could not produce evidence to show what they might have been used against. However like the video footage the bottles produced in court were pivotal evidence for the same reason. It was subliminal visual evidence that would sway a jury despite other evidence. At one point it was suggested by the prosecution that the Molotov Cocktails could have been used to set fire to a forest. I would set fire to a forest using a jerry can of petrol and a box of matches.

Playing or experimenting with Molotov Cocktails is not against the law although the law was bent in this case to describe them as illegal restricted weapons. Using them against persons or property is illegal and the police did not have evidence of that.

The weapons

In addition to the Molotov Cocktails a motley collection of rifles of various calibres and a small number of shotguns were seen carried by the wananga participants during their tactical exercises. A pistol was also seen but evidence suggests that it was a replica or a starting pistol. The weapons were seen in January, April, June, August, September and October for periods of about two days each time. Incidentally that would comprise about 12 days total, hardly a sufficient period to train a terrorist group to any level of proficiency. At some of those wananga shots were heard indicating that some of them were target shooting. There was no evidence that the weapons were loaded at other times. Nine rifles and a shotgun were seized on 15th October 2007.

It is not illegal to carry a rifle and to use it for target shooting if you hold a firearms licence. Rangi Kemara had a current firearms licence for the 6 weapons which were seized from his caravan and car on 15th October 2007. However the charge was that they were “in possession except for some lawful proper and sufficient purpose”. Rangi Kemara had by then become a bit of a collector of firearms. However he bought most of them on lay-by. I know because I paid him and I didn’t pay him enough to indulge in that expensive hobby.

The rifles were also a variety of calibres requiring different sizes of ammunition. That would have been a logistical nightmare keeping up a supply of ammunition to a terrorist group.

There was also police evidence that Rangi Kemara had tried to buy a grenade launcher from a weapons dealer. The only “grenade launcher” available outside the military is not actually a grenade launcher but a flare launcher that imitates a grenade launcher. It is still sold as a grenade launcher. The actual grenade launcher fires 40mm grenades available only to the military. The grenades are very expensive. The imitation grenade launcher has a smaller 37mm calibre and fires 37mm flares. It cannot fire the 40mm grenade. The police obviously did not expertly analyse that piece of evidence and if they did they would not have persisted with their grenade launcher theory unless it suited their narrative to do so.

No evidence was presented to indicate how proficient the accused were in the use of weapons, or whether they were proficient at all.

What were they saying?

None of the foregoing evidence is proof of terrorist or criminal intent regardless of how sensational the presentation of the evidence. To find that proof the police either needed to have an undercover person within the group or to intercept conversations or other communications that would prove intent. They did not have anyone undercover but they did bug several conversations.

Interception devices or bugs are of several types. Some devices intercept and transmit in real time to the Crime Monitoring Centre on Thorndon Quay in Wellington where monitoring staff are on duty 24/7. That type of intercept probably relies on good mobile phone reception. The Crime Monitoring Centre was involved in Operation 8. Some devices can be installed and remotely switched on and off. Some can have the intercepted product retrieved remotely. Others need to be physically retrieved. The technology is evolving rapidly.

Probably the most information was picked up from a bug in Rangi Kemara’s car, especially the conversations between him and Tuhoe Lambert as they travelled to and from the Urewera. In April 2007 over a four day period the police intercepted and recorded 17 hours of conversation between the Rangi and Tuhoe. They also intercepted conversations that Rangi had with various activists who travelled in his car at various times.

They had warrants to bug Taame Iti’s car but did not succeed in placing it until towards the end of Operation 8. They did place a bug in the flat he shared with his partner in Taneatua and recorded several conversations between them and some conversations with other visitors.

A bug or bugs was placed at one venue on one weekend in a “hut” which was actually part of a disused marae. Recordings of several conversations were retrieved.

Text message exchanges were also obtained from Telecom and Vodafone and some of those were about the purposes of the wananga.

This part of the Operation 8 intelligence collection, collation and analysis process deserved the most intense and expert analysis because it goes to the heart of what was intended by the group of suspects and what definite plans, if any, they had to further their intentions. It was not analysed at all. It was simply accepted at face value and added into the evolving terrorism narrative.

This korero was about going to war, about a revolution, about doing robberies to raise funds, about Tuhoe freedom fighters, about studying IRA and Al Qaeda manuals, creating chaos, bombing strategic facilities, urban warfare, obtaining weapons and ammunition, and assassinating the next prime minister (John Key). The korero established that Rangi Kemara has established himself as the weapons “expert”, of sorts.

Jamie Lockett

Reading through Jamie Lockett’s profile and contributions to the korero the first thing I would have done as an analyst would be to sideline him out of the operation. Whatever he is, he is not a political activist or anyone who sympathises with their causes. He definitely did not fit into the Ngai Tuhoe nationalist cause at all. He was purely and simply a man with a deep seated and obsessive grudge against the police. His war talk was bullshit and bravado. His association with the wananga participants quite bizarre.

