Insufficient Evidence: The failure of New Zealand's national security apparatus to acquire the human intelligence (and thus the eye-witness evidence) to convince a jury of the defendants' guilt in the Urewera Terror Trial has exposed serious weakenesses in the protective institutions of the New Zealand State.
Salus populi suprema lex
The safety of the people shall be the highest law
Salus populi suprema lex
The safety of the people shall be the highest law
THE DECISION NOT TO RE-TRY the “Urewera Four” sets the capstone on a comprehensive failure of New Zealand’s national security apparatus. At almost every level, the public has witnessed examples of ignorance, indecision and incompetence that agencies similarly placed in poorer and more marginalised countries would look at askance. After the Urewera debacle, it is debateable whether New Zealand even has a national security apparatus. That twenty or so highly politicised individuals could be observed undertaking military training with lethal weapons, on tribal lands with a long and strong tradition of resistance to the New Zealand state, for close to a year, and still manage to escape serious convictions, certainly argues against the proposition.
At the heart of this failure lies a paucity of intelligence. (And I’m using the word here in its double sense of intellectual sophistication and useable knowledge.) New Zealanders have been seriously let down by the tradition of anti-intellectualism that pervades our security services. It has fostered an institutional environment in which anyone possessing a sophisticated understanding of this country’s history and culture is treated with hostility and suspicion. Doubly so, if that knowledge extends to anything more than a superficial grasp of left-wing and/or right-wing theory and practice. It’s an environment in which the received “wisdom” of our (often even more ignorant) American and Australian allies counts for much more than specialised local knowledge.
Assistant Police Commissioner, Jon White’s, operationally brutal and strategically idiotic raid on the sleepy Tuhoe village of Ruatoki destroyed any chance the Crown might have had of mounting a successful prosecution of the fledgling Urewera guerrilla force. The NZ Police utterly underestimated the vigour and sophistication of the Left’s propaganda capabilities and, from the very beginning, were forced to play “catch-up” in the struggle for hearts and minds.
The other fatal flaw in Operation Eight was its (no doubt US inspired) fascination and reliance on technologically acquired intelligence. Neither the Police Security Intelligence Unit (PSIU) nor the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), appear to have anything remotely resembling an effective spy network. Indeed, in this regard, New Zealand’s private sector intelligence gatherers seem to be well ahead of the State’s. This lack of human intelligence drove the Police to what were subsequently deemed to be reckless and illegal attempts to acquire persuasive evidence of criminal intent.
Also lacking were the reliable media “assets” so highly prized by the British security services. Individuals to whom key elements of the Crown’s case might have been judiciously leaked as a way of counter-acting the Defence’s extremely skilful use of sympathetic journalists strategically located throughout the news media. Our own security services appear utterly unaware of the role social media and the Internet play in shaping public opinion. Where, for example, was the Crown’s equivalent of Wikileaks? Clearly no one was prepared to play the role of Private Bradley Manning by dumping all the evidence denied to the Prosecution on a suitably insulated and legally untouchable website.
From the very beginning of Operation Eight it should have been clear that the Crown was engaged in a full-scale political battle with the individuals behind the Urewera Training Camps and their supporters in the wider left-wing community. Every one of the agencies tasked with protecting our national security: the PSIU, the SIS, the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination (ODESC) and the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) individually and collectively failed to meet this political test.
Bluntly, the accused’s’ defence team and their tireless army of propagandists ran rings around the Crown. They not only won a significant political victory in terms of the “Urewera Four” case, but their undeniable success in making the Crown look both weak and stupid will very likely deter its servants from attempting anything similar for many years to come. It will require a very brave Police Commissioner indeed to repeat Howard Broad’s gutsy call of 2007.
Nor will Tuhoe, and the Maori nationalist movement generally, be content to rest upon their laurels. Already we’re hearing demands for a Crown apology to, and massive compensation for, the traumatised residents of Ruatoki. Pressing forward from one victory towards another has always been an intelligent strategy – both politically and militarily. The Crown, already in full retreat, will be harried unceasingly by a Tuhoe nation intent on reclaiming as much lost land and mana as possible.
The New Zealand State has been seriously weakened by its failure to convince a jury that what was happening in the Ureweras constituted a clear and present danger to our national security. The Crown’s prosecutors appeared almost entirely ignorant of the philosophical, ideological and historical arguments which have, in other parts of the world, persuaded hitherto peaceful individuals to embrace the theory and practice of political violence. Where were the Crown’s expert witnesses? Why were no academics from the USA or the UK called to tell the Jury how and why people become terrorists? The defence team’s carefully fostered notions that Tame Iti and his comrades posed no sort of threat to the Queen’s Peace, and that the charges levelled against him were farcical, were never adequately challenged by the prosecution – and they stuck.
Partly, this is explained by the failure of the Police to supply the Crown with the right sort of evidence. But the prosecution’s ham-fisted use of the evidence it did possess reflected the susceptibility of even the Crown’s lawyers to the “two worlds” argument advanced by the defence. The latter insisted, with all the silky conviction a skilful barrister can muster, that events which looked like military exercises when viewed through Pakeha eyes, appeared no more dangerous than a job creation scheme when viewed through Maori eyes.
To insist that people running around with guns and balaclavas were terrorists, warned the defence, was to revisit upon these noble Maori “reformers” all the sins of our colonial fathers. According to their lawyers, the accused weren’t training to be terrorists. No, they were training to be security guards in Somalia and Iraq! This preposterous argument convinced not only at least one of the jurors, but also, seemingly, the Crown itself. Guilty verdicts on the most serious charges, it was cleverly insinuated, would be proof positive that Pakeha racism had triumphed. Not surprisingly, on the most serious charge - belonging to an illegal organisation - the Jury was hung.
Russel Fairbrother, Tame Iti’s lawyer, has hailed the Crown’s decision not to re-try his client as a victory for the New Zealand justice system. But there is another, much less sanguine, way of looking at the Crown’s capitulation. If, under the rubric of “national security” one includes the preservation of New Zealand as a unitary, constitutionally-coherent state in which the safety of every citizen is guaranteed by the rule of law, and where the state, and only the state, is permitted to maintain and train armed forces, then the Crown’s decision, and the lamentable way it has conducted itself throughout the entire Urewera affair, gives cause for grave concern.
A group of armed individuals, who gave every appearance of levying war against the Crown, have somehow escaped serious convictions. This entirely unsatisfactory outcome sets an extremely dangerous precedent. We should not feel in the least bit reassured that, ultimately, the guerrillas in the Urewera mist failed to inflict any harm on their fellow citizens. Next time (and given the extraordinary failings of our national security apparatus a ‘next time’ cannot be discounted) we may not be so lucky.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.