Was there a Plan B for an armed uprising or revolution in the Urewera?
“One of their ways of furthering the interests of themselves and the Tuhoe people was at the point of a gun, and that is what they were planning, preparing and training for”.
Thus stated the Crown in its prosecution of Taame Iti and his co-accused. That was the whole thrust of its eighteen month “Intelligence” operation in 2006 and 2007, the raison d’être for the paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007, and for its four and a half year pursuit of the accused through the courts.
Plan A was said to be the peaceful Ngai Tuhoe negotiations towards a settlement of their grievances. Plan B was alleged by the Police to be an armed revolution or uprising or similar armed action if Plan A failed. Was it really? In any case the Police themselves did launch their version of a Plan B; the armed paramilitary operation against Ruatoki and Ngai Tuhoe, which was such an egregious disaster of boneheaded proportions that it did indeed help Tuhoe along the way to finally gaining a settlement agreement and a formal apology for the conduct of the Crown towards Ngai Tuhoe. It was another example of that conduct in a long list of transgressions against natural justice beginning in 1865.
In the interests of goodwill and in their new found respect for each other both the Crown and Ngai Tuhoe will distance themselves from that assertion. But I sincerely doubt that Tuhoe would have gained as much as they have as soon as they have without the Police’s accidental intervention on their behalf. Not forgetting of course that Prime Minister Helen Clark authorised that boneheaded accidental intervention.
Not even the alleged revolutionary mastermind Taame Iti could have strategized and orchestrated that eventual outcome of his wananga in the Urewera. And anyway I always lean towards the “cock up” interpretation of history rather than conspiracy.
So what was he up to? Did he really plan for armed revolution, or even a mini-revolution? Was there really a Plan B?
Most of the evidence could have been interpreted that way and the Police and prosecution did indeed reach for that interpretation. But they did not analyse and verify their assumptions and conclusions. They remained assumptions and conclusions and assertions of intent. In this series I have been showing firstly how their “Intelligence” process was deeply flawed in relation to standards and practices long established by the Intelligence profession and the New Zealand Intelligence Community, and secondly how their assumptions, conclusions and assertions were deeply flawed, or at least highly questionable.
I have shown in “The Probability Space – Part 1” that Taame and some of his co-accused knew that they were under surveillance and that under those circumstances it was unlikely that they were really planning armed action. In “The Probability Space – Part 2” I showed that the crucial video footage, described by the prosecution as its “most compelling evidence” was not compelling at all and had been wrongly interpreted by the police and prosecution. “The Probability Space – Part 3” then provided essential background on the relationship of Ngai Tuhoe to their firearms, a relationship that should have been known to the Operation 8 “analysts” but wasn’t.
Nevertheless there was a great deal of intercepted audio evidence that even I, in my disbelief, do label “war korero”. And I can see why the Police, without the benefit of professional Intelligence analysts and without the benefit of their most knowledgeable Maori experts, would have reached the conclusions they did. I have read through transcripts of that audio intercept dozens of times and there is no doubt that an awful lot of it was war korero. And an awful lot of it was from the alleged leaders – Taame Iti, Rangi Kemara and the late Tuhoe Lambert.
So I backed up and asked myself who could have successfully planned and organised an armed uprising or revolution, as opposed to just talking about it. Was it Taame Iti as the Police alleged?
That mastermind would among other things:
- Be Maori, preferably but not necessarily Ngai Tuhoe;
- Have a strong sense of the injustice of the treatment of Ngai Tuhoe by the Crown for over 100 years;
- And a commitment to righting the wrongs of the colonial period;
- Have a strong military or similar background;
- Be strategically and tactically astute;
- Be administratively and logistically astute;
- Be expert in personal, physical and communications security;
- Be capable of establishing information gathering and intelligence operations, including infiltrating the Police, armed forces, government departments and political parties;
- Have access to funding, weapons and ammunition;
- Be someone totally off the law enforcement, security and intelligence radar;
- Have nevertheless strong connections into the activist community;
- Have strong connections into a pool of trained former military people;
- And preferably strong connections into the Establishment.
- Be healthy and strong; physically and mentally.
It would take at least ten years of extraordinarily secret covert action. And even then, having evaded Police, Intelligence and Security detection, the people most likely to stop it in its tracks would be Ngai Tuhoe themselves. For all their activism they’re a very conservative and law abiding lot. So that planning and organising would have to be kept secret from most of Ngai Tuhoe. It would be organised in Auckland and Wellington rather than in the Urewera out in the middle of nowhere.
