Police database like gold to spies, says SIS expert Hager

LANE NICHOLS
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2011
NICKY HAGER: Wants answers.
NICKY HAGER: Wants answers.

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Secret information contained on the police national computer would be like gold to foreign intelligence agencies, and highly valuable for espionage purposes, says investigative journalist and SIS expert Nicky Hager.

"You've got potential names you could steal and use, you've got all their backgrounds. You've got this fantastic resource on another country," he said. "If you're an intelligence agency that would be a very high-value thing to seize."

It emerged yesterday that the Security Intelligence Service ordered a review of the national police computer system amid fears that Israeli agents had gained access to it after the Christchurch quake by loading sophisticated malware to obtain highly sensitive intelligence files.

Hager, who has written extensively about covert intelligence activities, believes any breach of the system by Israeli Mossad agents was likely to have been opportunistic in the aftermath of the earthquake, rather than premeditated.

"That wasn't the purpose of the mission they were here for. If you were in an intelligence service, there's many reasons you want to have a list like that, opportunistic or otherwise. It's a gem for them."

However, high-level intelligence shared between New Zealand and the United States gleaned through the Blenheim spy base would not have been accessible through the police computer, he said.

If Israeli spies were based in Christchurch, their original mission would probably have been passport-related. New Zealand passports were highly sought-after by foreign spies as they raised low levels of suspicion at immigration checks.

If the dead man had multiple passports, that suggested links to espionage, Hager said.

"When there are people with multiple passports they can be high-level criminals. But coming from Israel, it sounds suspiciously like intelligence services – the strongest suspicion, I would say."

Both Hager and Labour leader Phil Goff called on the prime minister to come clean about the incident rather than hiding behind claims of national security.

"You can't just say this is about security because whose security are you talking about?" Hager said. "Israeli security? If you've got foreign spies in your country, it isn't a good enough reason."

Police national headquarters issued a statement denying its computer system had been compromised.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones revealed yesterday that SAS personnel had been deployed in the red zone immediately after the quake for humanitarian aid purposes. But he denied reports that SAS soldiers had been issued with ammunition and deployed in relation to an unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad.

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