Perhaps it just suited AMCOS to leave him in the mix and to fit him up with a terrorism conviction. He was after all the initial target of Operation 8.

The Ngai Tuhoe nationalists

The main contributors to this korero were Taame Iti, Tuhoe Lambert and Rangi Kemara. It was extensive and full of war talk. A lot of their korero was pure fantasy. Surprisingly very little intercepted korero of real substance came from Taame. There was nothing at all to indicate that he had a grand plan or indeed any specific plans. He talked of going to war but only in a general bullshit sense and in generalities. I would have thought that a serious intelligence operation would have put a lot more effort into intercepting his korero. Perhaps GCSB did and it hasn’t been declared. But on the other hand he does tend to speak in riddles.

Not all of the Maori in the suspect group were Ngai Tuhoe nationalists. What would have helped the Operation 8 team to differentiate the Tuhoe nationalists from other Maori would have been a tribal affiliation analysis. They didn’t have the expertise to do that or even to recognise that it would have been useful.

From an analysis of the korero Rangi Kemara seems to have been the main link between the Ngai Tuhoe nationalists and the activists.

The peaceniks, environmentalists, animal rightists, anarchists and others

A lot of the activist korero was intercepted in Rangi Kemara’s car. Some of it was about their own activism interests rather than Ngai Tuhoe nationalism. The Wellington activists seemed focused for a time on an impending visit by President George W. Bush and some of the korero was about assassinating him. Apart from the trash talk about catapulting a bus onto him there was a brief conversation about getting a long range sniper rifle. That was pure fantasy. Apart from that the activists didn’t have much to contribute to the intercepted conversations. A few of them were acquiring weapons but there was no korero about any definite plans.

The impression I got was that the activists were a group separate from the Ngai Tuhoe core and were not really part of the Ngai Tuhoe cause.

Analysis of the korero

As someone with a fairly long association with Maori activists, a 20 year career in the Army including active service, and a background in intelligence analysis I found it difficult to know where to start in an analysis of all of this korero. The Operation 8 team had none of that analytical expertise and didn’t even realise that they needed it. As noted earlier they had excluded their Maori experts anyway. My initial reactions on reading through it the first few times went something like this (excuse the language but I did leave out the “f” words):

  • Shit, this is serious stuff, you really were planning some sort of armed action, what were you thinking you lot;
  • Hah! Bullshit and bravado;
  • What a load of trash talk;
  • Here we go, the boring old revolutionary crap chat again;
  • Nah, you don’t seriously think that you lot could pull that off do you;
  • What a bunch of warrior wannabes;
  • Get real. If I were to command even a small force against you I’d take you all out before you could get out of bed, you dumb-arses;
  • Are you guys crazy;
  • You are crazy;
  • Blah blah blah more trash talk;
  • Yeah right!
  • E hika ma, this is just one big fantasy, or maybe a whole lot of fantasies happening together;
  • This is definitely not what it seems. There’s no way at all that they can live up to their trash talk. It needs to be analysed properly.

That sort of describes it. Disbelief. After several readings my impression was also that it was all horribly unfocused; harum scarum stuff, bullshit and bravado. And there was a lingering question in my mind that needed answering and still does, “Were they hyping themselves up, or was it bullshit and bravado for an audience?  Or both”

I am not alone in my scepticism about the police interpretation of all of this korero. At the court hearing into the prosecution of Fairfax Media for contempt of court almost a year later the Solicitor General David Collins tried to explain to the court that some of the korero contained in the leaked and published affidavit was pure fantasy. He was referring specifically to a korero about assassinating President George W. Bush by catapulting a bus onto his head.

It wasn’t analysed at all. It is so unbelievable that in the first instance I would have backed up on the analysis and compiled deeper profiles on the principal actors with the help of competent psychologists and then used the psychologists to help analyse the intercepted korero. I have compiled such a profile on one of the principals and will publish it at a later date to show that it would have had a direct bearing on the outcome of Operation 8.

As an analyst, for me it raised more questions than answers. It is the job of the analyst to ask the questions and to seek answers to those questions. For the police it just provided the answers they were looking for to flesh out their pre-determined and preferred terrorism narrative. That narrative did not of course pass the test and was ruled out by the Solicitor General a few weeks after 15th October 2007. Their alternative criminal group narrative based on the same faulty analysis or lack of analysis fell over in front of a jury about four years later.

Police Commissioner Broad admitted after the paramilitary operation that the police had no evidence of an impending terrorist act. That means that their intelligence operation had not identified from the intercepted korero any plan to conduct general or specific acts of violence, criminality or terrorism. Broad sort of admitted that an 18 month intelligence operation had nothing specific to predict.

Yet he convinced the Prime Minister and Cabinet otherwise and went ahead with his own unbelievable fantasy and unleashed the cowboys in black fancy dress. The mature leadership response and the professional intelligence response would have been to put more effort into finding out exactly what was going on before going off half-cocked, to use a military analogy.

What did the police think they were planning?

