Since the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, there has been a renewed focus world wide on terrorism inspired by the Islamic religion in defence of perceived Islamic values.
Until 15 March, many New Zealanders thought there was little risk of terrorism of any sort happening here. The Green Party and other left leaning organizations regularly questioned the need for the Government Communications Security Bureau (G.C.S.B.) and New Zealand Security Intelligence Services existing. However, the opponents of these two agencies have never articulated a workable solution to abolishing them.
Now that there has been an attack and the two agencies responsible for our security failed in their job, New Zealand must ask itself whether its current arrangements are fit for purpose. If not, what would be better arrangements?
My own concerns stem from the security assets on New Zealand soil as we know them, working for a foreign Government instead of New Zealand and subject to a foreign powers. Two U.S. surveillance sites at Tangimoana in the lower North Island and Waihopai in the Wairau valley of the upper South Island. Both are signals intercept stations that can monitor peoples faxes, phone calls and e-mails.
A notable feature of the increased focus on this one particular source of terrorism as opposed to all other known or perceived sources has been the use by the Security Intelligence Service of informal conversations with young men of the Muslim faith. During those conversations it was claimed the S.I.S. applied pressure to these men to continue spying on their mosque.
It is debatable whether or not such a threat existed in New Zealand. The right wing of New Zealand politics believed such a threat existed (and still does), whilst ignoring the causes of much Islamic militantcy around the world such as American wars in the Middle East. These causes also include support of Israel even when the latter violates international law and their arming of nations such as Saudi Arabia to commit war crimes in other Middle East countries. In a setting where lawlessness caused by constant war that breaks down the security and judicial apparatus it is easy to become influenced by violence since it seems to be the only solution with currency.
During 2002-2004 an Algerian asylum seeker named Ahmed Zaoui tested New Zealand’s mettle after arriving in several European countries with no proper documentation. He was subject to unfair trials before being deported. He wound up in New Zealand and was jailed. Eventually he was freed. It was not because many people necessarily thought he was completely innocent, but because no charges were brought against him, so it violated New Zealand law to keep him imprisoned.
Few – if anyone – believed that an attack by anyone of far right persuasion was possible and when concerns were raised about groups such as the National Front and Right Wing Resistance, they were dismissed as flights of fantasy.
I attended a counter protest to a National Front rally in Christchurch in 2013. There was a clear tension between the two groups. The National Front members were out numbered probably 12-15 people for every one of their members. But they were dressed in uniform that appeared to match that of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (S.S.)and when their members left, they gave Hitler salutes. They distributed anti Asian/Muslim/minority propaganda. Their leader, Kyle Chapman was linked to the fire bombing of a Marae. They had a website which was listing job adverts for people with computer coding skills to bulid or enhance the site.
There is nothing that I am aware of which says the gunman was a member of either organization. He was a loner, a radical who saw extreme wrong in being a tolerant and diverse nation; in looking out for minorities; in viewing them as somehow such a threat that only violence would suffice as a response. But he and anyone who might have assisted him managed to go by unnoticed.
Clearly our national surveillance and security agencies missed the biggest threat to New Zealand since France blew up the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 – though I do not think we could have reasonably expected a Government whose nation N.Z. helped free in two world wars to appear as a terrorist threat.