Operation 8: The Probability Space – Part 1

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

The Conundrum – they knew they were under surveillance and the Police knew they knew ….

In a previous post, “An exploration into the possibility space”, I ventured a number of different scenarios that could have been inferred from the information the Police collected in their Operation 8 surveillance and intelligence collection activities over the 18 months prior to the paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007. Those scenarios were the Possibility Space. The Police only ever considered one of those scenarios; that is planning and training for terrorism.

In this post I begin to explore into the Probability Space. That exploration is an assessment of the probable intentions behind the activity that the Police were watching in the Urewera, based primarily on the Police’s own evidence.

An exploration into the “Probability Space” can be likened to the hugely influential proposal by the philosopher of science Karl Popper that the job of scientists is to go through the list of all possible theories and to eliminate as many as possible, or, as Popper said, to “falsify” them.

Had Police Intelligence been competent and professional they would have entered into this exploration themselves. They would have set out to verify the assumptions they were making. That would certainly have led them to seek out further information because they definitely did not know what was really going on and jumped directly to the conclusions they did, causing them to prematurely mount an extraordinary paramilitary operation during which they locked down an entire rural community.

I am aware that Intelligence professionals have also observed that the Police did not seek to verify their assumptions and conclusions, violating one of the key principles of Intelligence analysis.

In an earlier post I have written that the profiles the Police built on their suspects were shallow and in the case of Taame Iti based at least partly on a stereotypical caricature of the man. I show below that a deeper profile might have caused them to probe much deeper than they did.

I begin this exploration of mine with the Police assumption that the wananga in the Urewera was masking covert or secret preparations for war or revolution as a Plan B to be implemented if Plan A, the formal negotiations between Ngai Tuhoe and the Crown, was unsuccessful.

The whole of the Police and Prosecution allegation and evidence assumed that what was going on at the wananga in the Urewera (the “Rama”) was covert, and that the participants were secretly planning and training for some unlawful activity. In the first instance it was alleged to be terrorism activity, and after the Solicitor General declined to allow terrorism charges to be laid they alleged that it was criminal group activity. The criminal group charge against four defendants eventually went to court in February 2012.

The problem with that assumption was that at least some of the group, and certainly its leaders, knew that they were under surveillance.

Taame Iti has known that he has been under surveillance since the 1970s at least. As a former member of the Communist Party he was under surveillance by NZSIS, and as a political activist from then until the present he has variously been watched by NZ Police and NZSIS. Everyone knew that. In the 1990s he actually uncovered a person quite close to him who was receiving regular payments from the Police to inform on him. When confronted that person admitted that he was a Police spy. Taame knew from long experience that if he needed to keep something secret he had to be very careful about who he confided in.

During the period of these wananga and the Police intelligence operation he was fighting off charges resulting from his shooting a flag on the marae. In relation to that incident alone he knew he was being watched by the Police.

Another of the main Police suspects was Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara. He had been under Police surveillance since at least 2004 and he and I both knew it. At about the time of the seabed and foreshore hikoi to Parliament in 2004 the National Party website was defaced. The Police seized his computer and tried to prove that Kemara was responsible but found no evidence. Nevertheless he knew that they continued to keep him under surveillance, confirmed by at least one source in the IT industry. He worked for me as my IT manager and we discussed the matter a few times between 2004 and 2007. There were telltale signs of at least occasional surveillance.

He and I also knew from our contacts within the IT industry that from at least 2004 Police were conducting Intelligence operations against a number of Maori organisations and individuals, specifically targeting their computers and electronic communications. This activity was later to be revealed in the media as Operation Leaf but it was wrongly attributed to the NZSIS instead of to the new Police Counter Terrorist Intelligence apparatus that had targeted a wide range of political activism.

Now here’s an important part of the conundrum.

In his early years as a political activist Taame Iti was a member of the Communist Party and was trained by the Communist Party. He went to China, one of five Maori, as part of a Communist Party delegation in 1972. He said to me that he, “Was a spook just like you”. One of his jobs was to build networks of influence and information, to know who could be relied on for support and who not to trust. After being formed the Communist Party took a few decades to sort out its personal and information security but by the time Taame became a member security was a primary concern. Taame was trained to protect information and activity from prying eyes.

An informant from those times told me, “I taught Taame that confidential messages were only to be delivered by word of mouth in person. I once took him with me and we drove all the way to a house in Auckland, went inside for no more than five minutes to deliver the message, and drove all the way back again“.

So if he were planning and training for secret terrorist or criminal acts in the two years prior to the Operation 8 Police paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007 why would he be so lax in his security to allow the Police to so easily conduct the surveillance they did? And why would his security be so lax for such a long period particularly after he received positive confirmation that the Police were watching the wananga in the Urewera?

There was no effective security around those wananga:

  • Their communications were mostly by mobile phone, usually by text messages, and a great deal of the police “intelligence” was in the form of text messages obtained under warrant from the telcos. There was an unsuccessful attempt to get participants to communicate through an encrypted chat room called “AoCafe” but few seemed enthusiastic. The Police unsuccessfully tried to obtain those chat room exchanges. The wananga leaders knew that their communications were insecure and the Police intercepts show that the Police knew they knew, or should have known.
  • There were people travelling from all over the North Island to those monthly wananga. There is no evidence to show that any of them were “vetted” for security, or that any attempt was made to conceal that travel. The police evidence indicated that anyone and everyone (almost) was welcome. That showed clearly that the wananga were not covert at all.
  • A number of activists including peace campaigners, environmentalists, animal rightists, anarchists and the like, Maori and Pakeha, were invited and did attend. All or most of them were widely known to be under surveillance already. Yet they were welcomed.

