Operation 8: Preface to an Analysis of a Police Operation

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

An Analysis of a NZ Police Intelligence Operation into Alleged Terrorism in the Urewera, 2006-2007.

This complete series of analyses is based on a detailed affidavit I prepared for the defence of the Urewera Four at their trial in February 2012.  Almost all of material in this series was covered in that affidavit but in lesser detail. For reasons that will be explored in a separate anaylsis of that trial very little of it was used by the defence.

Apart from helping to prepare a trial defence I came to this analysis for a variety of reasons.

The first I suppose was personal. About midday on Monday 15th October 2007 my business premises in Parnell got locked down as part of a nationwide search and seizure operation aiming to discover information to vindicate a Police terrorism narrative. I took the Police to court that afternoon and stopped them from taking away my computers and documents. They agreed to pay $2,000 towards my legal fees. I was pissed off but I got over it quite quickly. A rare win in the High Court against the coercive power of the State helped me to move on.

The second reason was also personal. Rangi Kemara, one of those arrested that morning, was my IT Manager and a loyal, trusted and valuable employee and friend and I knew he was no terrorist. I supported him as best I could throughout his long battles through the courts, at his eventual trial as part of the “Urewera Four” in February 2012, and in the years since.

The third reason and the one that drove most of this analysis was purely professional. The Police intelligence operation crossed into three of the main areas of my own expertise; military operations, intelligence analysis, and Maori development and activism. I switched out of the personal into the professional. It’s what professionals do. It’s what I was trained to do.

For I had been a commissioned officer in the NZ Army for twenty years. With extensive training in all aspects of warfare, as a trainer myself in counter-revolutionary warfare, and with active service in Borneo and Vietnam I knew a bit about the military stuff the Police were alleging. I had also been involved at HQ staff level in the establishment of a counter terrorism capability in the NZ Army. I knew a bit about terrorism. With training and employment as an intelligence analyst in my Army days I knew a bit about intelligence analysis. Quite a bit.

By 2007, after twenty years a soldier, I had spent twenty five years involved in many aspects of Maori advancement and Maori development. I was aware that many of those activities had from time to time been thought to be subversive by an ignorant, racist and paranoid fringe in New Zealand society, including some in the NZ Police. In the 1980s, twenty years before Operation 8, some Maori activists had been labelled “Maori terrorists” in Police intelligence reports. They were wrong then and I instinctively knew that they would be wrong again. But instinct is not enough and I determined to objectively analyse the Police intelligence operation to prove my point. Or not.

I knew and respected many in the activist networks, both Maori and Pakeha. Of those arrested I knew Taame Iti and Rangi Kemara. I also knew some of those who had attended Taame’s wananga in the Urewera who had not been caught up and arrested in the “raids” on that day. I knew none of them were terrorists. I suppose in my own way I was a minor activist myself, having chosen in 1988 to use the power of my writing to support Maori political, economic and social aspirations. “Te Putatara” was the vehicle then, and is still.

I remain the proud holder of the Queen’s Commission I received when I was commissioned as a junior infantry officer in the 1960s. A commission is granted for life and it is one of my most valued possessions, three decades after I retired from active duty. To me it signifies that I was then and remain still a “trusty and well beloved” servant of my country. My commission says so. It reads in part:

“Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith – To Our Trusty and Well beloved Roslyn Nepia Himona, Greeting: We reposing special Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty, Courage, and Good Conduct, do by these Presents constitute and appoint you to be an Officer in the Regular Force of our New Zealand Army ….”

It embodies for me the code of honour, the ethical values and the belief in democracy that underpinned my commitment to complete this analysis. For I was professionally offended by what I saw at the time as a cavalier Police attitude to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, liberty, freedom, and justice; the things I value as a citizen of a democratic New Zealand.

Would that the commissioned Police officers involved in Operation 8 thought the same way about the obligations imposed upon them by their parchment commissions.

My fourth reason for embarking upon this project was to make sure that a complete analysis was laid down for future reference in the hope that one day an official public inquiry would be commissioned. There have been inquiries by the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Human Rights Commission but they were both quite shallow and did not get to the core problems of Police conduct and ineptitude in Operation 8. The Parliament refused to allow a full public inquiry. The suspicion is that Parliament did not want to lift the lid to reveal some fundamental flaws in our New Zealand version of democracy and a failure of democratic process. For this operation was signed off by the Prime Minister herself.

