Hard News by Russell Brown


Circumstance and coincidence

Last night's Campbell Live report on the complex story of the GCSB, the Prime Minister, Kim Dotcom, Ian Fletcher and the Americans may have left a few viewers scratching their heads last night. What, exactly, was Campbell saying and what was its import?

Nothing but a banal conspiracy theory, declared David Farrar, leading the Fourth Armoured Nothing to See Here Brigade. And, certainly, the report was principally a re-stating of previously-aired facts. But its new claims were not immaterial.

The most interesting of them was that in December 2011, incoming GCSB director Ian Fletcher took leave from his job in Queensland and flew to Wellington for meetings with John Key, acting GCSB boss Simon Murdoch and Hugh Wolfenson, the GCSB legal advisor who later took the fall and resigned over the agency's illegal spying on Dotcom.

These meetings took place in the same week that the surveillance of Dotcom began, but we continue to be told that neither Key or Fletcher had any advance knowledge of the surveillance operation or the raid. Key has said he did not know who Dotcom was until the day before the raid and up till now we've thought that Fletcher only came into the picture when he officially started at the GCSB 10 days after the raid.

The programme also went back over the series of misleading statements Key has made over his relationshp with Fletcher and the circumstances of Fletcher's recruitment.

Key told journalists his only role in the appointment of Fletcher was to accept a recommendation from State Services chief Iain Rennie, later declaring he must have forgotten making the first call to Fletcher to urge him to apply for the job. Key has also given various accounts of how he had Fletcher's phone number in the first place.

Key had another memory failure over having breakfasted with Fletcher at the Stamford Plaza in Auckland, a breakfast for which, Campbell showed, Fletcher took a day's "recreation leave" to fly from Australia -- a month or so before he was prompted to apply for the GCSB job in the call from Key. Neither Key or Fletcher have been forthcoming over the purpose of the meeting or who arranged it. It doesn't seem to have been two old schoolfriends just happening to bump into each other, as Key implied when pressed on the matter.

But Campbell Live also implied a much more striking story arc. Which is that at the behest of the US, which wanted to refocus its intelligence activity towards the protection of intellectual property interests, the New Zealand government promoted General Jerry Mataparae out of his job as GCSB chief -- a job he'd held for only a month -- and made him Governor General, thus making way for Fletcher (who, as Key has noted, has significant intellectual property expertise) to become the GCSB's first non-military director.

A short list of military candidates had already been rejected and Fletcher was, in the end, the only candidate interviewed for the job. But how on earth did they come to appoint Mataparae to another very, very senior role shortly before the end of Anand Satyanand's statutory five-year term and then make him governor-general after a month in his new job?

The programme noted that on March 16, 2011, a week after it was announced that Mataparae would be moving on from the job of New Zealand's top spy, US director of National Intelligence James Clapper flew into Wellington for meetings with Key and others.

There was another meeting, over dinner at the home of British High Commissioner Vicky Treadell on October 11, 2011, where the guests were Key, his head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Maarten Wevers, SIS chief Warren Tucker, Ministry of Foreign Affairs CEO John Allen, Defence Force chief Lt Gen Richard Rhys Jones -- and Ian Fletcher, four months before taking up his role at the GCSB. All of them have declined to comment on the purpose of the meeting.

The meeting at Treadwell's home may simply have been a get-to-know-you for Fletcher. That wouldn't be unusual. But it does seem unusual that Fletcher, having been brought into the loop so far in advance of starting his new job, and then having flown over yet again for a meeting in the same week that surveillance of Dotcom actually began, remained innocent of what was a notable and legally perilous operation on behalf of the US government.

It also seems unusual that the Prime Minister, the minister responsible for the GCSB, would not even have known who Dotcom was until January 19, the day before the raid on the Dotcom mansion. But no one can prove otherwise. There is only circumstance and coincidence.

Well, actually, there's more than that. There are misleading statements, unfortunate failures of memory, and the fact that almost everything we know about the whole mess has had to be dug out by journalists. Campbell Live may turn out to have grossly over-reached, as its critics insist. But there seems every reason to keep digging.

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