New Zealand’s intelligence watchdog has launched an inquiry into our spy agencies’ involvement in the military’s Afghanistan activities – including the raid which allegedly killed innocent civilians.
The investigation will focus in part on whether the agencies adhered to New Zealand’s human rights obligations regarding the capture of prisoners, in a seeming reference to allegations an insurgent was handed over to Afghan secret police and tortured.
Cheryl Gwyn, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, announced the inquiry on Thursday as part of her 2018/19 work programme.
Gwyn’s investigation relates to the death of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell when his patrol was ambushed in August 2010, and a raid later that month involving the SAS and targeting insurgents believed to be responsible for the attack.
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run, published last year, alleges 21 civilians were killed or injured as a result of the raid.
The authors said the intelligence for the raid was gathered in part by military personnel trained in interception by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
According to the book, one of the suspected insurgents, Qari Miraj, was later captured in Kabul, beaten by an SAS trooper and handed to the Afghan secret police, where he was tortured.
In April, the Government announced it would launch an inquiry into the book’s allegations about the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the raid.
The terms of reference for Gwyn’s inquiry say it will look into “the knowledge, awareness and contribution”of the GCSB and NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to NZDF operations related to O’Donnell’s death and the subsequent raid.
It will also investigate whether the agencies applied New Zealand’s human rights obligations to any information collected or received about anyone captured and detained as part of the NZDF’s work, including any relationships with detaining authorities in Afghanistan.
Gwyn said the inquiry would not consider the actions and conduct of the NZDF, although it could share some “specific events and questions of fact” with the government inquiry.
NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge said the organisation would support both Gwyn’s and the Government’s inquiries, noting it often provided help to the NZDF during its overseas deployments.
“Our main efforts in this area relate to force protection, including keeping deployed New Zealanders safe and secure offshore.”
GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton said his agency had provided intelligence support during the NZDF’s time in Afghanistan.
“It is of the utmost importance that the public are assured that GCSB acted lawfully in supporting [the] operations,” Hampton said.
Hager told Newsroom Gwyn’s inquiry was “an interesting development”, given the role of the NZSIS in handling informers and the GCSB in intercepting local mobile phones in the lead-up to the raid.
“This means both our main intelligence agencies were part of the intelligence collection for an operation where the intelligence was tragically wrong.”
In a separate inquiry, Gwyn will review the relationship between the NZSIS and other border agencies, after members of New Zealand’s Muslim community complained they were “being treated like criminals” when returning to the country.
“There are a number of cooperation and information-sharing arrangements in place, and, as noted in the IGIS annual report of 30 June 2017, the Inspector-General has heard from some sections of the New Zealand Muslim community about their experiences at the border. This raises broader questions about how government agencies, including the NZSIS, cooperate at the border,” she said.
The findings of an earlier inquiry into whether the GCSB was involved in spying in the Pacific is also about to be published.
* This article has been updated to include comment from Nicky Hager.