Here’s hoping our new govt gets the message about intelligence from GSCB’s role in exposing Russian hackers

Three cheers for the GSCB.  It has been lauded by the US FBI and intelligence agencies for its role in uncovering Russian covert intelligence activities around the world.

The Minister in Charge of the intelligence services, Andrew Little, expressed surprise we had been named – but this is a wake-up call to the new government, which is woefully short of experience and hard realities in the wider world – and a reflection on how much NZ services are valued by allies.

This is the story: On October 15 a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh returned an indictment charging six computer hackers, all of whom were residents and nationals of the Russian Federation (Russia) and officers in Unit 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.

The charges were announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers; FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich; U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott W. Brady; and Special Agents in Charge of the FBI’s Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh Field Offices, J.C. “Chris” Hacker, Melissa R. Godbold, and Michael A. Christman, respectively. Continue reading “Here’s hoping our new govt gets the message about intelligence from GSCB’s role in exposing Russian hackers”

What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?

The recent flare-up of fighting in the south Caucasus is nasty.  After the break up of the Soviet Union, Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought an unpleasant war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh with casualties of around 100,000 and one million displaced.

Armenia prevailed then. Now Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, is having another go. And this is not just your regular military-supplies-and-observers assistance.  It looks like unemployed jihadists from the Syrian wars have been bought in as mercenaries.

Of course there is more history to this than can be dealt with in 700 words (try The History of Armenia by Simon Payaslian if interested). Turkey’s tensions with Armenia and its support for Turkic neighbour Azerbaijan are longstanding; ditto for difficulties in its relationship with Russia, to whom Armenia is most likely to turn in extremis.

But even as a ceasefire is being patched together, it still leaves open the prior question of ‘why this and why now’?

Continue reading “What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?”

The Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong are not an event – they are a process

How long does it take to acknowledge that you have a problem? The steps being taken by the Chinese government to subvert Hong Kong’s institutions will be the moment of truth for a few more people.

It’s almost astonishing to recall the fullness of the pledges made by the Chinese government in the 1984 Sino-British treaty to respect Hong Kong’s autonomous institutions and the rule of law.

So perhaps a couple of belated cheers are due for the British politicians and diplomats who negotiated those dishonoured commitments, and some more for their current replacements who are talking about giving UK residency to those born in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover – no small commitment given pressures to reduce immigration numbers.

But if the first step is accepting you have problem, the second is understanding what kind it is. Continue reading “The Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong are not an event – they are a process”

Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump: who understands the situation better?

Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s key military strategist, killed in a US drone strike, seems to have been a brave man.  He was certainly very confident.

Organising a near act of war against the embassy of the most powerful state in the world, located in the heart of a (nominally) allied capital city, was risky.  Flying into the scene of this triumph was, with hindsight, foolhardy.

The thing with politics – and other forms of conflict – is that while actors can shape events, they can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation. Continue reading “Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump: who understands the situation better?”

Germany’s former foreign minister on life after NATO

German politician Joschka Fischer has had a remarkable career.  From street violence and helping to set up the Green party, he matured into the foreign minister and vice-chancellor of a united Germany, serving until 2005.  His understanding of power politics led him to support the use of force in the former Yugoslavia, though he drew the line at getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Now, with NATO leaders dispersing after their meeting outside London, he has turned his attention to the future of the alliance (read here). Continue reading “Germany’s former foreign minister on life after NATO”

Who made the bigger mistake in Syria: Trump or Putin?

This blog asked whether Donald Trump might have made a serious error – perhaps even a fatal one – when he acquiesced in Turkey’s attack on America’s Syrian-Kurdish allies. He managed to irritate key supporters in the US Senate and early polling suggested a drop in support for his Middle East policies among Republican voters.

Failure to stand up for allies, dislike of Turkish self-assertion, fears of an ISIS resurgence and a sense that the US was being railroaded, all seem to have played some part in this reaction.

But for an explanation of why this might work out splendidly for the US (and Donald Trump), look no further than the piece by Israeli political analyst Zev Chafets on Bloomberg. Continue reading “Who made the bigger mistake in Syria: Trump or Putin?”

The beginning of the end for Donald Trump?

Not the impeachment investigation.  Nor Ukraine. Syrian Kurds.

Last week, Turkey invaded the bit of Syria controlled by America’s Kurdish hitherto-allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he only wants to occupy a border strip to resettle Syrian refugees and create a buffer zone between Turkey’s and Syria’s Kurds to prevent “terrorism”.  He may even be telling the truth.

Trump didn’t stop him.  Indeed, he pulled American forces out of the way to let the Turks through. Continue reading “The beginning of the end for Donald Trump?”

Spooks, banks and a difference of opinion about security and privacy

Two  critical  reports by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Cheryl Gwyn, have focussed  on the practice of  New Zealand’s  intelligence agencies acquiring personal information  about customers by seeking voluntary disclosure from NZ banks.

The IGIS’s role is to ensure NZ’s two dedicated intelligence and security agencies, the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), act lawfully and properly.

Until Parliament enacted a new law in 2017, the Intelligence and  Security Act, the intelligence agencies could seek “voluntary”  disclosure from  banks of  customers’ personal  data.

Under the  2017 legislation  the  intelligence agencies  are required to seek this kind of information under warrants of which there are two  types.  Continue reading “Spooks, banks and a difference of opinion about security and privacy”

This security statement should have come from one of our political leaders

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) tells us it has established clear links between the Russian government and a campaign of malicious cyber activity targeting overseas political institutions, businesses, media and sporting organisations.

The bureau  says  New Zealand organisations were not directly affected by these malicious cyber activities.

We are, however, seeing a range of activity in NZ that contains indicators which can be linked to Russian state actors. These incidents reinforce the need for NZ to have robust national systems to address cyber threats”.

Continue reading “This security statement should have come from one of our political leaders”