Don’t be alarmed – domestic terrorism threat a false alarm

Consumers of news and social media yesterday may have been shocked to read of an apparent imminent threat of domestic terrorism. You should not be alarmed.

Consumers of news and social media yesterday may have been shocked to read of an apparent imminent threat of domestic terrorism

You should not be alarmed – despite the sensationalist headline, imagery, and "BREAKING" tag.

The first thing to understand is that the "threat" – if there was one – could have been years or decades ago. It may even not have happened at all.

Of course it suits the government just fine that this comes as the Security & Intelligence Bill is being considered by select committee.

The story, and others from competing outlets, appears entirely based on the bullet point "Threat of a domestic terrorist incident" appearing under the heading Examples of National Security System activitations in a newly released handbook.

The National Security System (NSS) in its present form has only been in place for two years, yet many of the examples in the list are much older than this. One example given is the Darfield earthquake in September 2010.

The handbook does not make clear which of the examples were real NSS activations, which are real events but which may predate the current NSS, and which are entirely fictitious. The Government's responses to journalists' questions lend no further credibility to the claim.

For all we know it may refer to the Rainbow Warrior bombing 31 years ago.

Given the veracity problems which have emerged from New Zealand intelligence agency claims, an unsubstantiated "threat" given as an example in a handbook should be taken with a large shipment of salt.

Even if we accept the "threat" mentioned is a real-world example, there have been no arrests or prosecutions. We should assume therefore that the "threat" was a false alarm – not a "foiled plot". (In which case, who were the innocent people spied on to determine this?)

The intelligence agencies have been on a PR offensive the past couple of years to try to win backing for their ever increased powers and fix-up bills to authorise past failings. If a terrorism threat had truly been detected and prevented, it seems unlikely the agencies would choose to reveal this using a bullet point in a handbook aimed at civil servants.

So: don't be afraid.

Our spies may have thought they detected a threat, or they may not have, or it may have been decades ago, or if it was recent they almost certainly got it wrong.