Operation 8: An exploration into the possibility space

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.” ― Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

Alternative scenarios and interpretations of the evidence

A variety of different scenarios are usually prepared in order to emphasis the possibility of different alternative futures. By setting up several scenarios, a ‘possibility space’ is created. It is somewhere within this ‘possibility space’ that the future is likely to unfold”.

Quarmby N (2011), Futures work in strategic criminal intelligence, in Ratcliffe, JH (Ed), Strategic thinking in criminal intelligence, 2nd Edition, The Federation Press, NSW.

Intelligence analysis is about predicting the future from past and present information and is rarely about certainty. It is in the realm of probability. And before probability or a probability rating can be applied to scenarios, or predictions of the future, it is an exploration of possibility. Possible conclusions, scenarios and narratives are extracted from the known information or evidence, being always aware that some information is not yet known or might never be known. No one possibility should be preferred over another (i.e. probability) until all are tested and evaluated for that process might itself throw up new insights and certainly new questions. Many analytical tools have been developed to aid in this process.

The human mind does not naturally and easily allow itself to doubt the conclusions it forms in order to instantly create coherence and certainty from ambiguity. Which is why intelligence analysis is both a discipline and an art. The discipline lies in curbing the human tendency to create coherence and certainty, in using analytical tools to focus the mind, and in allowing the art to flourish. The art lies in the lateral thinking that creates the possibility space from the available information. In that process the greater the subject or target knowledge and expertise of the analyst(s) the more realistic, and often broader, the possibility space. Discipline then requires rigorous testing and evaluation of the possibilities to determine probability. Or even to conclude that you don’t know and need to go back and draw up a new intelligence plan with new aims and collection plans.

The Operation 8 intelligence process considered neither possibility nor probablity. It made the giant leap from collection and collation to certainty and from there straight into an armed paramilitary operation against an unarmed and innocent community and against innocent families. There is no evidence in Operation 8 that the police considered any different scenarios other than the one they wanted to believe. There was no “possibility space“; no discipline and no art.

The language of the intelligence analyst is replete with words like “seems”, “appears”, “might”, “maybe” and “possibly”. The language of the Operation 8 team in all of their documentation was “I believe” from even before much relevant information had been collected.

Te Putatara raises these alternative interpretations as possible scenarios based on the evidence presented by the NZ Police to justify Operation 8. I do not claim that one or more of them are definitive interpretations. The definitive interpretation could and probably would have included elements of one or more of these scenarios. But they are all in that ‘possibility space’ and should have been considered, with the expert assistance of Superintendent Haumaha and his team, and other expert analysts including psychologists.

My aim in presenting these scenarios in the “possibility space” is not therefore to determine beyond doubt which of them is the most probable but to show that there were alternative scenarios and that the intelligence operation never quite made it to being an intelligence operation. The evidence is that only one of them was ever considered from early in the operation and before there was any evidence to support that scenario.

Even though the Northern SIG was established as an intelligence unit and claimed it was collecting and analysing intelligence, it did not function as an intelligence unit and did not employ any of the analytical processes, tools and techniques expected of an intelligence unit. Its sole aim was to gain convictions against as many of the suspects as it could by whatever means and under whatever legislation possible. It was an aim that led directly into a great deal of unlawful behaviour by the police including a thoroughly outrageous and reprehensible overreaction in the form of an armed paramilitary operation against innocents.

Scenario 1.

That the participants in the series of wananga in the Urewera were training and preparing for illegal armed political, terrorist and or criminal activity.


The police scenario.

Over the years quite a few fantasists in the Maori activist community have indeed considered the possibility of an armed uprising to achieve their aims, and a few have asked me for my views. I have always replied that such an activity would not only be defeated by the forces of the Government in very short order, it would also set back the Maori cause by generations. Some of my views are online and known to some of the activists.

I have always been adamant that it would certainly be defeated by Maori informants from within even before it started, for the hapu/tribes are all of them very leaky sieves. Maori informants have been in the pay of the SIS and the police for a very long time. And it is most unlikely that any of the tribes would support armed confrontation. We are at heart and despite the rhetoric a very conservative people.

Taame Iti knew all that. He knew that despite its long running grievance and collective sense of frustration and anger, and the rhetoric of Mana Motuhake, Ngai Tuhoe is collectively as conservative as the rest of us, if not more so. One of the frustrations of Ngai Tuhoe activists has been the ultra conservatism of some of the Ngai Tuhoe leadership over many decades. For a time I worked with that conservative leadership. He would have known that armed political and/or criminal activity would not have been countenanced by Ngai Tuhoe as a whole. Without the complete backing of Ngai Tuhoe he would have been on a suicide mission. Was he on a suicide mission?

