Operation 8: A Failure of Command in the NZ Police

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Incompetence. Unlawful and unprofessional behaviour. An assault on human rights by the NZ Police. It was failure of command on public display.

In the matter of the information gathering about activities in the Urewera in 2006 and 2007 that the NZ Police tried to label as terrorism, Police behaviour was found to be unlawful by the High Court and again by the Supreme Court. It was  found to be unlawful in a report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and in a report by the Human Rights Commission. During the information gathering phase of Operation 8 the Police were guilty of unlawful trespass and unlawful surveillance. In the “termination” paramilitary phase they were guilty of unlawful detention, unlawful search and unlawful roadblocks. An awful lot of unlawfulness from the beginning to the awful end.

Many of those unlawful actions were shown in the courts not just to be unlawful, but knowingly and deliberately unlawful. In its ruling the Supreme Court found that almost all of the evidence gathered against the original 17 defendants was unlawfully and improperly obtained. 

In writing this series on Operation 8 I have examined in considerable detail the progress of their intelligence gathering and analysis, and I have concluded beyond doubt that it was unprofessional and incompetent. Essentially there was no professional analysis whatsoever. Intelligence is an intellectual activity and I have concluded that the “intelligence” operation was devoid of intellectual engagement.

That includes the oversight and review of the so called “intelligence” at the highest level of command before approval was given to launch the paramilitary operations on 15th October 2007. There was no effective oversight and review. Imagination substituted for intellect. And lacking the expertise and intellect to properly evaluate the advice given to them the chain of command was captured by the tunnel vision and groupthink originating in the Auckland team of the Special Intelligence Group.

Before the final operation Commissioner Broad briefed ODESC (Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination).  He also briefed a small group of Cabinet ministers before the raids. His assertions must have passed through ODESC without review. One cabinet minister was sceptical and asked him several times to confirm his assertions. He prevailed.

I have also concluded that the paramilitary operation itself showed that the Special Tactics Group and Armed Offenders Squads used in the operations were poorly governed, poorly led, poorly trained and poorly disciplined.

Taken together, all of those failures constitute a failure of command at the highest level. Someone ought to be responsible to ensure that police officers are properly trained for their allocated duties, that they obey the law, and that the police paramilitary force is properly led, trained and disciplined.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad’s desk was where the buck stopped. So he must bear prime responsibility for that failure. But he was not without assistance. Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope was responsible for operations and he must be equally culpable. Assistant Commissioner Jon White was responsible for all intelligence operations and it was his responsibility to ensure the professionalism of those operations. He didn’t.

The record clearly shows that none of them had any real expertise in intelligence. It wasn’t until R. Mark Evans was recruited in October 2007 that the NZ Police had a real intelligence professional who over the next few years set about developing a professional intelligence capability. Prior to that the so called intelligence units set up after 9/11 as a counter terrorist measure focused entirely on ham-fisted heavy-handed gathering of political intelligence about political activism mainly in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Those new special intelligence teams (SIG) in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch spent about two years casting around for non-existent terrorists before the Auckland team trumped the others. Based on the unverified ramblings of a totally unreliable Auckland informant they found something they could finally label as terrorism. They were an under-employed counter terrorism unit looking for terrorism anywhere they could find it; and looking for counter terrorism kudos.

An untrained, unsupervised, out of control counter terrorism unit. A failure of command.

There is also evidence that they found their sought-after terrorism in the first instance in the obsessive feud between some Auckland police officers and serial police antagonist Jamie Lockett. Operation 8 was focused almost entirely on Lockett and some of his Pakeha associates until a link was made with Taame Iti and the Urewera.

Those counter terrorism teams, part of the Special Intelligence Group (SIG), were manned by untrained amateurs; mere detectives instead of professional intelligence analysts. The lack of professional oversight and the lack of professionalism within those powerful teams reflected a failure of command at the highest level.

When Operation 8 was launched as a counter terrorism operation there was some disquiet within the NZ Police. There were those at the working level who knew that it was flawed from the beginning. At Police National HQ level there was also some dissent. Yet despite that Commissioner Broad went ahead, as he said, “to nip it in the bud” with a massive armed response despite knowing that no imminent terrorist or criminal activity was planned by the suspects.

The result was a huge loss of trust in the Police within Maori communities. Trust is essential to successful policing. When trust in the Police takes a dive Police Commissioners lose their jobs.

Allegations of rape and sexual misconduct caused the Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct in 2004. Dame Margaret Bazley was a commissioner. That scandal caused a dramatic loss of trust. At the end of 2005 Police Commissioner Robinson resigned barely one year into his second term. Restoration of trust after such a loss can take ten years or more. Part of Howard Broad’s brief as the incoming Police Commissioner in April 2006 was to restore that lost trust. He in his turn lost the trust of Maori in October 2007.

In October 2012 Fairfax media reported a survey that indicated trust in the Police had hit a new low, having fallen 11.5% to 59.9% in the preceding five years. That included four of the five years Howard Broad held the appointment of police commissioner. The survey was of course disputed by the Police and their minister.

“Comments in the survey indicate that the fall in public trust centres on the police’s management of complaints against its officers, and actions considered heavy-handed, including the Urewera and Dotcom mansion raids”.

The sensational raids in the Urewera came just seven months after the release in March 2007 of Dame Margaret’s Commission of Inquiry report into Police misconduct. The Police launched their own inquiry into the same misconduct in 2004, called Operation Austin. The raids in October 2007 were launched at almost the same time as the release of the Operation Austin report.

However coincidental, Operation 8 accompanied by a professionally orchestrated media campaign certainly served to deflect media and public attention from those damning reports, and from the huge sexual misconduct scandal that had brought the NZ Police into disrepute, and had dogged them for the previous three years.

In the following years from 2008 to 2011 the Operation 8 accused and their lawyers uncovered and proved more unlawful conduct by the Police as they slowly battled their way through a series of court hearings culminating at the Supreme Court in September 2011. At the Supreme Court the main evidence against them was declared to be unlawful but allowed to be used in criminal group charges against four defendants only. Most of that process was suppressed by the courts until September 2011. Police misconduct throughout Operation 8 did not register with the public.

In late 2011, almost immediately after the Supreme Court finding of unlawful conduct, video evidence was released to the media under the pretext of “public interest”. It deflected that public interest away from the Supreme Court’s substantive findings of unlawful conduct by the Police.

It is certainly speculation to infer that Commissioner Howard Broad’s contract was not renewed at the end of his first term in 2011 because of Operation 8, but for some reason it wasn’t renewed. Deputy Commissioner Pope resigned in 2011 before his contract was not renewed. Assistant Commissioner White quietly moved on to Australia in 2010 and is now CEO of the Australia New Zealand Police Advisory Agency.

The three senior officers in the chain of command during Operation 8 all moved on, or were moved on. The next Commissioner seemed to do little to restore trust. He didn’t have his contract renewed. The present Commissioner seems to be working hard to have his contract renewed.

In the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours Howard Broad was made a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit. He has since been appointed to the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet as Deputy Chief Executive Security & Intelligence. He is now responsible for policy and coordination for the whole security and intelligence community. His career has been resurrected.

Not everyone shares Government’s confidence in Howard Broad.

The resurrection of Broad’s career shows that he was not really held accountable for the failure of command and loss of trust. So, if not Broad, who in the Police hierarchy should have been made publicly accountable for that failure of command? Or was all quietly forgiven and forgotten?

Business as usual.

Links: The Operation 8 Series