Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Key defends Fijian anti-terror operation

The Attorney General, Chris Finlayson, left, and Prime Minister John Key announcing changes to intelligence agency rules during a press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Attorney General, Chris Finlayson, left, and Prime Minister John Key announcing changes to intelligence agency rules during a press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key has defended a major anti-terror operation which targeted Fijian pro-democracy activists in the belief that they were planning a coup.

The operation was conducted between August and September 2012 but failed to produce any evidence of a plot to unseat the military government led by Frank Bainimarama.

New details about the operation were revealed today by TVNZ and US website The Intercept, based on documents obtained by former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

One of the men targeted in the operation, Wellingtonian Tony Fullman, is now considering legal action against the Government, TVNZ reported.

The public servant and pro-democracy activist had his passport confiscated by the domestic spying agency the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and had his home raided.

Despite being a New Zealand citizen, he was also monitored by New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which did not have a clear mandate to spy on New Zealanders at the time.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Michael Craig
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Photo / Michael Craig

Speaking to reporters at his weekly press conference this afternoon, Key backed the 2012 operation.

He said that he was "totally comfortable" with the actions the agencies took and said that they did not circumvent the law.

"I'm very confident that they acted lawfully and professionally and like all situations there are always many sides to the story."

Key was asked whether the Government would consider an apology to avoid a legal challenge from Fullman.

He appeared to rule that out: "In the end, people are always free to go and test their rights if they believe they want to."

A review of the GCSB in 2013 found that up to 88 New Zealanders might have been illegally spied on by the agency.

Fullman appears to be the first of this group to be named.

Key would not confirm whether the activist was part of the group of 88. But he said that it was not "clear-cut at all" whether the GCSB had acted illegally at the time.

"In fact, the previous Inspector-General [of Intelligence and Security] had made a ruling that said it was highly likely that that wasn't illegal activity."

I'm very confident that they acted lawfully and professionally and like all situations there are always many sides to the story.

Fullman had more than 200 messages intercepted by the NSA and forwarded to the GCSB.

His old flat in Karori, Wellington was raided in July 2012, as was his sister's home in Sydney. Three other Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement supporters' homes were also raided.

Fullman's passport was confiscated, but was returned in April 2013 after the Government said there were "no longer national security concerns".

The new details about the operation come as the Government moves to clarify the GCSB's right to spy on New Zealanders.

- NZ Herald

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