“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea“. – Mao Zedong.
That was quoted to me by my former Communist Party informant when explaining to me that they always knew that their activity had to centred in Auckland and Wellington; hidden amongst the people not the trees.
I know (and know of) a lot of people in Te Ao Maori and I reached a startling conclusion. I myself am one of the very few people who might even begin to approach that description. And I’m no Maori “Che Guevara”. Although the Police did take a very close look at me for some months in 2006. And my favourite headwear is my black pure wool French beret.
But here’s the thing. Taame Iti doesn’t come anywhere near that description. And he’s no Maori “Che Guevara” either.
Taame and the late Syd Jackson are the two most prominent Maori upon whom the mantle of revolutionary leader has been laid since the 1960s, both of them in public perception at the forefront of the struggle for Maori independence. There have been many others, including many dedicated Maori women, but those two are the ones who have most worn the expectations of wannabe revolutionaries. There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those revolutionary wannabes.
A few of them once asked me to train them in guerrilla warfare. I refused of course.
But Syd was not a revolutionary and Taame is not a revolutionary. Activists, radical activists, radical Maori activists, protesters, publicists and spin doctors for the cause, and a hundred other labels; but not revolutionaries.
Che Guevara was a real revolutionary. He abhorred the injustice he witnessed in South America, he talked about revolution, he wrote about revolution, he went to war, and he died young; he was tracked down by the CIA and executed by the Bolivians at the age of 39.
I put it straight to Taame Iti, “You’re no revolutionary; you’re not the Maori Che Guevara Taame”.
He came straight back at me, “Revolutionaries die. I’ve never wanted to end up dead!”
My former Communist Party informant who in the 1970s worked with Taame on union issues, predominantly workplace safety issues, and on the many Maori activist campaigns of the time including the 1975 Land March told me of the revolutionary korero of those times. There were many hotheads both in the Party and in the general activist community who agitated for revolution including violent armed revolution. However the leaders including my informant kept a lid on it and defused the revolutionary korero whenever it broke out. They were well aware that revolution would be totally counter productive and would result only in the death or imprisonment of the revolutionaries themselves and in no political gain whatsoever. I’m told that Taame Iti also adhered to that whakaaro.
And so I believe Taame Iti when he says he’s never been a revolutionary. Nothing about Taame has even remotely suggested that he would go that far. Talking the talk is one thing, and he talks the talk; through korero, through protest, demonstration, protest theatre, and through his art. Some of that korero sure puts the wind up the Pakeha, and maybe some Maori too. It’s meant to.
In my experience immersed for years in the “tino rangatiratanga” environment and assailed on all sides by the war korero, the korero of revolution, a hell of a lot of Maori actually believed that korero.
But walking the walk into war and into almost certain death is something else again. It takes more than naïve belief. And at its head is a real revolutionary leader. Te Kooti springs to mind.
From the day I was born until the day he died my godfather called me “Te Kooti”. I’m afraid I never fulfilled the expectation. Except with the pen.
So what was the war korero about? What were Taame and Rangi and Tuhoe and some others going on about?
You can see how I’ve approached this conundrum. Instead of taking it at face value, I’ve backed off, looked at the big picture and looked at the context. Now I’ll go back and try to make some sense of it within that context. That’s how real Intelligence analysts are supposed to work. Wannabe analysts make assumptions and jump to conclusions.
Those assumptions and conclusions were what drove the Police ever onwards and into their armed paramilitary operation. I’ve read my way through all of the affidavits they filed on a monthly basis to obtain search and surveillance warrants. The war korero is the single most used justification for obtaining warrants from the District Court.
Based on my own experience over the decades I would say that many of the people who attended the wananga in the Urewera, whether on a regular or irregular basis, probably did believe that they were part of a revolutionary movement. Some of the intercepted korero clearly shows that. But that naïve belief doesn’t make it so. It never has – not in the forty or so years that I’ve been listening to it. On the other hand some of the intercepts show that some of them didn’t take it all that seriously.
Based on my own experience over the decades I would say that the war korero in the Urewera was meant to motivate and invigorate activism rather than to start a war. That’s how it’s always been. The Pakeha have a name for it – hyperbole, or exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. Bullshit and bluster is an unkind way of saying it. It winds up the Pakeha though.
