The military hasn’t reviewed procedures relating to extremist personnel since before the March 15 terror attack, according to a response to an Official Information Act request filed by Newsroom, despite the fact that a far-right soldier was arrested in December and charged with an “unauthorised disclosure of information” that is “likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand”.
Anjum Rahman, founder of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective and an advocate for the Muslim community before and after the Christchurch attack, said procedures needed reviewing. “Before and since March 15, we have warned government bodies that they need to make sure they have no white supremacists,” she said.
Existing procedures doubted
An expert on security and military protocol, Simon Ewing-Jarvie, told Newsroom vetting for the military was done by the Security Intelligence Service. However, for cadets, the vetting usually just involves filling out a form promising to have no extremist affiliations and no intention to overthrow the government.
“Just asking questions, without undertaking any kind of real vetting, is not sufficient in these scenarios,” Paul Spoonley, an expert on New Zealand’s far-right and a distinguished professor at Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, told Newsroom.
A full review of all personnel would not be feasible, Ewing-Jarvie said. It would “stop up” the intelligence services.
Rahman agreed a review of existing personnel would require breaches of privacy that might not be warranted, but said the procedures and vetting processes should still be looked at.
Ewing-Jarvie said the military’s reliance on “unit cohesion” and officer oversight worked better in an age when every soldier lived in the barracks together. Now, with soldiers living off base or in their own flats, oversight was more difficult.
The use of the internet to coordinate extremist activities also made it more difficult for the military to monitor problematic activity, he said.
NZDF sees no need for review
A spokesperson for the Defence Force said: “NZDF acknowledges that people with extremist views have existed both in New Zealand and around the world well before the events of March 15, 2019. There have been robust policies and procedures in place within NZDF that highlight potential threats from a wide range of groups for years preceding March 15 2019.”
“The NZDF has confidence in its security measures, which include the threat posed by those belonging to, or who sympathise with, groups that may threaten the security of the Defence Force and wider public. The Defence Force is a community of people who look out for each other, and there are robust systems in place to hold people to account.”
Defence Minister Ron Mark backed up the military. “I am aware that a soldier has been charged with accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose and unauthorised disclosure of information. It appears this individual has also been identified as holding views that do not align with NZDF’s core values,” he said.
“Members of the NZDF are required to hold national security clearances on which eligibility is assessed by the NZSIS against the Protective Security Requirements. NZDF employs 14,000 people, one of which has been identified as an individual with views that do not align with NZDFs core values.
“It is clear that far-right extremist views are a societal issue – however I do not believe a broader review of defence procedures is necessary at this time given the processes currently in place, and the ongoing work of other government agencies.”