Monthly Archives: September 2015

Operation 8: Tuhoe Lambert – Lead Scout

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Tuhoe Lambert

Tuhoe Francis Lambert was not a terrorist, or part of a criminal group, as alleged by the NZ Police after the paramilitary operation in which he was arrested and charged on 15th October 2007. He was war veteran, a patriot who had served his country on active service, a loyal New Zealander, staunchly Ngai Tuhoe, and a devoted family man.

The NZ Police Operation 8 team compiled shallow profiles on all who were suspects. Had they been real intelligence analysts they would have done a lot more research into their targets and could have come to different conclusions. They didn’t bother. But then, they were just amateurs in the profession of intelligence analysis.

Tuhoe Lambert remained a suspect until the day he died. He was one of five primary suspects and after he died four went to trial; the Urewera Four. I’m going to tell you something about Tuhoe Lambert that only a Vietnam Veteran can. This is the deep profile the police didn’t bother to find out.

I’m going to tell you about a lead scout in Vietnam, and about the damage that war did to those who came home. About the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that afflicted so many and does still to this day. And about Tuhoe Lambert’s struggle with that affliction. It was one thing for him to be at war for a short time in the flower of youth, and yet another to live with that war for the rest of his life. This then is a tribute to Tuhoe Lambert.

In the aftermath of his arrest he was condemned by quite a few in the Vietnam veterans’ community. At the time I urged them to suspend judgement until they knew the facts. One of the facts was that the Solicitor General did not agree with the police that terrorism charges were warranted and declined to allow prosecution. Over the long battle through the courts many other false assumptions and transgressions by the police were brought to light. This tribute should also remind us – the veterans – of the loyalty we owe each other in good times and bad.

In one sense it is also a tribute to all of the lead scouts and cover scouts who served us so well, the nine rifle companies of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment that rotated through Vietnam from May 1967 to November 1971 as part of the ANZAC battalions. A tribute to those who died, and a tribute to all of those who came home afflicted by their war in body and mind.

Tuhoe and Taame Iti had two different versions about how they met. Tuhoe said that after Vietnam he became a bit anti-war and went to the odd anti-Vietnam rally. That’s how he first met Taame Iti in the 1970s and when asked by Taame what he would do if he met Taame in the bush, fighting on the side of the Viet Cong, he told Taame he would blow his head off. There was probably an ‘f” word in there somewhere. According to Tuhoe they became firm friends from that day.

According to Taame Iti they met in Christchurch before Tuhoe embarked to join 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment in Malaysia, and to go from there to Vietnam. Taame was living in Christchurch and some of the Maori soldiers from Burnham Camp ended up at his place at a party. Taame was anti-Vietnam and they had a debate about the war. He says that after Tuhoe came back home from Vietnam Taame worked with him for a few years to help him process the mental stuff he brought home with him.

I prefer Tuhoe’s version but it’s probably a bit of an elaboration and is probably based on an actual conversation. However they did become firm friends, the soldier and the anti-war protestor. That’s not unusual. Many Maori veterans went on to forge friendships and close working relationships with those who had protested against the Vietnam War. We found common cause in working together for the advancement of Maori. They were also both Ngai Tuhoe.

The Operation 8 NZ Police Intelligence team didn’t think to do a full profile on Tuhoe Lambert about his war service other than to establish that he was a Vietnam Veteran and that he was in league with Taame Iti in the Urewera. They didn’t think to do one of their background checks with Veterans Affairs.

A proper profiling by a professional team would have quickly established that like so many among our veterans’ community Tuhoe Lambert was a lingering casualty of the Vietnam War. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), badly, and had suffered from it from 1971 when he returned from Vietnam until the day he died in Auckland Hospital in July 2011. Forty years. Vietnam and thoughts about Vietnam lingered on in his mind, forever. They lay just below the surface and in the bad moments they rose to dominate his life. He didn’t have many good nights in that forty years.

Tuhoe Lambert was a lead scout in an infantry platoon. And young. Very young.

Scouts were selected for their skill in the field and for their skill at arms. Good deerstalkers usually made good scouts. Their skills were fine-tuned by intense training. They were a combination of hunter, stalker, tracker and marksman with lightning fast reactions. Outwardly they were calm and assured and they had a wonderful to behold swagger, born of total confidence in their abilities. But in the quieter moments of reflection after we came home some of them would talk of the fear.

As platoon commanders and platoon sergeants we had three infantry sections each of 9 or 10 infantrymen led by an experienced corporal, and including two scouts, a lead scout and a cover scout operating as a team. The scouts were our eyes and ears and we trusted them totally. Our lives were in their eyes and ears, and in their hands, trusting that they would shoot fast, shoot first and shoot straight.

Mines killed more than half of all Australians and New Zealanders who died in Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam where we fought together. Stepping on a mine was even more likely than running into an enemy force. The scout’s job was also to scan the ground and jungle ahead looking for any sign of mines, knowing that if he missed sign either he or someone behind him would get his legs and other pieces blown off.

It was the most stressful and dangerous job in a platoon in which every job was stressful and dangerous, just one step away from death, day after day, week after week, month after month. We rotated the sections and their scouts so that they didn’t spend too much continuous time at the front of the patrol but they nevertheless did that job for days on end, sometimes weeks on end, and they did it for the whole of their tour, usually for twelve months. Tuhoe Lambert’s V5 Company spent 270 days on operations out of the 365 days they were in theatre. 270 days when their very next step might have been their last. 270 days when their next breath might have been their last.

I often say, quietly in private conversation with my fellow infantry veterans, that we all died up there, one way or another. And I often reflect that of all of us it was our scouts who were truly the walking dead.

As master samurai strategist Miyamoto Musashi said, “The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death”.

Or to paraphrase that, “The warrior first dies, then fights”.

And having survived you are never the same person again. Tuhoe Lambert survived and brought his war home with him as many if not all of us did.

PTSD is so prevalent in the Veteran community across New Zealand and Australia that it is the new normality. Many of my comrades are actively involved in welfare and support services for fellow veterans. Many of the soldiers I served with and the officers I trained with are stricken with it. It ranges from mild to severe and has no respect for age, rank and status.

There have been suicides, not many but some. Some of my friends and comrades have been and are still self-medicating with alcohol. A few of those drank themselves into an early grave. PTSD didn’t necessarily strike immediately after Vietnam. I have friends who like me were career soldiers for another ten, twenty or thirty years. The Army provided a structured environment in which war service was understood and valued. Some of my friends didn’t fall apart until they retired and lost that structure and support. Some found structure and support in their church. The NZ RSA and the Australian RSL provide more support. Quite a few veterans find their structure and support in golfing fraternities or veterans’ motorcycle clubs.

Community service especially for Maori veterans involved in the many aspects of Maori advancement provides a purpose in life that helps alleviate or distract from the symptoms of PTSD.

I have friends who are receiving psychological or psychiatric therapy usually paid for by Veterans Affairs in New Zealand or Australia, and who expect to remain in therapy until the day they die. Some of the treatment involves both therapy and drugs. With that professional support they lead full and productive, and almost normal lives. Writing is also therapeutic; keeping a journal of an examined life has long been common in the literary world as a form of self-examination and therapy, as well as creativity. Writing poetry is therapy although there are only a few warrior poets. Some find solace and outlet in painting or sculpture. Music is wonderful therapy.

Then there are the many who struggle through life untreated and often unsupported. For some of them the only support is the family and it is very tough on the families. There have been countless family breakdowns but in many cases the wives in particular soldier on living through their own version of hell supporting a war damaged husband with little more than love and tolerance. They are the true heroes. Family violence is not uncommon. I have a small number of friends who are virtual hermits, who have never returned from Vietnam in their minds and are living in a state of mental siege, some surrounded by improvised defences around their usually remote huts or cabins. One or two still carry out the standard dawn and dusk clearing patrols around their homes.

All of that is to describe the mental landscape we have lived in since Vietnam; the mindscape that Tuhoe Lambert lived in. PTSD is not a stigma. It is our normal in the mindscape we collectively live in. PTSD is not the only debilitating condition Vietnam Veterans live with for there are a wide range of medical conditions as well and Tuhoe Lambert’s health problems may well have been related to other aspects of his service, specifically exposure to Agent Orange. But PTSD is what I am concerned with in this profile.

