Prime Minister John Key is "in denial" over a report which backs Dirty Politics allegations his staff used information from the SIS to orchestrate a smear campaign against former Labour leader Phil Goff, the Opposition says.
Inspector General of Security Intelligence Cheryl Gwyn's report yesterday found primarily that former SIS director Warren Tucker was at fault for supplying "misleading" information about Mr Goff to the Prime Minister during a 2011 war of words between the pair.
Mr Goff claimed he had not been briefed by Dr Tucker about suspected Israeli agents in Christchurch at the time of the earthquakes earlier that year. However, based on the information supplied by Dr Tucker, Mr Key said he had been briefed.
The report found Mr Key's former senior communications adviser Jason Ede helped attack blogger Cameron Slater obtain that misleading information from the SIS which Slater then used to embarrass Mr Goff in blog posts.
Cheryl Gwyn and John Key. Photos / Mark MItchell
Dr Tucker yesterday said he regretted his failings and SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge apologised to Mr Goff, present Labour leader Andrew Little, and Mr Key.
Mr Key, who was responsible for the SIS at the time, said he would not apologise for either the SIS' errors or the involvement of his staff in supplying the information to Slater. "The report makes it quite clear that in so much as there were any conversations between Jason Ede and Cameron Slater, they were quite within the rules and quite okay," Mr Key said.
But confirmation of the extent of his office's involvement reignited claims aired in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics of a dirty tricks campaign run out of Mr Key's office which used Slater as its primary outlet.
In a snap debate yesterday Mr Little said it would be easy for Mr Key and his Government to draw a line under what he described as "the dirtiest, filthiest, grubbiest, vilest operation we have ever seen in New Zealand politics".
"Simply by having John Key stand up publicly and saying to all New Zealanders, I got it wrong. I should not have had a smear machine operating out of my office ... please forgive me.
"Is he man enough to say I got it wrong? He won't because he has been in denial," Mr Little said.
Ms Gwyn's report said the information supplied by Dr Tucker about the briefing was "incomplete, inaccurate and misleading" and "resulted in misplaced criticism" of Mr Goff. It also found that after learning of the information, Mr Key's deputy chief of staff and primary point of contact with the SIS, Phil de Joux, suggested to Mr Ede the information "might prompt an OIA request".
Mr Ede then gave that information to Slater, discussed how an Official Information Act request should be worded, and provided Slater with draft blog posts attacking Mr Goff.
Ms Gwyn's inquiry found Mr Ede was on the phone to Slater when Slater emailed his OIA request to the SIS.
Yesterday, Mr Key said it was "contested" that Mr Ede was telling Slater what information he should ask for. Slater told RadioLive Mr Ede was attempting to persuade him not to submit the OIA request. Mr de Joux and Mr Ede no longer work for Mr Key and Dr Tucker retired earlier this year.
Mr Little said he had spoken to Mr Goff about claims he leaked the report.
"I sought his assurances that he hadn't leaked the report. He's given me those assurances and I'm satisfied with that."
Mr Key reiterated today that he would not apologise to Mr Goff over the findings in the report, saying it "completely exonerates me", and any allegations made against him or his staff were "utterly refuted and incorrect".
"What it says is, if there was an exchange of information, they were quite within their rights to do so. The information wasn't classified and they didn't break any rules," he told Radio New Zealand this morning.
He rejected accusations that he was treating the public with contempt by refusing to apologise, saying: "No, I think what I've said quite clearly is there was a series of allegations by Mr Goff and those allegations have proved to be incorrect."
The Prime Minister also rejected suggestions he should step down over the report's findings.
"I'd be resigning for a report that apologises to me and says there's no wrong doing," he said.
Mr Key also said Dr Tucker should not be fired over the mistake, he said.
"He's provided 30 years of good and loyal service, and in my view you'd have to balance all of that up," he said on Radio New Zealand.
Any decision on Dr Tucker's future would be up to the State Services Commissioner, he said.
The SIS had undergone a "major reform" to make sure "it understands its role better in terms of the law in relation to the way it treats media requests and the way it would treat the OIA", Mr Key said.
Meanwhile, Labour said it would support the Government's Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill which beefs up SIS powers to monitor suspected jihadists and gives extended powers to cancel passports.
Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn's inquiry
What was it about?
The release of SIS information to blogger Cameron Slater who used it to embarrass former Labour leader Phil Goff four months out from the 2011 election.
What was that information?
That in spite of Mr Goff's denials, the former Labour leader had been briefed on suspected Israeli agents in Christchurch.
What was the finding?
That the information was "incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading" and resulted in "misplaced criticism" of Mr Goff.
Why was it misleading?
Because it overstated the briefing Mr Goff received.
What was John Key's involvement?
The inquiry said Mr Key had little involvement, and found no "collusion or direction" between Mr Key's office and the SIS to release information.
Not quite. The investigation found that while Mr Key's office did not ask the SIS to release the information, his staff realised it was politically useful and told Slater about it, helping him with his request.
How did it help Slater?
The report says Mr Key's former communications adviser Jason Ede was on the phone to Slater at the same time he sent his OIA request.
What did the report say about Ede?
It criticised him for using personal email accounts to communicate about SIS information. Ede told the inquiry he deleted those accounts when the inquiry asked to see them.
From SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge:
TO PHIL GOFF, LABOUR MP
"I deeply regret that, in the circumstances reviewed by the [Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security] the NZSIS fell short of its obligations to you as the then Leader of the Opposition, in ways that had adverse consequences for you and undermined your trust and confidence in us. I apologise to you unreservedly."
TO ANDREW LITTLE, LABOUR LEADER
"I take that statutory obligation to consult with the Leader of the Opposition and to ensure the political neutrality of the NZSIS extremely seriously ... I will do everything possible to ensure that our relationship with the Leader's office is on a sound footing in the future."
TO JOHN KEY, PM
"I deeply regret that the acts and omissions of the NZSIS [in 2011] meant your office was provided with incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information and I apologise to you unreservedly."