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IGIS finds significant failings in inquiry into GCSB’s hosting of a signals intelligence system

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has today released his report Inquiry into GCSB’s hosting of a foreign capability.

This inquiry concerned the GCSB’s hosting of a signals intelligence system deployed by a foreign agency, and also taking part in a wider intelligence programme related to this system from 2012 to2020. The GCSB had alerted the Inspector-General about this matter after the system was discovered in an internal audit in late 2020.

“I was concerned that the Bureau had apparently decided to host in New Zealand a signals intelligence system controlled by a foreign partner agency without seeking ministerial approval, and that the Bureau’s senior leadership and legal team apparently knew nothing of the system from shortly after its introduction in 2012 until 2020, when it was “rediscovered” in an internal audit. I therefore decided to inquire into the matter” says Inspector-General Brendan Horsley.

The Inspector-General’s report notes that the details of the system are highly classified, however a key aspect of the inquiry concerned the ability for the system be used alongside other intelligence to support military operations by foreign partners, which GCSB staff were aware of when deciding to host the capability in 2010.

“I found that in 2010 and 2011, the GCSB had appropriately identified legal and policy concerns with the hosting of the system, concerns which were circulated at the most senior level within the GCSB. Despite these concerns and the significance of hosting the system, the inquiry found no evidence of the then Minister being briefed. In my view, it was improper for the GCSB to decide to host the system without bringing it to the Minister‘s attention. This undermined the ability for the Minister to exercise control of the agency”.

In relation to how the GCSB managed the system after it became operational, the Inspector-General found significant failings by the GCSB. The Inspector-General found that it operated:

– without any due diligence by GCSB on tasking requests,

– without full visibility for GCSB of the tasking of the system

– with inadequate record-keeping

– without adequate training, support or guidance for GCSB operational staff

– with negligible awareness of the system at a senior level within the GCSB; and

– without due attention to the possibility, recognised within the Bureau, that support for the system could contribute to military targeting.

“I note that the risk of GCSB support for the system contributing to military action was moderated significantly by the geographical limits of GCSB collection. However I found that the way in which the system operated meant that the GCSB could not be sure its tasking was always in accordance with Government intelligence requirements and New Zealand law”

The Inspector-General has noted that the concerns addressed in the inquiry were in some ways historic as the system ceased operating in 2020 and the GCSB has developed as an organisation.

“The GCSB, its operations, its governing statute, its policies and compliance systems have changed significantly over the period in which the capability operated, and since. I think that these developments have reduced the risk that the shortcomings I have identified might recur today in a similar situation. I also consider it is less likely that the Bureau would implement such an arrangement as poorly as it did in this case.”

“However, I have made several recommendations to further reduce the risk of these concerns arising again. The GCSB has accepted all recommendations”.

An unclassified version of the Inspector-General’s report has been publicly released, with a more detailed classified version provided to the GCSB and the Minister responsible for the GCSB, Judith Collins.

The report is available on the IGIS website: www.igis.govt.nz

 

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