Remember all the activist rhetoric from the 1960s and 1970s? These days and post 9/11 that korero would have them thrown into prison. New Zealand society has become a lot less tolerant and a lot more paranoid. But in the 1960s and 1970s that sort of korero, verging on the extreme, did serve to rally the troops to the cause, to turn them out to protest and demonstrate, to get in the face of the Establishment and often in the faces of the Police.
I remember well in the 1990s a protest and demonstration on Lambton Quay outside the Maori Affairs office. Wira Gardiner was CEO at the time. Some idiot had burnt some tires symbolising a “South African Necklace” killing. It was a gross overstatement of their grievance and could have been taken as a serious threat to kill. One of the leaders of the protest, not involved in the necklace incident, asked me to intervene with Wira to get him to speak to a delegation. So I went upstairs, found him more than mildly outraged, and talked him into meeting with her and a small delegation. As a commissioned officer and Vietnam veteran Wira was personally offended and insulted, and rightly so. But he got over it and talked with them. The incident was just incredibly stupid.
That was indeed extreme but sometimes it would take a lot of rhetoric and encouragement to get people out in their hundreds and thousands to take on the Authority, and every now and then it would be taken to extremes. They were different times. We didn’t have terrorism legislation then; ipso facto, we didn’t have terrorism either.
Was there any Plan B?
No, I don’t think there was. Not a coherent, defined, ready-to-roll Plan B. Not even a nearly ready-to-roll Plan B.
We have first of all to remember that Taame was always in close contact with Tamati Kruger, the primary Tuhoe negotiator, and that Taame would have done nothing to jeopardise those negotiations. In fact Taame was not at all an entirely free agent within Ngai Tuhoe and there is ample evidence that he did indeed listen to and heed the wishes of tribal leaders. It is on public record that he was taken to task within Tuhoe after his infamous flag shooting episode and agreed to abide by rules concerning the use of firearms.
Taame Iti told me that he had hoped to come up with something “a lot cleverer” than the alleged Police Plan B if the negotiations with the Crown had fallen over. And after interviewing and talking to a number of the participants in those wananga in the Urewera it’s very clear that none of them knew of any Plan B either.
In fact the distinct impression I get is that none of them, including those closest to Taame, really understood the overall strategic purpose of the wananga or even if there was an overall strategic purpose. Other than of course the ongoing kaupapa to maintain support inside and outside Ngai Tuhoe for their continuing struggle to regain some sort of autonomy for Tuhoe.
In fact when they finally found out about one of Taame’s ideas very late in the piece, to try to gain employment in the private military contract (PMC) industry for some of Tuhoe’s unemployed, almost all of them were taken by surprise. Some of them were actually offended by that turn of events and withdrew to another area during the October 2007 PMC training.
So I think that the series of wananga had a somewhat organic kaupapa. It sort of accommodated some of what the participants wanted to do, and incorporated new things as Taame met new people who had something to contribute, and other new things as Taame came upon new ideas. In that sense they reflected the mind of Taame Iti; the questing creative mind of the artist rather than the totally focused mind of the strategic revolutionary. It is much more accurate to think of the series of “Rama” or wananga in the Urewera as a canvas upon which Taame Iti and others were in the process of creating an ever-changing work of art.
Take a trip to Taame’s art gallery in Taneatua to see what I mean.
Building support for possible protest and demonstration?
Remember that in 2006 and 2007 Helen Clark was still Prime Minister and she had told Ngai Tuhoe she would not negotiate over the return of the Urewera. And that the return of the whenua was the bottom line for Tuhoe.
If those negotiations had been canned because of her intransigence would Taame Iti have mobilised Tuhoe activists and as many supporters as he could to march on Parliament, set up a Tuhoe tent embassy there, protest and demonstrate for as long as it took. His strategy is always to stand on his ladder, look the Crown in the eye, and keep in the Crown’s face until it enters into meaningful conversation. It has worked for Maori for forty years now.
Would all of those who marched on Parliament in 2004 to protest Helen Clark’s seabed and foreshore legislation have been turned out as well. Was he preparing the way for that sort of activism? Was he reaching out to and motivating a new generation. To pass the baton. The old generation was getting rusty.
