Our prime minister was heard to say, as justification for the GCSB law change, something to the effect that if your neighbour was making a bomb you would want to know.
This rationale assumes that if my neighbour was making such a device, spying would detect that, which is in fact only correct if he is dim enough to tell someone, for example, by sending an email thus: "Dear Mum, things are going well. Sorry I have not called but we have been really busy lately. By the way, I am making a bee-oh-em-bee."
Has anyone noticed the rudimentary code used in that email? We cleverly tried to disguise the word bomb by using the familiar dog-spelling code, most often used for words such as w-a-l-k, and b-o-n-e.
However, I would know if my neighbour was making a bomb because I would be looking over the fence and would have a conversation with him, who I will refer to as Mr X to protect his identity, that goes something like this:
"Hey Dougal, oops, I mean, Hey Mr X, what are you doing?"
"I'm making a bomb."
"Wow," I reply, "that's pretty cool - need a hand?"
"No thanks, but if you aren't doing anything in the weekend will you feed the cat for us?"
"Sure. So how do you know how to make a bomb?"
"It's really easy. You don't even need to look up the internet. You get some blah blah blah and mix it with some blah blah you can buy from blah blah blah and then all you need is a detonator."
Then Mrs X comes outside, looks at Mr X, puts her hands on her hips and says: "Don't think you're letting that thing off around here and ruining my garden. You can just take it to the park."
Did anyone spot the second code? Although it is super easy to make bombs, the ingredients were hidden using the blah blah in italics code. Of course, there are many codes and as well as being clever and sneaky, spies are exceptionally good at codes. Both the dog-spelling and blah blah codes are learned in the first week at spy school, which is a secret school for spies (that wasn't code).
Spies are also good with invisible ink, which can be seen only if the paper is held over a flame, which is useful because after you have read the message it has to be able to be destroyed in 10 seconds or less. The fallback position, known in secret code as "Plan B", is that you have to eat the message, which is OK if it is a one-pager written using invisible food dye that is cheeseburger flavoured, but not so good for your five-to-10-page report on the neighbour's bombmaking.
Apart from being sneaky, clever and good at codes, spies are constipated. That is not as bad as it sounds because some spying is so super-secret that after spending days sitting on the side of a hill dressed as a tree watching a suspicious person, or in town (still dressed as a tree, but a town tree) the spy must covertly decamp, which is code for "leave", leaving no signs, which means taking his or her poos away in a little bag. Most spies prefer to avoid having to bag their exhibits, if you follow my drift.
Not all spying works. The Boston bombers were on a US Federal watch list but while spies are great at identifying suspicious people that is largely because the main thing you learn at spy school is that everyone is suspicious. We had spies when the Rainbow Warrior was blown up but they didn't prevent that. New Zealand's only other terrorist threat was a bunch of people playing guns in the Ureweras and on any other day that would have been hunting.
It is likely the new law will allow the sort of email and communications scanning that the US has been up to. For example, the type of email that would show up on the alert list would be one that uses certain key words, similar to the method used on Trade Me when selling, say, a Hemi 265 VH Valiant carburettor because the one you bought had half the bits missing so now you want to unload it to some other sap. This column will score highly on the alerts because of its use of certain words: Boston, bomb, ingredients, code, Federal, US, prime minister, detonator, terrorist, threat, blown up, covertly, decamp and poos.
Shortly, some black wagons with the tinted windows will arrive. Men in dark suits will surround me and apply the Vulcan neck pinch - I didn't see that coming! When I awake, I will be on my way to Gitmo where I will be force-fed to prevent me joining and then unionising the hunger strike, given daily therapeutic doses of water-boarding, further tortured with Rhianna's latest hits alternating with reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club narrated by Kanye West. When I crack I will sign a confession that I am an Iranian spy disguised as Edward Snowden disguised as Bradley Manning, at which time I'll be dropped into an Afghani mountain village with only a Swiss Army knife and a Thermos of coffee concealing a drone missile homing beacon.
- The Timaru Herald