For a long time Tuhoe Lambert had nightmares every night that would have him waking and screaming. After a time the screaming subsided but the nightmares remained. In later life he would go to sleep in front of the TV with the sound turned full on, something that usually indicates someone who is drowning out the chatterbox in the mind with the noise of the TV. A friend recalls watching him sleeping in front of the TV and said, “It was like watching someone having a fist fight with their eyes closed and hog tied”.

He had an incredibly loving, tolerant and supportive wife and whanau. He found purpose working for Tuhoe Hauora as a social worker. But for the most part his PTSD was untreated until Taame Iti took him under his wing and helped him process the bad stuff. It still didn’t go away though.

Rangi Kemara who came to know him well from 2005 onwards has commented about his good friend:

“When I was with him his thoughts were constantly on Vietnam during the day, reasoning over some of the activities they got up to and were ordered to do while he was there, and was constantly trying to retell the more humorous events that took place. His dreams seemed to revisit the place almost every night. He was a tortured soul who rarely spent a night sleeping in peace”. 

“One of his methods of dealing with it was to talk shit constantly, and for hours on end. One of the finest shit stirrers you’ll ever meet… He was funny as hell much of the time, even when we were in prison together, but when we were locked up together for 26 days, being cellmates for most of that time, it almost drove me completely batshit because I couldn’t get a reprieve from it, heh”.

“That was our good mate Tuhoe”.

Interestingly Rangi and Taame Iti were perhaps the only people outside of the veterans’ community with whom Tuhoe shared his war experiences. Veterans rarely speak of it to others, not even to family.

After Vietnam and after a couple of short adventures overseas Tuhoe came back to New Zealand and fell on hard times, mentally and financially. He married, started a family, joined a church and eventually became a pastor. As we do in the veterans’ community he stayed in touch with his comrades in arms who are another pillar of support in the sometimes turbulent mental world of the war veteran.

In the early 1990s he did some courses in psychology partly to comprehend his own condition but also to gain some qualifications. He was eventually employed in the late 1990s by Tuhoe Hauora as a social worker. He worked with Taame Iti at Tuhoe Hauora after Taame moved from Auckland back to the Urewera.

Tuhoe had a massive heart attack in 2004, the first of a series of heart attacks that led to his eventual death on 8th July 2011. He had to give up his job at Tuhoe Hauora and in 2005 moved up to Kaitaia with several members of his extended family in tow. He also had family up there. He was a dedicated family man and his extended whanau followed him wherever he went.

In this profile by Joseph Barratt in Scoop News on 12 November 2007 his eldest son Neuton reflected on his father after he had been arrested:

“Lambert is a pensioner forced into retirement due to ailing health, according to his son, 32-year-old Neuton Lambert. He described his father as someone who was “really giving and had a really big heart.”

“The family was very shocked by the arrests, said Neuton. “He was always there for his friends and family. All the cousins treat him like a dad, if they are in trouble they come and stay for months and he lends them money.”

“Tuhoe was a social worker until he got too sick to continue. He suffered ongoing illnesses and heart problems. These included a heart failure that led to a recent bypass operation. Tuhoe also suffers from diabetes.

“Neuton describes a father who used to watch rugby with him every weekend. “It doesn’t even matter what team is playing, he loved it.”

“Tuhoe is also a real movie buff and buys a new DVD every week. “He’s also pretty onto it, he reads a lot and watches documentaries on the discovery channel.”

“Support from the whanau had been great with family members traveling from as far as Kaitaia and Gisborne to support him.

“A lot of us saw him as a leader, said Neuton. “We miss him.”

“But we are a strong family and we will support him.”

Rangi Kemara met him in Auckland in 2005 shortly before Taame Iti’s flag shooting episode. Tuhoe invited him to Kaitaia to meet the whanau. They became friends to the extent that Tuhoe regarded Rangi as part of his own whanau.

From Kaitaia he would travel back to the Urewera to participate in hui about the Ngai Tuhoe claims. Rangi would drive up to Kaitaia and drive him down to the Urewera. His health was failing and he became less and less mobile. In 2006 his wife got a teaching job at Manurewa in Auckland and they moved there. It was also closer to Auckland Hospital. Rangi Kemara moved into a caravan on the property as an adopted member of Tuhoe’s whanau and to help pay the rent.

They became regular faces at the wananga Taame Iti was facilitating in the Urewera. They travelled there together and after a while the cops bugged the car and listened in to the trash talk as they travelled to and fro. Tuhoe became one of the leaders of the wananga. His specialty of course was infantry minor tactics. Just what that was about is shown in “The Probability Space – Part 5, Unravelling the Paradox”.

The best way to say what I want to say about Tuhoe Lambert’s part in the war games in the Urewera is to start with this poem I wrote a few years ago.

Vietnam Paradox

Stalking the enemy
in far off lands, steaming jungles
so far from home and safety –
month after month
in the shadow of death
and ever present fear
of punji pits, mine-strewn tracks,
and death by tripwire, machine gun,
or AK47 in hidden bunkers.
Death waiting at every cautious step.

But can you feel my son,
how totally alive we were,
living fully in each moment,
engulfed in a purity
of all the senses,
focused only on Life itself
and Life’s true companion Death –
none of the extraneous distractions
of ordinariness and everyday being,
of ordinary people
living their ordinary everyday lives.

How utterly,
how completely,

Tuhoe Lambert wasn’t preparing to fight a new war, or a terrorist campaign. He was still as he had always been, and as he later proclaimed in an interview on TV3, a patriot and loyal soldier of his country.

He was living out his old war, the one he had been living for 36 years already. But this time he wasn’t living it in his mind in the troubled night. He was acting it out. Inwardly he was reliving part of the actual experience, and outwardly showing his audience of activists and Ngai Tuhoe nationalists just a small part of what it was that he was re-living.  Tuhoe Lambert – lead scout. His audience was interested in his operational service in Vietnam and asked him questions about it. At night he talked to them about some of it and in the day he showed them a bit.

Although reliving his old war it was wrapped in the rhetoric and trash talk of his political cause, the Ngai Tuhoe cause. But in his/our mindscape he was actually reliving the experience of being part of a tight close-knit team with total trust in each other and totally reliant on each other for their lives. Brothers in arms.

And despite the ever present fear, and the shadow of death being constantly upon them, the feeling of being utterly, completely, exhilaratingly alive. If you haven’t been there you can have no idea how close it is to the very essence of existence.

In 2006 and 2007 with his heart problems, diabetes and fast failing health Tuhoe was once again living in the shadow of impending death. Tuhoe Lambert – lead scout. Out there in the Urewera bush though he would have been totally alive. They say that out there in the bush he moved again lightly with vigour and with purpose whereas at home in the city he hardly moved at all weighed down by his ill health.

The bush or the jungle is the spiritual home of the infantrymen of our era, the overhead “thwok, thwok, thwok” of the Huey helicopter its unnatural throbbing heartbeat. For most of the time though it is completely silent except for the birds and the beetles and we too lived and moved in harmony with it in total silence, communicating only through hand signals. You come to know the jungle and the bush as a world of its own and a place apart that is your place too and a part of you. If I were Tuhoe Lambert I would have been happy to die out there in the Urewera on one last patrol.

Tuhoe vented his depression, exhilaration, frustration and anger through his trash talk. That’s what he always did. Part of his mamae was about the way Vietnam veterans were treated after they came home from the war. Part of it was about the never ending struggle for justice by Ngai Tuhoe. He was staunchly Ngai Tuhoe and he followed the Ngai Tuhoe claim and settlement process closely. Tuhoe often expressed his feelings in extravagant and exaggerated ways, sometimes absurd or bizarre. That was his way. He vented. Other veterans became so withdrawn that they were almost mute, some shut themselves off becoming virtual hermits, and some found solace at the bottom of a bottle. Tuhoe Lambert ran off at the mouth. To his family, friends and comrades that was just Tuhoe the Vietnam Veteran.

NZ Police intelligence knew none of that. They took his trash talk at face value and said he was a terrorist. Perhaps because that’s what they really wanted to find, rather than a PTSD stricken and diabetic Vietnam War veteran, once again close to death.

The cowboys in black who conducted the paramilitary operation on the morning of 15th October 2007 knew none of that either, of the life of the real warrior. Unlike those cowboys who invaded his home in Manurewa in the early hours of 15th October 2007 and who then held at gunpoint him, his wife and 12 year old granddaughter, and the rest of his whanau, all of them unarmed, Tuhoe Lambert was a real warrior. He was a lead scout.

