Has the PM made his case?

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

By gen­eral con­sen­sus, Is­lamic State is the world’s wealth­i­est and most suc­cess­ful ter­ror­ist group – on the bat­tle­front and on the in­ter­net, where it runs a so­phis­ti­cated pro­pa­ganda op­er­a­tion.

Last week, an of­fi­cial Is­lamic State speech was re­leased in seven lan­guages. It also has a slick re­cruit­ment drive on so­cial me­dia plat­forms, and op­er­ates a net­work of ‘‘re­cruit­ment ho­tels’’ in Turkey to de­liver vol­un­teers to its train­ing camps, and on­wards to the bat­tle­field.

Given the diplo­matic pres­sures in­volved, Prime Min­is­ter John Key prob­a­bly felt obliged to sign New Zealand to the ‘‘coali­tion of the will­ing’’.

This 23-mem­ber group has been formed to support United States Pres­i­dent Obama’s pledge to stop the Is­lamic State ad­vance, and to ul­ti­mately de­stroy it.

The Is­lamic State coun­ter­mea­sures an­nounced by Key last week had two di­men­sions, over­seas and lo­cal.

A hand­ful of New Zealand troops will be de­ployed in ‘‘train­ing’’ roles inside Iraq – not to fight Is­lamic State, but as ad­vis­ers to the be­lea­guered Iraqi army.

The bulk of the train­ing will not oc­cur un­til next year, as­sum­ing the Iraqi Gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad has not been over-run by then.

The con­tro­ver­sial part of Key’s an­nounce­ment con­cerned the ex­pan­sion of SIS surveil­lance pow­ers at home, to mon­i­tor and in­ter­cept any bud­ding ji­hadists.

As Key in­di­cated, 30 or 40 peo­ple are be­ing mon­i­tored, and 30 or 40 oth­ers are of con­cern.

To ex­pand its surveil­lance op­er­a­tions, the SIS will re­ceive an ex­tra $7 mil­lion to hire staff.

Also, the Gov­ern­ment will seek to ex­tend its pow­ers to can­cel pass­ports from the cur­rent oneyear pe­riod to three years, and – un­der cer­tain con­di­tions – wants to en­able the SIS to carry out surveil­lance op­er­a­tions for 48 hours with­out a war­rant.

Much of the forth­com­ing par­lia­men­tary de­bate will hinge on whether the SIS needs pow­ers beyond those it cur­rently pos­sesses.

As lawyer Graeme Edgeler has ar­gued, the Ter­ror­ism Sup­pres­sion Act al­ready grants pow­ers of surveil­lance, pass­port seizure and pros­e­cu­tion against any group – such as Is­lamic State – that has been branded by the United Na­tions as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

‘‘They can al­ready be ar­rested, they can be charged, and even if all you’re do­ing is mak­ing the sand­wiches, you’re prob­a­bly still guilty of [an] of­fence,’’ he said.

Five New Zealan­ders, Key stated, are al­ready fight­ing in Syria.

How­ever, as se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Paul Buchanan has pointed out, such peo­ple could well be fight­ing against the Is­lamic State and the As­sad regime for mod­er­ate rebel forces that the West sup­ports.

To Buchanan, the Gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse is a vir­tual ad­mis­sion of fail­ure: ‘‘It im­plic­itly recog­nises that the com­bined re­sources of the GCSB, SIS, Im­mi­gra­tion, Cus­toms, New Zealand De­fence Force, Po­lice and other se­cu­rity agen­cies are un­able to mon­i­tor the ac­tiv­i­ties of the dozen or so Ki­wis who may have ji­hadist pre­ten­sions, de­spite the fact that New Zealand is an iso­lated ar­chi­pel­ago with no land bor­ders [and] with a very small Mus­lim com­mu­nity from which po­ten­tial ji­hadists are drawn.’’

Around the world, the pub­lic is be­ing asked to trade off ba­sic lib­er­ties for the prom­ise of greater se­cu­rity.

In this case, the Gov­ern­ment prob­a­bly still needs to con­vince the pub­lic that Is­lamic State poses such an im­me­di­ate threat to New Zealand’s in­ter­ests as to jus­tify ex­pand­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s pow­ers of surveil­lance.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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