Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Greens need a new defence spokesperson

Having spectacularly dropped the ball on the Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government's utterly irresponsible decision to buy submarine hunting aircraft for $2.6 billion, Green defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman is trying to make up for it by attacking [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/391812/defence-force-s-1b-spend-unnecessary-greens] the purchase of C-130J ("Super Hercules) aircraft [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_C-130J_Super_Hercules] to replace the old C130H Hercules for No.40 Squadron as "unnecessary".This demonstrates Ghahraman knows nothing about defence and should be replaced by someone who does.

While the C130J decision is typically unimaginative of the NZDF it is not at all irresponsible. Our C-130H's are 54 year old flying hulks that desperately need to be replaced. The C130J is one of five western aircraft able to fulfill the task. It is probably not the best aircraft but there is no question that the capability is needed. The task of flying supplies and equipment around the Pacific and to the Antarctic is absolutely central to all of our defence tasks whether military, scientific or humanitarian. To not have heavy transport aircraft with rough field operating capability is to effectively to ignore our neighbourhood.

The C130J has the huge advantage that the support structures for this aircraft are already established. New Zealand firms and air force personnel don't have to do as much to adapt from the J to the H version. Once the P8a Poesidon sub hunter contract was signed the choice of the C130J was pretty much logical.

The deal of $1.1 billion depends very much on how many, and of which model aircraft we are talking about. That has not yet been clarified. The German Luftwaffe bought six C-130J-30s for $1.6 billion in 2017 [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airforce-lockheed-germany-france-excl/exclusive-germany-plans-to-buy-six-lockheed-c-130j-aircraft-for-900-million-euros-idUSKBN16O2P0]. While the French Armee de Air bought two KC-130J-30 tanker variants for $539 million in 2016. [https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/french-government-confirms-c-130j-buy-421606/] If the New Zealand deal is for five C-130J-30s (replacing each of No.40 squadrons five C-130Hs) then the price is actually fairly reasonable and was probably cheaper than Responsible Defence's preference for the much more capable Embraer KC-390.

However, the blunder, as far as Responsible Defence is concerned, was for Ghahraman to drop the ball buying a $2.6 billion submarine hunting aircraft that really is unnecessary . This was where the Greens essentially traded off defence for their other policy objectives. Why? Because the P8a is an on-going and total waste of much needed taxpayer funds for saving lives in health. And the more fuss Ghahraman makes about the C130Js now the more she demonstrates how useless she is as a defence spokesperson.

No.5 squadron's new P8a Poesidon is basically a Boeing 737NG or MAX passenger jet stuffed full of sophisticated sensors for finding submarines and intelligence gathering combined with a bomb bay for missiles, torpedoes and bombs.After the contract was signed Ghahraman argued we should not let the aircraft be armed [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/top/361466/defence-minister-ron-mark-urged-to-not-put-missiles-and-bombs-on-new-aircraft]. Why anyone would buy a $2.6 billion war plane squadron and not arm it makes no sense. If you don't want an armed war plane maybe you don't want a war plane at all. If the public thought the P3K Orion replacement was $2.6 billion for finding lost boats at sea they were misled by NZDF and the puppy dog media. But Ghahraman did absolutely nothing until after the contract was signed to question the purchase.

Responsible Defence has long argued that there is actually no need for the no.5 (anti submarine warfare) squadron at all. The first reason is that there is not and has not been a submarine threat to New Zealand since 1990. There have been more reports of UFOs than there have been of submarines. Secondly because there is nothing that No.5 squadron can do can do that a suitably equipped No.40 squadron couldn't do.

That is because the aircraft used by the US Coastguard for ocean patrols is none other than the C130J. In other words No.40 transport squadron will be operating an aircraft more than capable of very long range air-sea rescue and fisheries enforcement operations. If your main purpose is EEZ patrol and humanitarian support to the Pacific you don't need no.5 Squadron. Hell, even if you do want to drop bombs in the Pacific the C-130J is perfectly capable of doing that too.

So lets take a look at Green party defence policy.[https://www.greens.org.nz/page/defence-and-peacekeeping-policy] "
"Roles for the NZDF: 
  • Assisting in civil defence emergencies, disaster relief and search and rescue both within New Zealand and overseas; 
Transforming our capabilities:
  • Review the structure and governance of the NZDF
  • Phase out any equipment that is not optimal for such tasks". 
So in this example the C130J is clearly optimal because it is necessary and capable of all roles while the P8a Poesidon is sub-optimal because it can be replaced. No 40 squadron is optimal and no.5 squadron is not.

