Yesterday Rob Gilchrist, who had moved in activist circles for many years, was outed as a spy in a feature article in the Sunday Star Times. Ironically Gilchrist was sprung by his girlfriend who discovered suspicious emails while helping him sort out some computer issues.
Gilchrist had spent a decade spying on an assortment of protest and activist groups, including the Workers Party. As far as we are aware he was forwarding to the police WP discussion emails for around 10 months in 2003-2004. He was taken off the party discussion group on 1 March 2004.
We reprint below an article on the expansion of the state’s snooping powers from The Spark 9 February 2005.
Civil rights fast disappearing
Allegations in 2004 that the Secret Intelligence Service have been spying on political figures, including Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, have been met with loud denials from the Prime Minister. As much as Ms Clark would like the public to think the allegations are preposterous it wouldn’t be the first time the SIS has gone beyond its extensive powers.
In 1996 an SIS agent was caught carrying out an illegal break-in and burglary of the home of political activist Aziz Choudry. A court later awarded Mr Choudry compensation for the illegal actions of the SIS. The government then promptly passed a law to legalise such break-ins, giving the SIS further powers to carryout home invasions. It was one of many instances in recent years where civil rights have been abolished in the name of “national security”.
Judging by the raft of so-called anti-terrorism laws one might assume this country was awash with terrorists. The reality is the number of terrorist acts over the past 100 years could be counted on the fingers of one hand; the Wellington Trades hall bombing and murder of Ernie Abbott in 1984 and the bombing of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. The first bomber was never caught, the second act was state terrorism ordered by the government of France.
Labour has shown it is a very snoop-friendly government and has handed over large sums of money to the secret police. Funding to the SIS increased from $17.2 million in 2003-2004 to $22 million in 2004-2005, and the Government Communications Security Bureau’s budget rose from $29.9 million to $38.2 million. This is money well spent, says the Prime Minister, who is the minister in charge of both these spy agencies.
The Sunday Star Times allegations that for years the SIS has been spying on Maori organisations and individuals have led to an inquiry being set up. It is to be headed by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neasor, and was ordered after Tariana Turia wrote to him requesting an investigation into the bugging claims. While Ms Turia is very pleased there will be an inquiry critics have rightly pointed out that this can hardly be seen as an independent inquiry when the head of Intelligence is doing the investigation. Invariably such inquiries are whitewashes, carried out by handpicked representatives of the ruling elite.
Ms Turia showed just what a conventional capitalist politician she is when she praised the establishment of the inquiry on the grounds that “it was important to restore confidence in the SIS”. (NZ Herald 25 November 2004) Rather than restore confidence in the SIS, what is needed is a better understanding of the role of the state forces. The secret police are not protecting the rights of the majority, they exist as part of an oppressive apparatus that is used to suppress democratic rights. The regular police are usually in the frontline (such as baton charging picket lines to help strike breakers get through), but the other branches of the state - the army, the secret police, the judiciary and parliament all play their part in maintaining the right of the ruling class to rule. Ms Turia is merely upholding the fiction of the state being an above-class impartial body.
Since coming to office in 1999 the Labour government has introduced a raft of anti-democratic laws but clearly considers it a “work in progress”. There are even more attacks on privacy and civil rights promised in new laws being prepared. The Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill is one of the more repugnant examples.
This legislation will give the Minister of Internal Affairs the power to refuse to issue, or cancel, a New Zealand travel document on the grounds of national security. The minister will have new and wide ranging powers, leaving the accused having to mount a challenge to this in the High Court in order to overturn an order.
The Bill will prevent children born in New Zealand being granted automatic citizenship unless one of their parents is a citizen or a permanent resident. This immediately raised the concern that there would be children rendered stateless. Changes have been made that would prevent this, but nonetheless, many children born in this country will now not be eligible for the rights enjoyed by citizens, such as free hospital care. As the Green Party submission on the Bill pointed out, there will be a new category of overstayer - the newborn baby.
In keeping with the xenophobic thrust of the legislation the qualifying period for a resident to become a citizen is to be extended from three years to five.
With much of the latest repressive legislation the New Zealand government is taking its cue from Washington where the “war on terror” is being used to curtail the most basic rights. Civil rights need defending against the onslaught, what has been lost needs to be fought for again