On February 28, a person threatened to attack two Christchurch mosques with car bombs. The threat was posted on the internet, on a public forum routinely used for such extremist messaging.
Yet, RNZ reports, police and intelligence agencies were not aware of the threat until alerted by a member of the public as late as three days later.
Andrew Little, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies, defended this lack of proactiveness, saying there are millions of posts on the internet on any given day and agencies are reliant on public tip-offs.
“While I’m satisfied that the intelligence agencies have the capability and the means to be across the various threats that we face, in the end they operate like every other intelligence and security agency around the world on the basis of leads,” Little told RNZ.
A spokesperson for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), which aided police in raiding two Christchurch homes and arresting a man in response to the threat, echoed Little’s excuses in a statement to Stuff.
While declining to say whether they monitor the 4chan website in particular, the spokesperson said, “We can say however that neither the NZSIS, nor any other government agency, can monitor the many millions of pages of posts made online every day, often in closed groups.”
No one is expecting the police or intelligence agencies to have an eye on every closed Facebook group or Discord channel. But routinely perusing websites like 4chan seems like the bare minimum required to keep tabs on domestic extremism in New Zealand.
After all, 4chan is where a far-right extremist overseas posted a copy of a letter sent to them by the March 15 terrorist from his prison cell in Paremoremo. It is also where members of the white supremacist group Action Zealandia have sought to recruit others to their cause.
I can, with little difficulty, regularly monitor sites like 4chan and other popular forums for New Zealand’s extremists as part of my job – and I’m not a well-resourced spy agency.
Nearly two years after the Christchurch terror attack and even after the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the shootings found “the classical model of investigation used by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service was better suited to identifying new individuals and groups with Islamist extremist ideology than identifying new threats outside that well-understood ideology”, why can’t the SIS do better than I can?
This also isn’t the first time a tip-off from media or a group of volunteers who work to combat far-right extremism in New Zealand has led to police action. My report on an Action Zealandia member who wanted to launch terror cells in New Zealand was based on material supplied by the White Rose Society and Paparoa, and prompted police to warn the individual ahead of last year’s March 15 anniversary. Media inquiries also informed the Department of Corrections of the letter sent by the March 15 terrorist in August 2019.
Why does it take media investigations or the work of activists dedicated to uncovering right-wing extremism for law enforcement to take action?
New Zealand – and particularly the minority communities most likely to be targeted by domestic extremists – deserves better.