Border protection report put on ice

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 11:50 19/08/2012
American lawyer Craig Lebamoff.
REPORTD ICE: American lawyer Craig Lebamoff.
Fulbright director Mele Wendt
LOREN BATSON/Fairfax NZ
SEEN THE REPORT: Fulbright director Mele Wendt has seen a contentious NZ border protection report and did not consider it was in a fit state to be published.

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Diplomatic intrigue surrounds an American from Homeland Security whose New Zealand border protection report was put on ice seven months after he arrived in this country.

Lawyer Craig Lebamoff apparently worked for the United States Government in Iraq, El Salvador and Russia, and is listed in publicity material as national security associate counsel at America's Department of Homeland Security.

He came to New Zealand on a $45,000-plus travel Ian Axford scholarship, funded by Customs, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Police, the Ministry of Transport and the Security Intelligence Service.

Top level security clearance gave him access to senior officials dealing with border threats, and he was to present a paper at the end of the programme.

But it was pulled last week, an outline disappeared from the web, and a press release on Friday omitted his name from the list of fellows due to publish.

Lebamoff told Fairfax NZ he had been told not to speak to media. Fulbright, the academic programme that administers the fellowships, said the fate of the report was in the hands of the Government, citing concerns over accuracy and content.

The United States Embassy said it was monitoring the situation, but would not comment, and agencies including the SIS, Foreign Affairs, and Customs, where Lebamoff was based, have declined to comment.

Fulbright director Mele Wendt confirmed a senior official had been appointed to handle the New Zealand Government response, but declined to name them, or the agency they were from.

''I won't tell you. We are still trying to get to the bottom of what the issues are. There is no point in you talking to anybody because there is still nothing definitive to tell you.''

Fairfax NZ has been told a disagreement between Lebamoff and Customs bosses ended in him being refused access to the building. But Wendt said there were two sides to the story, and it was not clear whether access had been refused.

''There were some issues with Customs based on incidents in the last few days. Everyone is trying to resolve them. I don't know the details.''

Wendt said she was aware agencies had concerns over a draft report Lebamoff circulated for comment. She had no details but said she had seen the report and did not consider it was in a fit state to be published.

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"'That was even before I heard that there might be problems with the content.''

She declined to say which agencies had concerns, or what they were, but said accuracy was one.

''Things were not understood properly, the names of agency chief executives were wrong. It ranges from minor accuracy issues around getting the names of people or things right, to some of the value comments."

Late last night Wendt then demanded she not be quoted and appeared to retract her comments about accuracy.

Former prime minister and Ian Axford board chair Jim Bolger was on the Washington panel that selected Lebamoff, and has been dragged into the affair, but said he did not believe it was ''any great drama''.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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