'Small minority' of Parliament protesters likely to carry out extremist violence, intelligence agencies warned

Dramatic scenes at the Parliament occupation as protesters chant "hold the line" in an ongoing confrontation with police.

Terror risk briefings show intelligence agencies warned it was "likely" a small minority of Parliament protesters would seek violent revenge for the occupation's end, or attempt to "compensate" for the protest's failure.

The briefings, one producedduring the weeks-long occupation of Parliament's grounds and another after it was cleared by police on March 2, show that no “specific, credible” terror threats were identified coming from the primarily anti-mandate and anti-vaccine protest.

But a “small minority” of the protesters were expected to “have or will develop the intent to carry out an act of extremist violence”, both during the protest or in the two weeks afterward.

“We cannot dismiss the possibility that any attack could manifest with little or no intelligence forewarning,” said a March 4, 2022, briefing, obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA).

Protesters clash with police as they remove tents and camping equipment from the occupation on Parliament’s grounds.
Braden Fastier/Stuff
Protesters clash with police as they remove tents and camping equipment from the occupation on Parliament’s grounds.

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The Combined Threat Assessment Group reports, written by agencies including police, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), did not offer any insight into any intelligence activities – or spying – that might have occurred in response to the protest.

But SIS officials, the agency’s Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge, and GCSB Director-General Andrew Hampton were involved in numerous meetings related to the government’s response to the occupation.

According to an OIA response, the SIS also analysed “its legal position based on hypothetical scenarios that might arise from the protests at Parliament”.

The SIS declined to make this document public under the OIA, due to concern such a move might harm New Zealand’s security or defence, and because it contained legally privileged and “free and frank” opinions.

The assessment group briefings show the intelligence agencies assessed the “vast majority” of protesters were not supportive of violent and extreme ideology, and were “highly unlikely to commit an act of extremist violence”. But violent extremist rhetoric was a feature of the protest.

Many were there for reasons with “no obvious links to Covid-19”, including the “sovereign citizen” movement, Māori sovereignty, anti-communism, Pike River, and anti-Three Water reform.

Rioting on Parliament grounds as police attempt to clear an occupation that lasted weeks.
Rioting on Parliament grounds as police attempt to clear an occupation that lasted weeks.

“Anti-authority PMVE [politically motivated violent extremism] figures continue to express threatening rhetoric directed at authority figures, most often in the form of pseudo-legal arrests and trials,” a February 17 report said.

The most likely scenario for an attack was a lone actor or a small group, “inspired by threatening rhetoric”, using “basic capability” – being a knife, blunt force weapons, firearms or “low-sophistication improvised devices”.

According to this report, there were three primary motivations that could trigger an extremist attack: the “pseudo-legal rhetoric surrounding the trial of authority figures”, a reaction to government or police action to end the occupation, and a “perceived lack of progress or success from the protests”.

The protest also posed a “realistic possibility” of radicalising individuals “not already on the violent extremist spectrum”, the briefing said.

After the protest, the agencies advised an attack could occur “either in direct reprisal for the clearance, or out of a need to compensate for a perceived lack of ‘success’ from the protests”.

It was likely extremists within the protest movement would “continue to seek to exploit legitimate, peaceful protest to propagate violent extremist rhetoric and promote acts of ideological violence".

An occupation at Mahanga Bay in Wellington has morphed from being anti-mandates to an unwanted stance on the sale of Māori land at Shelly Bay.

The report written after the occupation also debunked a claim from protesters that “Antifa”, or anti-facist extremists, had started fires on Parliament’s grounds – or existed at all.

Spies part of protest response

Kitteridge, in response to an Official Information Act request, said she attended a meeting of ODESC, an assemblage of government chief executives that swings into action during national security crises, on February 17. That was the same day CTAG produced its report on extremists threats within the protest.

SIS officials also joined a police workshop on the protest, three days later.

SIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge. (file photo)
SIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge. (file photo)

Kitteridge said she met Minister Andrew Little, who is responsible for the intelligence agencies, twice between February 8 and 22 and discussed the role of the SIS in regard to the protest.

She also spoke with National Party leader Christopher Luxon during this time, but she did not specify whether that was about the protest. Luxon declined to comment, a spokeswoman saying the Opposition leader could not speak on meetings he may or may not have with the SIS.

On February 22, more than a week before police cleared the occupation, both Kitteridge and Hampton met the inspector-general of intelligence and security, Brendan Horsley, and the protest was an agenda item.

The inspector-general is a Government-appointed watchdog that scrutinises the work of the SIS and GCSB, ensuring both comply with the law.

A meeting agenda, provided by the GCSB, showed “protests” was top of the hour-long meetings' agenda. The other agenda items were redacted, for being “out of scope”.

Hampton, in response to an OIA request, declined to confirm or deny whether it held reports or briefings on the protest and possible foreign influences.

Revealing such information was “likely to prejudice ... the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand”.