SIS report equals egg all over Key’s face – Goff

Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge has made a formal apology to former Labour leader Phil Goff for the way in which the SIS released “incomplete, misleading and inaccurate information” in response to an OIA request from Whale Oil Blogger Cameron Slater.

In 2011 Mr Goff said he hadn’t been briefed about alleged Israel spies being caught in the Christchurch earthquake earlier that year, a contention Prime Minister John Key and then-SIS director Warren Tucker disputed.

Dr Tucker's briefing notes were declassified, then swiftly released to Mr Slater after he requested them under the Official Information Act.

The notes appeared to confirm Mr Goff had been briefed on the matter but Ms Gwyn’s investigation has established this was not the case.

The apology to Mr Goff is one of the recommendations in the report of inspector-general of intelligence and security Cheryl Gwyn, which stated "These errors resulted in the misplaced criticism of the then leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff. Phil Goff is owed a formal apology by the Service."

Although Ms Gwyn found no evidence of political partisanship by the SIS, its actions did have a politically partisan effect and she found the agency had failed to take adequate steps to maintain political neutrality.

She recommends formal guidelines on the maintenance of political neutrality for the SIS be adopted and a process adopted to ensure better communication with the leader of the opposition.

Ms Kitteridge has accepted all of the inspector-general's recommendations.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand this morning, Mr Goff said the report has demolished the credibility of Dr Tucker, especially in the way he failed to correct the widespread misinterpretation that the released documents proved Mr Goff had a full briefing on the alleged Israeli spies, when he hadn’t.

Ms Gwyn, however, says she hasn’t “found any collusion or direction between the SIS and the prime minister or his office.”

She had established that a staff member of the prime minister’s office had provided unclassified SIS information to Mr Slater but “that disclosure did not breach any confidentiality or security obligations.”

Mr Goff also revealed that evidence used in Ms Gwyn’s investigation included recordings between Mr Goff and Dr Tucker that the security agency made without Mr Goff’s knowledge.

“But I’m now very grateful for that because the recording of that conversation absolutely upheld my position but was damning to Dr Tucker,” Mr Goff said.

Mr Goff also said he believes he is due an apology by Prime Minister John Key, given the report shows there was collusion between members of Mr Key’s staff and Mr Slater over the OIA request.

“They now have phone records showing Jason Ede, the senior adviser with an office just along the corridor from John Key, was on the phone to Whale Oil at the very time he put the request in,” Mr Goff said. “John Key said that never happened and he now has egg all over his face, and it’s actually John Key who should be apologising ...

“I want not only an apology but I want an assurance that he will take action – whatever action he can take – against people in his office who broke the convention of the impartiality and political neutrality of the SIS.

“But I don’t think he will do that because I honestly believe that they would not have acted without his concurrence,” Mr Goff said.

John Key has released a statement saying he welcomes Ms Gwyn’s report and that it exonerates him of any involvement in directing the NZSIS to release information.

The PM also notes the report is the result of the first inquiry by the inspector-general under a new regime passed into law last year that “significantly strengthened” oversight.

“These events happened more than three years ago and a lot has changed since then, including the systems at the NZSIS,” Mr Key says.

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