Now, if I were training a terrorist or criminal group there is absolutely no way that I would have opened up the training to such a broad group of activists, and there is no way I would have had my group converging on the Urewera from all over the North Island on a regular monthly basis. You would have to believe that Taame Iti was completely stupid to be so lax about his security. And Taame is certainly not stupid, despite what the Police may have believed.

In addition to all that Taame was tipped off a number of times that there was media speculation about the wananga and Police interest and surveillance of the wananga:

  • On 21 December 2006 in an exchange of text messages Tuhoe Lambert told him that the Police had raided his place that morning, “Looking for guns bro“.  He wrote, “Da wankas no evidence just search an fuck off“. The Police intercepted that conversation.
  • On 10 January 2007 an intercepted conversation between Jamie Lockett and an unknown person showed that he was well aware that he was under surveillance and that an informant was talking to Police Intelligence about him.
  • On 27 February 2007 Taame was told in a phone call from an “Irene” that the media were asking questions about the wananga. The Police intercepted that call.
  • On 28 February 2007 he had a long telephone conversation with Melanie Reid of the Sunday Star Times. She told him the SST had received an anonymous one line note alleging terrorism activity in the Urewera. The Police intercepted that call.
  • By March or April 2007 the identity of the Auckland informant was known to Lockett and Kemara, and it was known that the informant had from about September or October 2006 been feeding Detective Sergeant Pascoe hearsay information about terrorism training in the Urewera. Taame Iti was told about this informant. The Police became aware that this informant had been uncovered and took him to a safe place.
  • On 9th April 2007 Tuhoe Lambert and Rangi Kemara had a conversation in which they mentioned that the media knew about the wananga. The Police intercepted that conversation.
  • On 3rd June 2007 a contact alerted Taame in several text messages that the activities in the Urewera were the subject of a conversation at Police HQ in Wellington. The Police intercepted those messages.
  • On 23rd June 2007 resistance to interrogation training was conducted at a wananga. The Police audio intercepted much of that training.
  • An interesting transcription of that audio intercept was a long passage during which Taame interrogated Jamie Lockett. He accused Lockett of talking about the wananga, and of informing the Police. The Police interpreted that as “training” but having read the transcription several times, and coming so close after being told about Police interest, I’m not sure that it was “training”. Taame could well have been interrogating him for real.
  • Because on 23rd June 2007 at the same wananga Taame told the group that someone had been talking. The Police intercepted that as well but they interpreted it as a “claim” to know that someone was talking. But they should have known that he DID know because they had the intercepts.
  • On 26th June 2007 the Police became aware from an intercept that Taame had at least part time been monitoring Police radio communications.
  • On 10th September 2007 one of the participants objected to the attendance of someone else on the basis that they had already been tipped off about an intention to put a “nark” into the group. The Police intercepted that comment.
  • On 14th September 2007 the Police intercepted a telephone conversation between Taame Iti and his partner Maria Steen. It was as plain as day from the transcript that they both knew that their telephone was being intercepted.
  • And finally, about a week or so before the paramilitary operation one of the targets who knew his car was bugged “nutted out” in his car and let the eavesdroppers know exactly what he thought of them. He called them some quite salty names. That was never shown in any of the Police evidence.

All of that except the third and last incidents was culled from the Police evidence.

I have also established from my own inquiries that Taame Iti was told about Operation 8 via a very reliable source with access to inside information a few months before the paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007.

So there’s the conundrum about the Police interpretation of the information they had:

  • Taame Iti knew he was always under surveillance;
  • Taame had been trained in personal and information security by the Communist Party;
  • The diversity of people he invited to the wananga made it totally insecure;
  • Their communications were insecure and they knew it;
  • They knew the media and the Police knew about the wananga;
  • They knew they were under surveillance.
  • Yet they continued to train for terrorist or criminal activity despite all of that;
  • And despite that they didn’t make any effort to step up their security;
  • Really?

And the Police thought that it was covert or secret activity. Superficially it might have looked as though it was but professional intelligence analysts would surely have been just a bit sceptical. But there were no professional analysts on the job were there.

It is entirely likely that all of the above just didn’t register with the analysts because they were so intent on building their own narrative that anything that detracted from that narrative was simply ignored. The way the human mind works it is possible that they just didn’t notice it because the mind discards anything and everything that doesn’t fit the pattern it builds to make sense of a deluge of information. Professional analysts know that and are careful not to fall into that cognitive trap.

Perhaps the Police finally realised  by about the end of September that Taame and others knew they were being watched. And they certainly would have known after the “nutting out” episode. Was that why they prematurely launched a massive search, seizure, arrest, detention and lockdown operation? Long before they had conclusive evidence to prove their case for terrorism. They didn’t need to for Commissioner Broad himself admitted that they had no evidence of any immanent plans by the group.

Did they panic? And go off half-cocked?

Links: The Operation 8 Series