NZ security threats 'changing dramatically,' Key says

Mr Key calls on intel agencies to 'do more' to fight extremism and cyber, among others.   Nathan Smith on NZ's security threats on NBR Radio and on demand on MyNBR Radio.

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Prime Minister John Key says threats to New Zealand have “changed dramatically” during the years of his leadership, reflecting a recently-released security briefing.

New Zealand’s spy agencies briefed the re-elected Mr Key about the top six threats to the country, the most serious of which is “violent extremism in New Zealand and by New Zealanders.”

The briefing, released under the Official Information Act (OIA), says national security is a government’s “first priority” to “help keep Kiwis safe” but admits some of the issues are beyond New Zealand’s ability to influence, “let alone shape.”

Among the threats to New Zealand, the top six are: violent extremism, cyber, hostile spying, mass arrivals of refugees, trans-national criminals and South Pacific instability. It is unclear whether a total of six threats are included in every such briefing, or whether the number was chosen to reflect the threat landscape in October 2014.

Mr Key said “threats have changed dramatically” since his leadership of the country began in 2008.

“Yes, there are potential threats in New Zealand that we are watching closely. Violent extremism is at the top for a reason, although we’re in better shape than Australia,” he says.

He reiterated that New Zealand’s spy agencies are monitoring “between 35 and 40” individuals in regards to domestic extremism and “more needs to be done” to stay on top of the No 1 threat.

SIS report released
Mr Key’s comments come as a declassified summary of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) was recently released. The review was started after Rebecca Kitteridge took up the role as director in 2014.

Although the review is critical of spies’ up-to-date skills – recommending constant training throughout the career of all operational staff – the reviewer “did not find any evidence of significant non-compliance within NZSIS.”

It also found that “there is a collective awareness of the need to act lawfully and to some extent there is a preoccupation with doing so."

Mr Key agrees that the legislative framework governing New Zealand’s intelligence services needs changing and the agencies “need to do more” to fulfil their various duties.

Cyber threat high
Given that one of the top six threats to New Zealand is from the cyber realm, he also pointed out that the nation’s cyber defences are being upgraded as the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) rolls out "Project Cortex.”

Project Cortex is described as countering advanced cyber threats and would see the signals intelligence agency deliver advanced malware detection services to an undisclosed number of entities including government agencies and "organisations of high economic and/or operating critical national infrastructure," including niche exporters and research institutions.

Mr Key recognises the threat from cyber intrusions is not limited to the public sector, and that businesses are a main target for criminals and hostile intelligence agencies.

“Businesses do need to protect themselves against these threats. They must take a considered view of the risk. There are a lot of nasty things in [the cyber] world.”

nsmith@nbr.co.nz

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