David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Activist says SIS will struggle to recruit Maori as report reveals spy agencies are 'old boys' club' that makes racist jokes

GCSB acting director Una Jagose, left, and SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge. They are trying to increase diversity in the spy agencies. Photo / Mark Mitchell
GCSB acting director Una Jagose, left, and SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge. They are trying to increase diversity in the spy agencies. Photo / Mark Mitchell

• Diversity study exposes spy agencies as 'old boys' club'
• Maori, Pacific staff have felt 'harassment through humour'
• Female staff say promotion hinges on 'who you know'

The SIS would struggle to recruit from Maori communities where it is seen as an organisation which has actively worked to undermine indigenous aspirations, says political activist Ken Mair.

Mair says he expects the Security Intelligence Service has "large files on characters such as myself" while his efforts have been on non-violent political change.

But nervousness by the state towards efforts to win indigenous self-determination created a mindset which put it in opposition to Maori.

Mair's views follow the release of a report into diversity in the NZ intelligence community. The study found the SIS and Government Communications Security Bureau are largely staffed by white males in an "old boys' club" with "excessive" and "unnecessary" racist jokes made at the expense of Maori and Pacific staff.

SCROLL TO END OF ARTICLE TO READ THE REPORT

Mair, who had served as vice-president of the Maori Party, said Maori had tried to change organisations such as the GCSB and SIS by having a presence from within but efforts had failed because their objectives were so contrary - and entrenched.

"The challenge is you can 'brown' these organisations but they don't change their fundamental culture in regard to as a people."

He said he was not aware of SIS focus on his activities over the years but had suspected police questions were motivated by others' interests.

"Why would we want to be there to 'brown' a system that has tried to undermine us as a people."

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell said police actions in the Operation 8 case, which saw dawn raids on Tuhoe land over terror fears, showed there was - at that time - still a degree of paranoia about Maori. The raid had overlooked the input Maori liaison officers could have if included and police had worked hard to heal rifts caused by the raids, he said.

Daniel Craig as 007: NZ spy agencies are seen to be like an "old boys' club". Photo / MGM
Daniel Craig as 007: NZ spy agencies are seen to be like an "old boys' club". Photo / MGM

But Mr Flavell said the time had passed in New Zealand where Maori aspirations were seen as something of interest to the security forces. "I think that reflects how New Zealand society is adjusting to Maori issues."

There was sharp focus on the relationship between the spy agencies and Maori in 2004 when a Sunday newspaper was hoaxed into running a story claiming the SIS were targeting Maori. An inquiry into the claims found the SIS had never targeted Maori groups or individuals for political purposes.

There are now efforts at the spy agencies to broaden hiring of spies although one spy boss warns security precautions mean diversity will "always be a challenging issue".

The study relied on reviewing data from the agencies and informal conversations with staff. It was carried out as part of an internship by a Masters student from Massey University who was asked to study diversity issues at the agencies on the basis the intelligence community was "not an accurate reflection of New Zealand's population".

SCROLL TO END OF ARTICLE TO READ THE REPORT

It stated there was a push to improve representation at the agencies as a "diverse workforce performs exceptionally better than most". It pointed to improved groups of experience, knowledge and skills along with being able to hire and hold on to staff.

The GCSB and the SIS are going through major reform after the GCSB was found to be illegally spying on Kim Dotcom in 2012. A follow up report by Rebecca Kitteridge, who now heads the SIS, found major systemic problems which were - in part - replicated at its sibling agency.

The report, provided through the Official Information Act, found a lack of awareness or recognition to culture or diversity. Concerns over "double-standards, stereotypes and harassment" saw Maori and Pacific staff report they had felt "harassment through humour".

"Although it was not a pressing issue, staff did note that often at times this type of banter was excessive, unnecessary and that it would not be tolerated if the same was done to those of non-ethnic descent."

It found the recruitment strategies were not attractive to ethnic minorities or effective in reaching them. The study also stated Maori and Pacific people "can come from open, honest, trusting families and communities" which meant the type of work carried out by the agencies and the necessary secrecy could be "a potential barrier to recruitment".

Security clearances were also an issue with ethnic minorities having a higher showing in crime statistics, the study found. It meant those vetted had a greater chance of being "associated with someone who holds a criminal conviction", which created a "red flag" situation that deprived candidates of the chance to explain potentially risky connections.

Diversity in gender was also an issue, with female staff reporting promotion being a case of "not what you know, it's who you know".
Those interviewed also raised the military background of the agencies, with those managed by former service staff feeling as if they were "talked at, not too" which perpetuated an "old boys' club".

While women at both agencies were positive about their work environment and its purpose, those at the GCSB also reported "a low level of sexism" with those there more than a decade having experienced discrimination or harassment.

While highlighting gaps in female promotion, the leadership at the GCSB and SIS breaks with the norm with both agencies currently led by women.

In a covering letter, GCSB director Una Jugose said efforts were under way to increase diversity and there were signs of success, particularly in management. She said the study contained "useful observations" which led to the creation of a women's network aimed at helping women in the agencies "realise their potential" through informal coaching and hearing from inspirational female leaders.

There was also new training aimed at helping staff identify and correct "the impact of unconscious bias" identified in the report.

She said addressing diversity "will likely always be a challenging issue for us due to the nature of our work and the requirements for vetting".

Spies unlike us: Diversity in intelligence agencies

Maori
General population*: 14.9%
SIS: 4.9%
GCSB: 7.4%

Pacific
General population*: 7.4%
SIS: 2%
GCSB: 3.9%

European
General population*: 74%
SIS: 86.3%
GCSB: 82.4%

Female
General population: 51.3%
SIS: 40.6%
GCSB: 36.3%

Male
General population: 48.7%
SIS: 59.4%
GCSB: 63.6%

Census data

READ THE REPORT (app users tap here)

- NZ Herald

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