One of the most important duties of any government is protecting the security of the nation. National security is defined in New Zealand’s National Security System Handbook as the “condition that allows New Zealand citizens to go about their business confidently and free from fear and able to make the most of opportunities to advance their way of life”. 


Since 2001 New Zealand has taken an “all-hazards, all-risks” approach to national security.  This means all risks to national security, whether they are inside or outside New Zealand, from human or non‑human sources, are addressed in the national security system.  These include threats such as espionage, transnational organised crime, terrorism, cyber-security attacks, natural disasters and pandemics.


New Zealand’s approach to national security includes four areas of activity known as the 4Rs:

  1. Reduction – identifying, analysing and mitigating long-term risks so there is less chance of adverse events happening or, if they do happen, their effects are less serious;
  2. Readiness – developing national security systems before they are needed;
  3. Response – taking action immediately before, during and directly after a significant event; and
  4. Recovery – using coordinated efforts and processes to bring about immediate, medium‑term and long-term recovery and regeneration from an event.


The scope of the all hazards, all risks and 4Rs approach means that many Public sector agencies have roles in the national security system.  For each type of national security risk, there is intended to be a lead agency.  Other agencies make contributions based on their agreed roles and responsibilities.


Terrorism, one of the risks to national security, is commonly understood to refer to acts of violence in pursuit of political or ideological aims.  We use the term “counter-terrorism effort” to include all counter-terrorism activities undertaken by Public sector agencies to prevent, mitigate, respond to and disrupt actual or potential terrorist threats.


Intelligence contributes to many activities in New Zealand’s counter‑terrorism effort.  Intelligence means information that is collected, processed and used to inform decision making.  It can indicate the emergence of a harmful ideology or inform decisions to designate a terrorist organisation or disrupt an imminent terrorist attack.  The New Zealand Intelligence Community, which is made up of the National Security Group of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Government Communications Security Bureau and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, plays a key role in the counter‑terrorism effort. 


Other New Zealand Public sector agencies that have a role in counter-terrorism include New Zealand Police, who are the lead agency responsible for responding to a terrorist attack, and the border agencies (Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service).


Over the past decade, the ways that countries have undertaken counter-terrorism has evolved.  This evolution is based on the understanding that the traditional approach can and should be complemented with activities that target the social, political and economic drivers of violent extremism and terrorism.  This broader approach is often referred to as “countering violent extremism”, but definitions vary between jurisdictions.  Activities focused on countering terrorism and those focused on countering extremism and violent extremism often overlap.  We discuss submissions on how to counter extremism and violent extremism in Chapter 7: How people think we could prevent harmful behaviour.


Focus of New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort


Most submitters did not refer to the national security system and the counter-terrorism effort in those terms.  It was clear, however, that most people who commented believed that responsibility for this work fell largely to the Government Communications Security Bureau, New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.  There were a variety of comments on the perception of the work done by these agencies.

It is my view, based on my research since 2015, that New Zealand’s lack of political leadership in failing to define a national Counter Terrorism Strategy, to create a legislative architecture that allows for the detection and countering of terrorism, and to look across various Acts to ensure predictable risks – such as were in Arms Act 1983 – were mitigated before a tragedy occurred, all contributed far more to the mass killing on 15 March than any security sector omission.  New Zealand does not need a raft of draconian [counter-terrorism] amendments – as Australia has; but it does need a sensible, tiered empowerment of security sector and community agencies to act to prevent harm when they see it.

– Academic


Submitters made repeated references to the activities of extreme right-wing individuals and groups that were being largely ignored by Public sector agencies.  Many felt that more should be done to identify risks in the extreme right-wing communities, their activities online and to properly prosecute and record incidents of hate crimes from these groups.

Perceived threats from Islamic communities have been treated with extreme gravity and the commitment of large counter-terrorism resources, but threats to Islamic communities have been downplayed or even ignored.

– Academic


One submission discussed the focus of counter-terrorism resources by Public sector agencies since the terrorist attacks on the United States of America on 11 September 2001: 

New Zealand authorities have focused their counter-terrorism resources almost exclusively on Muslim communities in New Zealand.  New Zealand authorities appear to have been institutionally blind to terror threats from white nationalist and far right actors and groups, and threats to Muslim communities in particular.