I haven’t found any evidence to suggest that this sort of Plan B was shared by the wananga participants, or even in the back of Taame’s mind, but it was always a possibility.
Now, I would have suggested to him that if the negoatiations failed he should organise a huge pageantry production; a mock ceremony at which Ngai Tuhoe formally seceeded from New Zealand, complete with a ceremonial guard just like the military guard of honour for the Governor General at the opening of parliament.
Was he keeping a lid on the rhetoric of a bunch of hotheads?
Remember that in his Communist Party days Taame saw how CP leaders defused the revolutionary rhetoric of the hotheads. Perhaps that was part of the kaupapa of the wananga? To keep some of the hotheads contained.
One of the intriguing things to emerge from my scrutiny of the Police evidence is the obvious fact that the Police really had no idea how many people attended the wananga and who they all were. They had a good idea who was travelling from the main centres such as Auckland and Wellington to the wananga and they spent a huge amount of resources tracking that movement. From their various intercept activity they knew a few more names. But that’s all they had; about 18 suspects.
They obviously suspected a nationwide terrorist plot was being hatched because they mounted a nationwide search and seizure operation to collect up as many computers as they could in the hope that computer evidence would reveal the extent of the terrorist network. They found virtually nothing.
The big gap in the Police information was about who was attending from Ruatoki itself and other Tuhoe towns and settlements; and how many were there. How many from the surrounding district? Did any of them drive through from Waikaremoana undetected? There’s no evidence that the Police even tried to find out about any of that. My investigations have revealed a lot more participants than the Police knew about, mostly local.
It’s a matter of public knowledge (to Maori anyway) that the Tuhoe negotiation strategy was not universally supported within Ngai Tuhoe, and even that some were vehemently opposed to the negotiation strategy. Not a majority but some. So were there some hotheads advocating more controntational strategies after Helen Clark’s seeming to oppose the Tuhoe claim.
Were some of those gathered up and contained by Taame to help give the negotiators some space? I think that is a distinct probability.
Was there a plan to deliberately provoke the Police into some sort of reaction?
I don’t think so.
We do know however that they knew the Police were listening and I am certain from reading my way through those transcripts that a lot of the war korero was aimed at the eavesdropping Police. There was talk of how many Police they would be up against, of ambushing Police, of killing Police, and a lot of otherwise unflattering korero about the Police. It would be putting it mildly to say they had no love whatsoever for the Police.
And I think they might have been winding the Police up. Too tight by far.
There would be nothing more provocative than to talk about killing Police; nothing more likely to galvanise the Police into precipitate action.
That korero more than any other korero probably tipped the Police into action mode. It was a direct challenge to their own authority. It was a conscious challenge but more viscerally an unconscious threat. A bit like a South African necklace threat. The “compelling” video footage of September and October 2007 that they wrongly interpreted as training to kidnap and take hostages was the last straw. They let loose their own dogs of war.
As it turned out it was most unwise of the trash talkers to provoke them if that’s what happened. Some might say stupid. And I’m sure that I’m never going to get any of them to admit that it was done deliberately.
A perfect storm – the Police themselves provided Ngai Tuhoe with the perfect Plan B.
Then came the massive Police overreaction. The “termination phase” in which Ruatoki was locked down, women and children and others were illegally detained and terrorised, and a few people were arrested. The armed paramilitary operation was shown to be illegal by the Independent Police Conduct Authority and by the Human Rights Commission. The Courts established that the Police had acted illegally in both obtaining warrants and in executing those warrants. The Police ended up paying compensation to the affected whanau and Police Commissioner Bush personally apologised to those whanau.
It was a cock up of the first order.
But there was a silver lining to the big cloud of black-clad cowboys they cast over Ruatoki that day. It tipped the moral balance firmly into Ngai Tuhoe’s favour. It was a contemporary reenactment of the egregious behaviour that Ngai Tuhoe were accusing the Crown of down through their history of engagement. There can be no denying that the NZ Police provided just the impetus Ngai Tuhoe needed to get their claim on track.
Tamati Kruger very carefully kept the two issues entirely separate as he negotiated Tuhoe into getting their whenua back in 2014. But regardless of that it was in the back of everyone’s minds all of the time. It had to be.
No-one could have been strategic enough to orchestrate all that. It was an accidental Plan B and it worked.
Links: The Operation 8 Series