Spy agency faces flak over CV saga

By Audrey Young

Stephen Wilce. Photo / Supplied
Stephen Wilce. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand's spy agency is expected to be drawn into the embarrassing saga of a top defence official who has quit after allegations he falsified his CV.

The Defence Force said yesterday that it had been conducting inquiries into the background of chief scientist Stephen Wilce since it received a complaint in July from a whistleblower.

But Mr Wilce - who had high-level security clearance - continued working in his role, and Herald inquiries reveal that Defence has not even contacted the firm that recruited him five years ago, Momentum.

It was also reported last night that concerns about Mr Wilce were raised with Defence as early as January 2008. An unnamed person wrote asking if his appointment was a "clerical error", 3 News said.

New Zealand's spy agency, the Security Intelligence Service, is supposed to do extensive vetting before Crown staff are given top security clearance.

TV3's 60 Minutes reported on Wednesday that Mr Wilce, head of the Defence Technology Agency (DTA), made extravagant claims about his background, including that he had a distinguished combat career.

He told a reporter posing as a recruitment consultant that he was a member of the British Olympic bobsleigh team in the 1980s. The programme alleged that many of his claims were false.

Mr Wilce held the highest level of security clearance and was responsible for 80 staff. The DTA advises the military and the Government on technology and scientific matters.

Mr Wilce has spent most of this year in London studying at taxpayer expense at the Royal College of Defence Studies. He was stood down last week and resigned this week.

Defence communications director Commander Phil Bradshaw said yesterday that the force's inquiries began after the complaint in July and were not related to the publicity.

The 60 Minutes reporter posing as a recruiter obtained a CV from Mr Wilce. It is not known how similar that CV was to one given to Momentum, the SIS and Defence five years ago.

Prime Minister John Key, who is Minister in Charge of the Security Intelligence Agency, said the issue was serious. He is likely to ask the SIS for a "please explain", as Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has done of the Defence Force.

Momentum managing director Bede Ashby told the Herald last night that the consultant who recruited Mr Wilce had left for Australia about three years ago. Mr Ashley said he was trying to trace the consultant.

He had only just become aware of the matter and had not been contacted by the Defence Force.

Former National Party president Michelle Boag is a senior executive at Momentum in the public relations field, and former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley is on the Momentum Consulting Group board.

Mr Wilce was recruited when Sir Bruce Ferguson was Chief of Defence Force.

Sir Bruce is now director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

The SIS chief at the time was Richard Woods. He would not comment last night.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae indicated yesterday that he had been pleased with Mr Wilce's work.

"He has been working exceptionally well and I do need to make the point that in the time he has worked for the Defence Force he has delivered some very good results and he has been kept abreast of what's going on."

General Mateparae said Mr Wilce's CV had been checked "as far as we are aware and there is a security clearance procedure that's been followed".

Mr Wilce did not return calls yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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