Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn published her investigation today into political misuse of Security Intelligence Service information. The review confirms important details of an incident that were reported in my book Dirty Politics. Prime Minister John Key claimed at the time of the incident (the 2011 election) that his staff were not involved in tipping off National Party-aligned blogger Cameron Slater about the SIS information. Key made the same claim again when my book was published. The IG found that Key’s staff had indeed been centrally involved in this abuse of government power.
The background to the issue is that, just a few months before the 2011 election, Slater requested information from the SIS about an SIS briefing given to Labour Party leader Phil Goff. This information was widely reported as proving that Goff had not told the truth about the briefing. The incident was damaging for Goff and Labour during the election. The IG’s responsibility is the intelligence agencies and so her review could only ever cover the prime minister’s office is a passing way. Nonetheless, the report contains well researched detail that backs up (and in places takes further) all the main issues in my book about the actions of the PM’s staff.
1. The main question I raised in the book was whether it was SIS staff or the PM’s office who had tipped off Cameron Slater to request the SIS information (Slater’s claim that he had spontaneously requested the information was clearly untrue). I concluded that the tip off had come from the prime minister’s office and that the “obvious guess” for who did the tipping off was the PM’s dirty tricks man Jason Ede. The IG’s report shows definitively that it was indeed Jason Ede, acting under directions from Key’s deputy chief of staff Phil de Joux. Ede has resigned since the revelations in my bookand de Joux now works for Air New Zealand.
2. The IG’s report provides details of de Joux and Ede’s tip off. On 25 July “Mr de Joux provided [a description of the briefing documents] to Mr Ede with the suggestion that it might prompt an OIA [Official Information Act] request for those documents. Mr Ede then provided that information to Mr Slater, discussed the terms of the OIA request with Mr Slater and provided Mr Slater with draft blog posts concerning the issue.” Note that Ede not only discussed the “terms of the OIA request” with Slater (ie. how he should word his request to be sure to get the embarrassing information about Goff) but Ede also provided Slater with “draft blog posts” about the issue. John Key’s staff member had actually scripted blog post attacks against Goff for Slater.
3. The IG’s report confirmed other information in my book about Ede’s activities. She found that Ede used “non-official” e-mail and phone to make it easier to hide his activities: “I was concerned to discover the use of personal email and telephone accounts by Mr Ede for some of his [prime minister’s office] work and indications that he did so in order to avoid any public record,” she said. When she sent Ede a “production order” requiring him to hand over these hidden records of his prime minister’s office work, “Mr Ede provided a supplementary written statement to the inquiry in which he advised that the emails had been permanently deleted prior to the commencement of the inquiry and could not be recovered.” These are unprofessional ways for prime minister’s staff to be acting. It also appears to be a breach of the Public Records Act.
4. The IG’s report also shows that the PM’s office tolerated the blurry staff roles that facilitated the use of SIS information for political purposes. Deputy chief of staff Phil de Joux was the office’s contact with the SIS, with access to SIS information, and at the same time worked with Ede in the office’s media work, where the SIS information was seen as an opportunity.
5. John Key has claimed the IG’s report found no fault with his office. This is not correct. It was not the IG’s role to comment on abuse of power by the PM’s staff, but her findings confirm the abuse of power about which I wrote. Moreover her report shows that there were efforts to stop the inquiry from investigating the Key’s staff. She wrote: “In the course of my inquiry, I considered a submission made by counsel acting for several of the current and former staff of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that the actions of PMO staff in relation to Mr Slater’s OIA request were beyond the jurisdiction of the inquiry, except to the extent that those actions affected or reflected the maintenance, or failure, of political neutrality on the part of the NZSIS.” This raises various questions. Was Key aware of and involved in trying to limit the inquiry (ie was it his office that tried to stop the IG investigating Jason Ede’s and Phil de Joux’s actions)? And who were the lawyers she writes about and who paid them to try to stop the IG investigating the role of Key’s staff.
6. The Goff-SIS briefing was only one of many stories in the book. The difference here is that the Inspector-General has strong investigative powers and was willing to continue her review despite resistance from the PM’s office. Other stories concerning Slater, Ede and PM’s office attack operations, and their influence on election, still await being addressed by official or parliamentary inquiries.