In­ves­ti­ga­tions that go nowhere

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/ FEATURE -

One in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of the 2013 po­lit­i­cal land­scape has been the Gov­ern­ment’s readi­ness to launch in­quiries into in­for­ma­tion leaks.

First, there was the of­fi­cially es­ti­mated $42,000 spent on the David Henry in­quiry into the leak­ing of the Kit­teridge re­port on the GCSB spy agency.

Last week, we learned that $510,000 had been spent on the in­quiry by Paula Reb­stock and her team into the leaks of in­for­ma­tion al­most two years ago about the ‘‘Change’’ pro­gramme at the Min­istry of For­eign Trade.

One thing the Henry and the Reb­stock in­quiries had in com­mon was that de­spite the time and money, nei­ther was able to iden­tify the cul­prits.

As col­lat­eral dam­age, the Henry in­quiry did trig­ger the res­ig­na­tion from Cab­i­net of United Fu­ture leader Peter Dunne, who con­fessed that he had ‘‘acted ex­traor­di­nar­ily un­wisely, even stupidly’’, while con­tin­u­ing to deny be­ing the ac­tual leaker.

In Reb­stock’s case, the fail­ure to find the cul­prit was hardly for want of try­ing. In para­graph 38 of her re­port, she claimed to have in­ter­ro­gated 120 in­ter­vie­wees, some more than once.

Along the way, her team brought a Sher­lock­ian level of foren­sic skills to bear on some po­ten­tially in­crim­i­nat­ing sta­ples: ‘‘The copies of the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee pa­pers were ex­am­ined to de­ter­mine if orig­i­nal sta­ples had been re­moved to al­low for undis­closed copy­ing or scan­ning of the doc­u­ments.’’

Wow, that looks com­pre­hen­sive. Sta­ples, even!

Then you read fur­ther and find that lit­er­ally any­one could have been re­spon­si­ble.

‘‘Given the pa­per-based sys­tem for Cab­i­net doc­u­ments, with many peo­ple in­volved in han­dling the doc­u­ments ,.. there were op­por­tu­ni­ties for an illinten­tioned per­son to gain unau­tho­rised ac­cess to the Cab­i­net com­mit­tee doc­u­ments within par­lia­ment build­ings and in tran­sit to, or within, gov­ern­ment agen­cies.’’

And more­over: ‘‘In of­fices where pho­to­copiers were not ac­ti­vated by user IDs, it was pos­si­ble for staff to take unau­tho­rised copies of the Cab­i­net com­mit­tee pa­pers with­out leav­ing any ev­i­dence of this ac­tiv­ity.’’

Such glitches proved to be only part of the se­cu­rity prob­lems with the rel­e­vant doc­u­ments.

(We can only hope that any bud­ding Nicky Hagers out there do not read the Reb­stock re­port.)

Given the range of pos­si­ble leak chan­nels and sus­pects, it does help to ex­plain why the con­clu­sions of Reb­stock’s re­port are framed only in terms of ‘‘ sus­pi­cion’’ as to who was the ‘‘prob­a­ble’’ source of the leak. The re­port crit­i­cises two un­named man­agers and a con­trac­tor for re­lated lapses.

This can only raise the ques­tion: was this re­ally money well spent?

The ‘‘leaked’’ Kit­teridge re­port was due to be re­leased a few days later, any­way.

More­over, in the wake of the furore at the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade over the Change pro­gramme, the Gov­ern­ment sub­se­quently backed off from im­ple­ment­ing the orig­i­nal vi­sion.

Some would see that as at least a par­tial vin­di­ca­tion of the mis­giv­ings held by those who leaked the in­for­ma­tion con­cerned.

If only the Gov­ern­ment was as keen to bankroll in­quiries into the ef­fects of some of its pro­grammes – or into say, the ex­tent and causes of child poverty in New Zealand – as it has been to bankroll in­ves­ti­ga­tions into find­ing those re­spon­si­ble for leak­ing in­for­ma­tion that it prefers to keep un­der wraps.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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