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Labour front bencher Phil Goff says Prime Minister John Key is lying over allegations involving the SIS made in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics.
The book claims Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater was tipped off to ask the Security Intelligence Service for confidential documents about a briefing Mr Goff was given in 2011 (after controvesy over whether the then Labour leader had been briefed, or not, over an affair involving alleged spying by Israeli backpackers).
Mr Key says he didn’t have anything to do with the briefing papers being handed over afer an Official Information Act request, and that he didn’t speed up the process.
Asked if he took the PM at his word, Mr Goff replied, "No. I regret to have to say that, but the prime minister’s lying. Every OIA request to the SIS will go across John Key’s desk. Now, there’s some other factors that are pertinent to this. I was rung up by the head of the SIS to say he’d had an OIA release and he was telling me that he was going to release it. I said, ‘Who’s it from?’ He said, ‘A Mr Slater.’ I said, ‘What’s his first name?’ ‘Cameron Slater.’ I said, ‘You know who Cameron Slater is, don’t you?’ ‘Oh, yes, I do.’ ‘When did you get it?’ ‘I got it today.’ ‘When are you intending to release it?’ ‘Today’. That is unheard of. I’ve been in politics for 30 years. I don’t know of anyone who has had an OIA returned in less than 20 days, and I don’t know anybody that’s got an OIA released from the SIS in that way."
When The Nation interviewer Lisa Owen put it to Mr Goff that , "You were in a war of words with [then SIS head Warren] Tucker at that time. It was clear that there was a degree of animosity there. Wouldn’t it be in his interest to get that information out to embarrass you?", he replied:
"Warren Tucker is a civil servant. As head of the SIS he does nothing that is inconsistent with what John Key or whoever is prime minister of the day asks him to do. Other people, including the Dominion Post and Radio New Zealand, put in identical OIAs. They did not receive that for a long time. The fact that Slater received this is clearly under instruction from John Key, and it’s disingenuous of him to deny that. It’s dishonest."
RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Nicky Hager, Phil Goff and Metiria Turei
Watch the interview here
Lisa Owen: Good morning to you all. If I can come to you first, Nicky. You heard Mr Slater there saying that he’s had death threats as a response to your book and the information out there, and you need to take responsibility for that. Do you?
Nicky Hager: Well, I’m sorry if he’s had death threats, actually. In fact, one of the things I thought about his style and the dirty politics that I was writing about is that I don’t want his example or that kind of example to spread itself through politics. So if people on the left of politics act like Whale Oil, frankly I think they should stop it. We don’t want to have a political system where people do that. So if he’s had rude things, people should stop it, yeah.
Owen: Now, he stands by his actions and also condemns the information in your book, says much of it is incorrect. Also we’ve heard from the Prime Minister this week, Judith Collins, all denying it, saying the information is, in fact, dissolving before your eyes. Do you resile from anything in that book?
Hager: I think that I had one thing that I got wrong. I called someone who I didn’t know a woman when it was a man. That’s the only thing I found wrong in the book. I completely stand by the book. I took care over it. I don’t have to publish something unless I’m sure I’ve got it right. What we’re really seeing is that people who are in a corner with embarrassing things who don’t want to admit anything, who don’t want to give an inch, are saying I made it up and calling me names.
Owen: OK, well, let’s be clear about Labour’s website, then. In your book you say that four computers accessed the website, that one is identified as Cameron Slater’s home computer—
Hager: One’s clearly that, yes.
Owen: One was linked back to National Party headquarters.
Hager: National.org.nz it said, yes.
One was connected to an associate of Mr Slater’s.
Hager: That’s right.
The fourth computer – whose was it?
Hager: There was a computer which was clearly identifiable by its technical characteristics as visiting twice – early in the process and then second, the same time as Slater later, while they were investigating. There was only one computer left. And what we do know from the emails is that Jason Ede definitely visited. Because he was, afterwards, talking about how he was lucky he’d got away with it. He was nearly caught, but he had a particular changing IP address. It’s like his computer phone number was designed to change over time so he couldn’t be traced. So what we know is that Ede’s visits were the two other ones that appeared there. The computer went twice—
Isn’t what you know, though, Mr Hager, isn’t what you know that one computer had a roaming IP address, and Ede sent an email. You draw the bow that it’s his computer from those things, but you can’t categorically say it was his computer.
Hager: No, you’re quite right. I cannot categorically say that was his computer. But if the logs are correct and if his email is correct that, ‘Phew, I nearly got caught there. Luckily I changed my IP address. Thank goodness for changing IP addresses’ – if that’s correct, then the one that it was, was that person who visited twice. That’s correct.
John Key says that if Jason Ede had a look, it was probably only curiosity anyway, and that’s all right. Your response to that?
Hager: No, you just cannot say that, because it was within a context. The context of it was that the vulnerability on the website had been found by a friend of Cameron Slater’s. Cameron Slater obviously contacted Ede or other people. The National Party IT person also went in there. And at the end of that process, they hadn’t just had a look around; they had downloaded Labour Party emails and donation information, all their members and things. And then the other thing which hasn’t been mentioned yet is that Ede and Slater, sitting in Wellington and Auckland, presumably, emailed back and forward as they both separately went through the data and decided which bits they would use.
So you’re saying the totality of the information points to him, in your view, categorically?
