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