NZ military kept closer ties with US secret - Hager

By Derek Cheng

A new book by author Nicky Hager alleges that the military deliberately moved closer to the US during the War on Terror, but kept it secret from the public and the Government. Photo / Patrick Gower
A new book by author Nicky Hager alleges that the military deliberately moved closer to the US during the War on Terror, but kept it secret from the public and the Government. Photo / Patrick Gower

A new book detailing New Zealand's role in the War on Terror tells of peacekeepers loading explosives, intelligence agents helping the US bomb targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a military cosying up to the Americans against the wishes of the Government - and keeping ministers in the dark.

Other People's War, by controversial author Nicky Hager, was released today and alleges that the military deliberately moved closer to the US during the War on Terror, but kept it secret from the public and the Government.

"People assume that politicians make decisions, but often they are busy, ill-informed or actively excluded ... The worst decisions were made by senior officials and military officers, often without [the ministers'] knowledge," the book quotes a senior Government official as saying.

Mr Hager, at a press conference this afternoon, said there were tensions between the Defence Force and the Government.

"The way they dealt with that - a reasonably reluctant Labour Government at the time and a gung-ho Defence Force that wanted to improve relations with the US - was they just kept things secret and they mislead ministers."

He used as an example peacekeepers in Kabul as "one of the first signs of the Defence Force ignoring the specific directions of the Government".

"While there were ministers in New Zealand talking about how they were helping rebuild that war-torn country ... in fact the peacekeepers were working in Oman and Pakistan loading CIA helicopters and helping load explosives for British paratroopers. They weren't doing peacekeeping at all.

"The head of Joint Forces NZ visited those peacekeepers, and I quote his report saying he is uncomfortable about the blurring of roles and this is very bad in a UN-mandated operation. The senior military knew but they basically seemed to have covered it up."

He said he had no evidence that former head of Defence Force and new Governor-General Sir Jerry Mataparae was directly involved in any subterfuge.

"But Jerry Mataparae was in the midst of most of the controversial things that happened, first as Chief of the Army, and then as Chief of the Defence Force. In terms of strict culpability for anything which was dodgy, hidden, or whether ministers were mislead, he was up there as involved as anybody else was, [among] a tiny handful of people who would have known.

"[But] I can't exactly say exactly what Jerry Mataparae knew ... but he has many questions to answer."

He said former Prime Minister Helen Clark was a lone ranger, but was also shut out.

"In the end, one person, isolated, in her shoes, was not up to it. She just wasn't there enough of the time, and knowing enough, to stop them getting their way on lots of things."

He said the Defence Force had given an "airbrushed picture" of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan, which was constantly under the watch of CIA operatives.

Journalists who visited the PRT team in Bamiyan told Mr Hager that the New Zealanders were open about US intelligence agents at the base.

Mr Hager conceded it was not surprising to have intelligence officers there.

"But the existence of a completely separate non-New Zealand, not under New Zealand control, not even under direct US military control, CIA operation inside the friendly old Kiwi base is not the impression New Zealanders were given at all.

"It's just another US base with some New Zealanders doing some of the functions of it.

"The public has been spun from beginning to end, and the public have a right to know."

He said he had no direct evidence that they were CIA agents, but he knew they were non-uniformed American intelligence officers.

He said the "bloodiest" part of New Zealand involvement in the war was from the intelligence community.

"We were lending our most qualified intelligence people from about two weeks after September 11 ... Right through to now, and increased under the National Government, we've had people in the midst of the US intelligence machine gathering information on Afghanistan that's used for targeting.

"They were helping to produce targeting lists, working on electronic maps, noting where they'd got hits, and sending the information through to people who were sending the bombers."

Mr Hager said he did not go to Afghanistan, but worked on the book for five years and based it on interviews with officials - some still working for the Government - and leaked documents.

The War on Terror was the longest foreign war in New Zealand's history.

"And yet the Defence Force and other agencies have mainly released regular candy floss coverage, but completely hidden everything they thought looked bad, or was controversial, or that didn't suit them for their own agendas.

"Outside the military and intelligence services, very few people in New Zealand understand what goes on ... Read this book and they will know more than any defence minister in the last 50 years."

- NZ Herald

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