Investigations that go nowhere
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.