GCSB chief resigns ahead of statutory review
Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) director Ian Fletcher is stepping down after three years in the role “for family reasons”, according to a statement issued today by Christopher Finlayson, who has ministerial responsibility for the organisation.
In the statement Mr Finlayson praises Mr Fletcher for having been “instrumental in the significant improvements that have taken place at the GCSB over the past three years” and cites implementation of the Kitteridge Review, an increase in the organisation’s “public openness and accountability” and the initial roll-out of the Cortex cyber security programme as highlights of his tenure.
Not surprisingly, Mr Finlayson’s media release fails to mention the controversy that attended Mr Fletcher’s appointment after it was revealed Mr Fletcher was a former school mate of Prime Minister John Key, who had personally encouraged him to apply for the job and then had a memorable brain-fade about the fact.
Nor does it mention the GCSB’s unlawful interception of the communications of Kim Dotcom and his associates prior to the January 2012 raid on the accused internet pirate’s Coatsville mansion (spying that was later rendered legal via retrospective legislation), or another potential related memory lapse on the PM’s part.
In addition to noting his resignation is for family-related reasons, Mr Finlayson’s statement says Mr Fletcher’s decision was partly prompted by the soon-to-start statutory review of the intelligence agencies.
“Mr Fletcher has decided that opening the door for a new director now means the same person can be involved in the review process, as well as in subsequent decision-making and implementation, rather than changing leadership mid-programme.”
Mr Finlayson also notes Mr Fletcher “is looking forward to pursuing other interests in due course”.
Mr Fletcher will finish in the role on 27 February, when an acting director will take over until a permanent appointment is made.
Labour Party leader Andrew Little has been quick to query the reason for Mr Fletcher’s “surprise” resignation, saying that when he met with the GCSB chief prior to Christmas he was talking about developing relationships with the opposition leader's office.
"What I find intriguing,” Mr Little says, “is in the published statement, the references to the upcoming review of the security agencies and whether or not he's now been told of something that he finds disagreeable, and this is the real reason he's going. I mean, that remains to be seen."
Not surprisingly, Mr Dotcom has also weighed in on Mr Fletcher’s imminent departure, tweeting “Ian Fletcher is leaving the sinking ship
#GCSB. I will expose their illegal activities in court this year.”
Those with memories of Mr Dotcom’s over-promising and under-delivering at last year’s so-called ‘Moment of Truth’, however, will be unlikely to be holding their collective breath in anticipation of any forthcoming revelations.
Meanwhile, Green party MP Kennedy Graham has claimed Mr Fletcher was "hand-picked" for the role of GCSB director by Mr Key in “ a period of unprecedented politicisation of the intelligence services” during which the PM used the organisation as “his own personal protection service”.
Mr Graham says it’s “crucial that there is cross party support for the appointment of any future director and that the GCSB, and its director, are seen to be scrupulously politically neutral”.