COMMENT:

The shockwaves of the Christchurch mosque massacres still painfully reverberate. But the aftermath has exposed an elephant in the room that few want to acknowledge.

Most would be a tad non-plussed to learn a new All Black coach had been appointed, not on the basis of sound knowledge and experience of the tactics, strategies and techniques of winning rugby, but solely because of good organisational and people skills.

Most would also be unsettled to discover we'd appointed as Chief of Army someone with no prior experience in operational military matters, but whose previous area of expertise was management in private sector construction.

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Yet we don't appear to have any qualms about appointing someone to head our primary intelligence agency – the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) – with seemingly no previous experience whatsoever in operational security strategy or on-the-ground security best-practice.

The present director-general of the SIS is Rebecca Kitteridge. When appointed by the Key Government in 2014, she appears to have had zero formal qualifications and negligible – if any - personal experience in operational intelligence matters.

Kitteridge was essentially an ex-lawyer and ex-public servant whom John Key plucked off the Wellington beltway to head our key intelligence agency.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is to examine all issues relevant to the tragedy, including the performance of our security agencies. By the time inquiry members are appointed, terms of reference set, and witnesses and evidence marshalled, this won't occur any time soon.

But we've just experienced a tragic, massive failure of national security. The public is entitled to start asking some hard questions right now.

Kitteridge, said Key, was a professional, highly respected public servant with experience in senior roles. "She will bring strong leadership skills, excellent relationship management skills and a highly collaborative approach to the role of director of security." Uh huh.

Previously, she'd spent nine years as a private sector lawyer, four years in the legal division of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and four years as Crown Counsel on secondment as secretary of the Cabinet advising on proper process. For a time she also advised the Governor-General on constitutional matters.

Kitteridge was also assigned to undertake a compliance review of the Government Communications Security Bureau after it had been sprung illegally spying on Kim Dotcom. As such, it was an investigation into procedural matters, as opposed to anything pro-active or strategic in nature with regard to security matters.

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In an interview regarding her SIS appointment, Kitteridge stated that "the role is more about organisational leadership than technical interpretation of legislation. I have a legal team that I rely on for my legal advice, and my focus is on strengthening and focusing this organisation on the areas of greatest security concern."

And so how did the SIS director identify those areas of greatest security concern, given her lack of specific qualifications and experience, and that she saw her primary role as organisational? Presumably she relied on other staff members to take care of this crucial chore. Who, exactly? Are they any more trained than her, or do their briefcases still pack cold pies and girlie magazines?

Could they just also be ex-public servants or miscellaneous ex-military personnel with no particular national security experience either? What we do know - given the perpetrator was posting on social media his specific intentions for all the world to see two days before their horrendous execution - is that they comprehensively failed.

Kitteridge's qualifications and experience seems to indicate she's good with people, systems, and legal and constitutional matters. The public is entitled to think that the head of a key security agency should also have had proven expertise in the primary operational activity for which the organisation exists – namely, identifying and neutralising covert and overt security threats.

The tragic events of March 15 might also demand it.