Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Coleman's silly antics have chilling implications

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The goofball antics of Dr Coleman opened a chilling window into the Key Government's true attitude to personal privacy. Photo / Stuart Monroe
The goofball antics of Dr Coleman opened a chilling window into the Key Government's true attitude to personal privacy. Photo / Stuart Monroe

Who let Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman out of his cage? With the whole world in uproar over the extent of United States eavesdropping on friends and foes alike, what does our man do? He stands up at a press conference at the Pentagon yesterday and suggests it's all a joke.

"New Zealand's not worried at all about this. We don't believe it would be occurring." He said that even if it was happening, "quite frankly, there'd be nothing that anyone could hear in our private conversations that we wouldn't be prepared to share publicly. I don't think New Zealand's got anything to worry about, and we have a high trust in our relationships with the US."

He was speaking after lunch with US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, one of the key masters of the national security community. Mr Hagel fell back on the standard refusal to "comment on intelligence matters".

With the latest revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden claiming the US National Security Agency is, or has been, bugging the phone conversations of 35 world leaders - key ally German Chancellor Angela Merkel among them - his silence was understandable.

On the other hand, the goofball antics of Dr Coleman opened a chilling window into the Key Government's true attitude to personal privacy.

Of course as a key link in the US-British Echelon spy network, which for decades has been snooping on global telecommunications, New Zealand is deeply part of the US-led spy network.

No doubt Dr Coleman tried to brush aside the severity of the growing scandal engulfing the US spy agencies, because to take a stand for privacy would be to make hypocrites of his own Government for being just as bad. Not just as part of the Echelon cabal, but for what goes on in New Zealand.

As well as the wholesale interception and sharing of personal communications that goes on with our Echelon partners, the Government recently pushed through legislation allowing increased surveillance on local citizens.

This included forcing private telecommunications companies to give government spies access to their switchboards and computers.

This year, the Kitteridge Report into the Government Communications Security Bureau revealed the agency had been involved in 56 illegal operations involving spying on 88 New Zealand citizens since 2003.

Everyone seems to be fair game. In the past year or two, Kim Dotcom was a celebrity victim, and journalist Jon Stephenson, while covering the war on Afghanistan, was monitored by American agencies on behalf of the New Zealand military who thought him "subversive".

The police are at it, too.

They used a search warrant to obtain 323 text messages sent and received by Bradley Ambrose, the cameraman caught up in the ridiculous Teagate incident during the 2011 election campaign.

Even people working in Parliament have not been not safe.

During the Prime Minister's witch-hunt into United Future leader Peter Dunne, journalist Andrea Vance's emails were illegally extracted and passed on to John Key's investigators.

In such a lackadaisical environment for personal privacy, Dr Coleman might well be happy to have all his communications read by the world's spies.

But to say so as a spokesman for New Zealand as he stood alongside one of the world's leading spymasters sends a bad message to the rest of the world.

No doubt he was trying to smooch up to Mr Hagel, who had just broken the news that our navy could berth at Pearl Harbour. "Today I authorised a New Zealand Navy ship to dock at Pearl Harbour for Rimpac 2014."

Mr Hagel said that "this will be the first time a New Zealand Navy ship will have visited Pearl Harbour in more than 30 years. The docking of this ship ... will be another act in strengthening our relationship and the rebalance to the Pacific."

Mr Hagel was wrong. Two New Zealand Navy vessels, Te Kaha and Endeavour, did visit Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in July last year, as invited guests to the 2012 Rimpac international naval exercises.

What he forgot to say was New Zealand was then ritually humiliated by being refused berthing facilities at the US naval base.

Ships from 21 other nations were allowed to dock in the base. Even the Japanese, who in 1941, obliterated Pearl Harbour in a surprise air raid which forced the US into World War II.

But in 2012, the New Zealand ships were sent to the naughty stool among the container ships in Honolulu's commercial port.

A few months later, Mr Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, flew to New Zealand as part of an Asia-Pacific trip aimed at signing up "allies" in a US-led bid to encircle the emerging Chinese dragon. He even agreed to lift the long ban on New Zealand warships entering US ports which had been triggered by the Labour Government's 1985 ban on nuclear-armed or powered ships.

In June this year, the frigate Te Mana was allowed to berth at the remote US base on Guam.

Obviously, the Kiwi anti-nuclear infection failed to spread among the US forces, so we're now allowed into Pearl Harbour proper.

Now all that remains is for a US ship to declare itself nuclear-free and berth at Devonport.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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