He got locked up for 26 days after being arrested. By dying before being brought to trial Tuhoe was spared the indignity of a longer time in prison alongside his two friends Taame Iti and Rangi Kemara who had supported him in his bad moments, rejoiced with him in the good, and put up with his incessant sometimes infuriating banter and trash talk. For behind the troubled mind and trash talking mouth was a heart of pure gold. The heart of a soldier, friend and comrade, loyal New Zealander, staunch Ngai Tuhoe nationalist, and a loving and much loved family man.

584865 Lance Corporal Tuhoe Francis Lambert, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment – Lead Scout. He was not a terrorist or a participant in a criminal group. He was a patriot. A wounded patriot.

In February 2015 after a long struggle in the courts Tuhoe Lambert’s whanau finally received confidential financial compensation from the NZ Police in an out-of-court settlement. It was probably not a large amount. Whilst the police have never admitted that they got it wrong about Tuhoe, and probably never will, that settlement is an acknowledgement of the unwarranted, undeserved and arguably unlawful treatment meted out to his whanau – the collateral damage.

E kore ratou e koroheketia, penei i a tatou kua mahue nei
E kore hoki ratou e ngoikore, ahakoa pehea i nga ahuatanga o te wa.
I te hekenga atu o te ra tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Kei wareware tatau.
Lest we forget.

E Tuhoe haere te tamatoa haere,
No reira e te rangatira haere, haere atu ra.

He maimai aroha tenei na
Major (Retired) Ross Himona,
Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

Tuhoe Lambert – Collage

Links: The Operation 8 Series

“Te Karere” news clip – Annette Sykes and Taame Iti remember Tuhoe Lambert

Hikoi ki Afrika: A Maori in Mali

Birthplace of the Blues

In 2005 when UNESCO asked me to go to Mali of course I said “Yes”.

It was to a pan-Afrikan conference that was one of a series of regional UN conferences leading up the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) at Tunis in 2005. The first WSIS had been at Geneva in 2003. In May 2003 I had attended and spoken at the UN Asia Pacific WSIS Pre-Conference in Tokyo. I challenged the conference orthodoxy and got myself noticed.

It wasn’t that I was important at all. I’d been a member of the local NZ UNESCO Communications Sub-Commission and managed to be part of the NZ delegation to Tokyo where I’d spoken briefly as part of a panel discussion. Someone in UNESCO thought my korero might be relevant to the Afrikan conference. Right place at the right time. The UNESCO conference at Bamako, the capital of Mali, was themed “Multilingualism for Cultural Diversity and Participation of All in Cyberspace”. I spoke on “Fostering the Creation of Local and Indigenous Content”.

The conference was not the main event for me. It was very interesting and I met interesting people from all over the globe but it was my first (and only) time in Afrika and I saw it as a small pilgrimage to the birthplace of humanity. It was only a short visit confined to a single city in West Afrika but a visit that remains vivid in memory.

At The Travel Doctor in Auckland they treated me like a pin cushion with multiple vaccinations. It reminded me of our deployment to Vietnam in 1967 when they pumped into us every vaccination known to mankind; except the one that would prevent death by blast or bullet.

Getting there was a bit of a hassle. We had to get visas from the Embassy of Mali in Paris but because of the short lead time quite a few of us didn’t have time to go through the three month bureaucratic process. So UNESCO HQ put us on a plane from Paris hoping to sort it out on arrival in Bamako. A leading Afrikan academic involved in the conference got it sorted and we were all shepherded through border control sans visa and boarded a bus for the city.

Bamako is like a lot of the world’s cities. Impressive boulevards and buildings in the centre, leafy suburbs in the inner city, a market or markets located near the city centre, the rich and powerful living in the cooler hills, and most of the population living basic lives in basic houses and huts on the outskirts. My first impression of Afrika, apart from the airport, was driving through those outer less endowed suburbs.

The smell hit me first. I don’t mean a bad smell. A different smell. Well it probably smells bad to people who haven’t travelled much. Have you noticed that different countries and different cities have their own distinctive smells? Sometimes the smell changes as the country or city develops and modernises. A long time ago, the early 1960s was when I  first made the trip, the pungent smell of tanneries on Botany Road was the first smell of Sydney on the way from the Airport to the CBD. The tanneries have long since been banished. Singapore today smells nothing like it did in 1965 when I first went there. They’ve both been sanitised.

Driving into Bamako I was instantly reminded of the first time I arrived in Malaysia in 1965, forty years earlier. That was my first time in a different country other than New Zealand and Australia. We were driven by bus from Singapore to Melaka and our Commonwealth Brigade base at Terendak and it is the smell that I remember most from that night as we drove through the tropical countryside. Steaming decaying vegetation, steam rising from the road, the lingering scent of exotic fruits and flowers, muddy rice fields, mud wallowing buffalo, and the pigs, dogs and chickens ubiquitous in South East Asia and Oceania. The smell of diesel fuel from the trucks and buses and Mercedes taxis. And in the villages and towns the smoke from cooking fires and the strong aroma of strange new foods.

The smells of Bamako were different but the impact was the same. Dust rising, it smelt a dry land, the base smell something like the smell of the Australian outback in summer but different. Dogs and chickens. We drove through ramshackle rows of shops. Open drains and uncollected rubbish. Old Mercedes and Toyotas and diesel fumes. Smell free handcarts. And a whole new and interesting assortment of cooking smells. This was an older smell than the smell of Asia and Oceania and Australasian cities. Like the smell of old people and their lived in houses but different. It said, “Welcome home pilgrim. This is what you will smell like 60,000 years from now when your new lands have grown old and dry. Don’t wrinkle your nose. Welcome home”.

That’s what happens when you let your nose hear for you. You hear unsaid things.

As if to counter the dryness and brownness of much of the landscape the women of Afrika set the place alive with colour. Strikingly rich colour. Their dresses and headscarves ablaze in reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigos and violets. The browns too are rich browns. The streets and shops and markets are set alight by the women of Afrika. And as if the lightness of colour creates a lightness of spirit the public spaces are alive with the beautiful smiling black faces, the cheerful chatter and gentle laughter of tall, sinuous, slender, graceful Afrikan women. The men are colourful too by the way.

How much richer we would be if our streets were alive with colour instead of the blacks and browns and dark blues of our streetscape.

I brought as much of that colour home with me as would fit in my suitcase. A pile of different Afrikan materials. My London domiciled daughter waylaid me in Paris on my way home and carried away as much as I could bear to part with. I still have it, my treasure trove of colourful cloth, taken out of the drawer in moments of reflection upon my hikoi ki Afrika. I hear still the chatter and the laughter. I hear too the music of Mali.

In modern musicology mythology West Afrika is said to be the birthplace of the Blues. It may well be true. The Malian bluesmen have indeed had an impact on modern world music but I think they got their new version of their ancient music from Amerika. I love the Blues and the music of Mali. Boubacar Traore and the late Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita and Toumani Diabate were already some of my favourite musicians before I went to Mali. I didn’t get to see them perform but I did manage to get to two concert performances, one modern and one traditional. It is one thing to listen to your collection of recorded Malian music but something else again to be at live performances in the place of origin. Quite magical.

The Jeli (French griot) of Mali are a traditional caste of professional orators and musicians and singers. Their kora is a stringed instrument usually accompanied by a variety of drums. It is from these instruments that it is said the Blues originated, and that the call and response Blues style of music originated in West Afrikan singing. Since the 1950s they have added the guitar, both acoustic and electric, to their repertoire. Modern Afro-pop is very popular in Europe. The men don’t have it all their own way for the Malian divas are also hugely popular.

There is deep sadness in this music as well as joy and exuberance. From here in West Afrika came a large number of the 12 million poor souls who were sold into slavery in the New World from the 15th to the 19th Century. They were robbed forever of their heritage, their languages and cultures and kept only the remembrance of their music. It became the Blues, the R&B and the Rock ‘n’ Roll of my youth that reached out to the world and travelled back again to Afrika.

In this former French colony French is the official language and Bambara the most widely spoken. There are about twelve other indigenous languages that are considered “official” languages. The modern songs are in both French and Bambara. Although only about 20-25% of the people speak French the music is also aimed at an appreciative audience in France. On the streets of Bamako the language is mostly Bambara but you can get by with your rudimentary French, and mine is indeed rudimentary. Communication is part of the delight of travel. In the market some speak English but not many.

After the people it is the sights, the sounds and the smells that set different places apart. I hadn’t really met any people yet.