Owen: Mr Goff, I want to bring you in on this conversation here. This information that was obtained from the SIS briefing papers – John Key says that he didn’t have anything to do with that, didn’t speed up the process. Do you take him at his word on that?
Phil Goff: No. I regret to have to say that, but the prime minister’s lying. Every OIA request to the SIS will go across John Key’s desk. Now, there’s some other factors that are pertinent to this. I was rung up by the head of the SIS to say he’d had an OIA release and he was telling me that he was going to release it. I said, ‘Who’s it from?’ He said, ‘A Mr Slater.’ I said, ‘What’s his first name?’ ‘Cameron Slater.’ I said, ‘You know who Cameron Slater is, don’t you?’ ‘Oh, yes, I do.’ ‘When did you get it?’ ‘I got it today.’ ‘When are you intending to release it?’ ‘Today’. That is unheard of. I’ve been in politics for 30 years. I don’t know of anyone who has had an OIA returned in less than 20 days, and I don’t know anybody that’s got an OIA released from the SIS in that way.
Owen: You were in a war of words with [then SIS head Warrren] Tucker at that time. It was clear that there was a degree of animosity there. Wouldn’t it be in his interest to get that information out to embarrass you or show that he was—
Goff: Warren Tucker is a civil servant. As head of the SIS he does nothing that is inconsistent with what John Key or whoever is prime minister of the day asks him to do. Other people, including the Dominion Post and Radio New Zealand, put in identical OIAs. They did not receive that for a long time. The fact that Slater received this is clearly under instruction from John Key, and it’s disingenuous of him to deny that. It’s dishonest.
Owen: Metiria Turei, Cameron Slater says that it’s not illegal, what he’s done.
Metiria Turei: Actually, the best example is you walk in through the open back door of somebody’s house and you fossick about with their stuff; you take some stuff away with you. That is illegal. It is the same behaviour in the Crimes Act if you have unauthorised access without permission to this kind of information. It is illegal. Conspiring to commit a crime like this is illegal. So there are numerous crimes that are alleged in Mr Hager’s book and they need to be investigated, which is why we’ve complained to the police.
Owen: I’m wondering, if you’re so categorical about the fact it’s illegal – and you’re nodding your head, Mr Goff – why did you not do something about it at the time?
Why do I think that it’s wrong – it’s like Cameron Slater saying, ‘Yes, I burgled the house, but the door was open.’ He still burgled the house.
I know, but why didn’t you take it up at the time, Mr Goff?
Goff: Because this thing was designed, as I think Nicky Hager’s book indicates, to be a constant distraction from the debate about issues and the debate about policies. Just like Labour’s saying this time it’s about positive policy. That’s what the debate should be about.
Owen: So why distract from policy now?
Goff: Because you invited me on the programme and because I think this reveals the underbelly of National Party politics, and frankly, it’s pretty ugly. You know, most New Zealanders would associate this with Richard Nixon, not with New Zealand politics. That’s not the politics we want; it’s not what we expect; it’s not what we hope for. And all credit to Nicky Hager for revealing this, because the public have a right to know how that politics is being conducted.
Owen: With the time we’ve got left I want to talk about Simon Pleasants, who was an employee who was outed in a very public way. Metiria Turei, Judith Collins has confirmed that she released that name. She says it was publicly available. What is wrong with that?
Turei: She got access to that information as a minister and as a Member of Parliament. She passed it on in order to fuel a smear campaign that led to death threats to a public servant. That is appalling behaviour by a minister of the Crown. She should be sacked for that, frankly, and she would have in any other circumstances, except that John Key is backing her. That is never acceptable for a minister to behave like that, not ever.
Owen: Nicky Hager, the prime minister says he’s not gonna look at these claims against Judith Collins because he’s asked her and she said, ‘It’s all OK.’ What do you think of that, now that the minister has admitted passing the name on?
Hager: I think you can see a consistent approach from the National Party and the prime minister. They don’t want to engage with issues and they’re hoping that people won’t take notice, and that if they just refuse to comment that the media will move on. So that’s what they’re doing. In the case of this one with Simon Pleasants, when I read that, that was one of the things that most offended me when I was writing the book. Because there’s a public servant sitting there, and the Minister of Police, without any good evidence, decides that, ‘Huh, we’ve had a lot of flack about this Bill English house, claiming money he shouldn’t have had. Let’s do someone’—which is the way she talks. ‘Let’s find someone to punish for this.’ And so she goes after a public servant who can’t defend himself—
Owen: She might have just been confirming a very innocent question, like, ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this Labour guy?’
Hager: She may have been doing that, except it was one week after the embarrassment that National had suffered over Bill English’s house, and the day after she sends through the name, Cameron Slater starts attacking him on his website. So I believe – and she hasn’t denied this – that she leaked the name of someone who—As Minister of Police she leaked the name of someone who she thought could be blamed, and watched him being persecuted in public without a chance to defend himself. Very uncool.
Goff: In any other government, she would have to resign for misusing the information, for being part of a smear campaign, and as you put it before, Lisa, indulging in vigilante justice. That’s absolutely inappropriate.
Owen: We’re gonna have to leave it there. We should actually say that Mr Pleasants denies ever leaking any information, and there was no proper channels pursued in terms of that investigation.