Spy boss got job after call from PM

ANDREA VANCE AND TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 15:53 03/04/2013
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SPY BOSS: Ian Fletcher.

Key on Fletcher appointment

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Prime Minister John Key says he forgot about the phone call that led to Ian Fletcher applying to be the country's top spy. But he appears to be confused about who first suggested Fletcher for the job.

Key is accused of cronyism after it emerged he shoulder tapped Fletcher to be director of the Government Communications Security Bureau back in 2011.

Last week he admitted he knew Fletcher from school days - but when quizzed about the appointment said his only role was to accept a recommendation from State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

Asked why he didn't tell the full story last week, Key said: "I'd forgotten that at that particular time."

In Porirua this afternoon, Key was grilled about the sequence of events that saw Fletcher appointed as director of the GCSB in September 2011.

Rennie rejected a shortlist of four names prepared by a recruitment consultant.

At first Key said: "Iain Rennie, state services commissioner recommended him to me... I rang [Fletcher] and said 'look, you know, you might be interested."

Asked again who first brought up Fletcher's name, Key replied: "Iain Rennie put it to me."

Later on, he was asked again who first mentioned Fletcher. "I would have mentioned it to him, I'm sure."

When pressed to clarify if he first suggested the name to Rennie, he said: "I'm sure I probably would have."

Key insists the pair are not friends, and didn't see each other for about 30 years. They went to the same Christchurch school, Key was in the same class as his brother Alistair, and their mothers were best friends.

Since Key became Prime Minister he has had breakfast with him twice, and a lunch, which Fletcher can't remember.

Asked how he got his telephone number to make the call, Key replied: "Oh, well, I know his number."

Key defended the appointment process as "proper" and "normal".

He says he approached one other person about the job - who wasn't interested.

Fletcher was the only person interviewed for the job.

Key defended his record as a "glittering" civil servant in Britain and Australia, and said the head of the GCSB doesn't need an intelligence or military background.

He denied his intervention would have put pressure on the panel to recommend Fletcher.

"The fact that I might talk to somebody makes no difference. In the end, we went through a full process there was a full board of people that looked at him and they thoroughly recommended him... this isn't some bunny that's been pulled out of a hat... this guy is very successful civil servant."

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He added: "I wouldn't change anything that I've said. We are not friends."

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Labour leader David Shearer wants an inquiry into the appointment.

He said it was "incredibly shonky and it smells", adding the GCSB was the country's most unscrutinised agency.

"Having a mate in charge of it raises some serious, serious concerns ... what confidence should the public have in the chief spy," Shearer said.

Fletcher was appointed in September 2011 and took up the position early in February last year.

One of his first jobs was to attend a joint police-GCSB briefing about the raid on Kim Dotcom's rural Auckland mansion.

At that briefing the bureau learned it may have illegally spied on the internet mogul, who is accused by the US of internet piracy.

- Fairfax Media

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