So Ghahraman is demonstrating that she does not have the ability to translate her own parties policy into effective political action, remembering - and let's be quite clear about this - that the Greens are part of the governing coalition. So in effect the Green Party is endorsing NZ First defence policy over its own.

Why? Well apart from knowing nothing about defence it appears that the simplest way for NZ First to keep the Green party off its back is to mention climate change. [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/391792/defence-force-20bn-upgrade-climate-change-driving-much-of-plan-minister-ron-mark].  And if Ghahraman is naive enough to believe that, she's dumb enough to believe any-fucking-thing. Somehow, I don't think she really is.

Ghahraman may be a good lawyer. I have no idea. But she has not done her homework as a spokesperson on defence and her political judgement has been at best self-serving, and at worst a betrayal of her own party's policy. Either she should leave the portfolio to someone who actually cares about it or she should pull finger and do some work.

So far nobody has grilled the Minister of Defence about the 737NG/MAX underpinnings of the P8 Poesidon. Boeing's order book for passenger 737MAXs has collapsed because of two high profile aircraft crashes due to problems with the software avionics, and here we are promising to spend $2.6 billion on four of these aircraft. I am sure there is no wriggle room in the contract but the Minister should be held to account if we end up buying an aircraft which end up grounded because of safety problems.

So there is a simple test. If Ghahraman can do this sort of thing she is not a complete waste of space. If she won't, she definitely is. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Five Blind Eyes

It's said there are none so blind as those who will not see.

I couldn't help but think this as I read the SIS, and GCSB annual reports recently. The smugness and the focus on NATO's distant enemies (ISIS/Daesh) and their supporters in this country. Here were two organisations which were doing their best to look the business, please their political masters with the resources (around 800 staff in total and quarter of a billion dollars annually) to hand.

Two organisations we trusted to watch for terrorists and which completely missed the lead up to the March 15 Christchurch mosques massacres - massacres which proportionately killed more people per citizen than the 911 attacks did in the United States.

And yet in July 2011 Anders Brevik had already killed 8 with a bomb and then went on to shoot down 69 young people (including a kiwi )at a youth camp in Norway. The attack is included on the international terrorism database [https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/]. It did not, however, rate a mention in the 2011/12 SIS annual report which mostly focused on the Rugby World Cup, and concluded the risk of Islamist terrorism was reasonably small. Instead much of the SISs day to day work seems to be doing security clearances and responding to a general sense that political liberals constitute a threat to New Zealand's state and public safety.

Indeed there is nothing in the next six annual reports to indicate that New Zealand authorities took right wing extremism seriously at all. The big question is why not?

Well it turns out they aren't alone. This article in GQ [https://www.gq.com/story/right-wing-extremism-murders] points to an Jewish Anti Defamation League study that found right wing extremists killed 50 in the United States last year (compared to 37 in 2017) but that this is classified as regular crime rather than terrorism in the US of A. This is despite plenty of academic study into right wing radicalism and extremist violence by the University of Maryland's terrorist research group START [https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/recruitment-and-radicalization-among-us-far-right-terrorists].

Nor is this news. It's was raised two years ago in the NY Times [https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/opinion/the-other-terror-threat.html] Newsweek [ https://www.newsweek.com/2016/02/12/right-wing-extremists-militants-bigger-threat-america-isis-jihadists-422743.html] and if those publications are too hard for our spies to find, also Janes Defence publications [

That is if our security agencies cared to look.

The fact is they didn't. Europe's tendency to ignore neo nazi groups was pointed out in the Guardian in this sadly prescient article on neo Nazi terrorism [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jul/11/islam-white-racist-terror-attack] which anticipated the Norwegian massacre. The tendency by the military establishment to ignore right wing attacks was again emphassed in this article in 2016 [https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/neo-nazi-lone-wolf-attacks-europe-are-more-deadly-isis-terrorist-plots-1546885].

Meanwhile the security community (the one that missed the rainbow warrior attack by the French DSDG) was determined to prosecute the algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui as a humungously dangerous infiltrator [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Zaoui#Imprisonment_in_New_Zealand] all on the say so of French and Belgian intelligence. Mr Zaoui has since been quietly vending kebabs in Auckland. In short the "intelligence" was basically a vendetta by someone.

