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John Armstrong: Key surprisingly candid on complicity with US

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New Zealander Daryl Jones was killed in a drone strike on an al-Qaeda camp.
New Zealander Daryl Jones was killed in a drone strike on an al-Qaeda camp.

Get real. If you hang out with known terrorists at al-Qaeda training camps in Yemen, then you really cannot complain if an armed American drone comes looking for you.

That is the uncompromising message from the Prime Minister to those who argue that the death - some call it murder - of New Zealander Daryl Jones by drone strike should see the the whistle being blown on co-operation - some would call it complicity - between the Government Communications Security Bureau and its sister American intelligence agencies.

Jones' death - or, as the Greens put it, "extra-judicial killing" - might have altered the debate about the ethics of using unmanned drones as assassination devices by bringing something out of sight and thus out of mind much closer to home.

But not close enough, given Jones had long been living in Australia and had held an Australian passport at one stage.

That, plus the timing of the strike that killed him - last year, rather than last week - has made it easier for the Prime Minister to gloss over the death.

Or it did until Monday when John Key admitted it was "possible" that information gathered by the GCSB in Afghanistan and passed to the International Security Assistance Force could have prompted American drone strikes.

The surprise was not in what Key said. The links between New Zealand and American intelligence agencies during this country's various Defence Force deployments in Afghanistan are well documented in Nicky Hager's book Other People's Wars, published nearly three years ago.

The surprise was Key's revealing of such information - rather than putting up the standard brick wall of "no comments" on operational matters. Key, no doubt, is acutely conscious of the low esteem in which the two major intelligence agencies are held by the public; that - in order to rebuild public confidence - he has to say more than would normally be the case.

He was certainly comparatively loquacious yesterday in defending the Americans' use of drones even though they are responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians. But then he would, wouldn't he, given he has a White House meeting scheduled with Barack Obama next month.

Nevertheless, Key still felt the need to put some distance between his Government and the drones, saying that while New Zealand might occasionally supply a piece of intelligence, it was not the one conducting the drone strikes.

Key's critics will regard that as him ducking responsibility.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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