These are some of the things the Operation 8 team should have known about Ngai Tuhoe but didn’t. They seem to have gleaned their scant knowledge about Ngai Tuhoe and its historic claims from Google Search. Consultation with Superintendent Houmaha and his team would have brought much needed enlightenment to Operation 8.

However, regardless of what I think, a true test of this scenario is whether or not the wananga participants were actually capable of carrying out what they were talking about or whether it was just a fantasy, or perhaps something else.

Scenario 2.

That Taame Iti was planning and rehearsing to mount a production of political or protest theatre in support of the Ngai Tuhoe claim negotiations.


Among many other things Taame Iti is a thespian; an actor. Given his long history of provocative protest theatre in support of his many causes this scenario is always in the possibility space. For example, the theatrical production on the occasion of the arrival of the Waitangi Tribunal at Ngai Tuhoe on January 16th 2005 was a very large production which visibly presented the Tuhoe point of view and part of it eventually provoked an unsuccessful criminal prosecution of Taame Iti by the NZ Police.

This whole scenario then at the series of wananga in the Urewera before October 2007 could actually be seen as preparation for another protest theatre production, or it could have been protest theatre itself . Perhaps.

This scenario might be low in the probability ratings but should not be completely discarded. There is almost always an element or thread of theatricality in all of Taame Iti’s political activities.

Scenario 3.

The wananga in the Urewera may have been designed to deliberately provoke a police response, in order to support the negotiation strategy of the Ngai Tuhoe claim negotiators by invoking solidarity within Ngai Tuhoe, and to remind the Crown of its own blameworthy record on historical grievances raised against it before the Waitangi Tribunal. The Crown’s past activity against Ngai Tuhoe has involved unjustified military aggression and involved the police killing of non combatant Ngai Tuhoe in 1869.


In support of this scenario is the fact that Taame Iti knew that he had been under surveillance for years. He also knew that the wananga and the activities at the wananga were known to media and police. Was he trying to provoke the police, or the government?

There is evidence that from February 2007 Taame knew that the media had received an anonymous letter alleging guerilla preparations. The police’s own evidence shows that Taame Iti was tipped off about their surveillance in June 2007 several months before the 15th October raids, yet he continued to organise the wananga around military style activity. Why?

All or most of the other main suspects knew that they were under police surveillance, so why were they doing whatever they were doing. Why?

This scenario may not be high in the probability ratings but it raises important questions the police didn’t ask. They should have asked them, and looked for answers. One of the aims of an  exploration of the possibility space is to raise new and important questions. Like why were they doing what they were doing, and saying what they were saying, when all of the principal suspects knew they were under surveillance.

Scenario 4.

From the time the Treaty claim negotiations process started the heat has been taken out of Maori activism and support for protest, demonstration and mass action in the pursuit of Maori and Iwi development and political goals has significantly diminished. Taame may have thought it necessary to activate young Ngai Tuhoe to get Ngai Tuhoe youth re-committed to the cause, without ever intending that armed offensive action be undertaken, in the full knowledge anyway that the resources of the State would quash any such action within weeks if not days were he stupidly to have gone down that path.


It is common knowledge in the Maori community that Taame Iti’s activism has always involved the education and motivation of Ngai Tuhoe youth in support of Ngai Tuhoe political objectives. His activism over decades covering many social and political issues have included some education about the Ngai Tuhoe cause. Always.

Scenario 5.

The Ngai Tuhoe negotiation strategy has included a plan to widen the circle of support for the Ngai Tuhoe cause. This was possibly the primary purpose of attendance at the wananga by the political activists from Wellington and elsewhere, aimed at garnering support for Ngai Tuhoe by inviting a wide range of people.


It is unlikely that the political activists (many of them Pakeha) who attended the wananga would ever have participated in an armed uprising. To start with their organisations have long been infiltrated by security and intelligence agencies and they could not be considered reliable co-conspirators. Nor could they be expected to lay down their lives for Ngai Tuhoe. In fact several of them refused to take part in the military games at the wananga.

The use of weaponry in the circumstances may be a side issue as a morale booster for some, in the same way that flag burning can be a morale booster for others. It fires up the activist passion and commits them to the cause. Maybe.

Scenario 6.

The military-like activity may have been undertaken primarily to train young men (and women) for employment by private military contractors and operators in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.


