Our intelligence agencies had made only "small" improvements in protecting New Zealand against specific risks and threats, a report on a huge modernisation project has stated.

In the two years since the project got under way, there was still "distance yet to travel", it said.

It is unknown whether the rise of far-right extremism - such as that associated with the Christchurch shooter - was one of those areas in which only "small" improvements had been made.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today announced an inquiry into the agencies which contribute intelligence, including the NZ Security Intelligence Service and Government Communications Security Bureau.

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The NZSIS and GCSB said tonight the shooter in the Christchurch attacks had not come to their attention. The two agencies welcomed the upcoming inquiry.

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NZSIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge said the agency had "increased its effort" in the past nine months to "obtain a better picture of the threat posed to New Zealand by far right extremist groups".

She said tips to the NZSIS about concerning behaviour had been properly investigated.

NZ Herald investigations have revealed our intelligence agencies were wrestling with a "brick-by-brick" rebuild project after a series of reviews exposed flaws in our first line of national defence.

It saw the NZSIS and GCSB getting $179m in 2016 to spend over four years to fix problems which took decades to create.

Graves are prepared for those who were killed in the Christchurch attack. Photo / Michael Craig
Graves are prepared for those who were killed in the Christchurch attack. Photo / Michael Craig

One of the reports which exposed the flaws was the State Services Commission's performance improvement report in 2014.

An update to the report in August last year revealed the agencies' recognition of weakness through their use of a "slider scale" which was used to assess each area of risk and their ability to meet it.

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In New Zealand, intelligence agency ministers have been briefed on the six top threats facing New Zealand - cyber security, violent extremism, espionage, stability in the South Pacific, mass migration and organised crime.

The SSC report stated each of New Zealand's "high intelligence priorities" had such a scale, with setting assessing capability from "high risk/low protection" to "low risk/high protection".

It is not known whether the "slider scale" is used for more detailed threat or if it is used for the broad categories on which intelligence agency minister's are briefed.

Pictures of the victims adorn the fence of a mosque in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak
Pictures of the victims adorn the fence of a mosque in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak

The use of the scale was to allow the agencies to properly gauge New Zealand's level of exposure to specific threat areas and their ability to meet those risks.

"An overall judgement is then made on the current capacity of each capability and shown graphically on the slider scale.

"In many instances the shifts in capability between 2013/14 and 2017 are quite small so far, and indicate the distance yet to travel."

The report was also critical of the way the "slider scale" was developed, saying it was told the settings on the scale were based on "judgment" with "no specific science". It said the agencies needed "a stronger capability assessment methodology".

The rise of far-right extremism, to which the Christchurch attacks has been linked, has seen a shift in focus by partner intelligence agencies in the Five Eyes group of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.

In the US, 73 per cent of extremist-related fatalities were linked to far-right extremists. In Canada, hate crimes soared amid far-right extremist attacks.

In October, the United Kingdom shifted responsibility for far-right extremism from police to its domestic intelligence agency MI5. The move shifted the focus on such extremism, making it a matter national security amid increasing reports of such attacks.

A police officer guard the Deans Avenue mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A police officer guard the Deans Avenue mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The NZSIS was asked if there was a "slider scale" for far-right extremism. It has yet to respond.

The NZSIS has one appropriation for capital and operating expenditure combined and generally we don't give detail of the specific components of the appropriation.

In response to a question earlier in the day about a $16m shortfall in spending in its last
budget, a spokeswoman said the majority of the money not spent ($13m) was in capital projects which was to be spent over multiple years.