This morning saw the third inquiry into the Dotcom spying saga, with the Police announcing their own investigation in response to Green co-leader Russel Norman’s complaint last week – see: Police launch probe into spying on Dotcom: ‘Independent QC Kristy McDonald will review the inquiry and advise whether charges should be laid. It's likely the investigation will see Finance Minister Bill English interviewed, because of his role in signing an order to keep the involvement of the GCSB secret.’ This raises some interesting parallels with last year’s Police investigation of the so-called teapot tapes. By coincidence, both issues concern matters of privacy (and communications) and the recording or violation of that privacy. For the authoritative account of these parallels involved and on whether the Police will or should investigate – see Graeme Edgeler’s very good expert blogpost, Kim Dotcom vs. The Teapot Tapes. [Read more below]
There is a lot of debate about how much long-term damage the affair is doing to the Government, with various columns and editorials examining the stress National is under. The must-read piece on this topic is John Armstrong’s Fortune's favourite comes unstuck. Armstrong is fairly damning of nearly everyone involved, especially the Prime Minister but, despite the damage done, he says ‘the Dotcom scandal will probably be more a nuisance for National than a game-changer’. Of a similar mind is TVNZ’s Corin Dann, who writes that the Dotcom saga puts National on back foot, and says ‘I don't think the damage from this particular saga will be too lasting for National’. Nonetheless, both Armstrong and Dann list all the other compounding issues currently testing National’s popularity.
Conversely, Tim Watkin puts the case that the illegal spying saga could taint the Government with the dreaded reputation of incompetence and, similarly, John Key’s once-prized political image of being ‘relaxed’ could now be perceived as too ‘loose’ – see: John Key risks being undone by first rule of politics. Also admonishing Key for his loose political management is Fran O’Sullivan, who says that Key’s ‘Government has started to fray around the edges. This is not terminal by any means but it does require more focus’ – see: Key needs to tighten up political oversight
John Key isn’t the only one damaged by the saga according to Andrea Vance: ‘From Prime Minister John Key to the officer in charge of the case, reputations lie shredded in the fallout’. She catalogs the casualty list – especially the officials – in her very good article Dotcom saga rebounds on Key Government.
Other very interesting (and scathing accounts) have been put by Paul Holmes, who explains how ‘New Zealand officialdom has a history of corruption and covering up’ in One more episode of official incompetence, and Matt McCarten, who concludes that ‘The incompetence and misconduct of many of our institutions goes to the core of our society's integrity. Only a full and independent inquiry can now restore our country's reputation’ – see: Fools in charge erode integrity of our society.
But the Government’s handling of the illegal spying saga has won some praise. Toby Manhire draws attention to international commentators who are amazed by John Key’s willingness to apologise – see: US commentators praise NZ over Key’s Dotcom apology. While domestically, Sean Plunket says ‘Key seems to me to have done the right thing this week’ and thinks that opposition parties should support him for asserting parliamentary dominance over the intelligence agencies – see: Orwell had the Dotcom saga sussed.
So what of the inquiry into the GCSB announced by the Government? Labour is labeling it a ‘cynical attempt to cover over serious concerns about the agency’ – see Andrea Vance’s Spy review 'damage control' – Shearer. There is some merit in this criticism, as the review is actually being performed from within the GCSB by the agency’s new associate director, with the Government indicating that the results will not be made public. Coming hard on the heels of another internal investigation that was widely panned, it seems that the Government is not meeting the public’s interest in the matter. Worth reading on this is the Press’ editorial The dots still do not join up in the case of the incompetent spies. The editorial ends with a harsh warning to National that the Prime Minister’s lack of accountability on the issue, together with the many unanswered issues, ‘add to the perception of a politician not focused on the hard grind at his Beehive desk and too preoccupied with overseas travel, glad-handing and the smooching photo opportunity’.
The GCSB and Police are far from off the hook. The Police, in particular are facing the heat over the question of whether they lied in court. David Fisher reports that Police won't say what top Dotcom cop knew. But the police now appear to be suggesting that the alleged inconsistency of evidence given under oath in court was in fact just a matter of varying statements being ‘taken out of context’ – see TVNZ’s Peters predicts costly damages claim in Dotcom case. Meanwhile, many are voicing opinions that the Police are not capable of dealing with the problem – see, for example, Adam Bennett’s Meurant: Police won't investigate Dotcom spying. The GCSB has been trying to blame the Police for the mistaken spying but, as Andrea Vance reports, the GCSB had its legal department clear the spying as legal – see: Police had queried if spying was illegal.
There will now be much more interest in working out just what the GCSB does. In light of this, the NBR has published a very good summary in Nathan Smith’s The world of signals intelligence and GCSB in context. For an alternative version – and much more comprehensive – you can download for free, an electronic copy of Nicky Hager’s 1996 book Secret Power, New Zealand’s role in the international spy network.
Many are also asking why the GCSB were involved in the first place. Chris Trotter sees such questions as naïve – New Zealand is, after all a ‘vassal state’ in which a so-called independent foreign policy is a total myth – see: NZ still member of secret club (http://bit.ly/U2ohFq). But for those on the left joining the Dotcom fanclub, blogger Chris Ford has a warning in his post Why the left should not venerate Kim Dotcom. And finally, Chris Barton provides the ‘real’ story behind the saga: Kim pulls off greatest dotcomedy of his career.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
Labour is happily benefiting from the Dotcom saga, but Colin James’ says the party still has much to do to reform itself to be ready to govern – see: Dotcom mess could give impetus to Labour. Similarly, John Armstrong says that a Labour shake-up badly needed. In the meantime John Tamihere is rumoured to be talking to the Labour leadership about going head to head with Paula Bennett in Waitakere at the next election - see: Tamihere eyes Labour comeback. His return would be welcomed by some but challenging for many on the liberal left of Labour.
The lengthy list of libertarian grievances outlined by Matthew Hooton in Can Libertarianz step up? is motivating an attempt to form a new right wing alliance. TV3’s The Nation looked at why many former Act supporters have given up on the John Banks led party and are looking to the Libertarianz – see: Is John Banks causing ACT's demise? While there is an acknowledgement that the promotion of the party and policy priorities need to change, 100,000 plus votes to get into parliament looks a long, long way off – Libertarianz ready to embrace new image.
Johnny goes to Hollywood – see Toby Manhire’s Hang on – John Key is actually selling NZ to Hollywood producers?
Finally, Anthony Robins at The Standard looks at what happens when clever extra-terrestrial one liners are turned around on their creators: When memes attack.