Tim Groser approved GCSB spying that would benefit him personally

The Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security, Cheryl Gwyn, released her report of the inquiry into the issues surrounding the GCSB spying on foreign governments for the purpose of then-Minister Tim Groser's campaign for the position of Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

David Fisher at the NZ Herald has a good account of the findings and some of the weaker arguments in it:

She said there was nothing illegal about the spying mission because it lined up with the bureau's job of supporting New Zealand's "economic well-being". The "economic well-being" came from the belief that New Zealand's national security would be served because Groser would do a better job of running the WTO than others.

It was a surprise to find out that the GCSB were the ones who proposed the spying (from the report):

Mr Fletcher, who was aware of the possible campaign, considered whether to offer fuller foreign intelligence relevant to New Zealand’s WTO campaign. After a discussion with a GCSB operational manager, he sought a meeting with Mr Groser and his staff to gauge Mr Groser’s interest in his offer.

But the truly astonishing part was that Tim Groser was apparently the person who approved the GCSB WTO spying campaign ("The Director explained the offer and Mr Groser expressed his acceptance.") even though, in the IGIS's words:

Mr Groser stood to benefit personally if selected as WTO D_G.

While the IGIS finds that this personal benefit from the spying was incidental to the benefits to New Zealand, surely it should have disqualified Tim Groser from being the one who approved it?

One of the fears that civil liberties people have about state spy agencies is that their undoubted power might be used to benefit the members of the government rather than the country. Ministers should not be approving operations where they might personally benefit.

 

"Economic well-being"

The case also demonstrates the problem with "economic well-being" being included in the GCSB's statutory objectives. The IGIS in her report said it wasn't her business to question this as it was a matter for Parliament to decide.

The "economic wellbeing" purpose always seemed ripe for abuse - potentially extending state surveillance into anything that touched on the economy. We thought it might be used to spy on political activists, and never dreamed it could be extended as far as helping a NZ politican get a job at the WTO.

We have long objected to this purpose in our submissions on changes to the various spy agency laws over the years. In our submission on the Security & Intelligence Act (the new law governing both the SIS and GCSB) we pointed out that, if we had to have spying, it should be rare and only "...when the health and wellbeing of people living in New Zealand or New Zealanders overseas is at clear and significant risk."

The conflation of Tim Groser's personal ambitions with the economic wellbeing of New Zealand obviously doesn't meet this bar.

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