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Goff safe as leader despite no credibility on SIS issue
Phil Goff continues to look almost completely safe as leader of the opposition, suggesting his caucus is determined to stick with him to the election despite his latest PR disaster over the SIS / Israeli "spy" issue.
I find it difficult to believe he is not lying about the meeting with SIS Director Warren Tucker on Monday 14 March. If he is not lying then his memory faculties and/or his ability to multitask must be seriously in doubt.
Section 4AA(3) of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969 requires the service to consult regularly with the Leader of the Opposition for the purpose of keeping him or her informed about matters relating to security. This was introduced into the law in 1999 but reflected prior practice.
Until Mr Goff's attacks on Mr Tucker yesterday, there has never been any suggestion that the SIS has not faithfully complied with this part of the law. Opposition leaders Helen Clark, Jenny Shipley, Bill English, Don Brash and John Key have never expressed any concern about a lack of consultation. In fact, Dr Brash felt sufficiently well briefed as Leader of the Opposition to express reservations as to the quality of the SIS's case against Ahmed Zaoui, surprising many liberals. It wasn't that he wasn't briefed - it was that he was sufficiently well briefed to form a view.
It is deeply implausible that Warren Tucker of all people would be the first to break this convention and law by insufficiently briefing the Labour Leader. Just read his CV. This is a former Army Major who joined the Government Communications Security Bureau in 1982. He had the trust of the Labour Government of the 1980s to serve throughout David Lange's prime ministership as the bureau's liaison officer to the National Security Agency in Washington. In his book My Life, Mr Lange expressed concern about the conduct of some military and intelligence personnel that he felt undermined him, but there is not the slightest criticism of Mr Tucker.
Mr Tucker was then appointed Intelligence Coordinator in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet under Prime Minister Jim Bolger and then Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau in December 1999 under Helen Clark. Ms Clark then advised the Governor-General to appoint him Director of Security, New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, a role he took up on 1 November 2006.
For Mr Goff's position to be credible, it is necessary to believe a number of things about Mr Tucker including that he would fake documents in order to mislead the Prime Minister and the media and discredit the Leader of the Opposition. Make no mistake, the documents that have been released under the Official Information Act do not consist simply of a scrawled note by Mr Tucker saying Mr Goff had read the key paper on the Israel issue. They also reveal that an agenda was prepared in advance for the 14 March meeting showing Mr Tucker planned to raise the matter with Mr Goff. The documents also reveal that Mr Tucker recorded that Mr Goff raised questions about the matter and that it was in fact "discussed at length". Mr Tucker then referred to the discussion again when preparing the agenda for the next regular meeting, required under statute, with Mr Goff, which was held three weeks later
Mr Goff would have it that these documents are fakes. Mr Tucker wrote things down, and prepared agendas and minutes, that were untrue. He then gave these false documents to the Prime Minister's Office and to Whaleoil in order to discredit Mr Goff.
This is an extraordinary allegation for Mr Goff to be making, even implicitly. How credible is it that Mr Tucker would behave that way? My intelligence sources tell me he has always been the ultimate straight-shooter and has done more than any of his predecessors to bring openness and transparency to the intelligence community. Any personal political views he may have are, I'm told, completely unreadable and, as outlined above, he has maintained the confidence of every New Zealand prime minister from Muldoon, to Lange, to Bolger, to Clark, to Key. It is impossible to believe he has now risked his reputation to take a cheap shot at Mr Goff, who he served loyally when he was Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and Trade Minister through the 2000s.
Isn't it far more likely that Mr Goff, having previously said the matter had not even been mentioned to him at all, has been caught lying and is now forced, Nixon-like, to maintain the lie - even if it requires implicitly attacking Mr Tucker's integrity to the extent of suggesting he has behaved illegally?
The alternative theory is that Mr Goff was distracted by the Darren Hughes affair when the 14 March meeting occurred and so didn't engage properly or since forgot what was discussed.
This may be more charitable to Mr Goff but is in fact less credible than the outright-lie theory. As Mr Goff has said, he is immensely interested in Israel spy issues and Middle East politics. It is implausible that if, as Mr Goff now admits, Mr Tucker at least "flicked the issue past him", that Mr Goff would not have asked him more - especially as I am told by intelligence sources that Mr Goff earned a reputation with intelligence officers for always engaging deeply on intelligence issues when he was a minister, something they appreciated.
Despite all this, Mr Goff would now have us believe that when the Israeli spy/backpacker issue was mentioned in the briefing, he asked no follow up questions - indeed showed no interest engagement or interest at all - but that, nevertheless, Mr Tucker went away and wrote down that he had engaged with Mr Goff on the issue at length.
It is not often that the only logical conclusion is to believe that a major political figure is telling barefaced lies, but this is one of them. Still, iPredict continues to forecast he is safe to the election.
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