Apart from hotel staff the first I got to know was a really nice guy. After a good night’s sleep the first thing I did was to hire a driver with an old Toyota to show me the city. He wanted to take me along the standard tourist route but I pointed to the highest hill overlooking the city and asked him if he could drive to the top. He didn’t know, so with much encouragement and financial inducement he set out to find out something new about his old city. Initially reluctant he soon got into the swing and became a willing participant in my adventure. He was still worried about his car’s suspension though. We eventually found a track and wound our rocky way to the top.

Bus Station & City

A view from the lower slopes. Bus depot in the foreground and the city centre far beyond in the hazy background

Far below our feet was the main bus depot with dozens of parked green buses and stretching away from us into the distance was the quite beautiful and relatively modern city of Bamako sitting astride the ancient Niger River. Down there was a teeming mass of modern humanity and up on the hill almost total silence and as I wrote in my journal the “remembrance of a timeless land”. Down there were just over 2 million people who had evolved from ancient hunter gatherering bands who had roamed across and lived lightly upon the ancient land beneath our feet.

These modern West Afrikans descended from the same people as the East Afrikans who were the ancestors of all of the rest of us on Earth.

Across the way on another hill was the luxurious abode of the President, surrounded by the buildings of government agencies. One could imagine the French colonists appropriating to themselves the best hill in town, to look down upon the seething masses. And on another hill a hospital in splendid isolation. I wondered how many of the people down there had access to that hospital or was it reserved for the wealthy, the great and the powerful. The Mosque, clearly visible in the middle of the city, was down on the flat among the people.

We watched as women slowly climbed their way around the cliffs and up the steep hill laden with the day’s shopping from the market. My guide didn’t know where they lived or where they were going and we couldn’t see any houses.

There were cows and goats foraging for food amongst the stunted straggly dry country trees clinging to life in the dust amongst the rocks. The country reminded me a bit of summer in the Canberra region of Australia, and of the dry country where we did our military manoeuvres when we were training at the Royal Military College so long ago. Australia too is an old land and the culture of its indigenous people is said to be the oldest living continuous culture on Earth. What then of these Afrikan cultures in this even older land, in human terms.

You can learn a lot about a city from its highest hill.

It was just a two day conference. Most of the speakers were from out of country telling us mostly about the latest linguistic and technological innovations in creating multilingual content for the Internet. The Afrikan delegations by comparison spoke mostly about their specific needs. Apart from the Afrikan korero I’d heard most of it before and I amused myself by trying to follow the French translator rather than the English. Until the leader of the French delegation spoke.

He was a French government minister and he started speaking in English because he said English was the most common language at the conference. Almost immediately one of his bureaucrats interrupted (in French) and roundly chastised him for breaking French government protocol by not speaking French at an international event. She was quite severe in her criticism. He told her to sit down and shut up and delivered the rest of his speech in English. I thought it was hilarious.

Later that day I met her in a workshop event. She greeted me in French and I responded in Te Reo Maori. She said “Je ne comprend pas”.

So I asked in broken French that as France had colonised East Polynesia perhaps she spoke Tahitian, a sister language to Maori. “Non”.

I then told her I was fluent in Bahasa Indonesia and asked if that was one of her languages. “Non”.

So I asked if English might be a language we had in common. “Let’s speak English” she replied.

We got on well and she was a nice person beneath the French chauvinism. She saw the humour in our initial exchange.

Many of the out of country speakers spoke to or at the Afrikan people or to each other. In my korero I tried to speak with them; Oceania and Afrika being similar continents in a way. You’ll have to read the speech to work that one out. It seemed to strike a chord and I was befriended by a senior Malian delegate, the professor who had smoothed our way into the country. He taught at a university in another Afrikan country but was obviously closely in touch with affairs in Mali. He was a gentleman in all respects, and an intellectual of mana in his own country. He was great company and it was he who directed me towards the musical performances I attended in the evenings.

I don’t know that the conference achieved anything or if the main World Summit (WSIS) in Tunis achieved anything either. I think many international conferences are for the benefit of the people that attend rather than the countries they represent. They flesh out resumes.

It was soon over and we had a day to spare and to explore the city. A multicultural and multilingual group of us led by a small but intrepid Malaysian professor with a big camera set off. We made sure we had enough fluent French speakers in the group to smooth our way. After a bus tour of the city we arrived at the market. It was alive with crowds of local people buying anything and everything they might need. Perhaps a thousand stalls. Wending our way through the many alleys we were immersed in a sea of colourfully clothed people and they seemed to have a heightened sense of respect for personal space despite the crowding.

In some places in the world people intrude into your personal space and in others no less crowded they don’t. Voiceless rudeness and politeness sort of.

A short walk took us to Marche des Artisans, the Artisans Market close to the Grand Mosque I had seen from the hill. This was less crowded and seemed to me to be a place mainly for tourists. Hundreds of stalls where artists created and sold jewellery, paintings, carvings, musical instruments, leatherwork, sculpture, ironwork and every other form of art to be found in Bamako. It was very interesting but touristy and I bought nothing. I went back instead to the main market to a fabric shop I had noticed and bought a large and stunning piece of fabric I had seen earlier. And a whole pile of different fabrics. My remembrance of the colours of Afrika.

My Malaysian professor friend got us into trouble with some of the locals by trying to photograph their Grand Mosque without permission and after a bit of a standoff the Police rescued us. That was the end of our excursion. He was from a Muslim country. He should have known better.

I would love to have visited and stayed at the legendary Muslim city of Timbuktu to the north. I would love to have met up there some of the nomadic Tuareg people of the Saharan and Sub-Saharan region. It is said that their skin has a blueish tinge from the indigo dyed clothing they wear. All I have instead is a piece of indigo dyed cloth.

In 2012 in three separate developments Tuareg rebels declared a new state, there was a coup d’etat in Bamako, and Timbuktu was overrun by Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, some of them pushed out of Libya and Tunisia after the Arab Spring. There was fighting between the Tuareg and the Islamists and in 2013 the Islamists were defeated by French armed forces. Peace was brokered with the Tuareg but life in Northern Mali is still fraught. Much sadness in a beautiful country.

I had trouble leaving Mali because I didn’t have a visa to be there in the first place. My new friend the professor came to the rescue again and saw me onto my plane.

Back home, from the sublime to the mundane.

The trip helped get rid of a bad case of sciatica. For months before I was in constant pain and there was no way I could travel like that. I found a very good physiotherapist and he gave me an exercise regime to realign and strengthen my core musculature. He told me that he couldn’t fix it but that I could. He also said that 90% of his clients were too exercise averse to fix their own problems. I got the point. I hit the Swiss Ball for a couple of hours every day and was soon in a fit state to travel. After the trip I continued with the regime and haven’t had any lower back problems since.

It’s amazing what the right incentive will do. Mali attended to my soul, and fixed my back. And ten years later I still haven’t decided what to do with all that fine cloth. Perhaps it’s time to deck out my granddaughters in the colours of Afrika.

Mud Cloth

A table cloth or bedspread perhaps. I still haven’t decided.

Operation 8: The Probability Space – Part 5

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Military manoeuvres in the Urewera – unravelling the paradox, a paradox being a proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.

But first, to recap a little about the Intelligence process.

Having gathered as much information as you can you then explore into the possibility space. What does or what could all that information mean about future intentions. There is rarely one single interpretation that can be drawn from the available information. What therefore are all the possibilities. I did this in “Operation 8: An exploration into the possibility space”.

Following that the Intelligence analyst should then explore into the probability space by examining the probability of each interpretation in order to verify or disprove assumptions drawn and conclusions made. That process will often show up gaps in information and may often show the need for further information gathering. At the end of it the most likely scenarios or interpretations are proposed by the analyst, most often qualified by probability ratings. That is, what is the relative likelihood of each interpretation. Total certainty is rare in the field of Intelligence analysis.

President Obama was given a range of probability ratings by various advisors on the assessment of Osama bin Laden’s location in Pakistan before he made the decision to launch an operation against him. A CIA team leader said 95% and others thought as low as 30%. He was offered such a wide range of probabilities that he could only conclude that there was perhaps a 50/50 chance that the analysis was correct. Fortunately the odds were with him. 

That’s what happens in the real world of Intelligence analysis. The decision maker needs to know the probability before he or she makes the decision. The decision maker needs to demand a probability analysis.

None of that exploration, analysis, verification and probability rating was done by the Police Intelligence team running Operation 8. Instead from an early point in the operation they made some assumptions, drew a single conclusion, and then set about trying to collect enough evidence to gain terrorism convictions based on those assumptions and conclusions. It became an investigation driven entirely by narrow minded tunnel vision rather than intellectual enquiry and analysis.

