Email leakers boast of skills but appear to have found next to nothing of importance to embarrass minister
Someone with an enormous sense of humour and a score to settle must surely be leaking Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully's emails to the media.
TV3 reported rather breathlessly this week that a group calling themselves The Comrades had hacked into McCully's private Xtra account last April.
The Comrades reportedly told TV3 that government security "is very easy to bypass" and "this will not be the last time you hear from us".
But what the self-proclaimed Russians actually leaked to TV3 was remarkably anodyne: a rather self-important email from National MP and former diplomat John Hayes suggesting McCully could usefully take a look at his ministry's phonebook if he wanted to cut out diplomatic deadwood - "wasteful admin crap" from Wellington.
This is hardly a state secret. Many former employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been openly suggesting that their former ministry should be downsized and those past their best should be put out to pasture to clear the way for young talent to thrive.
Another email outlining upcoming movements for the Air Force planes serves only to remind how few New Zealand has. Again, this is not a state secret.
I may yet be proved wrong. The "Comrades" may yet pass classified documents to my colleagues in the news media.
But right now it is more reminiscent of the teapot tapes story that so embarrassed Prime Minister John Key and Act leader John Banks at the election. The story is more important for the leaking/taping of the two leaders' conversation and McCully's emails than what was in the tape or email in the first place,.
The Government Communications Security Bureau investigated the alleged hacking into McCully's email account. But it hasn't reported on its findings.
What does seem clear is that the Comrades' hacking skills are not that great. Otherwise they would have pierced the Government's secure firewall and got hold of source documents.
In the McCully case, Key has made it clear that officials should not have been forwarding emails from the Government's secure server to his minister's private account.
The Foreign Minister is said to have realised his email account had been hacked when someone started sending out prank emails from it. This would be a remarkably easy thing to do if McCully had been sloppy with his own password security or someone with access to the email traffic simply printed out copies or downloaded them.
The question is why would he/she bother unless he/she wanted to embarrass the minister.
The timing of the TV3 leak was embarrassing as it came just one day before the Government was due to unveil plans to cut 305 jobs from Mfat.
McCully has taken a low profile.
But Mfat boss John Allen did not get a good run. His plans to cut staff levels were leaked by Labour's Phil Goff before he formally briefed news media. Another proposal to cut back consular services to Kiwis overseas by referring them to an international 0800-style number as their first point of contact if they get into trouble was also leaked.
The upshot was that Allen was on the back foot when he confirmed the proposals in a media briefing on Thursday.
The cuts are swingeing: 21 per cent of the 1421 staff will go; 600 staff will have to reapply for roles. The changes will save $20 million to $25 million a year.
There will be more jobs losses ahead as pressure goes on Allen to increase the savings to $40 million a year.
Many Mfat insiders believe that diplomats with long experience in the game have been devalued by their boss. But younger players are more enthusiastic.
Allen was employed to carry out just such an exercise and refashion the ministry into a sleeker organisation. But he has taken a long time to wield the knife. Insiders thought he would do the reorganisation early last year. By comparison, NZ Trade and Enterprise boss Peter Chrisp moved quickly to assert his authority by reshaping his organisation.
There has been other slippage with the NZ Inc strategies taking far longer to get to launch date that original projections. Mfat's post-election briefing to McCully was also heavily redacted.
It would be unfair to place the responsibility for this week's PR fiascos at Allen's door. But if he had managed to move faster, place the cuts in the context of what the ministry actually wanted to achieve (difficult to do when the strategy is redacted) and with public backing from his minister, Allen's proposals might have gained greater public acceptance.
They do, after all, simply put the ministry back to the period when former Foreign Minister Winston Peters bumped its budget up by $600 million over a five-year period.
But that got lost in the wash.