Spy networks overhaul heats up
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.