The apologies by NZSIS Director-General of Security, Rebecca Ketteridge and her colleagues have come too late and are woefully inadequate to address the role of the intelligence community in the Christchurch Mosque massacre. There has to be accountability and that begins with the resignation of Rebecca Ketteridge.
We cannot ignore the fact that hatred of the Muslim community was fueled by the very agency that had a responsibility to protect us. They have our blood on their hands. Going foward, how can we entrust our safety to those same individuals who have failed us previously?
Since the start of the War on Terorism in 2001, Muslims have been demonised and targeted by the intelligence community. The NZSIS has been spying on the Muslim community, profiling Muslim men, and feeding paranoia about Islamic extremism. Post-9/11 the SIS has had a massive expansion of resources and staff dedicated to counter-terrorism. NZSIS legislation has been amended – and expanded – no less than four times since 2001 – a strikingly aggressive legislative agenda for an agency that claims it didn’t have enough resources. At the same time, the NZSIS budget has increased exponentially since 2001 from roughly $11.5 million to nearly $80 million in 2019.
Ironically, the NZSIS participated in a massive counter-terrorism practice exercise scenario in which Christchurch was under attack by an Islamic terrorist group in 2004.
In another example, the NZSIS spent years pursuing Ahmed Zaoui, an Algierian politician – and a Muslim – who sought asylum in New Zealand. They were prepared to use a dodgy dossier and the cover of secret evidence to destroy this person’s life. Zaoui was held in solitary confinement for more than two years with no trial and no charges.
Much more recently, the NZSIS has been fixated on foreign terrorist fighters – those who signed up to fight for Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. Yet there has been no concern by intelligence agencies about the continual stream of ex-SAS and other NZDF soldiers signing up for mercenary “private security contractors” in those same places. Yes, Kitteridge eventually apologised for her lying and scaremongering about “jihadi brides”, but the damage had already been done.
Looking back at the expansion of the SIS, the annual reports of the Service do not equate with their testimony to the Royal Commission. It isn’t that the SIS lacked resources to protect Muslims and safeguard our places of worship. Reading through the Ko tō tātou kāinga tēnei: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019, it is glaringly obvious that the gaping hole in the report is the role of this agency – and the intelligence community more generally – in creating and promoting an environment of institutional Islamophobia.
The NZSIS has a strategic Five Eyes alliance with access to vast amounts of data; they had all the financial resources and intelligence expertise at their disposal to protect Muslims if they had chosen to do so. Instead the agency chose to feed a climate of fear because they gained greater money and power.
Tragically our intelligence agencies have always seen Muslims and the minorities as perpetrators. This is part of their colonialist mentality that views threats to white supremacist power as threats to national security. As we said in our submission to the Royal Commission, the agencies did not fail in their work. Rather they were doing what these agencies were set up to do.
To solely blame operational limitations goes on to show that the officials are not willing to take responsibility for their own actions. It also indicates that there is a deep-seated issue of institutional racism within these organisations that no one wants to address.To implement the Inquiry recommendations on the false premise of fairness without first tackling the issue of institutional racism will not bring about the everlasting change that we hope for, and that we need.
What has changed after 15 March 2019 except the extraordinary pain experienced by the victims? Nothing. We are still led by the same group of people who have helped to make us targets for violence. A positive spin has been put on the same old racist institutions designed to give us confidence about our wellbeing and security. This doesn’t inspire confidence with me or the wider Muslim community.
Wholesale changes and a complete revamp of the structure is required to bring about real change. That change starts with Rebecca Kitteridge relinquishing her role as the DirectorGeneral of NZSIS. Her apology must come with real world consequences, otherwise it is nothing more than words.