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New Zealand Security Intelligence Service

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS or SIS; Māori: Te Pā Whakamarumaru) is New Zealand's primary national intelligence agency. As a civilian organization, it has no part in the enforcement of security but is responsible for providing information and advising on matters including national security (including counterterrorism and counterintelligence) and foreign intelligence.[3] It is headquartered in Wellington and overseen by a Director-General, the Minister of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, and the parliamentary intelligence and security committee; independent oversight is provided by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. It was originally established on 28 November 1956 with the primary function of combating perceived increases in Soviet intelligence operations in Australia and New Zealand. Since then, its legislated powers have expanded to increase its monitoring capabilities and include entry into private property. Its role has also expanded to include countering domestic and international terrorism, chemical, biological, and cyber threats. The organization has been involved in numerous high-profile incidents such as the 1974 arrest of Bill Sutch on charges of spying for the Soviet Union, the 1981 assassination attempt by Christopher Lewis on Queen Elizabeth II, and the 1996 interception of GATT Watchdog organizer Aziz Choudry. It has also been criticised for its failures to anticipate or prevent incidents such as the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, the 2004 purchasing of New Zealand passports by Israeli "intelligence contract assets", and the 2019 Christchurch Mosque Shootings by an Australian alt-right white supremacist terrorist.

New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Te Pā Whakamarumaru
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service seal.jpg
Logo of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Agency overview
HeadquartersDefence House, 2–12 Aitken Street, Wellington
41°16′37″S 174°46′46″E / 41.276823°S 174.779439°E / -41.276823; 174.779439
Annual budgetTotal budget for 2019/20[2]
Vote Security Intelligence
Minister responsible
Agency executive



The First National Government established the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service on 28 November 1956 as the New Zealand Security Service (NZSS), aiming to counter perceived increased Soviet intelligence operations in Australia and New Zealand in the wake of the Petrov Affair of 1954, which had damaged Soviet-Australian relations. The New Zealand Security Service was modelled on the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 and its first Director of Security was Brigadier William Gilbert, a former New Zealand Army officer. The organization's existence remained a state secret until 1960.[4][5]

According to the journalist and author Graeme Hunt, domestic intelligence and counter-subversion prior to the establishment of the SIS was primarily in the hands of the New Zealand Police Force (1919–1941; 1945–1949) and of the New Zealand Police Force Special Branch (1949–1956). Another predecessor to the SIS during the Second World War was the short-lived New Zealand Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB).[6] The SIB, modelled after the British MI5, was headed by Major Kenneth Folkes, a junior MI5 officer. The conman Syd Ross duped Major Folkes into believing that there was a "Nazi plot" in New Zealand. Due to this embarrassment, Prime Minister Peter Fraser dismissed Folkes in February 1943 and the SIB merged into the New Zealand Police. Following the end of World War II in 1945, the police force resumed responsibility for domestic intelligence.[7]

The NZ Intelligence Community (NZIC) developed further in the 1960s due to growing concerns about political terrorism, improvements in weaponry, news media coverage, and frequent air travel. As terrorist threats grew along with potential connections to wider groups, the adaption of counter-insurgency techniques increased in New Zealand. These developments culminated into the 1961 Crimes Act; enacted by Parliament, the Act allowed mindful targeting of possible terrorist suspects and scenarios.[8] In 1969 the NZSS was formally renamed the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.[9] That same year the New Zealand Parliament passed an Act covering the agency's functions and responsibilities: the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act.[10]

Parliament subsequently made various amendments to the Security Intelligence Act – among which included[original research?] Robert Muldoon's highly controversial 1977 amendment, which expanded the SIS's powers of monitoring considerably. The 1977 Amendment Act went on to actively define terrorism as: "planning, threatening, using or attempting to use violence to coerce, deter, or intimidate." This was in order to address a new emerging threat of international terrorism. Following the 1977 Amendment Act, Parliament enacted the Immigration Amendment Act of 1978, which went on to further expand the definition of terrorism.[11]

In 1987, Gerald Hensley, the then Chair of the NZIC stated that the State Services Commission became attracted to the concept of "comprehensive security." This took into account both human-made threats such as terrorism and natural hazards. This was also in response to the severing of intelligence-sharing arrangements New Zealand had with the United States in 1985 over nuclear policy.[12] Following the attempted hijacking of an Air New Zealand flight and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, Parliament enacted the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987. The Act contained censorship powers given to the government around matters of national security and terrorism. This was in stark contrast to New Zealand's previous conformance to international trends and laws.[13]

At the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st, the NZIC adapted to emerging chemical, biological, and eventually cyber threats. These three areas became a key point of integration between the intelligence community agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Cases of terrorism overseas promoted the NZ Intelligence Community to regularly exchange information and meet the growing demands of non-state actors.[14][15]


As a civilian organisation, the SIS takes no part in the enforcement of security (although it has limited powers to intercept communications and search residences). It's role is intended to be advisory, providing the government with information on threats to national security or national interests. It also advises other government agencies about their own internal security measures, and is responsible for performing checks on government employees who require security clearance. The SIS is responsible for most of the government's counter-intelligence work.

