A soldier charged with espionage has recently been active on the encrypted chat app Telegram, Marc Daalder reports
A soldier facing four charges of espionage along with 13 other counts still has access to encrypted messaging apps on his mobile phone.
The soldier, who has interim name suppression ahead of a Court Martial tentatively scheduled for October, was active recently on the Telegram app, which allows users to anonymously send encrypted communications.
It is unclear why or how the soldier was able to access the platform, given the nature of the charges against him. In addition to the espionage allegations, the soldier has also been charged with two counts of attempted espionage and three counts of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose.
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A spokesperson for the New Zealand Defence Force declined to comment because the matter was before the court.
An account registered with the soldier’s phone number and using the alias Johann Wolfe – under which he ran the far-right Dominion Movement group and featured on an extreme right-wing Australian podcast – was active on Telegram as recently as July 21.
Telegram has previously come under the spotlight for allowing the proliferation of far-right terrorist content. While some extremist channels have been taken down, others – including one that posted a threat against a Christchurch mosque in 2020 – remain online. The app also hosts copies of the March 15 terrorist’s livestream and manifesto.
This is not the first instance in which the soldier has had computer and internet access following his arrest. In January, he ran a racist Twitter account which referenced eugenics-based conspiracy theories for the racial origins of Jews, said gay people deserve to be assaulted and dismissed Māori people as savages. After a Wellington synagogue was vandalised with neo-Nazi graffiti, the man claimed without evidence that the synagogue members themselves were responsible.
In one tweet, the man wrote simply, “I’m racist”. In another, he said he is a “Nazi”.
A spokesperson for the Defence Force declined to comment at the time.
The news also comes after Newsroom reported last week that serious national security issues had complicated efforts to hold pre-trial hearings around name suppression. The registrar for the Court Martial said in a letter to Newsroom that the hearings were postponed twice “due to the existence of complex legal and procedural issues that need to be resolved before the key applications for orders at the pre-trial can be considered by the court”.
“This is due, in part, to the implications of presenting evidence before the court which may give rise to concerns relating to the defence and security of New Zealand. Some of these matters have not been dealt with by any court in this country before.”
The soldier is the first New Zealander to face charges of espionage.
The registrar also told Newsroom that a conference had been scheduled for the judge and lawyers for the Crown and the soldier to hash out the issues.”These include orders sought by one or other of the parties for access to certain material, suppression of the identities of certain witnesses, the suppression of the nature of certain evidence and submissions; and the scope of open court rights in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 and the Court Martial Act 2007.”