NZ spies deny public relations blitz

The SIS and GCSB both deny creating a communications plan/media strategy for the 2015 Intelligence Review. Apparently the wave of public appearances around the time when public submissions closed (feature in the Listener, radio interviews, newspaper articles) was all just a coincidence.

They go on to say that communications strategy for the GCSB and SIS is handled by the NSC (National Security Communications) team which is part of DPMC (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). Both the GCSB and SIS have staff seconded to the NSC as part of their membership of the NZIC (New Zealand Intelligence Community).

We did receive a copy of the NZIC Communications Strategy 2014-2017 (PDF 3.5MB), apparently still in draft a year after it was written, that did talk about their communications priorities as they attempt to build "trust and confidence" and awareness of "the value we add".

The problem of spy agency PR

This may all look pretty innocuous to you – after all, don't all government agencies try to justify their existence while arguing for more money and resources? And we do support the intelligence agencies doing a better job of communicating what they do.

However, we get worried when we see the intelligence agencies trying to justify their own existence or demand more powers or money to do the job they think they should be doing.

Any person might feel justifiably annoyed when a government agency uses the money granted them by taxpayers to lobby to get even more of it. The particular problem with intelligence agencies is that their own requirements for secrecy mean that they can't point to what they do in the way that other agencies do – children educated, criminals arrested, health indices improved.

Rather they tend to talk up the potential dangers that they claim to be defending us from, with the Director of the SIS making meaningless claims like "… in my view the situation is a little worse than a year ago". Too often this ends up as government funded fear-mongering that actually makes us feel less safe than we really are, adding to our insecurity.

Secondly, decisions about funding the intelligence agencies are also fundamentally political decisions. They tie in with judgements about what threats exist, which countries we ally with, and which countries we treat as potential enemies. Our democracy can't afford organisations with spy powers like the SIS and GCSB getting involved with political decision making.

We believe that the SIS and GCSB should not be involved in public lobbying.