At the time of Operation 8 I was aware that a Maori contractor was recruiting people to work for him on a possible contract in Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa. That prospect would attract young Maori dreaming of highly paid employment and adventure, and might cause them to seek training from a former soldier such as the late Mr Tuhoe Lambert.

Mr Lambert, as has been widely reported, had been an infantry soldier in Victor 5 Company in Vietnam. However he also had some experience as an operator with a private military contractor (in Africa I believe) for a short time immediately after his Vietnam service, and would therefore have some expertise in that specialist field.

Evidence was produced at the trial of the Urewera 4 by a participant at the October 2007 wananga that he was a military contractor specialising in personal and convoy protection, and that he was indeed demonstrating the techniques of his trade. He also commented that none of the people at the wananga met the minimum standards required.

Scenario 7.

The activity of a military nature may have been simply game playing or role playing , or even out of control fantasy.


The element of fantasy could have been a component of any or all of the above scenarios, or a combination of them

Following the Vietnam conflict the military became a pariah in NZ society, and Vietnam veterans were often reviled. However in recent years war veterans have noticed that soldiers are now held in quite high esteem. Veterans have also noticed that many males in society now envy those of us who wear campaign medals, as though we have passed through some process of initiation by fire, not now available to most.

At the same time ANZAC Day is being observed by more and more young people, and the legend of the ANZACS is re-writing itself into the psyche of  society. This could have led to the acting out of a fantasy centred on military type training.

And the alleged military training at the wananga in the Urewera could just have been realistic war games.

Adults now participate in significant numbers in such game playing and role playing. There are gun clubs, deerstalking clubs, military battle re-enactment clubs, paintball competitions and the like. Out in the country the youth still love to shoot, and with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in progress, to act out war game fantasies.

From the variety of activities available it seems that adults too are acting out their war game fantasies. Perhaps.

Scenario 8

In the slow progress of the Ngai Tuhoe settlement process there was a build up of frustration and anger, over and above the background anger and resentment that has persisted for generations. An outbreak of violence would have been detrimental to the Ngai Tuhoe cause and negotiations. Perhaps Taame Iti took it upon himself to divert and contain that negative energy by including military type training in his wananga knowing that the disaffected would be attracted and their energies contained and diverted.


If that is the case it is improbable that he ever intended to unleash it. See Scenario 1. What would have been essential in the Tuhoe negotiations was to give the negotiators all the time they needed to get the negotiations on track and followed through to a successful conclusion. And that is what happened. Whether or not the military training was part of that strategy could have been determined by asking.

An Assessment of Scenarios

In the first place the relative likelihood of the above scenarios could have been simply determined by asking. Superintendent Houmaha or any of his iwi liaison officers could have done that at any time. Negotiator Tamati Kruger would certainly have been happy to assist. The police however sidelined Houmaha and headed down the 007 James Bond track.

I personally think there was an element of Scenario 7 at play; the play acting scenario. The Walter Mitty scenario if you like. That was my initial reaction and after some reflection and evaluation I think there was an element of fantasy perhaps combined with other aims. From the viewpoint of a former military professional Scenario 6, the military contractor scenario in the October 2007 wananga, was definitely a Walter Mitty scenario. It may not have seemed that way to the participants if some of them thought it was an employment opportunity. However the demonstration of techniques was real. The likelihood of any of them going on to a career in military contracting was not.

I am entirely unconvinced by the police’s preferred Scenario 1; the armed uprising but I will look at it in more detail below.

It is unlikely that Taame Iti ever thought that he could mount a successful armed offensive. He didn’t have the right type of people, fighters rather than activists, and he didn’t have the logistic resources. He also knew that he himself was under surveillance and had been for years.

Despite police allegations that the training was conducted in remote bush locations some of it took place within Ruatoki within sight of Iti’s home. From the orientation of the cameras the police video evidence purported to show that it was in a remote bush location. It was not as secretive as the police made it out to be. That lack of secrecy would have to be factored into an assessment of the above scenarios.

Many people, including Te Putatara, knew that some military type activity was taking place as part of the wananga. No-one other than the Pakeha police was concerned. It may be that some of the police iwi liaison officers knew and were equally unconcerned.

Re Scenario 2, I always look forward to Taame Iti’s theatrical protest productions for they are always provocative, invariably entertaining and often humorous. And scary too if you are ignorant, racist and paranoid.

Scenario 3 designed to deliberately provoke a police response in unlikely for it might have been counter-productive. As it turned out it did provoke a massive response which in the end probably helped the Ngai Tuhoe negotiations towards a successful conclusion. So it cannot be ruled out entirely. There may have been some element of Scenario 3 at play but with a less deliberate, and a more “Up yours Mr Pirihimana” intent.

