Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: The GCSB - A comedy-thriller in six parts

Kim Dotcom. Photo / Richard Robinson
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Richard Robinson

Application for funding: "The GCSB - a comedy-drama in six parts."

Think The Wire. Think Johnny English. Think The GC, but with added BS. The GCSB will make for thrilling, rambunctious, and wildly funny viewing. This is the kind of television you watch through your fingers.

Episode 1: "Billy Big Steps"

"Have fun on your day off. Hope Dotcom goes down!" cheers a staffer at the Government Communications Security Bureau in an email to the police. Inspired by this encouragement, and rested from a day off, the raid on the mansion of the idiosyncratic German internet tycoon amid the rolling pastures north of Auckland is a real blast. We'll spend most of our budget re-enacting this.

A few boring bureaucrats raise questions about the legality of the GCSB's Dotcom surveillance, given the law expressly forbids them from spying on New Zealand permanent residents.

This puts a real downer on things. But only briefly. "We are all very happy that no breach occurred," comes the email from the supercop agency Ofcanz, "and we can go back to celebrating taking down that criminal mastermind". Party on!

Episode 2: "Yeah, nah"

We flash back to the Prime Minister dialling an old cobber from school. There's a job going, he says. It's awesome - check out those giant golf balls down in Marlborough. Cojones! He adds a joke about sauvignon blanc and global grapevines. "I'm sorry," says Ian, "who is this?" "It's John," says John. "I know you work in local government in Queensland, but you'd be perfect. You've got one of those forgettable faces."

Cut to a lot of people walking down corridors in buildings to establish that the GCSB wasn't allowed to spy on Billy Big Steps and his pal Bram van der Kolk after all. The camera comes to rest on the agency logo: "Mastery of Cyberspace".

Episode 3: "Mystery of Cyberspace"

In a bold stylistic departure, a mock-documentary explores another of the GCSB's specialities: advising government departments and agencies on information security through its NZ Information Security Manual. A voiceover (we're hoping Jaime Ridge is available) reads the introduction: "Effective information, systems and cyber security is fundamental to the management of many of the challenges facing government, underpinning public confidence and vital for the effective, efficient and safe conduct of public business" - as the camera sails through the foyers of places like the Ministry of Education, ACC, EQC, the Ministry of Justice. The ep concludes with a killer punchline: the Government proposing a massive pan-ministry "data hub".

Episode 4: The Kitteridges

The report into GCSB compliance is released, finding that, apart from Dotcom and his pal, 88 others might well have been illegally spied on. The word "oversight" appears 35 times in the report, the inference being that it would be good to have some of it, from the inspector general (we're hoping to approach Susan Devoy for this role) and the elected politician responsible ("the performance of the bureau's functions is subject to the control of the minister," reads the statute). Approached by a posse of knuckleheads, the man entrusted with public scrutiny of the GCSB asserts that he and his predecessor have repeatedly proved their commitment to oversight. There have been countless oversights at the agency. And should you really be getting so worked up and serious about a piece of legislation that took effect in 2003 on April 1, he adds with a wink, before dashing away to the opening of a Beijing pizzeria.

Under questioning in parliament, the deputy Prime Minister sprinkles talcum powder on the floor and delights the public gallery with a first-rate head-spin.

Episode 5: "System error"

"Systemic failings," says the Prime Minister. "Systemic problems," says the man with the forgettable face. "Systemic failure," says Kate Wilkinson, waving the Pike River report. Systemic failure is about as serious as it gets, goes the voiceover. Much too serious for anyone to be held responsible. But will there be sanctions for this apparent illegal spying on New Zealanders, ask the knuckleheads? You bet, replies the Prime Minister. We will sanction this behaviour by changing the law so that they can crack on with it.

Episode 6: "Heads roll"

Prime Minister John Key calls the minister responsible for the GCSB, John Key, into his office. (Hoping Weta Workshop may help with the special effects). Key stares meaningfully into Key's eyes, and places a statement before him: "Minister steps down". At the top of the page, the name "Kate Wilkinson" has been scrawled out, and replaced with "John Key". It reads: "This happened on my watch as minister ... I feel it is the right and honourable thing to do."

Note: Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Except when it's not..

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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