The SIS is a civilian intelligence and security organisation. Its threefold roles are:

  • to investigate threats to security and to work with other agencies within Government, so that the intelligence it collects are actioned and threats which have been identified are disrupted
  • to collect foreign intelligence
  • to provide a range of protective security advice and services to Government.[16]

In 2007, it was reported that the SIS wished to expand its role into fighting organised crime.[17]


The NZSIS is based in Wellington, with branches in Auckland and Christchurch. It has close to 300 full-time equivalent staff.[18]

The Director-General of the NZSIS reports to the Minister of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, who is as of 2018 is Hon Andrew Little, and the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.[19] Independent oversight of its activities is provided by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.[20]


The NZSIS is administered by a Director-General. As of 2014 the NZSIS has had seven directors generals:

Public profileEdit

The NZSIS has become involved in a number of public incidents and controversies since its creation in 1956:

  • In 1974, the NZSIS was the source of information that led to the arrest of Bill Sutch, an economist and former civil servant, on charges of spying for the Soviet Union. Sutch was acquitted, and the SIS was criticised for having accused him in the first place, although it has been alleged that the NZSIS was correct in its accusation.
  • In 1981, the NZSIS was criticised for drawing up a list of 20 "subversives" who participated in protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, a visit by South Africa's apartheid rugby team. That singling out of individuals as "subversives" was deemed by many to be a violation of the right to protest government decisions.
  • Also in 1981, an NZSIS operative inadvertently left a briefcase, containing a copy of Penthouse, three cold meat pies, and notes of a dinner party hosted by a German diplomat, on a journalist's fence in Wellington, where it was found by the son of another journalist, Fran O'Sullivan.
  • In 1985, the NZSIS failed to detect the French operation in which DGSE operatives bombed the Greenpeace vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, killing a photographer.
  • In 1996, two NZSIS agents broke into the home of Aziz Choudry, an organiser with GATT Watchdog, which was holding a public forum and rally against an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Trade Ministers meeting hosted in Christchurch. After the Court of Appeal ruled that the NZSIS had exceeded their legislated powers of interception, Parliament amended the NZSIS Act to give the NZSIS powers of entry into private property.
  • In 2002, the NZSIS issued a security risk certificate for Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian asylum-seeker, and recommended his deportation. Zaoui was detained under a warrant of commitment. The then Inspector General, Laurie Greig, resigned in March 2004 after controversy over comments perceived as biased against Zaoui. The risk certificate was subsequently lifted, allowing him to remain.[21]
  • In 2004, allegations surfaced that the NZSIS was spying on Māori individuals and organisations, including those associated with the new Māori Party, for political purposes under the codename "Operation Leaf." A government inquiry led by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security later rejected these claims in April 2005. The prime minister, Helen Clark said the allegations were a hoax and asked The Sunday Star-Times newspaper that printed them to apologise to their readers. A full apology and retraction was subsequently printed on the front page of the paper.
  • In July 2004, the NZSIS was criticised for not knowing that Israeli "intelligence contract assets" had been in New Zealand purchasing New Zealand passports. Apparently the NZSIS only became aware after the New Zealand Police found out, when mainstream New Zealand news publications reported. The case became world news and an embarrassment for the NZSIS and Mossad intelligence agencies. Two of the Israelis involved (Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara who had been based in Australia) were deported to Israel, while two other contractors believed to be purchasing passports (American Ze'ev Barkan and New Zealander David Reznic) left New Zealand before they were caught – and have presumably roamed free ever since.[22][23]
  • In December 2008, it was revealed that a man in Christchurch, Rob Gilchrist, had been spying on peace organisations and individuals including Greenpeace, Iraq war protesters, animal rights and climate change campaigners. Rob Gilchrist confessed to the allegations after his then partner, Rochelle Rees, found emails sent between him and Special Investigation Group (SIG) officers (SIG has a connection with the SIS). Rees found the emails while fixing Gilchrist's computer. Gilchrist was said to have passed on information via an anonymous email address to SIG officers. Gilchrist had been paid up to $600 a week by police for spying on New Zealand citizens. His SIG contacts were Detective Peter Gilroy and Detective Senior Sergeant John Sjoberg. Gilchrist was reported to have been spying for the police for at least ten years. Gilchrist also said he was offered money by Thomson Clark Investigations to spy on the Save Happy Valley Coalition, an environmental group. The incident implied members of New Zealand political parties were spied on as part of a 'focus on terrorism threats to national security'. Rochelle Rees was a Labour party activist as well as an animal rights campaigner.[24]
  • In November 2009, the SIS came under criticism for asking university staff to report their colleagues or students if they were behaving suspiciously. The SIS said it was part of an effort to prevent the spread of 'weapons of mass destruction'.[25]
  • In July 2011, the NZSIS was involved in an investigation of Israeli backpackers who were in New Zealand at the time of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, in which one of the Israelis was killed. The Israelis were alleged to have been Mossad agents attempting to infiltrate the New Zealand government's computer databases and steal sensitive information. The investigation concluded that there was no evidence of a Mossad operation.[26]
  • On March 1, 2018, the NZSIS released a memo confirming that an assassination attempt was made on Queen Elizabeth II during her 1981 visit in Dunedin despite alleged efforts by the New Zealand Police to cover up the incident. The perpetrator was 17 year-old Dunedin teenager Christopher Lewis, who later became a criminal and died in prison in 1997 while awaiting trial for murder.[27][28][29]
  • Following the March 15, 2019 white supremacist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, the failure of the NZSIS and other NZ state agencies to pay adequate attention to the 'far right', and to detect the terrorist came in for strong criticism. Green Party MP Marama Davidson and Tuhoe activist and artist Tame Iti, among others, suggested that the NZSIS and other state security and intelligence agencies had the wrong people under surveillance, including Muslim communities, Maori, and environmental activists. [30][31] Spokesperson for the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand, Anjum Rahman, voiced frustration at the failure of the NZSIS to take Muslim community concerns about racist violence and the rise of the alt-right in New Zealand seriously.[32] PM Jacinda Ardern announced that there would be an inquiry into the circumstances that lead to the mosque attacks and what the relevant agencies knew about the individual and the accused's activities. It would look into the NZSIS, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), police, Customs and Immigration.[33]

