Inquiry into GCSB's process for determining its foreign intelligence activity

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, released the public report of her inquiry into the Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) processes for determining its foreign intelligence activity today. This inquiry was initiated as a result of issues raised by the public about claims of GCSB assistance to the New Zealand Government’s campaign to advance the Hon Tim Groser as a candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“The inquiry has found that the GCSB did not act unlawfully or improperly in providing assistance to the New Zealand government campaign”, Ms Gwyn said. “I have reached that finding for two reasons.

First, the New Zealand government had made a foreign policy decision to support Mr Groser as a candidate. The decision reflected a considered assessment that Mr Groser would, if selected, advance the effective functioning of the WTO (an international, multilateral organisation) and so have a significant impact on New Zealand’s economic well-being.

Second, under the terms of the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 which applied at the time, the GCSB had a statutory responsibility to provide foreign intelligence assistance in support of New Zealand’s foreign policy objectives. In line with the government’s decision and the foreign policy basis for that decision, the GCSB acted lawfully and appropriately in providing its assistance to the campaign.”

Ms Gwyn said that she had not expressed any view on whether, as a matter of policy, contributing to New Zealand’s economic well-being was a proper statutory objective for the GCSB: that was a question for Parliament and had been considered in the recent review of governing legislation.

The inquiry did, however, closely scrutinise how the GCSB had ensured that it acted consistently with its legal and policy framework. The inquiry found that the GCSB had informal but robust practices for managing and evaluating new requests for foreign intelligence information at the relevant times.

Ms Gwyn explained that: “the GCSB had in place practices and process that provided for the assessment of the benefits and risks of foreign intelligence activity including risk to the GCSB’s political neutrality. The particular circumstances of this case meant that those practices and process were not rigorously followed, but adequate steps were taken to ensure that there was no unlawfulness or impropriety.”

The inquiry also canvassed the framework within which the GCSB operates now.  Ms Gwyn said that she is satisfied that “there is now in place a standardised process for receiving and assessing new requests for foreign intelligence assistance which provides greater transparency and assurance of lawfulness.”

Ms Gwyn said that she had full cooperation from the GCSB in her inquiry, both in access to records and relevant staff and in making as much information public as possible. “I believe that the public needs to know how decisions are made and to be confident that those decisions are subject to thorough internal and external scrutiny.”

“I emphasise that while this report is as detailed as possible, I cannot disclose sensitive information. Ms Gwyn said that “I am not commenting publicly on any allegation over particular operational details and it was not necessary for the purposes of my inquiry to confirm or disprove the authenticity of any alleged leaked documents. What I am required to determine, and am now reporting, is whether the GCSB acted lawfully and properly.”

The Inspector-General has made three recommendations to strengthen GCSB practices, which the Director of the GCSB has accepted. The Inspector-General’s office will monitor the implementation of those recommendations as part of its ongoing review process.

A copy of the report is available here  www.igis.govt.nz/publications/investigation-reports/ (external link)

The Inspector-General is not available for interview or further comment. Matt Torbit, Senior Advisor, Media Communications & External Relations, Ministry of Justice, is assisting the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Matt.Torbit@justice.govt.nz; +64 4 918 8836

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