David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Spy who came in from the heat

Ian Fletcher has had a stellar past - well before political controversy erupted over his new appointment.

Ian Fletcher. Photo / Supplied
Ian Fletcher. Photo / Supplied

Ian Fletcher apparently knew about plans for invading Iraq before most.

Documents released in the inquiry into the Iraq war show Mr Fletcher was privy to 'extremely sensitive' and secret documents forecasting the march to war.

Ian Fletcher came to the role of Kiwi spymaster after a front-row seat at one of the greatest and most criticised intelligence operations of recent time.

And he was interviewed and hired to run the GCSB while under investigation for contempt of the Queensland Parliament. The complaint went no further after Mr Fletcher made a correction to the parliamentary record.

The background of the Government Communications and Security Bureau director is under scrutiny after it emerged he was shoulder-tapped for the role by Prime Minister John Key, who he grew up with.

Mr Fletcher's lack of military experience was highlighted by former NZ Defence Force boss and GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson.

Former Security Intelligence Service director Don McIvor said a lack of military experience was no bar to leading an intelligence agency. He said his eight-year tenure at the SIS was followed by the appointment of career diplomat Richard Woods.

Mr Fletcher earned a history degree while studying Arabic, living in Syria briefly and London during his tertiary education.

He started out as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand before returning to Britain in 1989 to work at the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. His shift into trade policy was a return to the diplomatic trail, with the next decade spent working at various trade bodies with periods on secondment to the European Commission and to Kosovo after the 1998 conflict.

In 2002, he took a role that placed him at the heart of the British deliberations that led to its involvement in the Iraq war. He was principal private secretary to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the incoming Cabinet secretary and Britain's most powerful civil servant.

Documents released in the inquiry into the Iraq war show Mr Fletcher was privy to "extremely sensitive" and secret documents forecasting the march to war.

Mr Fletcher saw early military planning and advice stating "US military planning is in full swing" in July 2002 - eight months before the invasion began and before Britain had committed to join the attack.

Sir Andrew's tenure ended in 2005, as did Mr Fletcher's role. Sir Andrew later revealed Britain had gone to war on legal advice which was one page long - and substantially different to advice which had been given 10 days earlier.

Mr Fletcher led the UK Trade & Investment's international group which spearheaded its charm offensive on the world with "special envoy" Prince Andrew.

In 2009, Mr Fletcher welcomed Prince Andrew when he moved to the UK's Intellectual Property Office in 2007 - and then kept a portrait photo of the prince when he moved to Australia in 2009 to run Queensland's Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

Mr Fletcher became embroiled in controversy after having to correct evidence given to a parliamentary committee. He had been quizzed over an expensive lease which was broken when a government agency moved from Los Angeles to Latin America.

He said the decision to move was made after the lease was signed - a statement contradicted when internal emails were leaked to a journalist. Mr Fletcher complained to the Misconduct Commission about the leak, whose investigation is ongoing.

He has been criticised for an "extraordinary overreaction" by complaining to the commission, which has grilled public servants under threat of jail and on oath to find who leaked the emails.

The complaint to Parliament's Ethics Committee was made a week before he was interviewed for the GCSB job on July 26, 2011. He did not respond to questions relating to the incident - or whether it was declared during his interview for the job.

States Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said Mr Fletcher was hired at a time when "we were beginning to get some insight into significant management issues which needed to be addressed within GCSB".

And Mr Key said the review of the GCSB by Cabinet secretary Rebecca Kitteridge would show "major issues that need to be rectified. They were issues that were there under Mr Ferguson and others. That shows you that just having a military background hasn't delivered the robustness of that organisation that New Zealanders would expect."

Ian Fletcher

* Earned a history degree while studying Arabic, living in Syria briefly and London during his tertiary education.

* Started out as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before returning to Britain in 1989 to work at the Monopolies & Mergers Commission.

* Investigated for contempt of Queensland Parliament at time hired for job as GCSB head.

* Investigation came after leaked emails contradicted his evidence to a parliamentary committee. The complaint went no further after Mr Fletcher made a correction to the parliamentary record.

* Mr Fletcher was privy to "extremely sensitive" documents forecasting march to Iraq War in his previous British role as principal private secretary to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the incoming Cabinet secretary and Britain's most powerful civil servant.

* Saw military planning and advice stating "US military planning is in full swing" eight months before invasion.

- NZ Herald

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