Access to recordsEdit

Until a few years ago[when?] the NZSIS was reluctant to release information either under the Privacy Act or the Official Information Act. However it has now adopted a much more open policy: individuals who apply for their files will be given extensive information, with only certain sensitive details (such as details of sources or information provided by overseas agencies) removed. In certain respects,[further explanation needed]the NZSIS still fails to meet its obligations under the Privacy Act but in these cases there is a right of appeal to the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Act does not cover deceased people but their files are available under the Official Information Act. The service is also required to release other information such as files on organisations but the service is reluctant to do so, citing the extensive research it allegedly has to carry out in order to provide such information. A letter to the Director is all that is required in order to obtain information.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Hager, Nicky (1996). Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing. ISBN 0-908802-35-8.
  • Hunt, Graeme (2007). Spies and Revolutionaries: A History of NEw Zealand Subversion. Auckland: Reed Publishing.
  • King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin Books.
  • NZSIS Annual Reports


  1. ^ Michael King, Penguin History of New Zealand, p.429.
  2. ^ "Total Appropriations for Each Vote". Budget 2019. The Treasury. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  3. ^ [1] New Zealand Security Intelligence Service overview
  4. ^ Michael King, Penguin History of New Zealand, pp. 429, 431.
  5. ^ Graeme Hunt, Spies and Revolutionaries, pp.231–32.
  6. ^ Graeme Hunt, Spies and Revolutionaries, pp. 291–2.
  7. ^ Graeme Hunt, Spies and Revolutionaries, pp.140–44.
  8. ^ Bethan Greener-Barcham, Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand, p. 510.
  9. ^ Graeme Hunt, Spies and Revolutionaries, pp. 242, 292.
  10. ^ "New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969 No 24 (as at 13 July 2011), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to which this Act applies is hereby declared to be the same Service as the Service known as the New Zealand Security Service which was established on 28 November 1956.
  11. ^ Bethan Greener-Barcham, Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand, p. 512.
  12. ^ Andrew Brunatti, The architecture of community, p. 126.
  13. ^ Bethan Greener-Barcham, Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand, p. 517.
  14. ^ Bethan Greener-Barcham, Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand, p. 521.
  15. ^ Andrew Brunatti, The architecture of community.
  16. ^ NZSIS Official Website About Us, Index
  17. ^ 'SIS head wants to tackle organised crime', Radio New Zealand news item.
  18. ^ "Briefing to the Incoming Minister 2017" (PDF). Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  19. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Retrieved 7 July 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Statement by director of the SIS concerning Mr Ahmed Zaoui". The New Zealand Herald. 13 September 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  22. ^ 'A Word From Afar: The Curious Case of Mr. Tucker', Scoop, Paul G. Buchanan, 11 February 2009, retrieved 30 December 2009.
  23. ^ Hallel, Amir (2 October 2004). "At home with the Mossad men". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  24. ^ Tan, Lincoln (15 December 2008). "Chief of police called in over spies". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  25. ^ "Uni staff asked to spy on students". 3 News. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  26. ^
  27. ^ McNeilly, Hamish (1 March 2018). "Intelligence documents confirm assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth in New Zealand". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  28. ^ McNeilly, Hamish (1 March 2018). "The Snowman and the Queen: Declassified intelligence service documents confirm assassination attempt on Queen". Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  29. ^ "SIS files confirm Dunedin teen tried to shoot Queen". Otago Daily Times. NZ Newswire. 1 March 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^

External linksEdit