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Docs cast doubt on Key's knowledge of Slater's OIA requests

Thursday 21 Aug 2014 8:23a.m.

Doubt cast on Key's knowledge of Slater's requests

Prime Minister John Key is facing more allegations he is trying to cover his tracks over the release of Security Intelligence Service (SIS) information to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

Two letters have emerged today suggesting Mr Key knew about the release, with one suggesting he even had a conversation about it with then-SIS director Warren Tucker.

Mr Key has said he wasn't informed the SIS was hastily handing out documents under the Official Information Act to Slater, in 2011.

Slater got the papers despite other media being declined after then-Labour leader Phil Goff claimed he hadn't been briefed by Mr Tucker - then the head of the SIS - about suspected Israeli spies caught up in the Christchurch earthquake.

The papers were used to embarrass Mr Goff, who actually had been briefed.

Newstalk ZB's chief political reporter Felix Marwick has now released a copy of the SIS letter responding to his complaint about the matter and another letter from the Ombudsmen's Office.  

In the SIS letter dated November 9, 2011, Mr Tucker denies there was written contact with the Prime Minister's office about the decision to release the information to Slater, but appears to go on to say he personally informed Mr Key the redacted documents were going to the blogger.

He had informed the Prime Minister under their "no surprises" rule.

"It's important because John Key is not being truthful in saying that he wasn't told," says Mr Goff. "Warren Tucker says in this letter three times not that he notified the office of the Prime Minister, but that he told the Prime Minister himself."

Mr Goff says the letter proves Mr Key was "manipulating the Security Intelligence Service for his own political ends", and if an upcoming inquiry "finds the fingerprints […] this is resignation material".

But a spokesperson for Mr Key this morning said the letter was being misinterpreted.

"The standard process for the NZSIS is to inform the Prime Minister's office of any significant OIAs which may result in media coverage being released on a 'no surprises' basis," she said in a statement. "They consider this to be informing the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister stands by his statement yesterday that his office knew about the release of the OIA, but he didn't.

"When the NZSIS informed the Prime Minister's office about this particular OIA, no view was offered as to whether the information should be released, or to whom, or when."

Dr Tucker also put out a statement, saying the "convention relating to Official Information Act requests was to brief the Prime Minister through his office".

"The reference to the PM in this context means the PM's office."

Documents hacked from Slater's computer, which form the basis of Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, show the blogger was aware he was getting the OIA information. "It is devastating for Goff I am told," he said in a conversation.

The SIS has said Mr Tucker decided to release the documents and handled the timing.

"Getting information from the SIS is like getting blood from a stone. Why was it expedited in this way?" asks Mr Goff.

Further correspondence about Mr Marwick's OIA request from the Ombudsmen's Office shows Dr Tucker was prepared to release a statement "regarding his discussion with the Prime Minister" around the release of the SIS document to Slater.

The letter, dated October 31, 2011, says there is no written correspondence with the Government and the Office of the Prime Minister regarding the SIS decision to release the information to Slater.

It says Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem's provisional view of releasing the SIS documents was the department had "good reason" to withhold the information.

She is backing up Mr Key's claims he wasn't told about the OIA release, saying: "In the letter that was written on my behalf while I was away which had been discussed with me the word 'discussion' has probably been loosely used, and may have given rise to the impression that there was a direct approach, there wasn't and there hasn't been."

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, yesterday confirmed she would investigate the SIS's dealing with Slater's OIA request.

Mr Goff says he was not allowed to take notes at the meeting, and was sworn to secrecy.

"I'm not Machiavellian enough to believe that the SIS leaked this to Cameron [Slater]. I believe that it came from Jason Ede in John Key's office, that John Key knew about it. Jason Ede was his senior adviser at the time – two doors down the corridor. John Key went in, said 'this will embarrass Goff – leak it'.

"The irony of this is when I got those briefings from the SIS, I wasn't allowed to take notes, I wasn't allowed to keep documents, I wasn't allowed to have anybody else present and I was sworn to secrecy about the nature of the briefing; yet John Key goes out and talks about this in public – totally unprecedented." 

 

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22-08-2014 12:00