It doesn’t really matter which of these scenarios was the most likely. What matters is that the police had tunnel vision and didn’t consider any alternative scenarios. I personally think that there were probably elements of many of them at play, and that Scenario 8 would be a strong contender.

However as an intelligence analyst I would have looked for evidence to confirm or eliminate all of them and to determine likelihood or probability. The police didn’t.

After the exploration of the possibility space an exploration of the offensive capacity of the suspects

The Crown alleged that the four finally accused of participation in an organised criminal group were the ringleaders of the wananga (camps), which they said were designed to train people to fight for the self-governance of the Tuhoe region. Over time that changed as the police changed their story from an act or acts of terrorism, to murder and arson. But the initial assessment that justified the 15th October paramilitary operation was that they were planning an act or acts of terrorism.

Even if Scenario 1, the police scenario, came out of an anaysis as the most probable it would still need to be evalusted in detail. However at no time during Operation 8 or during the trial did anyone put that assertion to the test of probability.

What was the actual capacity and capability of the group under surveillance to carry out the criminal or other activities it is alleged they were planning. Was their war korero based in actual capability or was it fantasy, bullshit and bravado, or something else.

The security forces against which the group would be opposed

The first part of this analysis would be an assessment of the forces of the New Zealand state that would be arrayed against any armed Ngai Tuhoe group. They would fall into two categories; 1) the NZ Police, and 2) the NZ Armed Forces if called upon to give aid to the civil power.

The NZ Police could call upon the Special Tactics Group and the Armed Offenders Squads, perhaps 200 armed paramilitary officers. They would also deploy more police officers to provide command and control, intelligence, communications, cordons, and other support; perhaps another 500 officers.

The NZ Armed Forces would provide logistic support and helicopter transport in the first instance. If called upon to field combat troops they could readily deploy a 1200-man battle group consisting of an infantry battalion, an SAS squadron, supporting arms and logistic services, helicopter support and aerial surveillance assets. The aerial surveillance assets would locate and pinpoint any hostiles holed up in the bush very quickly.

The leadership of any planned uprising would surely consider what opposition it might encounter.

Number of participants

There was no analysis of the number of people that would be required to launch the alleged planned terrorist or criminal activities, and the number that would be required to combat the weight of the security forces, or at least to evade or resist their operations. If the armed insurrection moved to the cities they would need to have a network of safe houses looked after by trusted sympathisers.

How many people would be needed, including reinforcements to replace the inevitable casualties? Were there plans and equipment and facilities and funding in place to train that many people? Where would they be trained beyond the surveillance of the NZ Police?

Supply of weapons and other military equipment

The NZ Police have produced evidence showing that there were a few weapons and other equipment that could be construed as warlike. But there is no analysis of exactly what quantity and type of weaponry and other equipment might be needed to mount the alleged  activities. There is no analysis as to the likely source of that quantity and type of weaponry and warlike equipment. Where was the explosive for the bombing campaign coming from?

Given that the weapons and other equipment are said by the NZ Police to have been sourced from Trade Me and legitimate arms and other suppliers do the police contend that these sources could also provide the quantity and type of weaponry required for the alleged terrorist or criminal activities, particularly the takeover and occupation of Ngai Tuhoe traditional lands.

Have the NZ Police produced any evidence that the weaponry and equipment could be acquired by smuggling from offshore sources, or from the criminal gangs, or by theft from the military and from gun collectors?

Source of funding

There was no analysis to estimate what funding would be required to mount and sustain the alleged planned activities.

Is there any evidence that the group had access to the money needed to mount and sustain the alleged activities; whether from offshore or onshore sources? All of my evidence suggests that they were all skint. They had no money.

Logistic support

There was no analysis of the logistic support required to mount the alleged planned activities.

How was the group planning to provide food and shelter, clothing and equipment, transport and petrol, secure communications, safe houses, medical support, and ammunition resupply?

Fitness to fight

There was no analysis of the health and fitness of the participants in the alleged planned terrorist or criminal activities to indicate whether they were physically capable of those activities.

It appears from the NZ Police evidence that many of the leaders of the group were overweight and some were known to be diabetic and to have cardiac weakness, especially the alleged ringleaders.

Support from Ngai Tuhoe

Was there any robust analysis of what support any sort of armed insurrection within the Urewera area would have actually had from the majority of Ngai Tuhoe people. And whether or not there were Ngai Tuhoe people who would spill the beans to the police iwi liaison network.