My final reason is to lay down a platform for the children of the late Tuhoe Lambert to clear his name. Tuhoe was a fellow Vietnam veteran; a patriot. He was arrested on that fateful day, and was included in the final five to go to trial but did not live to see the day. His name remains sullied, at least in the public record. As part of this analysis I have written a tribute to Tuhoe Lambert in which I declare his innocence. As a direct response to Operation 8 two of Tuhoe’s children have studied law and I hope that one day they will be able to clear his name.

While they’re at it they might clear the names of their father’s friends Rangi Kemara and Taame Iti, and Emily Bailey and Urs Signer; the “Urewera Four”.

Having said I was determined to objectively analyse the Police intelligence operation I readily concede that in places I venture into subjectivity and opinion. My opinions are those of an expert and I think I have made it abundantly clear where I have been subjective and personal. It was deliberate and not an unconscious slip of the pen, or malfunction of the keyboard. Unlike the detectives whose work I was analysing I know when I’m being objective and when I’m being subjective. Long ago during my training as an intelligence analyst the difference was drummed into me.

I was partly motivated to conduct this analysis by the outpouring of anger, opinion and commentary immediately following the paramilitary operations in October 2007. Whilst I understood the anger I did not agree with much of the opinion and commentary. It seemed to me to be situated in academic and activist intellectual frameworks that were remote from the reality of the events. People had situated their analyses of Operation 8 within their own frames of reference and political understandings instead of within the actual events.

I resolved to correct, or at least to balance the record. In doing so I have had the advantage of access to information that was not available at the time and I have not had to speculate about what Police were thinking. They wrote a lot of it down. The information includes:

  • Multiple Police affidavits;
  • Police evidence;
  • Court records (many of them originally suppressed);
  • Indictments;
  • Court summaries; and
  • Many other documents.

I have also been able to interview some of the key accused over a period of time. That has not been easy as I have had to treat what I was told with a degree of scepticism until I could verify what I was told. It took some persistent questioning and checking before I was able to piece together what I thought was actually going on in the Urewera.

Without that access to information in the period immediately after the paramilitary operation there was much comment in the media and some commentary was circulated in the networks. Probably the most permanent and representative record of that commentary is in “Terror in our Midst, Searching for Terror in Aotearoa New Zealand”, edited by academic and historian Danny Keenan (Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2008).

The book contains eighteen commentaries (including editorial) mostly by academics with many of them, in my opinion, somewhat wide of the mark. They situated the events of October 2007 within discourse on colonialism, early settler history, Ngai Tuhoe history, and legal “suppression” history. I think the real reasons for the events of October 2007 are far more prosaic; ordinary and everyday. It was a simple Police cock up. Fuelled, I agree, by ongoing ignorance, paranoia and racism, but mostly by simple incompetence and ineptitude. Fuelled also by a troubling disregard for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, liberty, freedom, and justice.

Anyway, that is the major conclusion of my study based mainly on the evidence presented by the Police themselves, and on my own investigations into what was really going on at those wananga in the Urewera. I have mostly put aside theory and tried to focus on fact.

Having said that I don’t disagree with all of the commentary. From “Terror in our Midst” I have quoted extensively from the essay by Luke Crawford, “Ruatoki, the Police and Maori Responsiveness” (p.79). I was entertained by the Epigraph by Pou Temara, “Terrorist in our Midst?” (p.15) in which he humorously and correctly debunks the notion of Taame Iti as terrorist.

I was inspired by the essay and poetry of Alice Te Punga Somerville in “Poetic Justice: Writing (as) the Struggle” (p.223) to add my own account to the public record. And I was heartened by a comment by law lecturer Mamari Stephens after she had analysed in “Beware the Hollow ‘Calabash’ Narrative, Analogy and the Acts of Suppression” (p.181) some of the legal analogies used by some commentators:

“But I would suggest the 2007 raids should be best understood on their own terms and that we, as commentators, might seek to avoid collapsing histories and time to make rhetorical comparisons unless the points to be gleaned are so compelling and enlightening of both situations as to make the risk worth it”.

I hope I haven’t quoted her out of context to serve my own ends! I have tried to understand the 2007 raids on their own terms.

Links: The Operation 8 Series