The Cowboys in Black Fancy Dress and Operation “Hi Ho Silver”
Today is the eighth anniversary of the New Zealand Police paramilitary operation carried out in the Urewera and elsewhere by a bunch of over-hyped, poorly led, poorly trained and poorly disciplined cowboys.
To date in this series on Operation 8 I have concentrated on a critical analysis of the Intelligence process leading up to the paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007. I have done that from the perspective of a retired Intelligence analyst with twenty years military experience and over thirty years experience in community and Maori development.
In this post I am looking at the paramilitary operation itself, euphemistically called the “Urewera Raids”.
I claim superior expertise to critically analyse that operation as well. In my twenty years in the NZ Army my primary specialty was as a combat arms commander. I was experienced in planning and conducting operations of the type on display on 15th October 2007 . During my deployment to Vietnam in 1967 I commanded an infantry platoon that took part in the “cordon and search” of several towns and villages. They were towns and villages where it was 100% certain that any enemy in hiding would fight fiercely if discovered, and there usually were enemy combatants hiding out in the villages. Additionally in my final posting in the Army 1980-82 I was involved at HQ staff level in the establishment of a counter-terrorism capability.
For a long time after 15th October 2007 I had assumed that the paramilitary police Special Tactics Group (STG) must have had very little time to plan and rehearse their paramilitary operation. It was obviously way over the top and has since been found by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) to have been illegal in many respects (he says unlawful, I say illegal). That would seem to indicate a lack of time to prepare a plan that met all legal requirements. However the IPCA Report of 22nd May 2013 reveals that on 27th September 2007 the Operation 8 team briefed the Police Commissioner and senior staff at Police National Headquarters and on 10th October 2007 the Commissioner authorised the “termination” operation. Warrants for the paramilitary operation were obtained that day.
The Police National HQ and STG leadership had at least five days and up to 18 days to prepare for their paramilitary operation. There was therefore no excuse for the illegal aspects of the plan. There was however some justification for the ferocity of the plan because of the flawed information they were given to base that plan upon. The planning process for the operation was the standard military and police operational process and the IPCA states that it was followed. However that process was only as good as the people who conducted it and the Intelligence on which it was based. The summary of that Intelligence is shown in this extract from the IPCA Report:
“93. The information which STG relied upon in formulating the plan included the following:
- “the targets possessed numerous weapons including “heavy calibre military style semi-‐ automatic weapons” and were part of a group actively training in military tactics;
- “they had received training in the use of rudimentary explosives and incendiary devices;
- “intelligence suggested they were prepared to “die for their cause” and use lethal force to achieve their purpose, including sleeping with weapons under their beds to be better prepared for any attack on them;
- “the intention of this group was to achieve “an independent Tūhoe nation within the Urewera area”;
- “the area where the training camps were situated was rural and some distance from comprehensive medical facilities;
- “not all attendees at the training camps had been identified by Police;
- “intelligence suggested there was an unknown “local group” in the area who could pose a threat to Police; and
- “the feelings of the community towards the participants in the training camps were largely unknown and thus it was stated that “the existence of sympathisers and supporters for their cause cannot be discounted””.
Having analysed the Intelligence process in detail I have absolutely no doubt that the last two of those bullet points were wild assumptions for which there was no Intelligence or evidence either way. They were however critical elements in the planning of the paramilitary operation. The third and fourth bullet points were not supported by corroborated and verified evidence.
It was a way-over-the-top intelligence assessment that led to the way-over-the-top paramilitary operation. In several previous analyses of the Intelligence process I have shown why it was unprofessional, incompetent, lacking in depth, unverified and wrong. To that I now add way over the top. That briefing to the STG also shows that the Police were proceeding into New Zealand’s first major counter-terrorist operation with insufficient and incomplete information, and on the basis of some wild assumptions about the “terrorists”, their capabilities and their intentions. That was a command failure at the highest level.
In several of my previous analyses I have referred to Commissioner Broad’s statements after the event. It is appropriate to do so again. He admitted that he had no indication of an imminent terrorist event and that he authorised the operation only to “nip it in the bud”. With a full on assault on an innocent community?
Despite there being some justification for the style of operation they mounted based on faulty Intelligence and a failure of command, the STG and Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) teams committed some egregiously unlawful behaviour involving innocent whanau and communities. This extract from the executive summary of the IPCA Report describes that behaviour:
“10. … the planning and preparation for the establishment of the road blocks in Ruatoki and Taneatua was deficient. The Authority has found there was no lawful basis for those road blocks being established or maintained. There was no lawful power or justification for Police to detain, stop and search the vehicles, take details from or photograph the drivers or passengers.
“11. There was no assessment of the substantial and adverse impact of such road blocks on the local community. The road block at Ruatoki was intimidating to innocent members of that community, particularly in view of the use of armed Police officers in full operational uniform.
“12. The majority of complaints received by the Authority in relation to property searches were not from target individuals but rather from other occupants at these properties complaining about the way they were treated by Police. Some felt they were being treated as suspects. A number of occupants were informed by Police that they were being detained while a search of the property occurred, despite there being no lawful basis for such detention. Police had no legal basis for conducting personal searches of these occupants.
