The Operation 8 raids showed a lack of good human intelligence gathering, says a former police officer who has studied the case.

And a leading intelligence and defence policy analyst has also criticised the merits of the police actions, adding police "never once established a concrete plot to do anything".

Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the Urewera police raids which resulted in the arrests of 17 people for alleged firearms offences.

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Terror raids: Tame Iti on 'letting it go' 10 years after the police raids on Ruatoki


The Independent Police Conduct Authority later found the Tuhoe raid was justified but police acted unlawfully detaining occupants at five properties.

The Human Rights Commission also later ruled innocent people had their human rights contravened when they were illegally searched and detained.

Former police officer Harawira Pearless - who had previously carried out surveillance in the Urewera Ranges - said the decision to cordon off the entire Ruatoki township showed uncertainty by police as to who they were after.

Since leaving the force, he has become a historian and wrote his masters' thesis comparing the Ruatoki raids to earlier significant police action against Maori at Parihaka in 1881 and Maungapohatu in 1916.

"What it said was that in regard to police and Ruatoki in 2007, police operating tactics and procedures had not changed in more than 100 years."

Parihaka and Maungapohatu both saw state action against Maori who were considered to be challenging the state - and for that action to later founder at the courts with the accused eventually released without convictions related to the original police operation.

For the "terrorism" the Crown was alleging in the Operation 8 raids, Pearless said it was hardly reflected in the four convictions on Arms Act charges that resulted, even though two of those involved prison sentences.

The path to failure began early, he said. If the concern was focused on what those in the bush were doing, then police needed better intelligence than it had.


While there was plenty of electronic surveillance carried out, actual knowledge from human sources seemed thin.

The Independent Police Conduct Agency inquiry into the raids found iwi liaison officers were excluded from Operation 8 with concerns over compromising their standing in the community.

It found police also stating that iwi liaison officers raising the training camps with kaumatua was also likely ineffective because not all of those taking part were Maori.

Pearless says not briefing those iwi liaison officers deprived the Operation 8 inquiry of valuable intelligence.

When it came to ending the operation, it required investigators to "cordon, contain, isolate and interrogate".

The lack of intelligence saw the entire township of Ruatoki cordoned off because police were unsure who needed to be considered as a suspect.

"When they cordon and contain a village, that's called pot luck. It comes down to being more detailed in your approach, more specific about targets and where they are in the pecking order."

Not placing roadblocks - found by the IPCA to be unlawful - on the confiscation line demarcating government removal of Tuhoe land would also have helped.

But Pearless also questions the objective of Operation 8, which would have been a test of the Terrorism Suppression Act. He said the 2002 legislation was New Zealand's answer to the US Patriot Act and gave police extensive new powers.

Once police decided to use those powers to investigate the training camps, it escalated how those involved were going to be perceived and treated.

"What was the intent of the operation? In my mind, it was to create case law. It was to seek extra powers."

Former intelligence and defence policy analyst Dr Paul Buchanan - who worked on counter-insurgency in the Pentagon - agreed the operation had the feel of testing the limits of the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The failure began by making those targeted in Operation 8 that test case - they were "a motley crew" and police "never once established a concrete plot to do anything", he said.

"It was a lot of cheap talk and a lot of grand statements from people known to make grand statements."

Buchanan said police visits to those identified as being in the camps and instruction to "cut it out" could have been just as effective.

And if that hadn't worked, then early morning raids with similar underlying warnings would have offered a stronger warning.

Pursuing the targets as if they were a genuine threat allowed the Terrorism Suppression Act to be trialled - and even if it failed, he said, then it would succeed through the legal amendments which followed.

"I happen to believe that all the time, police did not believe these people to be a real threat. They were useful fools."