Judge rubbishes story SIS spied on Maori

By Kevin Taylor

An official investigation has found no truth in news reports that the Security Intelligence Service spied on Maori groups and individuals for political purposes.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday released the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s report into the accounts in the Sunday Star-Times (and on the Stuff news website which is owned by Star-Times publisher Fairfax) and on the Scoop website said to have been based on reports by "dissident spies" about an "Operation Leaf".

Justice Paul Neazor’s report found that no spying occurred and there was no such operation or anything like it. He agreed with SIS director Richard Woods’ reaction when the claims were published last November - they were a "work of fiction" by the paper’s sources.

Helen Clark said the two news outlets had been hoaxed and should apologise to readers and the SIS.

Sunday Star-Times editor Cate Brett said last night that she would not comment until she had read the report. Wellington author Nicky Hager, who wrote the stories with staff writer Anthony Hubbard and whose book Seeds of Distrust sparked the Corngate controversy before the 2002 election, could not be contacted.

Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning said he wanted to see the report before commenting.

Helen Clark said a second report had been classified by the Inspector-General because it contained sensitive information about SIS operations. She said Justice Neazor had had unrestricted access to SIS staff, records and offices.

His report named the three Sunday Star-Times sources as Steven Buttell, Jack Sanders and Gerald Thorns, the last two connected with an organisation called "Global Pac", or Global-Protect All Children. Mr Thorns was Scoop’s sole source.

After the stories were published, the Herald named Mr Sanders and Mr Thorns as the Sunday Star-Times’ sources and revealed that New Zealand police wanted to question them about unrelated activities in Asia.

The report said Mr Buttell, whom Hubbard met once in Beijing, was described as the Sunday Star-Times’ principal source.

"He was the one who made the allegations as one with first-hand involvement. Messrs Sanders and Thorns introduced him, and supported what he said, and were involved in what was said after publication, but Mr Buttell is the only one said to have done anything on behalf of the SIS."

Mr Buttell claimed to Hubbard that he had worked as a contractor for the SIS and infiltrated Maori groups, gaining access to iwi computers in two cases to set himself up as a "remote administrator". The SIS had wanted to know about iwi money and "personal dirt".

Justice Neazor accepted that Mr Buttell worked on one iwi’s computers as a friend but said there was no truth to any other claims.

"Beyond that, there is nothing to suggest that his allegations are true and a good deal that points to them not being true."

Justice Neazor was unable to say why the story was invented.

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