New Zealand Security Intelligence Service

New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Te Pā Whakamarumaru
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service seal.jpg
Logo of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Agency overview
Formed 1956 (1956)
Headquarters Defence House, 2-12 Aitken Street, Wellington
41°16′37″S 174°46′46″E / 41.276823°S 174.779439°E / -41.276823; 174.779439
Employees 200
Minister responsible John Key, Minister of NZ Security Intelligence Service
Agency executive Warren Tucker, Director

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS or SIS) is an intelligence agency of the New Zealand government.



As a civilian organisation, the Security Intelligence Service takes no part in the enforcement of security (although it has limited powers to intercept communications and search residences). Its role is intended to be advisory, providing the government with information on threats to national security or national interests. It also advises other government agencies about their own internal security measures, and is responsible for performing checks on government employees who require security clearance. The SIS is responsible for most of the government's counter-intelligence work.

The SIS's stated[citation needed] aims are to:

  • "Protect and promote New Zealand's defence, foreign policy, and national economic interests."
  • "Protect New Zealanders and their property."
  • "Detect and prevent serious overseas-based crime which could affect this country."
  • "Protect against threats from terrorism and espionage."

In 2007, it was reported that the SIS wished to expand its role into fighting organised crime.[1]


The SIS is based in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It also has branches in Auckland and Christchurch. It has between 110 and 140 permanent staff, somewhat less than the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – New Zealand's other significant intelligence agency. At around 43.5 million New Zealand dollars[when?], its budget is higher than that of the GCSB.

The SIS has connections with foreign intelligence organisations, particularly in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The SIS is headed by the Director of Security, and is watched over by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Intelligence and Security Committee. The SIS itself reports to a Cabinet minister with responsibility for intelligence (traditionally the Prime Minister).

The New Zealand government established the SIS in 1956. An Act of Parliament covering it, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act, was passed in 1969.[2] Various amendments have since been made to the Security Intelligence Act  – the most controversial probably[original research?] Robert Muldoon's 1977 amendment, which expanded the SIS's powers of monitoring considerably. The 1977 amendment saw sizable protests outside Parliament.

Many[who?] claim that extensive political and judicial oversight are necessary to keep agencies on task, and to ensure that limited intelligence-gathering resources are not wasted.

Members of the public can report information of security concern to the NZSIS by telephone by calling 0800-SIS-224 (0800-747-224). Note that the New Zealand Police is responsible for the operational response to terrorism in New Zealand, and is the most appropriate government agency for the public to contact in the instance of an imminent threat to life or property.

Past Directors

As of 2009 the NZSIS had had six directors:

Director Served Background
Sir William Gilbert 1956–1976 Military officer
Paul Molineaux 1976–1983 Judge
Lin Smith 1983–1991 Military officer
Don McIver 1991–1999 Military officer
Richard Woods 1999–2006 Diplomat
Warren Tucker 2006 - Now GCSB

Public profile

The SIS has become involved in a number of public incidents and controversies since its creation in 1956:

