A tantalising glimpse of our spies operations has emerged from the intelligence agencies' minister Andrew Little, including the disruption of terror attacks on New Zealand and foreign soil and the thwarting of foreign spies.
In a speech at Victoria University, Little briefly lifted the cloak of secrecy covering the NZ Security Intelligence Service and Government Communications Security Bureau to reveal rarely spoken of successes.
Those included our spies identifying and disrupting "potential terrorists" in New Zealand and gathering intelligence that "disrupted terrorist attack planning overseas".
Little also highlighted work that had thwarted "an individual with links to a foreign intelligence agency" who had been "covertly attempting to form relationships with New Zealanders holding senior and influential positions".
He said: "People have been removed from trusted positions based on intelligence of the proven insider threat they posed."
Other successes included the protection that Cortex - the GCSB-operated cyber protection system - had successful protected "strategically significant organisations in New Zealand".
The GCSB had also provided information about organised international drug syndicates which had led to smugglers being "busted for trafficking drugs".
Little then lowered the cloak again, telling those from the Political Science and International Relations Programme that the successes of the agencies went largely unknown because secrecy was essential for their jobs.
"If the above sounds a bit 'James Bond', then actually what our intelligence agencies do is mostly quite mundane." Echoing agents he had spoken to while drafting the speech, Little said they told him: "Mundanity is the essence of intelligence."
Little warned that the nature of threats to New Zealand was "evolving". "Consider just the last few years. There have been two recent terrorist attacks. Great powers are focused on our Pacific neighbourhood, which was once described as an incredibly benign strategic environment.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated changes to the ways we work with connected technologies, but the cyber threats we face are growing.
"These changes have been rapid. But the quality of our national security conversation has not evolved at the same pace.
Little said the intelligence agencies saw the threat of terrorism as the most prominent risk. Aside from terrorism, he said there were also threats of foreign interference and espionage and "the threat of malign state activity directed against our country is equally real to the terrorist threat".
"Threats to our democratic institutions, including by placing pressure on expatriate communities and foreign language media, are real."
He said cyber attacks were increasing, as seen with the Waikato District Health Board outage and attacks on the NZX.
Little's speech sat against the backdrop of the Royal Commission into the Terrorist Attack on the Christchurch Mosques, the inquiry into the 2019 attack which left 51 people dead at the hands of a lone gunman.
He said there was a need to be "realistic" about what Government and the spy agencies could do alone. "The threats we face touch all our lives so let's turn fear, anxiety and exclusion into confidence, resilience and inclusion."
"Any one of us has the ability to mitigate a potential national security threat by being alert to it and telling someone when we see something that doesn't feel right."
He said he didn't want to see New Zealand becoming a "mass dob-in country" but for citizens to have a greater awareness and confidence to speak up. "It's not about peering through the curtains at your neighbours.
Little said the Christchurch attacker was "an unknown unknown", contrary to New Lynn attacker Ahamed Adil Mohamed Samsudeen who was known to agencies, yet unable to be kept from the public.
"If March 15 (in Christchurch) didn't make it clear then September 3 (in New Lynn) should make it undeniable that New Zealand is not immune from the terrorist atrocities that happen in our world.
"There remains a small number of individuals that the security intelligence agencies know about, and who give cause for concern because of their potential to mobilise to violent extremism. But there are likely other unknown unknowns that the agencies don't yet know about.
"The international experience shows us terrorist threats will continue to evolve, including online radicalisation and increasingly sophisticated lone actor threats."
Little pointed to the Royal Commission's recommendation the spy agencies "must be as open and transparent as possible in order to maintain the social licence" needed to do their work, and to engage the public.
"We need to see national security being more routinely discussed in mainstream news media, in our workplaces, amongst our iwi, and in our homes."
That wider discussion, he said, would promote social cohesion, with the Government taking a range of steps to achieve that, in partnership with community and other groups.
"Security and social cohesion are intrinsically linked. We all contribute to each other's security."
Little said the national security focus on building social cohesion was "a somewhat novel approach international" and "perhaps a uniquely New Zealand response to a tragedy on our soil".
It sought to build bonds between communities to avoid the risks that emerged when people or their communities are marginalised or left feeling they have "no stake in their community or an interest in collective well-being".
"Those feelings can propel vulnerable people to subscribe to groups that provide a sense of belonging but which are destructive."
Little said strong national security protected the country's basic values - "Democracy, the rule of law, universal human rights, and the wellbeing of our people".