Book alleges dirty National Party politics; Key 'not fit to be PM'

By Adam Bennett, Dene Mackenzie of the Otago Daily Times, David Fisher, Claire Trevett

Nicky Hager's book looks at links between blogger Cameron Slater (top left) and the Prime Minister's office. Photo / NZ Herald
Nicky Hager's book looks at links between blogger Cameron Slater (top left) and the Prime Minister's office. Photo / NZ Herald

Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics which claims Prime Minister John Key had a hand in releasing an SIS document to blogger Cameron Slater shows Mr Key is "not fit to be Prime Minister", former Labour Leader Phil Goff says.

But Mr Key was this afternoon distancing himself and his colleagues from the allegations made in Mr Hager's book.

The book claims Mr Key's Government uses blogs including Mr Slater's Whaleoil to disseminate smears and scandals it does not want to be associated with.

Amongst its allegations, Mr Hager claims Mr Slater was tipped off to ask the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) for a confidential document about a briefing Mr Goff had with the spy agency in 2011.

The release of the document was embarrassing to Mr Goff at the time because it contradicted comments the Opposition Leader had made publically about the briefing. Mr Hager yesterday said his book showed the incident had been "orchestrated each step of the way from the Prime Minister's office for something that when it came out, we were all told was a spontaneous act of right wing blogger".

"It's a classic example of how in that case the Government had control of SIS information and using its Government position to figure out an attack on the Opposition.

"They would have known it was very grubby to do it themselves to use their inside information so they've farmed it out to a blogger to do it."

Mr Goff said today: "That is exactly what happened between the SIS and Key's office."

"There's only one person that could have leaked that information and that was John Key, either directly to Slater or through (his senior adviser) Jason Ede."

That was "totally contrary to the very strong convention about the confidentiality of security intelligence information".

"For the minister in charge of the SIS to misuse information for political purposes means that he's actually not fit to be Prime Minister. That is unprecedented, I know of no other example of any minister going back probably as far as the end of the Muldoon administration that has deliberately misused information in that way."

The Green Party has said it intends to lay complaints with police, Parliamentary Service, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Privacy Commissioner following revelations made the book.

Labour says it is taking legal advice over allegations made in the book about Mr Key's staffer Mr Ede working with Mr Slater to gain unauthorised access to Labour Party membership records via a website vulnerability.

Mr Ede is now working on National's re-election campaign. Campaign manager Steven Joyce told the Herald this afternoon Mr Ede - who has so far not responded to requests for comment - had denied accessing the Labour membership records.

Meanwhile former Act Leader Rodney Hide this afternoon denied he had been blackmailed by Mr Slater and National Party activist Simon Lusk into stepping down as Act Leader in 2011.

In an interview on RadioLive, Mr Hide criticised Mr Hager for failing to contact him about the allegations.

PM distances himself from book's claims

Mr Key said today he will be happy for any investigation to be undertaken by any agency into the allegations contained in Mr Hager's book released last night.

Answering questions in Dunedin, Mr Key distanced himself and colleagues from the allegations contained in Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment.

He again accused Nick Hager of being a left-wing conspiracy theorist and said any actions undertaken by Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater were undertaken solely by Mr Slater and not under direction of the National Party.

Some of the damning emails published by Mr Hager alleged conspiracy between National Party staff member Jason Ede and Mr Slater. He claimed Mr Key gave a tacit approval if Mr Ede had undertaken trawling through Labour's website after Mr Slater alerted the site was open to public scrutiny.

Mr Key denied to the Otago Daily Times he had any involvement in any of the allegations contained in the book and was particularly annoyed he was said to have made offensive remarks about a West Coast resident.

"That type of speech is not me." Under persistent questioning, Mr Key said he would not read the book until after the election, it was unlikely he would ask Justice Minister Judith Collins whether she had shifted a prisoner on Mr Slater's behalf and whether Ms Collins had leaked information to Mr Slater.

Ms Collins retained his support.

Mr Key said he talked to Mr Slater three or four times a year, sometimes sent a text message about a story he did not understand and last spoke to the blogger three or four months ago.

Read more of the Herald's latest political coverage, including the Hot Seat series:
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Dotcom the 'visionary' and the 'F*** John Key' video: The Herald's full interview with Internet Mana
Election 2014: Full coverage here
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Blogger to complain

Earlier today, Mr Slater said he will complain to police about the hacking of his Whaleoil website and will name entrepreneur Kim Dotcom as someone detectives should speak to.

He said he would also complain to the Privacy Commission, relying on a recent High Court ruling to force from author Nicky Hager his source material for the book.