The affidavit presented to the District Court on 10th October 2007 to obtain “termination” warrants authorising the paramilitary operation and dozens of search and seizure raids around the country clearly stated two things:

  • that the Police did not have final conclusive evidence to back up their terrorism narrative; and
  • that they “believed” that as a result of their paramilitary operation and other raids they would uncover the evidence they needed.

Nevertheless these are the conclusions reached by the police from their “analysis” of all their “intelligence”.

 “During these training camps the group has undertaken the following training Activities:

  •  Using firearms, including drills with live rounds
  • Conducting ambush exercises
  • Loading and unloading drills with different weapons
  • Posting sentries around the training areas
  • Patrolling drills using military techniques and contact drills
  • Moving around with firearms in the high ready position
  • Simulating ambushing vehicles
  • Counter interrogation training, which included holding guns to participants’ backs
  • Training in the use of Molotov Cocktails”

“The aims of the group has been shown through the following intercepted communications, which I believe shows they ultimately want to secure an independent Tuhoe Nation, as follows;

  • To be legitimately recognised as an independent nation
  • To gain control of the Urewera National Park
  • To remove ‘Pakeha’ people from their farms

“The type of actions the group intends to achieve their aim has been shown through the following intercepted communications, which I believe amounts committing multiple terrorist acts, which have been described as follows;

  • Using modern styles of war like in Iraq with small squads doing their own missions
  • Killing and Confronting Police
  • Going to war for ten years
  • Small groups going out to cause chaos in the name of Tuhoe
  • A strategic bombing campaign
  • Using extreme violence and actions that would divide Aotearoa
  • Urban Warfare
  • Following the tactics of the IRA
  • Fighting based on Guerrilla tactics
  • The same as what happened with the IRA in England
  • Going to war over the issue of water
  • Actions that are sudden and brutal so people would think it was AI Oaeda
  • Killing John KEY after the next election when he is Prime Minister
  • Killing Pakeha
  • Going to war”

“I believe that the above mentioned persons are part of a group of people who have been training in the Tuhoe Forest, Te Manawa o Tuhoe and Ruatoki Blocks of land and surrounding area wearing camouflage clothing and using military style semi-automatic firearms, Molotov Cocktails and they are committing the offences of Participating in a Terrorist Group, Unlawful Possession of Firearms and Unlawful Possession of Restricted Weapons”.

“Information to date suggests that the group intends to use the firearms to take control of an area of land. I believe that this land will most probably be in the Tuhoe area of New Zealand”.

What were they really planning?

In future posts I will look at other possible scenarios based on the same evidence, had the collected and collated information been properly and expertly analysed. Significantly expert analysis would have raised questions about the single minded terrorist narrative, questions that would have required more information and clearer evidence about the intent of the wananga before launching an all-out paramilitary operation by the cowboys in black fancy dress. I will also look at other factors that would have influenced the building of alternative scenarios.

The trail of evidence

This post is concerned with tracking the evidential trail from its beginnings in network analysis and profiling of suspects to the activities and intent of the wananga conducted in the Urewera. The network analysis was straight forward. Better profiling might have saved them some work. Identifying the dates of the wananga and who attended was straight forward. However as the evidential trail gets closer to 15th October 2007 it becomes less evidential and more speculation and belief, although the events the police witnessed and the conversations they overheard were real enough. What was missing was expert analysis and open minds.

The post also serves to demonstrate how police go about collecting evidence in support of their operations, some of their techniques and processes. It might also serve as a case study for activist security although that is not the intention.

Almost all commentary on Operation 8 has assumed, speculated and theorised that the operation was politically motivated or that it had colonial origins, that it was a continuation of coercive policing of Maori from colonial times, or that it was deliberately aimed at Ngai Tuhoe in general and its long running campaign “Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe”. There were many other theories, most of them passionately argued.

The trail of evidence however shows that it started as an operation aimed at a bunch of right wing Pakeha, possibly trying to link Jamie Lockett and his then mate John Murphy into some serious criminal activity involving Kelvyn Alp, Kyle Chapman and Jason Orme. Through his networking activities Taame Iti of Ngai Tuhoe was linked to John Murphy and Jamie Lockett (see previous post). The late Te Miringa Milton Hohaia of Taranaki (Director of the Parihaka Peace Festival) was an early suspect linked to Taame.

The operation remained Auckland focused and for a while included me (Rangitane, Te Whatuiapiti, Kahungunu) as a prime suspect. At the same time as me Auckland based Rangi Kemara of Ngati Maniapoto became a prime suspect (and remained a suspect right through to the 2012 trial). From Taame and Rangi the network of suspects widened and the focus shifted to the Urewera and to the wananga Taame was facilitating and Rangi was attending, and thence to those from the Urewera and from around the country who also attended the wananga. Lockett remained in the network of suspects. Murphy, Alp, Chapman and Orme dropped out of the picture.

That doesn’t quite fit with any of the conspiracy theories. And it doesn’t completely fit with the terrorism narrative the police eventually put together. Nor does all of the evidence they collected and collated.

Links: The Operation 8 Series