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Security intelligence and the public interest: A Zaoui case study


Still from the documentary Behind the Shroud. © Selwyn Manning

Pacific Media Centre, Selwyn Manning

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Manning, Brian Selwyn (2011). Security intelligence and the public interest: An examination into how keeping security intelligence and classified information secret, and privy only to a state's executive and aligned operational agencies, affects the function of a modern democracy. An exegesis presented as a companion document attached to the creative component documentary, Behind The Shroud, for a Master of Communication Studies degree at AUT University. 2011 Pacific Media Centre, School of Communication Studies, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand. Full text at Scholarly Commons, AUT:  http://hdl.handle.net/10292/1238 The documentary can be viewed at AUT Library or a 4min trailer can be viewed here.

Abstract

The attacks of 11 September 2001 created an iconic moment where history can be defined as the pre and post 9-11 period. The impact that this event had on how states organise their national security intelligence apparatus was immediately evident. Within New Zealand this new security conscious era created a polarised debate: on one side were those who demanded that the government tighten border and domestic security, and on the other side were those who argued that New Zealand's isolation and independence created a condition that reduced the likelihood of the country becoming a target of terrorism or a place attractive to those with terrorist sympathies.

When New Zealand was called on by the United States to contribute to the "War On Terror", an argument flared within executive government. The political destabilisation manifested itself first within The Alliance, a party that had in 1999 formed a governing coalition with the Labour Party. The Alliance fragmented: on one side, the leader and deputy leader (both Cabinet Ministers) positioned in support of Cabinet's intention to contribute to the conflict, and, on the other side, the remaining caucus members opposed the move. The division became politically unreconcilable and the coalition became fragile through to the General Election late in 2002.

Behind the Shroud documentary - now available on DVD at Lone Wolf Films.Post-Election, the Labour Party and two members of the Progressive Party (a party created by The Alliance's former leader and deputy leader) formed a new coalition government. The new Cabinet decided on a limited military contribution to the War On Terror and embarked on a legislative programme designed to ensure New Zealand remained secure and protected from external and internal threats.

Then, in December 2002, an Algerian Imam named Ahmed Zaoui arrived at the nation's border where he sought asylum. Immediately Zaoui was confronted by an environment that was politically and operationally highly sensitised to matters of internal security. Zaoui, New Zealand's authorities soon discovered, had been convicted of terrorism related charges in Belgium and France, and had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to death on three occasions in Algeria.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service stated that Zaoui was a risk to the nation's security and imprisoned him indefinitely in a maximum security prison pending an assessment of the case by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. The events that followed challenged New Zealand's democratic foundations, and created tensions between the governing executive and the judiciary. During this timeframe, the researcher reported on the Zaoui case and in 2004 was lead-author of an investigative journalism-styled book: I Almost Forgot About The Moon – the disinformation campaign against Ahmed Zaoui.

This thesis examines this case study, analysing why the Inspector-General found in Zaoui's favour. The case study aids the thesis' enquiry into what affect classified intelligence information has on the national and public interest when that information remains secret and unable to be tested by the wider executive, legislature, the judicial arena, the Fourth Estate, and the public.

Behind the Shroud trailer

About the authors

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Pacific Media Centre

PMC newsdesk

The Pacific Media Centre - TE AMOKURA - at AUT University has a strategic focus on Māori, Pasifika and ethnic diversity media and community development.

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Selwyn Manning

Assessment analyst
PMC Advisory Board member

Journalist Selwyn Manning is co-founder and principal of 36th Parallel Assessments Ltd.