The Green Party has also said this morning it intends to lay complaints with police, Parliamentary Service, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Privacy Commissioner following revelations made the book.

Slater has come out swinging this morning after publication of the book Dirty Politics which aimed to paint a picture of a National Party obsessed with dirty tricks.

Drawing on emails obtained by a hacker, the book claims Slater is the lead "attack blog" driving negative coverage of political opponents using information from a staff member of the Prime Minister and a senior Cabinet minister.

Slater said it was a clear criminal offence to hack his computer and take his emails.

"There was an illegal obtaining of my emails. There was no legitimate way they could access it. It had to be a hack. I believe it's a criminal offence and there will be a complaint to police." He said he had an "implied admission from Kim Dotcom to one of my sources that he was behind it" so would name him when speaking to police. He said the case would be clear for police to prosecute.

Mr Slater said a source of his had received the texts from Mr Dotcom and forwarded it to Mr Slater. He said the first text said: "See I told you Cam would go down."

A second text soon after said "Gee, I wonder who hacked those emails" and had a smiley face at the end of it.

He intended to release the texts after he had removed the source identifiers.

Mr Slater spoke to the Herald from South Korea on his way to Israel. He said he would gather his evidence and go to Police over the hacking of his emails and would definitely lay a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.

He said sources of his from Dotcom's mansion had told him Mr Hagar was a frequent visitor to the mansion.

"Now I've got the implied acknowledgement that Dotcom did the hack. The guy's got a history of hacking, he's got convictions for hacking. No surprises there."

Read more from political correspondent John Armstrong:
Hager's claims light a fuse under the State of Key
Dirty Politics: Who are the key players?

Insiders in Anonymous - a hacking group - had told him others in the group were gloating about how the hack was done "at Dotcom's behest".

Slater said a recent decision by the High Court which stripped Privacy Act protection from book authors meant he would be able to force Hager to divulge source information.

Slater said the book was a selective use of emails which were taken from his website during the Denial of Service attack in January.

The "selective" nature of the communications used showed "he's playing judge and jury with other people's communications".

Slater said the information was taken during a 15-minute window during the attack, which was designed to take over his website's defences.

Slater said there was another 10-minute window beyond that during which his social media accounts were exposed.

Slater said suspected information had been taken from him during the Denial of Service attack.

"I kept that quiet to see where it turned up. I had no idea what they had got. I knew an attempt to get in had occurred but not that they had taken anything although one must assume they have." He said he did not warn anyone their communications had been taken because he had "no idea as to the extent of it".

Listen to Newtalk ZB's interview of Cameron Slater:

Slater said he had 80GB of email data which meant the 8GB that Hager claimed to have was only a fraction of the content he had.

"It's still a massive breach of privacy. Nicky has clearly breached my privacy."

Slater said it contrasted with Hager's revelations about surveillance systems. "The guy is a sanctimonious hypocrite."

He questioned the authenticity of emails communications between himself and Justice minister Judith Collins. The book claims there were hundreds of emails exchanged but Slater said Mrs Collins rarely emailed him.

"I would think there would be very few emails from her. It's certainly not embarrassing for me and I don't think it's embarrassing from her perspective."

Slater also rejected claims he was paid to place articles on his website for the alcohol and tobacco lobby. "I run a business and I offer PR and social media advice and I charge for that privilege."

He said he was not paid to post material. "I get paid for advice."

Asked if the "advice" resulted in posts on the blog, he said: "It may have."

He said mainstream media companies were also forming commercial relationships which influenced their editorial content. When compared to what he did, he said there was no difference.

Mr Hager said this morning that Mr Slater's claims about Mr Dotcom were a "total diversion".

"Did Dotcom have anything vaguely to do with my book or the source of my book? No, no, that is just a diversion."

The author said that if he had been offered the information by Mr Dotcom, he would not have accepted it: "I don't believe in taking information from political people."

Mr Hager said he understood that a number of people in the hacker community were involved with obtaining the correspondence.

He spoke to one of them, and "questioned him carefully about his motives". He did not think the person was part of the international hacker community known as Anonymous, saying it was "nothing as dramatic as that".

Mr Hager confirmed that he had met with Mr Dotcom on two occasions because of their shared interest in spying and intelligence matters.

On one of these occasions he was invited to Mr Dotcom's mansion by the entrepreneur's lawyer Willie Akel to discuss how the GCSB worked.

On the other occasion, he ran into him at a Town Hall meeting.

Mr Hager said: "I don't know the man. I've got nothing to do with him... I have never spoken to him or had any contact via another person with him ever apart from those things."