On the night before the paramilitary operation in the Urewera was launched Police Commissioner Howard Broad briefed a meeting of senior cabinet ministers including Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Annette King. Dr David Collins the Solicitor General was also present and according to Annette King he assured them that the Terrorism Suppression Act could be used, presumably based on Commissioner Broad’s assurances about the quality of the evidence. There is anecdotal evidence that John Key was also present. At that meeting Michael Cullen was the only one who expressed any scepticism about the Commissioner’s assertions and he reportedly asked Howard Broad several times to affirm that there was planned terrorist activity. Each time Broad affirmed. He professed to be 100% certain.

Then he later said that he had no evidence of an immanent terrorist event and that he acted to “nip it in the bud”. There was no probability rating. None of them at that meeting lived up to their governance responsibilities.

This is the fifth in the series of explorations into the probability space. So far in my exploration I have looked:

  1. at the implications of the fact that the suspects knew they were under surveillance,
  2. at the shortcomings of the Police interpretation of their video evidence,
  3. at understandings of Ngai Tuhoe and their culture regarding firearms, and
  4. at the probability of the existence of a “Plan B” for an armed uprising as alleged by the Police.

All of these cast doubt on the Police terrorism narrative that they maintained throughout their Intelligence process (Operation 8).

It was a narrative that morphed from terrorism into a criminal group narrative as it wound its way through the long drawn out battle through the courts from 2007 until 2012. It was the narrative presented to the High Court in February and March 2012 as evidence to convict the “Urewera 4” on relatively minor arms charges, but not on the criminal group charge. The full-blown terrorism narrative that became the lesser criminal group narrative did not survive the court process, eliminated at the final hurdle – the High Court jury.

That the narrative did not survive the court process is a direct reflection of the quality of the Intelligence operation, the intellectual ability of the minds that produced it and those that subscribed to it.

The paradox

There still remains a body of evidence that shows that at least part of the activity at the “Rama” or wananga in the Urewera over about a twelve to eighteen month period involved firearms and military style manoeuvres. And associated with this activity was a lot of revolutionary korero. This episode of the exploration into the probability space looks at that activity and korero.

As we consider the “evidence” of military activity and revolutionary korero we should also remember that:

  1. this activity was not covert and often in full view of the Ruatoki community although some of the participants acted as though it was covert (by wearing balaclavas and using cover names);
  2. there was no attempt to hide the fact that people were travelling to the wananga in the Urewera from all around the North Island on a regular monthly basis;
  3. communications between the known participants were mostly by insecure means even though the leaders of the wananga knew they were under surveillance and even though Taame Iti had been told that the Police were watching the activity;
  4. there was no attempt to hide the presence of firearms by, for instance, conducting all of the military type activity far into the interior of the Urewera;
  5. a number of those firearms were acquired openly from licenced dealer with no attempt at all to conceal the purchases.

All of that leads to the paradox that became the terrorism narrative; a paradox being a proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.

The role of the professional Intelligence analyst is to recognise the paradox when it arises and then to resolve it. If the paradox cannot be resolved then there can be no justification to act upon it. It was neither recognised nor resolved by the Operation 8 analysts. Perhaps the greatest failure of the Operation 8 Intelligence analysis was in not recognising the obvious paradox. Tunnel vision can do that.

My challenge here is to unravel the paradox. I’ll start by trying to put the whole thing into some sort of context. It is a context much wider than what the Police were able to comprehend through their very limited expertise and limited information gathering operation.

I discovered as I tried to unravel the paradox that all of that wananga activity wasn’t as coherent and coordinated as one might expect if it was really directed towards a definite plan of military, terrorist or criminal action. It became clear that the participants didn’t really have a clear idea what it was all about, and that some of them projected their own interpretations and expectations onto it. In fact all of that wananga activity was quite unfocused until about August 2007, throughout most of the Police Intelligence operation. The Police gave it a focus it just did not have because they wanted it to have a focus.

That didn’t help my own investigation at all. Pity the Police officers trying to make sense of it. Not. They didn’t even try.

The Ngai Tuhoe claim

The Ngai Tuhoe grievance and claim is well documented and does of course provide the historical context to the wananga in the Urewera but perhaps not in the way that the Police understood it.

Not everyone in Ngai Tuhoe supported the negotiating process led by Tamati Kruger and others. So one of the key drivers behind the negotiation process was to garner as much support as possible within Ngai Tuhoe and to maintain that support for as long as it took to negotiate a settlement. “Te Kotahi A Tuhoe” was the body mandated by a majority of Tuhoe to negotiate the settlement and it needed to retain that mandate for as long as it took. The inclusive structure and consultative process of Te Kotahi A Tuhoe was the main means.

The wananga would have been another, albeit minor by comparison. The wananga was not established by Taame Iti but by several of the kaumatua of Ngai Tuhoe quite some time before it came to the notice of the Police. One of the key figures was the late Te Hue Rangi. I understand that Tamati Kruger himself had attended the wananga on an occasional basis. It was not a rogue Taame Iti initiative. Whatever happened at the wananga had to be sanctioned by the kaumatua and when he took on a leading role in the wananga Taame Iti was not an entirely free agent. One thing is 100% certain and that is that the kaumatua were never going to sanction anything that might derail the negotiation process; including training for armed uprising or revolution.


It is obvious from all of the Police surveillance evidence that what Taame did was to widen the influence of the wananga by bringing in people from around the North Island.

In December 2006 for instance a support group called “Te Kotahi A Tuhoe Ki Poneke” was formed in Wellington. This new group gathered up some Ngai Tuhoe and quite a few of the Wellington activist community, some Pakeha. Many of them became regular participants at the wananga. They brought with them the Police surveillance that had been upon them since at least the formation of the Wellington Special Intelligence Group (SIG). They also brought with them into Operation 8, but not into the wananga, a Police informant who had been active amongst them.

Taame had quite a bit earlier invited Te Rangikaiwhiria “Rangi” Kemara who was the IT manager for my business in Parnell Auckland. Rangi was and is an IT expert who had been one of the early members of the Maori Internet Society that I formed in the 1990s. By the time he started going to the wananga he had become a collector of militaria, especially firearms. He had a current firearms licence. In fact my business partner was one of his referees when he applied for the licence.

He was buying from gun dealers mostly on lay-by and also buying other militaria from TradeMe. As his employer at the time I thought he was spending far too much of his salary on his new hobby but I didn’t say anything. I’m a twenty year soldier and a Borneo and Vietnam veteran myself so I understood his new found passion. He had joined a gun club and had started his bush weekends, partly to try to keep his weight down and partly to indulge his new hobby. When he was invited by Taame to join the wananga he took his hobby with him.

That’s how many of the firearms the Police identified actually joined the wananga. They labelled Rangi as the “armourer”. Based on the salary I paid him he wasn’t going to do much arming. The fact that some of the firearms used at the wananga belonged to him was coincidental; he had a licence and he owned a few and most of the others didn’t own any.

A lot of the intercepted korero was Rangi talking firearms and ammunition. On the one hand, the hand the Police preferred to play, that could have indicated that he was indeed the “armourer”. On the other hand it was definitely an indication of his collector’s obsession. Collectors tend to be obsessive. He used to talk to me all the time about his hobby.

Another of my employees went on all day every day about the “Warriors” (the league team not the revolution). I think I preferred the firearms korero.

Taame Iti collects people. He networks. He collected Rangi Kemara who is not Ngai Tuhoe. He also collected up John Murphy, an Auckland based millionaire used car salesman who had discovered a passion for supporting the Maori cause and had begun to fly the Tino Rangatiratanga flag over his house in Remuera. In collecting up Murphy Taame also collected Murphy’s bodyguard Jamie Lockett. It was a fateful invitation for Lockett had long been involved in a running feud with the Auckland Police and with Detective Sergeant Phil Le Compte in particular. Operation 8 began as an operation aimed at Lockett, Murphy and others and shifted to the Urewera after Police linked Lockett to Tame Iti. This time Taame collected a whole new and very dangerous group of covert Auckland based Police into his network.

Throughout 2006 and 2007 Taame Iti continued to bring in other people, mainly Ngai Tuhoe, from around the North Island. These travelling people were the ones the Police focused on because they identified few others. However over the years most of the wananga participants were locals. The Police saw very few of them.