Nothing, absolutely nothing

There was none of that analysis. No military specialists were brought in to advise them. It might have made the police think again. And that’s not what they wanted.

Was there an overall purpose to the wananga in the Urewera?

From the moment the police found out about the wananga they assumed that there was a strategy behind it, an overall purpose revolving around the revolutionary trash talk and the war games. I made the same assumption although unlike the police I kept an open mind about what that purpose might be. Maybe that key assumption was way off track. Maybe we were all wrong about that.

What if there was no purpose to it. What if the wananga was just an organic, evolving thing that embraced whatever the participants brought to the wananga. What if Taame Iti was just the facilitator for other people’s concerns and fantasies rather than the Che Guevara of Ngai Tuhoe.

What was Taame Iti’s usual method of operating? So now we need to back right up and compile a complete profile on Taame Iti. I’m not going to do it here but it should have been done properly, not by a bunch of Pakeha cops Googling the Web and searching through court records, but by informed and knowledgeable Maori with access to informed sources. For starters they could have looked at the principles that have guided not just his activism but also his family and community life. They would have discovered in addition to his Ngai Tuhoe nationalism and activism a strong sense of social justice, and a long history of community service out of the public eye including as a union worker and a mental health worker.

They would have discovered that there does not seem to be a great deal of deliberate strategy and planning behind his long running activism but more protest and demonstration around events as they unfold, always governed by his sense of social justice and his dedication to the Ngai Tuhoe cause. Others like Tamati Kruger are the ones who strategise and plan for Ngai Tuhoe. Prior to that the ultra-conservative Tuhoe-Waikaremoana Maori Trust Board held sway.

So if they’d looked closer at Taame Iti they might have discovered lots of ideas but no grand strategies. The principle at work here is “know thy enemy” rather than some tired old stereotype you think you know. That’s why Maori cops were needed on the job. The Taame Iti they know is a totally different person to the tired old stereotype the Pakeha cops think they know.

My investigations suggest that Taame Iti didn’t start those wananga himself and that they had been going for a while before he inherited them. What Taame seems to have done is to invite others from outside Ngai Tuhoe who in turn brought others. Looking through the lists of suspects, most of whom were not charged with anything, I recognise the names of activists who were not directly connected to Taame but were in the networks of others that he brought into the wananga.

So let’s consider another scenario. The wananga were proceeding as they had for years. Then Rangi Kemara was invited and brought his hobby of collecting firearms and other military equipment. It’s called militaria and there’s a whole community of militaria collectors out there. They have their own website. Many of them are involved in various forms of war games as part of their hobby. Tuhoe Lambert brought his experiences as a soldier and a few other attributes I will explore in a profile of him in a later post. His war games were based in the reality he knew in Vietnam. Jamie Lockett was invited and brought his obsession with the police and his bullshit and bravado and not much else.

The activists from Wellington and elsewhere brought their causes. The hot cause that united most of them at the time was the descent into a police state after 9/11, or so it seemed to them and to many others. Conveniently George W. Bush was in Australia in September 2007 and was the target of much of their ire.

The cause of the moment in the Urewera was the Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe and the claim and settlement process. These things all came together accompanied by a solid dose of wishful thinking, some trash talk, bullshit and bravado and merged and evolved into what seemed to be a conspiracy against the state. But was it?

There you go. That’s another scenario based on a different key assumption; that there was no purpose to it all. Mix that one up with elements of some of the eight scenarios above and you might get somewhere closer to the truth. And it won’t be a clean and tidy scenario with a clear cut purpose. It will be an experience without an end in sight, something like a performance in improvised theatre; making it up as it went along. That sounds more like the Taame Iti I know.

Are you any the wiser? Of course you’re not. But would you, in October 2007, have been so sure of your facts that you would have launched the cowboys in black fancy dress into an armed paramilitary operation against the whole community of Ruatoki?

Based on the evidence the police had collected by then I would have sent the local cop down the road to find out what was really going on and to tell Taame to pull his head in because he was making the Pakeha boys in blue a bit over excited. If Superintendent Wally Haumaha had not been deliberately excluded he could have told the Pakeha cops to cool it while he found out what was really going on.

Because no one knew what was going on. A few cops thought they knew. That’s what the evidence shows.

Here’s an intriguing thought. Maybe the police didn’t want to explore that far into the possibility space because they didn’t believe their own terrorism narrative anyway. That would raise some seriously embarrassing questions about why they launched the paramilitary operation, and why Helen Clark and her Cabinet condoned it and tried to justify it.. Best be seen to be dishonest and incompetent.

Links: The Operation 8 Series