  • In 1974, the SIS was the source of information that led to the arrest of Bill Sutch, an economist and former civil servant, on charges of spying for the Soviet Union. Sutch was acquitted, and the SIS was criticised for having accused him in the first place, although some[who?] still maintain that the SIS was correct in its accusation.
  • In 1981, the SIS was criticised for drawing up a list of 20 "subversives" who participated in protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, a visit by South Africa's apartheid rugby team. That singling out of individuals as "subversives" was deemed by many to be a violation of the right to protest government decisions.
  • Also in 1981, an SIS operative inadvertently left a briefcase containing sandwiches, Listener magazine and a diary on a journalist's fence in Wellington. The briefcase was commonly but mistakenly described as containing a Penthouse magazine and pie.
  • In 1985, the SIS failed to detect the French operation in which DGSE operatives bombed the Greenpeace vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, killing a photographer. This was probably the most significant case of espionage or terrorism in New Zealand.
  • In 1996, two SIS agents were discovered breaking into the home of Aziz Choudry, an organiser with GATT Watchdog, which was holding a public forum and rally against an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Trade Ministers meeting hosted in Christchurch, prompting charges that the SIS had violated his rights, and had acted illegally. After the Court of Appeal ruled that the SIS had indeed illegally entered his property, exceeding their legislated powers of interception, Parliament moved swiftly to amend the NZSIS Act once again to explicitly give the SIS powers of entry into private property, although public submissions on the proposed amendment were weighted heavily against any such expansion of their powers. In 1999, Choudry was awarded an out-of-court settlement and an apology from the Crown.
  • In 2002, the SIS reported that Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian seeking asylum in New Zealand, was a security risk and recommended his deportation. However, this recommendation was challenged. The SIS issued a security risk certificate pursuant to section 114 of the Immigration Act 1987 and Zaoui was detained in a penal institution under a warrant of commitment. The SIS refused to release some highly classified information which it used to determine Zaoui's status as a security risk. Alleged comments made by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, who monitors the SIS, were considered by some to be openly biased against Zaoui. As a result of the resulting controversy, the Inspector General, Laurie Greig, resigned in March 2004. Former Solicitor General, Paul Neazor, was appointed to replace Greig. The security risk certificate on Zaoui has since been lifted by the SIS, and he has been allowed to stay in New Zealand.[3]
  • In 2004, allegations surfaced that the SIS was spying on Māori individuals and organisations, including those associated with the new Māori Party, for political purposes under the codename "Operation Leaf." A government inquiry led by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security later rejected these claims in April 2005, however. As a result, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark said the allegations were a hoax and asked the Sunday Star Times newspaper that printed them to apologise to their readers. A full apology and retraction was subsequently printed on the front page of the paper.
  • In July 2004, the SIS was criticised for not knowing that Israeli "intelligence contract assets" had been in New Zealand purchasing New Zealand passports. Apparently the SIS only became aware after the New Zealand Police found out, mainstream New Zealand news publications reported. The case became world news and an embarrassment for SIS and Mossad intelligence agencies. Two of the Israelis involved (Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara who had been based in Australia) were deported to Israel, while two other contractors believed to be purchasing passports (American Ze'ev Barkan and New Zealander David Reznic) left New Zealand before they were caught - and have presumably roamed free ever since.[4][5]
  • In December 2008, it was revealed that a man in Christchurch, Rob Gilchrist, had been spying on peace organisations and individuals including Greenpeace, Iraq war protestors, animal rights and climate change campaigners. Rob Gilchrist confessed to the allegations after his then partner, Rochelle Rees, found emails sent between him and Special Investigation Group (SIG) officers (SIG has a connection with the SIS). Rees found the emails while fixing Gilchrist's computer. Gilchrist was said to have passed on information via an anonymous email address to SIG officers. Gilchrist had been paid up to $600 a week by police for spying on New Zealand citizens. His SIG contacts were Detective Peter Gilroy and Detective Senior Sergeant John Sjoberg. Gilchrist was reported to have been spying for the police for at least 10 years. Gilchrist also said he was offered money by Thomson Clark Investigations to spy on the Save Happy Valley Coalition, an environmental group. The incident implied members of New Zealand political parties were spied on as part of a 'focus on terrorism threats to national security'. Rochelle Rees was a Labour party activist as well as an animal rights campaigner.[6]
  • In November 2009, the SIS came under criticism for asking university staff to report their colleagues or students if they were behaving suspiciously. The SIS said it was part of an effort to prevent the spread of 'weapons of mass destruction'.[7]
  • In April 2011, former Islamic militant and Kiwi convert to Islam Charles Wardle claimed to have worked for the NZSIS undercover in Auckland's Muslim community and accused the NZSIS being egotistical and aimless.[8]

Access to records

Until a few years ago[when?] the NZSIS was very reluctant to release information either under the Privacy Act or the Official Information Act. However it has now adopted a much more open policy: individuals who apply for their files will be given extensive information, with only certain sensitive details (such as details of sources or information provided by overseas agencies) removed. In certain respects the SIS still fails to meet its obligations under the Privacy Act but in these cases there is a right of appeal to the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Act does not cover dead people but their files are available under the Official Information Act. The service is also required to release other information such as files on organisations but the service is reluctant to do so, citing the extensive research it allegedly has to carry out in order to provide this information. A simple letter to the Director is all that is required in order to obtain information.

See also


  1. ^ 'SIS head wants to tackle organised crime', Radio New Zealand news item.
  2. ^ "New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969 No 24 (as at 13 July 2011), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". 2011 [last update]. Retrieved 16 September 2011. "The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to which this Act applies is hereby declared to be the same Service as the Service known as the New Zealand Security Service which was established on 28 November 1956." 
  3. ^ "Statement by director of the SIS concerning Mr Ahmed Zaoui". The New Zealand Herald. 13 September 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  4. ^ 'A Word From Afar: The Curious Case of Mr. Tucker', Scoop, Paul G. Buchanan, 11 February 2009, retrieved 30 December 2009.
  5. ^ Hallel, Amir (2 October 2004). "At home with the Mossad men". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Tan, Lincoln (15 December 2008). "Chief of police called in over spies". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "Uni staff asked to spy on students". 3 News. Retrieved November 17, 2009. 
  8. ^ "SIS spying on mosques revealed". Sunday Star Times. Retrieved April 14, 2011. 

External links

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