|Cartoon source: Bryce Edwards blog|
IF THE thousands of people who marched on the weekend against New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bill (GCSB Bill) wanted further justification for their concerns, the Defence Force has just provided it with bells on.
The mindset that treats journalists as being threats to security on a par with foreign hostiles, activist groups, criminal hackers and dishonest staff is an excellent illustration of why the surveillance powers bestowed by the Bill are so dangerous.
A Defence Force that treats the normal querying of the status quo by the Fourth Estate as being essentially treasonous in nature, has gone off the reservation, and is out of control.
Give it the power to do so, and such an organisation will readily use the surveillance powers in the GCSB Bill to substantiate its persecution complex.
It is already doing so. This isn’t just a theoretical danger, glimmering somewhere off in the future.
It is already happening, even before the GCSB gets passed, with the help of Peter Dunne. As Nicky Hager revealed on the weekend, US spy agencies have already been asked to access the phone records of freelance investigative journalist Jon Stephenson, one of the journalists on the Defence Force’s hit list of "subversive" threats.
All that the legislation will do is render such rogue actions legal, within the cozy quartet of the GCSB, the SIS, the Police and the Defence Force, and any other state agency that feels itself beset by the minions of al-Qaeda and/or Radio New Zealand.
The Defence Force manual in which the paranoid perception of journalism is set out was written, apparently, in 2003. Yet it cannot be written off as a relic of the war on terrorism, because the surveillance of Stephenson shows it to be part and parcel of current operations.
Disturbing as the Defence Force mindset may be, it would be misleading to assume that such attitudes are confined to the armed forces and the Police. The hostility to investigative journalism is an outcome of the ongoing politicisation of the public service.
When parliamentary and departmental staff are driven by the imperative to Protect The Minister From Embarrassment – to the point where their jobs depend on it – it is hardly surprising that good journalists get treated as the enemy, and the Official Information Act gets treated as an offensive weapon from which the Minister must be shielded at all costs.
Thwarting journalistic inquiry is seen as business as usual. In that respect, the Defence Force manual is being specific about what is routine practice in the other arms of government, every day of the week.
That’s why the GCSB Bill has to be resisted. History would indicate that it really isn’t a good idea to give paranoids the unlimited power to spy on you in order to justify their delusions, especially when they’re wearing uniforms.