Wikileaks: Leaked US cables spill the beans on NZ ties
Published in the Sunday Star Times
WikiLeaks has begun releasing 251,000 confidential US embassy cables from around the world, 1490 of them from the Wellington embassy. This is what some of the cables reveal. By Nicky Hager.
NEW ZEALAND’S collaboration with United States intelligence agencies was “fully restored” in August 2009 but both governments decided to keep the decision secret.
News of the change is contained in a classified American embassy cable sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on January 6 this year ahead of her recent visit, warning her the news “should not be acknowledged in public”.
The US imposed restrictions on intelligence supply in the 1980s as retaliation for New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy, and American ambassador Bill McCormick was still saying in late 2005 that there was “little room to move” while the anti-nuclear legislation remained in place.
But the cable reveals the US quietly resumed the intelligence flow despite the nuclear-free policy. It said despite the 1985 Anzus break, New Zealand remained a member of the Five Eyes intelligence community, but with access to certain types of material curtailed.
“Our intelligence relationship was fully restored in August 29, 2009,” the SECRET/NOFORN cable, meaning for American eyes only – No Foreign Nationals, says.
The cables also reveal an increase in New Zealand co-operation with US intelligence agencies and military, beginning under Helen Clark’s Labour government. A cable from March 2, 2007, said Clark, as minister in charge of the intelligence agencies: “is read into all major operations involving US intelligence… [and] grasps that NZ must `give to get’.”
US diplomat David Keegan said: “Some of our co-operative operations – such as monitoring radicalizing Kiwi jihadists – strengthen her country’s security”, but Clark: “Has also been willing to address targets of marginal benefit to New Zealand that could do her political harm if made public”.
That contradicts statements in New Zealand intelligence agency annual reports that their operations relate purely to national security. According to the cables, US and New Zealand officials doubted there was public support for the closer ties and preferred to keep them secret.
A February 25, 2008, cable said New Zealand foreign affairs officials had responded positively to a US proposal for increased “defence engagement” but “emphasized that it is committed to avoiding publicity”.
The US cable commented: “Clearly NZ domestic political sensitivities could make it increasingly difficult to consider any high-profile bilateral activities.”
On the closer military alignment, foreign affairs head Simon Murdoch told the American embassy: “We share the US assessment there is no requirement for the advice of the outcome of the US review to enter the public domain.”