The locals

For some years Taame Iti had been working as a social worker amongst Ngai Tuhoe, both paid and unpaid. His clientele were mostly male, quite often disconnected from community and disaffected. I remember once that he brought a van load of them to Auckland to get them out of the bush and to give them a taste of the outside world. We won’t discuss how tasty that was. The wananga would have been an ideal means of reconnecting those people to community.

A few of his clients were Vietnam War veterans, often afflicted by PTSD. Taame has related to me how he listened to their stories, some of them quite horrendous, as they unburdened their souls and as he helped them cope with the PTSD. Tuhoe Lambert who became a primary Police suspect was one of those. Tuhoe Lambert also collected people and one of those was Rangi Kemara who became part of his whanau, especially after Tuhoe moved from Kaitaia to Auckland. A few of those war veterans were taking part in the wananga during the time of the Police surveillance but Tuhoe Lambert was the only one positively identified by them.

My information suggests that there might have been a few hundred participants in the wananga over the years, most of them locals or from the surrounding district. There is no indication that the Police really knew how many had attended the wananga, who they were, what they did and what they said. The Police identified only a few of them in addition to their main suspects, the travelling out-of-towners.

So that’s who some of them were and how they got there. What were they doing?

Standing on a ladder and looking the Crown in the eye – asserting the Ngai Tuhoe right to bear arms on Tuhoe lands

Throughout almost all of the period of Operation 8 Taame Iti was entangled in the courts. In January 2005 he staged the fiery welcome to the Waitangi Tribunal and shot a flag on the marae. He was charged in February 2005, finally went to trial and was convicted in June 2006, and had his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal in April 2007. That whole legal battle provides background context to the presence of firearms at the wananga.

Whilst for the judicial system the flag incident may have been about an alleged criminal offence, to Taame Iti and many others it was about the right of Ngai Tuhoe to bear arms on Ngai Tuhoe land, in this case on a traditional marae. I have written in detail about that in “Probability – Part 3”.  That prosecution was also in part about a Police belief that a marae is a public place in terms of the law. The Police later tried to argue in court after 15th October 2007 that multiply-owned Tuhoe land was also public land and not private land. Legislation is very clear about what the Police may or may not do on private land.

It was all about mana. In bringing firearms into the wananga at the same time he was fighting his legal battle about the use of a shotgun on a Ngai Tuhoe marae Taame was asserting his right, and the right of Ngai Tuhoe, to bear arms on Ngai Tuhoe lands. I wrote this in “Probability – Part 3”:

“So I put it to him that in the back of his mind during the 2006 and 2007 wananga he was still standing on his ladder; meaning that he was symbolically asserting Ngai Tuhoe mana and autonomy; their right to bear arms on Ngai Tuhoe lands.

“My question took him by surprise. After his mouth closed again and the sparkle returned to his eyes he nodded his head and said, “Yes!”

As unlikely as it may seem – private military contracting

I mentioned earlier that whatever was going on had to be sanctioned by Tuhoe kaumatua. I understand that there also had to be consensus among the participants and there was that consensus up until about September and October 2007. That was when it became known to them that Taame Iti was bringing in private military contractors (PMC) with Iraq experience to train and assess people to be employed as PMC. Prior to that the military activity had been conducted by Tuhoe Lambert and others and did not have that edge of reality.

In October 2007 when the professional PMC was brought in many of the travelling activists disassociated themselves from that aspect of the wananga. It is likely that they would have stopped attending because of that. Some or most of them were peace activists and totally opposed to any involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan. Taame Iti must have known that they would leave and perhaps he intended that they should.

The Police did not give any credence to the evidence that behind much of the military activity was Taame Iti’s hope that he could find employment for a few of his people as private military contractors in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Dhafur. It ran counter to their preferred terrorism narrative. It runs counter to what most people would expect. But Taame Iti is not most people. He thinks different. He thinks weird at times. He plucks ideas out of the ether. But the evidence was there. After talking with some of the wananga participants it became clear to me that most of them were not aware of that employment intention until late in the piece.

When Taame found out probably sometime in 2006 that two ex-servicemen brothers related to his partner Maria were private military contractors a weird idea found him. He started talking to them about employment for some of his people. Before anything came of it one of the brothers deployed back to Baghdad for a few months in the middle of 2007. In the meantime, while they were still talking and while one of them was in Iraq, Taame had Tuhoe Lambert and a few others start some basic military training in the wananga. For perhaps a year prior to August 2007 the training was just the general military skills applicable to many types of activity including private military contracting. It was intermittent training in that it was only a monthly activity, some monthly wananga were cancelled, and attendance was patchy. Hardly a programme for serious terrorism.

In August 2007 Taame Iti had Tuhoe Lambert take it up another level and introduce specific personal protection skills including the protection of vehicles. Because of Tuhoe’s general ill health the training was shifted to a flat area at Ruatoki. Prior to that wananga Tuhoe wrote out a lesson plan for the whole weekend. The Police recovered that and interpreted it as terrorism training.

Taame knew that Tuhoe might not make it to the wananga. Taame later told me about how he worked with Tuhoe at other times and how they would periodically park up in a secluded spot so that Tuhoe could have a power nap to recover some energy. He was not a well man.

So Taame had Urs Signer prepare some training scenarios just in case Tuhoe Lambert couldn’t make it to the August wananga. The Police recovered that and interpreted it as terrorism training.

“So we arrived Friday night, and the usual night wananga began cept this time it was with Tuhoe sharing his time in Vietnam, and people asking him why he went there, all that anti-war stuff. He was awesome, very patient with people who were asking him quite pointed questions. 

“His training was close quarters protection, spotting threats in a crowd, moving your VIP out of harm’s way.

“We were supposed to come dressed in our flashest clothes, bodyguards. Some did, me, all I had was a flash pair of jeans and an All Black teeshirt. The anarchists did a clothes bin raid and got themselves some even more drabby looking clothes, the Tuhoes came in their flashest oilskins…

“So that didn’t work.

“But that was the weekend. I don’t know if Tuhoe was aware of the bros [Taame’s] fuller plan, but he certainly fulfilled his part of it”.

The September wananga was to be a continuation of the August training.

“Typical of the bro, September which should have been part two of Tuhoe’s wananga, got interrupted because the bro [Taame] brought in a whole lot of newbies who barely knew how to hold a gun. 

“So the rama got split into two, newbies, and those that had been at August camp.

“Tuhoe took the August lot in stage one of a vehicle contact drill, exfilling a disabled waka.

“One of the other Tuhoe took the rest through basic whatever they did, I wasn’t with them, I’d guess it was safety, and seeing how they moved as a group, and how they could deal with difficulties, the stuff we went through the year before.

“Anyway, it was a wash, but those of us that did Tuhoe’s module were wrapped, even the anarchists, because at least Tuhoe had an activist’s bent along with his training stuff, and his patience with people. Good trainer”.

At that point the training took a different path as Rau Hunt arrived back from Iraq and was available to take the training or assessment to a new or different level.

“After the September wananga, it became clear as day, that the objectives of the wananga were starting to form, and that was employment for his people … “

Taame then planned to have a dual wananga in October with Tuhoe Lambert and Rau Hunt as trainers. He told Tuhoe by text message on 5th October 2007:

“gt some new t/o coming on board next rama”.

The Police reported that:

Mr Iti goes on to advise that the new t/o was apparently from Baghdad but confirms that Mr Lambert would still be in charge”.

In the same exchange of messages Taame Iti advises Tuhoe Lambert:

We may have mahi for them in Africa. Four of our guys”.

Indicating that four people might be employed as PMC in Africa. And:

Have hui with new t/o”.
“They coming this weekend with plan for Rama”.

As it happened Tuhoe Lambert was too ill to attend the October wananga. He was on his couch in Manurewa. His place was taken by another unidentified Vietnam veteran but Rau Hunt was the main trainer. His approach was totally different to Tuhoe Lambert’s as he was there only to present his version of PMC skills and to preselect people for further training. I have interviewed Rau Hunt and have no doubt whatsoever that his only purpose in attending that wananga was to see if anyone there would be suitable to join a PMC team with him. He was not even remotely involved in training anyone for terrorist or criminal purposes.

Tuhoe Lambert’s training had been less focused, was apparently a lot more activist friendly, and did not challenge the “anarchists” beliefs. Their beliefs were challenged by the obvious shift in emphasis and the new hard edge that Rau Hunt brought to the wananga in October.