See the pattern? Right wing threats ignored, Islamic threats [https://www.janes.com/article/69027/fascism-reborn-right-wing-extremism-in-europe-and-the-us] attract vast amounts of intelligence attention, investment and work hours.

That may be because the military are the recruiting ground of right wing extremists [ https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-greater-danger-military-trained-right-wing-extremists/275277/]. This isn't just an American problem either. The Germans have had the same problem [ https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/01/the-german-military-has-a-neo-nazi-problem-extremism-right-wing-terrorism/] and so do the Brits [https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/xw9na4/anti-islam-extremist-tommy-robinson-is-trying-to-hijack-the-british-army].

So maybe, just maybe, New Zealand is no different.

Now I am not so naive as to believe that there have not been genuine jihadist threats that our intelligence services have contained. But the fact is that two attacks (one by a foreign intelligence service) have got through. That's not great seeing they weren't unpredictable. In both cases the threat has been from an actor the intelligence services did not adequately anticipate.

Now let us look at two small nations which are not tied into formal intelligence alliances. Finland suffered an islamist terror attack in 2017 leaving ten stabbed to death. Ireland has had a long history of domestic terror organisations, though no recent history of terror incidents. 

Are these countries better or worse off for not being in the five eyes pact? 

There is no simple answer to this question, but my suggestion is that they are better off. Why? 
Because their senior staff aren't distracted by travelling to junkets overseas to kow tow to Americans. They just do their jobs: protecting Finland and Ireland.

The problem with lots of NZs senior officials in all government sectors is they just love to go to international meetings and come back with foreign priorities instead of local ones. This has clearly been happening in the security and defence sector. New Zealanders trot off overseas and come back with a pile of ideas which have nothing to do with our real problems. In the meantime local warnings have been ignored. There have been numerous post Christchurch disclosures of people who have warned officials about right wing threats. Their warnings, however, fell on sterile ground. The officials had not been told what to think yet about alt right threats yet.

Instead they did what they are told and spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on things which simply don't make any sense.


Consider the $2,600,000,000 our government is spending to buy four P-8 Poesidon spy planes. Will they stop terror? Will they make our people any safer? I rather doubt it. The P-8 is a Boeing 737-800 (NG originally, but now possibly MAX) converted to a sub hunter with elint (electronic intelligence) facility. The RNZAF hasn't spotted a foreign sub anywhere near us since the USSR collapsed and few subs can actually make it to NZ these days anyway (because they are deisels not nuclear). The labour government spent that money simply as a military industrial toll we pay to America as part of the Five Eyes protection racket.

But as events have shown its a racket that doesn't actually protect us.

Spend even a quarter of that sort of money on genuine human intelligence networks and you will get better protection from all threats, not the imaginary ones that our officials are told to think about by foreigners.

Because the defence and security sector - as Responsible Defence has been saying for years now - is changing. There is no civilian|defence dichotomy anywhere except in the minds of the military. Battles these days are messy. They involve aid agencies, television crews, activists, mercenaries, voluntary soldiers, corrupt spies and officials, government militaries, the UN, and commercial sector interests. The division between criminal and terror is blurred to hell. To achieve security we need to recognise this and achieve a much more nuanced graduation between police, intelligence and special forces and soldiers. One that reflects realities but doesn't topple into an undemocratic nightmare.

We are told there will be a review. But I think everyone knows it will be restricted to the question of whether the SIS and GCSB are to blame. Suitably qualified military people will shake their heads and make grim faces and completely exonerate the status quo. Why? Because they are the same people who sympathise with ultra-rightists and do what they are told by the US.

But the problem is not that the SIS and the GCSB can't find low key individual maniacs before they pop up and go crazy. As the Finns found that threat will never go away. But these agencies will certainly never get to grips with local terrorism the way the Irish probably understand it if they think their job is trotting off to meetings in Virginia.

Take away the crutch of five eyes and they will have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Sadly I have little hope that New Zealand is actually bold enough to withdraw. The Prime Minister is great at grand gestures but she's sensible to practical policy and is careful not to open the doors to her political opponents opportunism she doesn't need. Thus the junkets will continue and the resources will continue to be misdirected.

My only hope is that perhaps New Zealand can exert more influence on Five Eyes, if only because the real threat of New Zealand withdrawing is that if we do Five Eyes would become Four Eyes and the intelligence agencies myopia would be obvious.