Work needed to build closer communities and fight radicalisation — intelligence.

"Disaffected youth" in New Zealand are at risk of being radicalised and should be a key focus in combating terrorism, according to a high-level committee set up to advise our security services.

The committee also says that more work needs to be done to build closer communities as a way of fighting terrorism.

New Zealand's security risk remains at "low" after being heightened in 2014 with an assessment a domestic terrorism event is possible but not expected.

But intelligence sources have told the Weekend Herald that the possibility of an attack is constant and it is a matter of "when" and not "if" terrorism will appear in New Zealand.

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The warning about disaffected youth comes from the Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel, a committee of "free thinkers" set up in the centre of government to forecast threats to national security.

Details of meetings of the panel, released through the Official Information Act, show the panel's focus was developing a "risk register" which posed specific security threats to New Zealand.

The full minutes of the meeting were withheld but the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released a summary showing the panel was provided a "draft profile" assessing the risk posed by terrorism.

It showed key issues included "the importance of continuing to focus on the threat of radicalisation of disaffected youth".

NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It also stated that there was a need for "a more forward looking approach in particular focused on community cohesion" and "more focus needed on the drivers of domestic extremism".

Examples given to the panel were "those radicalised due to strong positions on ecological and technological issues" but the security services have previously expressed concerned over online targeting by Islamic extremists.

NZ Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge has previously told the Weekend Herald that use of Facebook and other social media to foster extremism was part of the reason for increasing our security risk level from "very low" to "low".

Massey University's Terry Johanson - a lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies - said disenfranchisement was a significant factor in radicalisation and recruiting.

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"It needs to be because they feel disenfranchised from their own society. That tends to be because these people don't have the community framework around them."

Johanson, who has a military background, said closer communities were an element in fighting that dangerous disaffection because people didn't tend to attack groups of which they were part.

He said widening gaps between social groups worked against closer communities.

Asked about the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand, he said: "If it continues to widen, you're not going to have that sense of community. Enhancing community is a way of ensuring people in New Zealand have a sense of belonging."

The Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel was an innovation of former Prime Minister Sir John Key's time as minister for national security and came during a time when the bureaucratic systems designed to protect New Zealand were massively upgraded.

It was said to reflect Key's belief that "we're living in the most dangerous times ever".

The Weekend Herald has asked new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office if it will be retained. There has been no response.

Panel members are invited to speak to ODESC - the committee of officials who are the central cog in New Zealand's national security system - on issues considered relevant, while an ODESC member sits in on its meetings.

The key issue identified in the summary of the minutes was the need to create an overarching "risk register" for New Zealand which forecast dangers to our country and ways to meet the threats.

The development of a register would meet a gap in our security system identified by Johanson in the recently released New Zealand National Security book, which drew articles from a range of experts in the field.

The panel minutes show it would allow a specific risk to be assigned to public agencies which would be held accountable for dealing with it.

Examples of risk areas developed for the panel to consider included terrorism, corruption, large-scale people smuggling, biodiversity loss and price shocks which impact across the community.

Current panel members include private sector figures and former and current public sector leaders.

It is currently led by the chairman of the Productivity Commission Murray Sherwin and counts among its members Richard Forgan, consulting partner at PWC, NZQA chief executive Karen Poutasi, former Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones and Keith Turner, chairman of Fisher & Paykel Appliances. Its key task is to forecast national security threats.

A New Zealand Intelligence Community spokeswoman said a number of agencies, including the NZSIS and police, had responsibility for managing security.

"Agencies also work closely with communities to build partnerships and ensure open and constructive dialogue on these issues."