A unique report prepared by New Zealand’s spies names China, Iran and Russia as some of the few states conducting foreign interference in New Zealand.
The Security Threat Environment 2023 report, released this morning, canvasses threats to national security and provides more detail than what has previously been reported at an unclassified level by the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).
Publishing the report honours one of the recommendations following the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack which called for an annual threatscape report.
It discussed several factors impacting New Zealand’s national security, including violent extremism, foreign interference, strategic competition, declining social trust, technological innovation and global economic instability.
The report highlighted foreign interference activities by three states: the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia.
It defined foreign interference as “an act by a foreign state that is intended to influence, disrupt or subvert New Zealand’s national interests by deceptive, corruptive or coercive means”.
“There are a small number of states who conduct foreign interference in New Zealand but their ability to cause harm is significant,” the report read.
“The main targets of interference activities in New Zealand are our migrant and well-established communities who may be viewed as dissidents by a foreign state.
“These communities can receive unwanted and unjustified attention from foreign states who conduct malicious activities designed to threaten and disrupt their peaceful life in New Zealand.”
“Societal interference” - foreign states influencing, disrupting or subverting New Zealand’s communities and non-government sectors by deceptive, corruptive or coercive means - was considered the most common form of foreign interference in New Zealand.
The report named Iran as having undertaken societal interference, including “monitoring and providing reporting on Iranian communities and dissident groups”.
“Globally, Iran has sought to silence dissenting Iranian voices in response to perceived threats to the Islamic Republic.
“Such activity has historically been unlikely in New Zealand, although the NZSIS continues to assess the threat in light of Iran’s increasingly aggressive behaviour internationally.”
As was common in such reports, an instance when foreign interference was detected by the NZSIS was included.
It described a “likely undeclared foreign intelligence officer” who was likely focused on “monitoring individuals of concern to that state”.
“The likely intelligence officer gained access to sensitive and private information about a number of New Zealand-based people.
“The information may have exposed vulnerabilities of these peoples, and been used to collect further intelligence against them, and prompted surveillance and intimidation.”
While the report did not name the officer’s country of origin, it claimed the country “regularly monitors migrants, students, and dissidents internationally and engages in interference and transnational repression activities, including forcible detention and assassinations”.
The NZSIS provided protective security advice to ensure the individual’s activity was mitigated, the report said.
NZSIS Director-General of Security Andrew Hampton said competition between states was becoming more acute.
“This environment is prompting some states to seek advantage through subversive and dishonest means such as espionage and foreign interference against New Zealand and New Zealand’s interests.
“NZSIS is very clear that those responsible for the foreign interference threat are the states themselves and the people who act on their behalf.”
He also acknowledged the evolution of violent extremism, specifically how some individuals held a range of extremist beliefs without aligning to one in particular.
The development had prompted the NZSIS to adopt the term “mixed, unstable and unclear” ideologies, to add to their existing definitions of violent extremism that was motivated by politics, ideology or faith.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.