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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spies in our midst, says SIS

The Dominion Post: A FOCUS on counter-terrorism has allowed foreign spies to continue to operate in New Zealand unabated, the Security Intelligence Service says.

In its 2006 annual report issued yesterday, now-retired SIS director of security Richard Woods said international terrorism had dominated his past five years and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, espionage and intelligence gathering by other countries continued to be a problem. "Rather than diminishing, activity by foreign intelligence services continues to feature prominently in security investigations," the report says.

Spies were collecting economic and political information and scientific and technological research and development to further their own national interests. "Their activities can be harmful to New Zealand's international and economic wellbeing," Mr Woods said.

The annual report is one of the few glimpses the public gets into the secretive spy agency's activities.

As well as the publicised cases in the past years of a Yemeni man expelled from New Zealand as a security threat after being linked to a September 11 terrorist, and of the SIS warning university heads about potential terrorists disguised as international students, the agency revealed it had investigated:

* The activities of those assessed as being Islamic extremists.

* Links between individuals in New Zealand and international extremist organisations.

* The raising of funds from New Zealand for terrorist organisations.

* Covert operations by individuals on behalf of foreign intelligence services.

The Combined Threat Assessment Group, made up of SIS, police, defence and customs staff, produced 144 reports on threat-related issues.

Twenty-two domestic interception warrants were in force, allowing agents to eavesdrop and copy documents. An unspecified number of foreign interceptions were also in force.

Mr Woods said he was not aware of any specific threat to New Zealand and the threat of a terrorist attack occurring in this country was low.

Auckland University's Paul Buchanan, a former CIA adviser, said the threat of espionage, especially by the Chinese as they sought to boost their influence in the South Pacific, was much more real.

"If they are going to be the next superpower, they have no choice but to expand their intelligence gathering."#paraHe said China would be interested in our small military technology industry, events in the resource-rich Pacific and monitoring dissidents such as Falun Gong and even Chinese students. "It's perfectly rational for the Chinese to go about this business, but on the other hand it's perfectly reasonable for New Zealand to be worried about it."

He said procuring quality intelligence was vital as it would ensure intelligence in return from foreign powers who were worried about China's expansion but relied on local sources.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the SIS was scaremongering with a report that was vague on details and appeared to be a "make-work scheme" to justify the $23 million in funding that the agency received.

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