Green Party to lay complaints

The Green Party says it will make complaints to police, Parliamentary Service, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Privacy Commissioner following revelations made in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics.

Complaints will be lodged with:

* Parliamentary Service over allegations that John Key's senior adviser Jason Ede was involved in inappropriately supplying confidential information to blogger Cameron Slater.

* Police over the alleged possibility that officials working for Mr Key corruptly used or disclosed any information, acquired by him or her in his or her official capacity, to obtain, advantage.

* Police over allegations of blackmail involving former ACT leader Rodney Hide.

* Police over allegations of unauthorised access to a computer system under Sections 249 and 252 of the Crimes Act.

* The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security over allegations that sensitive documents were declassified in order to be used as political smears.

* The Privacy Commissioner over allegations that Minister Judith Collins leaked private information.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Prime Minister John Key had "degraded our democracy".

"The New Zealand public cannot have any confidence in our democracy until these claims are investigated and offenders held to account.

"We need the police, Parliamentary Service, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Privacy Commissioner to investigate immediately."

Kiwiblog's David Farrar: Nothing new

Kiwiblog blogger David Farrar told Radio New Zealand this morning Hager's book didn't reveal anything that he hadn't already made public himself.

Farrar has a right-wing blog and is open about the fact he is a National Party member.

"It will be no surprise to anyone that people in National sometimes pass information on to people they think will be a bit sympathetic," he said.

Farrar said any suggestion that he and Slater discussed blog posts didn't mean they were colluding.

"We email each other of course... this is Nicky's great act, is calling people talking to each other collusion."

Hager: Book shows "unseen side" of National's politics

Listen to Newtalk ZB's interview of Nicky Hager:

The book is claimed to be based on thousands of emails obtained by a hacker from computers operated by Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

In Hager's view it also highlights what he believes to be the close relationship between Justice Minister Judith Collins and Mr Slater.

Hager said Mr Key had "cultivated a very respectable image of being friendly and relaxed" but in his view there was an unseen side to his politics the public needed to see before voting.

He said links to bloggers by staff and ministers who answered to Mr Key meant he should be "accountable for ... using such an ugly tool as part of his political management".

PM, Collins react to Hager's claims

The book was dismissed by the Prime Minister last night. A spokeswoman said: "This is a cynically timed attack book from a well-known left-wing conspiracy theorist. It makes all sorts of unfounded allegations and voters will see it for what it is."

Ms Collins, whose emails to Slater are claimed to be quoted throughout the book, said: "I don't care what he's alleging. Quite frankly, I can't be bothered with the man. I agree with [Mr Key] - he's a left-wing conspiracy theorist."

Slater, who was on a pre-arranged visit to Israel last night, also dismissed the book as a "conspiracy story". On his blog, he wrote: "It is of course likely to be a very single-sided affair, and a direct attack on the Government to hurt it at election time. What is being framed here is only one side of politics in New Zealand."

A hacker was said to have taken the information from Slater after the blogger in January described the victim of a West Coast car crash as "feral". The material was then sent to Hager.

Hager said he believed the emails he had obtained showed how Slater was supplied information from contacts deep in Mr Key's administration, including Ms Collins and Mr Key's press secretary Jason Ede.

It charts Slater's growing links with the National Party from the 2008 election through to last month.

The National Party had previously denied having any knowledge or involvement in scandals driven by the Whale Oil blog.

Allegation Labour Party website accessed

But in at least one case, Hager aimed to show the Beehive was directly linked to blog attacks where it had previously denied knowledge.

In 2011, Slater was alerted to a hole in the Labour Party website which allowed him to access huge amounts of personal information about members.

Hager believed that Slater and Mr Ede worked on the issue together, with the Beehive staffer later discussing how he obscured his identity through email accounts that could not be traced to him, and Facebook accounts in false names.

The book also claimed Slater had been fed inside information from the Beehive allowing him to ask precise questions through the Official Information Act. An example saw former Opposition Leader Phil Goff contradicted over public comments after Slater was specifically directed to data he could obtain from the SIS.

The trove of emails included hundreds between Slater and Ms Collins, including one in which she told the blogger: "If you can't be loved, then best to be feared." She urged him to pay back "double" any injury suffered, to which he replied: "I learned the rule from you."

The book also claimed an email directly from Ms Collins was used almost word-for-word on the website, claiming it came from "the tipline".

According to Hager, Ms Collins provided increasing amounts of material for the Whale Oil blog, including an attack on a ministerial staff member that prompted death threats against the man.

Mr Ede declined to be interviewed by the Herald.

- NZ Herald

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