Secret spy briefing used to target Goff, Hager claims

EMBARRASSED: Labour leader Phil Goff,
EMBARRASSED: Labour leader Phil Goff,

The prime minister’s office used a top secret Security Intelligence Service (SIS) briefing about alleged Israeli spying in Christchurch to embarrass the Labour leader Phil Goff, Nicky Hager alleges in his book Dirty Politics.

The book by Hager claims that in early 2011 Key used his ministerial oversight of the SIS to get the media to focus on Goff rather than himself.

In Dirty Politics, Hager relates events that followed an Israeli’s death in the February 22 quake. He accuses National Party parliamentary staff and supporters of passing confidential SIS material to a favoured political blogger, Cameron Slater, operator of the Whale Oil site.

Goff said the revelations confirmed his suspicions at the time.

‘‘This provides the smoking gun that wasn’t available at the time.’’

Hager says Key repeatedly refused to answer questions on news reports about suspicions of spying by a group of Israeli backpackers, including the dead Israeli.

The prime minister’s attitude to commenting on the spy allegations ‘‘merely inflamed the situation’’ and he was widely thought to have mishandled the situation, Hager writes.

Attacked by Goff, Key defended his actions regarding the Israeli backpackers, saying Goff had also been briefed by the SIS director on the case. 

Goff denied this but after a conversation with then SIS director Warren Tucker admitted he had been quickly briefed on the suspected Israeli espionage.

Hager said this admission of memory failure presented a golden opportunity for the National government to embarrass Goff and draw out the matter by publicising the official records of the briefing.

‘‘It would, however, have looked bad for the Prime Minister, who is minister in charge of the SIS, to release details of a secret intelligence briefing in order to embarrass his political opponent. The motives would have been obvious. So someone else was chosen to make the attack and that person was Slater.’’

Hager says Slater claimed he pursued the subject by using the Official Information Act (OIA) to secure the SIS papers.

On the basis of the released information, Slater ‘‘wrote extravagent posts repeatedly calling Goff a liar, saying he ‘had a history of lying’ and claiming that he had accused the SIS director of lying’’, Hager says.

Slater maintained he had sought the SIS notes‘‘entirely on his own initiative’’ and Key denied involvement.

Hager says Slater was able to secure a response from government under the OIA remarkably quickly, given the usual wait.

Slater’s ‘‘attacks’’ on Goff via his blogsite distracted attention from Key’s gaffes, Hager claims. The timely release of the OIA material to Slater expedited this, he says.

‘‘In other words, it was not the SIS that tipped off Slater and arranged for him to run the attack [on Goff]. It was the Prime Minister’s office. Given that it was highly political SIS business, there seems no doubt John Key knew what was happening, approved it and had his staff liaise with Slater about the release.’’

The Press