Spy net­works over­haul heats up

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Win­ning a seat on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has been a ma­jor diplo­matic vic­tory for the Gov­ern­ment, yet our two-year stint at the UN’s most im­por­tant ta­ble will test the ex­tent to which New Zealand’s for­eign pol­icy is truly in­de­pen­dent.

As se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Paul Buchanan re­cently pointed out, our trade in­ter­ests now lie with China and mar­kets in Asia, while on se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence mat­ters we are in­creas­ingly lin­ing up along­side our tra­di­tional al­lies, such as the United States and Bri­tain.

In­evitably, crises around the globe will put those split al­le­giances un­der pres­sure.

The re­cent res­ig­na­tion for ‘‘fam­ily rea­sons’’ of Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Bureau boss Ian Fletcher has turned the spot­light on se­cu­rity is­sues closer to home.

The con­spir­a­to­ri­ally in­clined have taken Fletcher’s im­mi­nent de­par­ture as a sign the Gov­ern­ment wants to merge the GCSB and SIS when it car­ries out a re­view of the se­cu­rity ser­vices in June.

Old school chum of Prime Min­is­ter John Key that he may be, Fletcher would have been the un­der­dog in any contest with SIS head Re­becca Kit­teridge to head a re­con­fig­ured spy­ing megaa­gency.

For now, the Gov­ern­ment isn’t talk­ing about the scope of what it has in mind.

Given that the SIS and GCSB have dif­fer­ent roles – one is sup­posed to pro­tect do­mes­tic se­cu­rity, the other con­cen­trates on in­ter­na­tional sig­nals traf­fic – a merger would have the down­side of adding a round of bu­reau­cratic mu­si­cal chairs to an al­ready crowded agenda of an­titer­ror­ism, cor­po­rate coun­teres­pi­onage and state- to- state eaves­drop­ping ac­tiv­i­ties.

One thing we do know – be­cause SIS Min­is­ter Chris Fin­layson said so over Christ­mas – is that while Fletcher was at the helm of the GCSB, he man­aged the ap­proval and ini­tial roll­out of the Cor­tex cy­ber­se­cu­rity sys­tem.

Cor­tex is a menu of tools and ser­vices, adapt­able to the needs of the or­gan­i­sa­tions that it pro­tects.

What Fletcher has re­cently in­di­cated is that via Cor­tex, the GCSB will pro­vide cor­po­rate se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions to the pri­vate sec­tor against cy­ber at­tacks launched from over­seas.

This seems to en­tail a new en­tre­pre­neur­ial role for the GCSB.

It would be pro­vid­ing ser­vices that the firms in­volved should ar­guably be pay­ing for them­selves and not ob­tain­ing via the tax­payer- funded likes of the GCSB.

That will pre­sum­ably en­tail the shar­ing of threat as­sess­ment in­tel­li­gence with the pri­vate sec­tor.

Re­port­edly, the cri­te­ria that or­gan­i­sa­tions will have to meet to qual­ify for Cor­tex pro­tec­tion re­main se­cret, yet Fletcher has in­di­cated that sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic tar­gets as well as vi­tal net­work util­i­ties – Spark? Fon­terra? Air New Zealand? – will be com­ing un­der its um­brella.

If the GCSB re­ally is head­ing down the track to be­com­ing a kind of mega cy­ber-se­cu­rity firm of­fer­ing tai­lored ser­vices on a con­fi­den­tial ba­sis to se­lected cor­po­rates deemed to be of vi­tal na­tional im­por­tance – and with whom se­cret in­tel­li­gence can be shared – shouldn’t this role have been de­bated be­fore­hand in Par­lia­ment?

How will the GCSB de­cide what ser­vices its cor­po­rate clients should pay for, and in what cir­cum­stances the state, via the tax­payer, should pick up the tab?

As we ap­proach the 100th an­niver­sary of Gal­lipoli, a broader no­tion of what con­sti­tutes ‘‘de­fence’’ seems to be emerg­ing.

It ap­pears to be one in which cor­po­rate se­cu­rity across pri­va­tised net­works is to be treated as be­ing syn­ony­mous with the pub­lic good.

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