There were two separate groups at that wananga because quite a few of the “anarchists” broke away and did not want to have anything to do with specific PMC employment training. Ironically one of those who broke away at that time was one of the “Urewera 4” who eventually faced trial. Had the Police not intervened with their 15th October 2007 paramilitary operation the split in the group would probably have brought that whole series of wananga to an end.

There was definitely not the unity of purpose that the Police alleged and maintained right through to the trial of the “Urewera 4” in 2012.

“The October rama was a challenge for me cause I wasn’t interested in working in that field either”.

The Police obtained warrants for their paramilitary termination operation on 10th October 2007. Annette King, then Minister of Police, said that cabinet ministers were briefed in the “days before the raids” but not about the manner they would be carried out. She later said that meeting took place the night before the raids. The final wananga took place on 12th and 13th October. That meeting took place on 14th October. The Police did not recover the video footage of that October wananga until after their paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007.

Even if they did recognise the significance of that October evidence, that it clearly indicated PMC training, they never admitted it but instead tied it into their original terrorism/criminal group narrative.

Why did the peace activists attend anyway?

For a long time I was somewhat perplexed as to why a group of anti-war and peace activists would spend so many months attending wananga involving firearms and military training. So I asked Wellington activist Valerie Morse that question and the answer made perfect sense although it was completely unexpected. She had been brought up around guns by her American father and had no problem with firearms themselves. It was war she had a problem with. I also got the impression that she enjoyed running around the bush doing that stuff. I can understand that.

The lesson there is not to project your own preconceptions and stereotypes onto other people.

And so to the revolutionary korero

The “compelling video evidence” might have been the centrepiece evidence presented to the courts (and the media) after the arrests but it was the voice intercepts that shaped the Police terrorism narrative during Operation 8. It was also the voice intercepts included in a leaked Police affidavit that excited the media. After the event when the Poilce had gained access to some logs from an encrypted chatroom they added those conversations as evidence but it was not available to them as they prepared the analyses that led to the paramilitary “termination phase” on 15th October 2007.

Taken at face value, and disregarding the contradictory evidence, a lot of the korero they intercepted truly did indicate serious intention to commit acts that could be classified as terrorism within the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002. Some of the original eighteen accused claimed the Police selectively “cherry picked” the korero they presented in affidavits to obtain warrants, and later as evidence. They most likely did but taken at face value that evidence was still alarming. One would expect however that the bulk of the korero they intercepted was boring chatter.

In the Crown indictment against the “Urewera 4” who were the only ones to eventually face trial they were charged with participation in a criminal group with objectives alleged to be one or more of the following:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Intentional damage
  • Endangering transport
  • Wounding with intent
  • Aggravated wounding
  • Discharging a firearm or doing a dangerous act with intent
  • Using a firearm against a law enforcement officer
  • Committing a crime with a firearm
  • Kidnapping

Most of those alleged objectives were gleaned from the voice intercepts and from chat room conversations, some supported by the Police interpretation of their video evidence.

The Police did take that revolutionary korero at face value, did not take note of the contradictory evidence they had collected, and didn’t bother to spend time verifying the conclusions they drew from that korero. Without the benefit of their expert Maori officers who would have known how to find out what was really going on they probably had no way to verify any of it.

In court the prosecution made a point of telling the jury that the korero was not just “pub talk” but expressed genuine intent. They were right in that it wasn’t just “pub talk” but wrong in not understanding what it did mean.

From my vantage point knowing what I knew at the time, being a military expert, knowing many of the participants, and having access to information unavailable to the Operation 8 analysts I have to start my own analysis from the point of view that what was alleged by the Police was nigh on impossible, despite the incriminating revolutionary korero. I have detailed in previous posts why that was so.

I am saying that the revolutionary korero had to have been bullshit, regardless of how incriminating it sounded and even if some of the participants believed it. There is too much contradictory evidence for it to have been real. I have been listening to it and reading it for decades now and to my ears it automatically registers as bullshit.

At the trial in 2012 defence witness and law professor Dr David Williams was much more diplomatic. He had been involved with indigenous people and indigenous issues in Aotearoa New Zealand and in East  Africa. The gist of part of his verbal evidence as he remembers it (1st September 2015) was that:

“I did say something in court to the effect that rhetoric that sounds “revolutionary” to most New Zealanders is really the standard narrative of colonised peoples campaigning for self-determination. This was a reflection  that goes back to my time living and teaching in Tanzania (East Africa) in the 1970s when I met and mingled with many involved in the peaceful transition to independence in Tanzania [then Tanganyika] and Uganda as well as some of the more militant members of African liberation movements. Such ‘revolutionary’ anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist language in my opinion, and my experience, did not and does not entail an option for armed struggle as the only or the preferred pathway to liberation”.


Then there’s the fear factor that noone talks about.

Behind racism lies deep seated fear. Fear of Maori. That in itself is a paradox. Maori are the losers. Maori are the marginalised, the poor, the unemployed and the imprisoned. The colonised. The dispossessed. The losers. But still we are feared.

Arising out of the colonisation and dispossession and our present staus in New Zealand society is our culture of resistance. Not acceptance but resistance. The so called Maori renaissance, the decades of land rights, language and cultural activism, Treaty activism and Treaty settlements; these are all expressions of resistance. In my schooldays in the 1940s and 1950s Maori resisted schooling and the bending of the mind to the Pakeha worldview. It was an expression of resistance and its effects are still being felt today in schooling under-achievement.  Even high levels of Maori offending and imprisonment are in their own way expressions of resistance.

Accompanying that resistance from the 1960s to the present day has been the revolutionary korero, the hyperbole. A couple of years ago I spent days on end in the library reading back through the newspapers of the period. At the height of the activism in the 1970s and 1980s the revolutionary korero was reported in the media almost every week, reported with alarm, reflecting Pakeha outrage. And fear. Despite relative powerlessness Maori possess the ability to strike fear in the hearts of men. Fear of the other, the different, and fear that we will surely one day regain all that was lost. Fear that somehow they will lose. The gains of the last three decades have been accompanied by mostly subdued but deep resentment. It’s a visceral subconscious fear.

In days of old the haka served to strike fear into the hearts of men.

These days the haka has become commonplace and no longer has the same impact. In these modern times from about the 1960s onwards revolutionary korero has taken its place. Revolutionary korero is an evolved form of the haka. It works as did the haka of old. It arouses the passions of the dispossessed. It strikes fear into the hearts of men. It’s meant to. Politicians, media, right wing bloggers, Police officers, judges.

The whole country witnessed fear in action on 15th October 2007. Armed, helmeted, masked, booted, black clad fear. Ka mate, ka mate , ka ora , ka ora.


A lot of the korero was just about anger. There was talk at various times of assassinating George Bush, Helen Clark and John Key. I would venture that millions of people in the Western world speculated about the desirability of President George W. Bush’s demise.

Helen Clark angered a great many Maori in 2004 when she legislated to extinguish any possible claim to the seabed and foreshore. It did after all lead to the formation of the Maori Party and the loss of some of the Maori electorates. That was the peaceful result but many Maori did at the time wish her a great deal of personal harm. She angered a few Tuhoe with her reluctance to engage over their principal claim and no doubt a few did wish her dead. That’s just how anger gets expressed. It indicates anger rather than intent.

I suppose assassinating John Key just sounded like a good idea at the time. I think the present mantra, “Don’t change the flag, change the Prime Minister” has more class.

A lot of angry, way over the top korero was directed towards the Police. There are good reasons for that and I will examine that later.

Distrust, antipathy and antagonism towards Police

Out here in Te Ao Maori there remains a great deal of distrust, antipathy and antagonism towards the Police. A lot of it has deep historical roots in events such as the invasion of Parihaka by the Armed Constabulary in 1881 and the invasion of Maungapohatu by armed police in 1916. Some of it relates to more recent events such as the use of Police to break up occupations and protests, the killing of Paul Chase in 1983, the killing of Terrence Thompson in 1996 in what some saw as an extra-judicial execution, and the killing of Steven Wallace in 2000. The arrest and charging of Taame Iti on arms charges in 2005 was the most recent.

This lingering antagonism, even hatred, remains despite attempts by the Police in these recent times to improve relationships with Maori and Maori communities with greater engagement through their iwi liaison officers, and through cultural training at the Police College. The training seems to have had only limited success.

The Ngawha prison protests and demonstrations in 2002 set all of that back at least in the activist community. At those legitimate demonstrations poorly led, out of control Police officers deliberately assaulted demonstrators, including those who were trying to video them carrying out the assaults. Some demonstrators were charged and there were further demonstrations at a later date outside the courthouse. The Police again assaulted several of those including a lawyer who was trying to enter the courthouse to represent her client.

