Drone strikes justified - Key

Last updated 13:14 20/05/2014

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Drone strikes are justified - even if innocent civilians are mistakenly killed, Prime Minister John Key says.

Key confirmed yesterday that intelligence collected by the Government Communications Security Bureau might be passed to the controversial US programme.

However, the foreign spy agency didn't supply information that led directly to the death of Kiwi Daryl Jones in Yemen last November, he said.

The foreign spy agency had a warrant to monitor Jones, and passed some intel to Five Eyes security agency partners.

The Government said Jones had been taking part in an al Qaeda training camp near Hadrabout, but has presented no evidence to support that.

Jones had reportedly been living on the Arabian Peninsula for several years, and in 2012 had his Australian passport cancelled over concerns about his links to Islamic militants.

Debate about the GCSB's role in the programme was stoked by investigative journalist and author Jeremy Scahill.

Scahill said the New Zealand government spy agency was "directly involved with what is effectively an American assassination programme".

Key disagrees with critics who say drone killings are execution without trial, in which ordinary people are massacred.

"For the most part drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets," he said this morning.

"But there are examples of where things have gone wrong and there are always examples, sadly ... where things go terribly wrong and where civilians are killed."

He shrugged off responsibility for New Zealand's role in the programme.

"That is a matter for others because we are not the individuals that are conducting those drone strikes ... maybe, in the odd instance we might be [supplying intelligence] or we might not be, it depends on the circumstance."

Key will travel to Washington next month for talks with US President Barack Obama - but drone strikes, or mass surveillance by the NSA, won't be on the table.

"Yip, President Obama has used drones, that's a matter for them really but I think under the circumstances in which I can see they are being used for the most part I'm comfortable with it," Key said.

He also dismissed revelations about the Five Eyes network.

They hadn't damaged a New Zealand bid to secure a seat on the UN's Security Council or a reputation for operating an independent foreign policy, he said.

"I don't know if they are really revelations ... lots of countries share ... we have a formal relationship in the form of the Five Eyes but there are lots of countries around the world that we share information with."

Kiwi agents passed on information that had been used in Afghanistan. However, Key wouldn't confirm if any intel was used for drone strikes in neighbouring Pakistan.

"I don't have any information to support that ... Pakistan is not an environment I'd be confident of."
Labour leader David Cunliffe wants Key to raise drone strikes while visiting the White House.

He wants the purposes GCSB-supplied intelligence is used clarified - and whether they are compatible with both New Zealand and international laws.

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"The New Zealand public has a legitimate interest and, I think, strong feelings about this," Cunliffe said.

However, he refused to say if he supported drone attacks, arguing it would depend on "where, when and for what context".

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said there should be "public debate" about co-operation with international intelligence agencies.

Dunne voted for laws which expanded GCSB powers last year.

- Stuff

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