The Acting Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has upheld a complaint by investigative journalist Nicky Hager against the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for unlawfully attempting to uncover his journalistic sources.
The complaint related to events that followed the release of Mr Hager’s 2011 book, Other Peoples Wars. That book concerned New Zealand’s military and intelligence activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the first time the likelihood of civilian casualties during Operation Burnham was raised in public.
The official response to the book was that it was a “work of fiction”. However, behind closed doors the New Zealand Defence Force concluded that the leaked material on which the book was based was genuine and started investigating connections between Mr Hager and a possible source.
The NZDF enlisted the SIS to assist them with its investigation. Among other things, the SIS obtained private telephone records of Mr Hager and of an NZDF officer suspected of being the source.
The SIS sought to justify this use of its powers against Mr Hager by claiming that it was investigating espionage. However, the Acting IGIS found that the SIS had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that any espionage had occurred.
In her report, the Acting IGIS wrote that, “NZSIS provided that assistance despite a lack of grounds for reasonable suspicion that any activity had occurred that was a matter of national security”. She also concluded that she had “been unable to find that the Service showed the kind of caution I consider proper, for an intelligence agency in a free and democratic society, about launching any investigation into a journalists sources.”
The searches proved fruitless. NZDF and SIS were unable to discover any of Mr Hager’s sources and eventually gave up.
Felix Geiringer, a barrister acting for Mr Hager, said that the SIS had used its intrusive investigatory powers against confidential journalistic sources. “This risks harming the flow of important information to the public. It also appears the SIS had no policies in place to protect against this sort of thing happening and there is no suggestion that any are going to be established now.”
“I was relieved to have finished years of trouble after the 2014 police raid on my home”, said Nicky Hager. “I am disappointed to receive more news of more government agencies using intrusive means to try to uncover his confidential sources.
“I would rather get on with my work than fight these fights, but this issue needs to be fixed for the future. I want the SIS to introduce clear policies that will prevent them from targeting media organisations and journalists in this way again.”
Mr Hager has written to the SIS through his lawyer. He has requested a full public admission of their wrongdoing and the establishment of policies to prevent a repeat of such wrongdoing.