Cheryl Gwyn, NZ’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security announced, yesterday, the establishment of a Reference Group made up of 11 individuals representing a broad cross-section of those interested in her responsibilities. This is a smart move on a number of fronts and one for which she deserves kudos.
There are some big problems facing national security and one of these is the polarity of viewpoint by ordinary Kiwis. There are those that staunchly believe that agencies involved in intelligence and security should be able to do whatever they want and if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about. There are others who have no trust or confidence whatsoever in our arms of state to do the right thing.
On the surface, Gwyn’s move directly addresses part of her official function as to whether reasonable New Zealanders would think the SIS and GCSB conduct was “right” (ie “proper”). Her media release stated: “The Inspector-General stands in the shoes of the public: we try to ask what the public would ask”. In this context, it makes absolute sense to have a consultative panel to gauge public opinion.
However, the real genius is in bringing competing viewpoints “inside the tent”. No-one could seriously believe that Nicky Hager and Deborah Manning, for instance, would hold back in their views but it is far more constructive for us, as a country, to spread the debate to other forums like this, rather than limited to the usual social media slanging match and a bit of “churnalism” in mainstream media.
There has already been a chorus of voices attacking this move. I say, let’s give it a chance. No one was so exercised when the Strategic Risk and Resilience Group was set up by the last Government to look at national security futures even though groupthink was pre-determined by its composition. The SRRG has been a waste of time and is soon to be disestablished. I have much greater hopes for Gwyn’s reference group.
The full media release, including names of panel members is here http://www.igis.govt.nz/media-releases/announcements/establishment-of-igis-reference-group/