Some of those who were present at Ngawha attended the wananga in the Urewera a few years later, their antagonism towards the Police undiminished.

That antagonism is also rooted in widely held perceptions of deeply entrenched racism in the New Zealand Police. Police racism is just part of the reality of the lives of many Maori. That’s the main reason for the establishment of the Iwi Liaison Officer network. The ongoing antagonism was evident in much of the revolutionary korero intercepted during Operation 8.

An aspect of policing that generates deep seated antagonism is the methodology they seem to be taught; intimidation, confrontation and domination. One can understand the need to dominate in situations where things could get out of hand or even dangerous but for many Police officers it becomes the standard way of dealing with people, especially Maori. Bullying.

In part it results from a misunderstanding or misreading of certain situations. These days the Police seem to regard every protest or demonstration as potentially dangerous and are heavy handed from the start. A recent instance was their openly wearing and displaying tasers at a peaceful demonstration. It also demonstrates a high degree of arrogance and that gets up many New Zealander’s noses.

Many Pakeha Police officers, notably the younger officers, seem to be fearful of Maori and act to dominate from the beginning of any encounter. Fear of Maori is a factor behind a lot of racism and a lot of inappropriate Police behaviour.

It has to do with mana and the need certainly in Maori culture to respect the mana of each and every person. Many Police officers do not seem to understand or have any regard for the mana of those they come into contact with. They trample on mana. Taame Iti expressed it in a piece he wrote for “The day the raids came, stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids” (2010, ed Valerie Morse, Rebel Press, Wellington). This extract says it all:

“Koutou i haere mai nei
Koutou nei i haere mai nei
Ki Tuhoe”

“Ko wai koutou?
No hea koutou?
Kua haere mai ano koutou
Ki te takahi o te mana o Tuhoe”

In my experience anger generated by Police racism and by heavy handed policing and the trampling of mana is very often expressed in extreme language and I recognised it in the Operation 8 transcripts. Many of the participants including Taame Iti, Tuhoe Lambert, Rangi Kemara, the “anarchists” and others had little reason to love the Police.

Talking to the Police

A lot of the korero was about killing policemen. The question is, were they talking about the Police or talking to them. I think it was a bit of both.

Police surveillance of individuals was going on from about June 2006, mostly obtaining call records and text message records from telephone companies, with quite a bit of physical surveillance. It seems to have increased exponentially in April 2007 with voice intercepts mostly from bugs planted in cars; one car in particular.

From about May or June 2007 that car had a small note stuck to the sun visor on the passenger side warning that the car was probably bugged. I can verify that. Yet the flow of incriminating intercept continued. Why was that?

A lot of that korero to the Police was about the background antagonism towards the Police, anger about Police surveillance, venting, blowing off steam, up-you bastards korero. The Police obviously thought it was always about them, not sometimes to them.

Bullshit (or hyperbole)

There’s still a strong element of bullshit.

Operation 8 and the bullshit started with Jamie Lockett and his long running feud with the Police. From a distance the behaviour on both sides could only be seen as a mutual obsession. They were tailing him and intercepting him and harassing him and he was baiting them. He was known to have threatened Police. His linking up with Taame Iti led the Police to the Urewera.

A text message from Jamie Lockett to John Murphy on 31st December 2006 illustrates the level of obsession and antagonism:

“Just letmy daughter know Death is in the air. Fuk Nz & fuk the police. Some1 is going2 die”.

On 23rd March 2007 a conversation between Lockett and an unknown female was intercepted. Lockett said, in part:

“Ah well I’m training hard to take on six men very quickly. I’m training up in to be a very, very vicious dangerous commando”.


In November 2007 Lockett was reported in the media:

“Lockett said he could not recall making a “vicious commando” remark attributed, but had some recollection of the other comments. But he said those remarks were simply an angry reaction to an earlier arrest”.

Probably true given the record of his relationship with the Police.

However, given the mutual obsession between him and the Police that bullshit korero and more like it would have been enough for them to set out after him yet again.  I understand they’re still at it in 2015.

Networking through revolutionary korero

It is difficult to reconcile the volume of revolutionary korero with the lack of any capability to mount a revolution, and indeed the lack of serious intent to mount a revolution. That perhaps is at the core of the paradox.

The korero came from Taame Iti himself, Tuhoe Lambert, Rangi Kemara and others and was spread throughout the whole group over many months. New members seem to have been attracted to the “Rama” by that korero and many of them clearly believed it. In some cases I think that private fantasies were simply reinforced by the korero. I’ve been around long enough to know that the fantasy is alive and well in the minds of many wannabe revolutionaries. As I’ve written in an earlier post many of them mistakenly look to Taame Iti as the revolutionary leader. Mind you he hasn’t done much to dispel that belief even though he doesn’t subscribe to it himself.

So they seem to have collectively woven an aura of revolutionary mystique around a revolution that didn’t exist.

It reminded me of a technique I developed in the 1980s and 1990s to build a loyal and involved readership around my “Te Putatara” newsletter in its print version. I developed a fictional conspiracy of the “Kumara Vine” pitted against the Establishment including the Department of Maori Affairs. It was written to include my readership as co-conspirators, reinforced every month with snippets and reports from the frontline in Wellington, from the Maori Intelligence Agency and from the Dungeon Bar. It reported on real people and real events but the conspiracy was pure bullshit wrapped around fact; delightful and entertaining bullshit though. Both my Maori and Pakeha readers loved it; most of them.

The revolutionary korero building a revolutionary mystique around a revolution that didn’t exist is typical of Taame Iti’s own sense of bullshit; sorry Taame – hyperbole and theatricality. But it was a theatrical narrative built upon real history and real aspirations, real mamae and real anger, against a background of a real effort to finally achieve some sort of negotiated resolution. The revolution was the bullshit bit. We will explore the anger later.

Repulsing another invasion

Throughout the whole body of intercepted texts and conversations there is a theme of needing to repulse an attack on Ngai Tuhoe by the Police, probably by the Special Tactics Group (STG) and possibly assisted by the Army’s Special Air Service (SAS). This korero has been around Ngai Tuhoe for generations; i.e. “they came for us before and they’ll be coming again”.

Presumably that scenario would be the result of failed negotiations and a declaration of secession by Ngai Tuhoe from the state of New Zealand. Most unlikely but I can think of no other scenario that might be thought to provoke an armed attack on Ngai Tuhoe. Other than the egregious boneheaded one that actually occurred on 15th October 2007. It was sad case of a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps.

Regardless of its unreal potential that theme was definitely behind most of the revolutionary korero. It was a most unlikely even fanciful scenario and the leading figures in the wananga knew it. As I’ve written earlier however many of the participants did seem to believe it.

Maori police as trash talk interpreters

The Police and prosecution discounted any thought that all of the above might have been “pub talk”. They were 100% right. But it was “trash talk”; revolutionary trash talk. I’ve heard a lot of it in my time but not perhaps on the scale depicted in the Operation 8 intercepts. It is usually confined to the street, leaning over the fence at the marae, or in these modern times to text messaging, email lists and chat rooms. I’ve been watching it in its online version for about twenty years now.

In a future post, a tribute to Tuhoe Lambert, I’ll write about the master of trash talk and some of the reasons for it.

The sad thing about all of this revolutionary trash talk is that if the Police had brought in Superintendent Wallace Haumaha and his network of iwi liaison officers they would have suspected that it was trash talk and would easily have found out what was going on. The whole fiasco would have been averted. And it was a fiasco; a two sided fiasco.

Why were they not brought in at an early stage? Why were they not brought in at all? Why were they specifically and deliberately excluded and why was that exclusion endorsed and authorised by the Police Commissioner himself? Incompetence and ignorance definitely. Racism probably. Paranoia for sure. There’s been a lot of that around both before and after 9/11.

The paradox remains, only partly unravelled

Incompetence, ignorance, racism and paranoia can render one blind to the existence of a paradox, a paradox being a proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.

I’m sure that I’ve not fully unravelled the paradox. I’ve pulled out many of the threads and still there is ambiguity. But the analyst has to learn to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. The situation in the Urewera was ambiguous and uncertain and the paradox was real, unrecognised and unresolved by the Operation 8 team.

They reached instead for an interpretation that gave them a sense of unambiguous certainty despite contradictory information.

Links: The Operation 8 Series