The behaviour of the Police that day has been publicly documented. It included:
- Detaining at gunpoint several innocents, including women and children still in their night attire, and sometimes in stressful positions; some were made to kneel on concrete paths with guns at their heads;
- Conducting intrusive body searches of women who were not suspects;
- Forcefully separating children from their carers;
- Detaining a woman and her children in a shed for hours without food and water and toilet facilities, and laughing when she asked for relief.
The IPCA Report states:
“Police actions led occupants at five properties to have reasonable cause to believe that they were being detained while the search was conducted. The detention of occupants at these properties was contrary to law, unjustified and unreasonable”.
There were other stupid behaviours including:
- Chain-sawing through a fence when a gate was wide open a few metres away; and
- Smashing doors that weren’t locked.
The most egregious behaviour related to the callous and intimidatory attitude of several “black role” Police officers towards innocents and to the disregard for their human rights and their dignity. It was an assault on human rights.
That behaviour displayed to the discerning eye of someone who has trained and commanded combat troops:
- a culture of arrogance;
- that they were over-hyped;
- that the recruitment and selection process is poorly designed;
- that they were poorly trained;
- that they were poorly disciplined;
- that they were poorly led; and
- at the command and policy level they were poorly governed.
I am not alone in my assessment. And it is why I have called them “cowboys in black fancy dress”. They deserve the opprobrium. I am aware that some in the Defence community call them “The Keystones”.
In Vietnam we were on active service against an armed and very dangerous adversary. Yet in our “cordon and search” operations we never treated innocents with such arrogance and disregard for their rights. We did search them at roadblocks but with as much respect as was possible in the circumstances. We did remove them from the houses we searched but as respectfully as we could and never with the same shouting and pointing of weapons. People will do what you ask if you treat them with respect. It was a disciplined approach. We were never masked. Nothing is more calculated to instil fear than the mask, despite the Police’s claim that it is an operational necessity. We tried to minimise the fear. The innate empathy and friendliness of the New Zealand soldier went a long way towards that.
There was no empathy or friendliness shown to innocents in the Police paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007. Just arrogance and hostility and intimidation. There’s a fucked up mentality behind that attitude. A serious culturally ingrained fucked up mentality.
It was reported that the cowboys in black fancy dress were given their operation orders as late as 3am on the morning of the operation. They were fed the over-the-top terrorism story almost immediately before they went into action. They went out fired up and ready to combat terrorists. Their superior officers hyped them up and set the adrenaline surging. But that is no excuse whatsoever for their arrogant and hostile treatment of innocents.
That was a function of poor policy and governance, poor leadership, poor selection, poor training, poor discipline and a serious culturally ingrained fucked up mentality.
Before the Special Tactics Group (STG) can be deployed a formal STG Request for Assistance has to be submitted.
- Who wrote that request?
- Who submitted it?
- When was it submitted”
- To whom?
- Who approved it? The Commissioner? Deputy Commissioner? Assistant Commissioner Operations?
- Who conducted the “appreciation” to assess the risks posed by an STG paramilitary operation to “terminate” Operation8?
- What were the identified risks, if any?
- Who conducted the after action debriefing?
- Is there a written record of that debriefing?
These questions need to be asked.
The IPCA again:
“13. The Authority has concluded that a number of aspects of the Police termination of Operation Eight were contrary to law and unreasonable. In a complex operation of the type that was undertaken here, there are always a number of important lessons to be learned about future Police policy and practices. The Police internal debrief following the termination of Operation Eight has already identified a number of those lessons and necessary changes to Police training, policy and operational instructions have been made. The Authority has made a number of other recommendations in light of its own findings. This includes the need to re-‐engage, and build bridges, with the Ruatoki community”.
The Police debrief and resulting recommendations did not address the real failures of Operation 8 and did not address the real shortcomings of their paramilitary policy, structure, culture, training, leadership and discipline. It glossed over all of that and seemed to focus on what they needed to do to recover from their disastrous operation, including what they needed to do to repair their relationship with Ngai Tuhoe. A major part of its deliberations were about the paramilitary uniform and concluded that the “black role” and Nomex hoods were still necessary.
It recommended that the Commissioner engage with Ruatoki and it dumped most of the responsibility for repairing the relationship on the National Manager Māori & Pacific Ethnic Services. The same Superintendent Wally Haumaha who had been deliberately excluded from Operation 8 and would surely have moderated its excesses was now responsible for cleaning up the mess.
No-one has been held publicly accountable for all of that illegal and unprofessional behaviour.
The Police have since paid compensation and have apologised to some whanau. They have apologised to Ruatoki and Ngai Tuhoe. They’ve got a long way to go yet. A new generation of Ngai Tuhoe have been given renewed reason to distrust the Police and 15th October 2007 will live on in tribal memory, forever.
Stupidity, paranoia and incompetence know no bounds. It could all have been avoided.
Me maumahara tonu matou.
Links: The Operation 8 Series