Key dismisses Hager book claims

Last updated 14:20 02/09/2011
16wgnHager
JOSEPH ROMANOS
IN THE DARK: Nicky Hager says military officials have withheld information from politicians about New Zealand's activities in Afghanistan.

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The Prime Minister has dismissed a new book that claims that senior military officers in Iraq acted against the orders of the Government as a work of fiction, and says an inquiry into the allegations is unlikely.

This afternoon John Key said he had not read Nicky Hager's latest book Other People's Wars which claimed military and intelligence officials have not told politicians the full story of their work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The book said the Navy and Air Force escorted and protected the Iraq invasion force despite instructions by the then Labour-led government not to get involved in the conflict.

Hager also suggested the Defence Force's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the Afghanistan province of Bamiyan shared its base with a secret United States intelligence outpost.

The Green Party said the book should prompt a Parliamentary review of New Zealand's defence and intelligence relationship with the US.

Defence spokesman Keith Locke said it showed the extent New Zealand's independent foreign policy had been ''subverted'' by Government officials.

However speaking to media this morning Key said had not received any advice which would indicate there needed to be an investigation into how military documents were leaked.

Key was also dismissive of the book.

''I don't have time to read fiction, I find I'm quite busy at the moment.''

Key said he was confident with the advice he was given by the Defence Force.

''The actions weren't taken as a Government, a lot of it's historic back to Helen Clark's Government. If she wants to take action on it she's welcome to.

''But in the time I've been Prime Minister I've been confident of the information I've had. I've spoken to my officials about the allegations he's made and for the most part we would refute those, so I don't see any real need to take it any further.''

Key also expressed confidence in Defence Force personnel that they had not defied any Government orders.

''In the end there is always a degree of trust because you rely on people's words but I've never had any reason to ever doubt them, and in my experience they've always acted very professionally.''

Key said he did not expect the Defence Force to hold an inquiry either.

"Mr Hager's views on this stuff are well known, so the conclusions he reaches come as no surprise.

"New Zealanders would expect that our forces have the best information they possibly can to protect themselves when they're in a very dangerous and hostile environment," Key said.

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"The vast bulk of that intelligence is actually gathered by our own people."

His spokesman said New Zealand worked co-operatively in several spheres with partner countries in Afghanistan, including the Bamiyan base, where there were personnel from many countries such as Malaysia, the European Union and United States.

"In the realm of intelligence, while it is relatively well known we co-operate with our partner nations, particularly to ensure the safety of our troops, we do not go into the details of such arrangements."

Labour leader Phil Goff said it would be "shock, horror, surprise if we didn't have intelligence facilities designed to keep New Zealand Defence Force personnel safe in an area of deployment".

CLAIMS 'ABHORRENT'

The new Governor-General, and former head of the Defence Force, Sir Jerry Mateparae, said the book's claims that senior military officers in Iraq acted against the orders of the Government were ''abhorrent''.

Sir Jerry, who is also the former head of the Government Communications and Security Bureau and only two days into his new role as New Zealand's head of state, today said he stood by the integrity and work of Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan.

''[Defence Force personnel] are working in quite trying circumstances, trying to bring peace and stability in that troubled land and especially delivering aid and development up in Bamiyan,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

''I trust what they say and what they've done.''

The notion that senior military officers quietly undermined the Government's policies and decisions was ''abhorrent''.

''That sort of notion just doesn't sit with being a New Zealander and the constitution that we follow.''

Air Marshal Sir Bruce Ferguson, who set up the PRT as Defence Force Chief from 2002 to 2006, said there was no covert CIA base in the New Zealand base at Bamiyan.

''Intelligence is a vital ingredient of any war zone and the primary role of intelligence was to protect New Zealanders, their lives,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

''So if anyone is suggesting you don't go into an area like that without intelligence, it's just a myth. Of course there's intelligence collection going on all over Afghanistan. That is the very nature of warfare.''

American intelligence officers did not brief New Zealanders in Bamiyan to his knowledge, although there were Americans on the base, he said.

''New Zealanders may think it's all New Zealand money being spent in the Bamiyan area. It's actually not. There is a certain percentage of New Zealand money. A large percentage is actually the United States' money and there will be State Department and other Americans not in uniform up there.''

Sir Bruce said he had made the former prime minister Helen Clark's views on the non-involvement of New Zealanders in the war in Iraq clear to  Defence Force personnel.

''If there was confusion it was soon cleared up when I was up there. Their role was not so much escorting but intercepting ships and boarding and checking them.''

Hager today stood by his claims.

''Over the past five years I have met with senior military people, senior defence officials and foreign affairs officials and most importantly I was given thousands and thousands of real defence documents and military intelligence documents which I have put together in this book,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

''And they tell a completely different story.''

Former head of New Zealand's joint forces Major General Martyn Dunne wrote a report saying he was concerned about the ''blurring of roles in the Persian Gulf by our frigates'', Hager said.

Hager said few people outside the military understood what happened in Afghanistan and in New Zealand's part in the "War on Terror".

As well as covering Bamiyan, the book outlined New Zealand's reaction to the 9/11 attacks, 10 years ago, the role of the SAS in Afghanistan and New Zealand "peacekeepers" in loading explosives for British paratroopers and how ministers were misled.

- BELINDA MCCAMMON with DANYA LEVY and VERNON SMALL/Stuff

- Stuff

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