Goff says he'll take notes on SIS briefings

ANDREA VANCE AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 09:26 05/08/2011

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Labour leader Phil Goff says he will be forced to keep notes on secret security meetings after a row broke out over whether he was briefed on the Israeli spy investigation.

In an unusual move, Goff yesterday said SIS director Warren Tucker was ''wrong'' for suggesting he had been briefed over the issue in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

A briefing note on the issue was released under the Official Information Act and contained hand written notes by Dr Tucker, which said the Opposition leader had read it.

The information centred on an investigation by the SIS into a group of Israeli backpackers who fled the country after the February 22 earthquake sparking concerns they might be spies. 

Last month, Goff denied claims by Prime Minister John Key that he had been briefed on the issue.

Yesterday, he said Dr Tucker was wrong to suggest he had been briefed on the issue but stopped short of actually calling him a liar. 

And today, Goff continued to defend himself against what he believed was a questioning of his credibility.

''I've worked with Warren Tucker for a very long time, in this case he is absolutely wrong.

''I have spoken out on it because it's a matter of integrity for me, when I say I haven't been briefed and I haven't read a document, that's because it's true,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

Goff said he would have recalled had the Israeli spy investigation been mentioned because he was foreign minister at the time of the Israeli passport scandal in 2004.

He had never taken notes on a meeting, for ''obvious reasons'', but would now have to have a staff member taking notes in each meeting.

A complaint to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security was unlikely.

Senior Labour sources are suggesting the swift release of the papers this week, to Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater, was politically motivated.  Mr Goff has called on the Government and SIS to release all documentation on the investigation. 

Mr Key is now understood to be considering a shift in policy relating to when he should comment on national security matters after he initially fuelled speculation by refusing to confirm or deny the spy investigation. 

He later broke with convention by confirming the SIS inquiry and may do so again in future if national interest overrides normal secrecy provisions. 

Mr Slater was given the documents five working days after he made the request. Fairfax Media, who made a similar request, received the document last night along with a letter from Dr Tucker which said: ''Your request differs from Mr Slater's in that you have also requested reports prepared for the prime minister'' .

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Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said Mr Goff had gone ''too far'' in questioning Dr Tucker's integrity.  The SIS has refused to comment.

Green MP Keith Locke was concerned Dr Tucker was now caught in a political stoush and was calling for an end to the secret briefings.

''When you just whisper in someone's ear then there can be misinterpretation. If he said it to a proper select committee with people from all parties present then there wouldn't be the misinterpretation.''

- The Dominion Post

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