'Outrage' over spy boss comments

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 07:56 04/04/2013
LUKE APPLEBY/Fairfax NZ

Prime Minister John Key says he forgot about a phone call made to Ian Fletcher about the possibility of a job as head of the GCSB.

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IAIN RENNIE: "I am outraged that there has been baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher's appointment."

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State Services commissioner Iain Rennie has hit out at criticism over the appointment of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) boss Ian Fletcher as fresh questions are raised about the prime minister's involvement.

The former GCSB head, Sir Bruce Ferguson, last night questioned whether the process was politicised.

Fletcher's appointment has come under intense scrutiny since it emerged he and John Key have known each other since childhood. Key head-hunted Fletcher to be director of the GCSB in a phone call after a short list of four candidates was rejected by Rennie in 2011.

Ferguson told TV3's Campbell Live that seemed wrong.

"If indeed the selection process was abrogated in favour of this one person, and no short list interview happened, well that is wrong in my view," he said.

"The state services commissioner is very much entrusted with running an apolitical selection process.

"From what I hear that may not have happened and if that didn't happen I find that quite disturbing."

But Rennie last night strongly refuted claims regarding the process.

He said Fletcher was an outstanding public servant.

"I am outraged that there has baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher's appointment," Rennie said.

Those who replied to a job ad in May 2011 were thoroughly considered, he said.

It was "normal" for recruitment consultants to make short lists and for the commissioner to make judgements on those selected and to seek out additional candidate, he stressed.

Fletcher was the only person interviewed by an SSC selected panel, which included former department of prime minister and cabinet boss Sir Maarten Wevers.

Rennie said there was a "high bar" for interviewees and "sometimes" only one candidate got to that stage.

"For this position, and I want to make this very clear, it was not essential to have a military or intelligence background," he said.

"GCSB is a civilian agency, and the position description emphasised the importance of leadership and change-management expertise in this role."

The integrity of the selection panel was "beyond question," he said.

The panel was aware that the prime minister and Fletcher knew each other and had spoken on the telephone, he said.

But Labour is calling for an inquiry and has accused Key of "lying by omission" after he initially downplayed his relationship with Fletcher.

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- The Dominion Post

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