Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Keystone Cops too busy bowing to FBI demands

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs

By now, the Government spooks must be starting to wonder if Kim Dotcom is in reality a computer virus, slowly infecting senior politicians and agencies of state and turning them, one by one, into public figures of fun. First came the lingering evisceration of Act leader John Banks, and by association, his party. Then it was the turn of the police, chastised in court for using invalid search warrants when they raided and arrested Mr Dotcom at his plush Coatesville homestead.

Now, his legal defence team have forced the police to admit they had also roped in the spies of the hush hush Government Communications Security Bureau to do a bit of illegal moonlighting and listen into local phone conversations.

Also with egg on his face is the Prime Minister, who is supposed to oversee those charged with, to quote the official handbook, "securing our nation's safety".

John Key says he didn't know until Paul Neazor, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, told him a week ago. Which sounds a little like Mr Banks' excuse for signing an official campaign donations return which failed to list large donations from Mr Dotcom, namely that he hadn't bothered to read the document before he signed it.

The GCSB describes itself as "the national foreign intelligence agency" providing advice to the Government "through the collection, processing, analysis and distribution of foreign intelligence". Foreign is the operative word - snooping on New Zealand residents is strictly out of bounds. Intelligence analyst Paul Buchanan speculates that the embarrassed spies will blame the police for giving them a bum steer on Dotcom's status.

But that's rather like Mr Banks blaming his lowly staffer for incorrectly completing his electoral spending return. Prying secretly into the electronic communications of a New Zealand householder is hopefully such a rare event, and one of such seriousness, that the buggers involved have a checklist that includes such basics as the residential status of the intended target.

It's as though the police and the spies have been watching so much American cop drama on television that when a real live man from the FBI calls them up with a request, our men in blue found it hard to separate fact from fiction. Not only were they starring in their very own soap but they were forgetting the New Zealand in their title and bowing and scraping to the FBI.

The dawn raid on the Coatesville mansion was alarming enough, complete with a 70-strong mini-Swat team - some armed with guns - swooping down in helicopters to arrest the leader of an international internet file-sharing site that had been getting up the noses of Hollywood film moguls. It was as though the target was Osama Bin Laden, not a successful computer geek the FBI wanted to extradite for alleged copyright and other business law transgressions.

That our external spies were also in on the raid - illegally - shows just how far from reality the law enforcement chiefs, both the covert and those in blue, strayed in this case.

The PM has called for an inquiry. But an in-house affair, cocooned in secrecy, is not going to ease the wider disquiet the slap-stick comedy unfolding around the Dotcom affair has created.

Without the delvings of the stellar legal team Mr Dotcom has been able to afford to assemble, there's a good chance the illegalities of the law enforcement squads would have remained hidden. How do we know that similar transgressions are not widespread? As far as the spies are concerned, there are cryptic references in Mr Neazor's annual report to two possible transgressions last year.

During the long-drawn-out trials following the 2007 police raids on the so-called Urewera "terrorists," the courts ruled that some of the bugged and filmed evidence collected was inadmissible because the police had similarly cut corners and failed to get the relevant warrants.

A few isolated incidents or part of an alarming pattern? It's time we found out. In the Dotcom case, not only have our law enforcement agencies cut corners - or worse - in their excitement at being part of Uncle Sam's world police team, in so doing they have broken New Zealand laws designed to protect the rights of the people they've sworn to uphold.

They've also broken our trust. That's earned them medals from the FBI. We can't leave it at that.


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- 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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