– Academic 


The submitter stated that academic scholars had demonstrated that current counter-terrorism approaches are harmful and counter-productive, noting that the theory of radicalisation has been challenged and lacks scientific credibility.


The submitter cited the example of a journalist being unable to cite any reference to the threat of the extreme right-wing from publicly available documents produced by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau over a period of ten years.  They believed these Public sector agencies have followed New Zealand’s Five Eyes partners in underestimating the seriousness of the threat posed by extreme right-wing and white nationalist extremist groups and individuals.

The evidence appears to be is that ever since its inception in 1956 the [New Zealand Security Intelligence Service] has chased ghosts and apparitions, with a fixation on anyone who was deemed anti-South Africa, in fact anyone of the ‘left’.  One can only wonder how much of the failure in Christchurch relates to the [New Zealand Security Intelligence Service]’s rightist politics.

– Member of the public


Another submitter talked about their belief that any focus on the extreme right-wing by intelligence and security agencies in New Zealand framed the threat as international.  They noted that there was data about the existence of right-wing and white nationalist groups in New Zealand.  They felt that even looking only at the international context should have revealed that the growth of the extreme right-wing was not slow, with 350 such terrorist attacks in Europe, North America and Australia from 2011 to 2017.

To others, because the official security narrative framed Muslims as perpetrators, not victims, the Christchurch terrorist attack was a surprise.  It didn’t make sense.  It wasn’t normal.  It was a black swan [event].  Before the attack, many New Zealand Muslims felt insecure because we knew what was happening globally.  We knew what was happening locally online and offline.  New Zealand Muslims knew from lived experience that the environment was becoming increasingly hostile, even if we could not base our claims on empirical evidence as hate crimes were not being officially recorded.  We were reading the world news.  We knew what was happening in other Western countries.  We could see the trend.  We asked for help.  We knew we were vulnerable to such an attack.  We did not know who, when, what, where, or how.  But we knew.  Our security narrative was true.  The [New Zealand Intelligence Community]’s official security narrative was inaccurate and misinformed New Zealand.

– Community organisation


A submitter believed that the surveillance of Muslim communities had negatively impacted on community cohesion.  There was a view that the alleged use of informants within Muslim communities encouraged secretive community surveillance.  The impact of this increased suspicion divided communities and reduced trust of authorities. 


They stated that, in contrast, when individuals and organisations from the Muslim community in New Zealand have come forward to highlight hate crimes and racially-motivated attacks, the authorities have, for the most part, chosen to treat such cases in isolation and not as part of a wider concern about terrorism and violent extremism.

From this perspective, it could be argued that the authorities have consistently exhibited an unfortunate level of institutional blindness to documented broader international trends about the growing threats from far-right populist and white nationalist groups.  This impeded their awareness of, and ability to react to, the threat which manifested itself in the Christchurch attack.

– Academic


… right now there is not that communication because we feel like we as a community are second rate.  They give us that feeling, and we don’t get that trust from the police.  There are only so many times you want to go to someone if they give you that feeling of mistrust.  There comes a point where you don’t even trust them and you feel like there are things happening, what is the point of going to the police?  That’s when it becomes very dangerous because you know there are things happening but because of that feeling and that mistrust between the police you have the big gap between the authority and you and you’re distancing yourself to the people that could actually protect you and prevent it.  So how do we build that trust between them and bridge that gap of not feeling like second rate citizens?

– Victims’ and families representative


One submitter noted a 2012 national security assessment undertaken for a faith-based community. 

[The] perpetration of a terrorist attack in New Zealand by a home-grown or transnational cell is of serious concern for the [faith-based community] in New Zealand […] right wing individuals and organisations pose a serious threat to the [faith-based community].  They are not only capable of spontaneous or organised low to medium violence, but may also foster the development of cells or lone individuals who wish to perpetrate large-scale attacks.

– Community organisation


According to this submitter, the faith-based community provided monthly reports to New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and other agencies.  Those reports covered hate incidents in New Zealand and selected incidents from overseas that were committed by far right, far left and Islamist extremists.  The threat level assessments contained in those reports had, for some time prior to 15 March 2019, been set at a higher level than those set by Public sector agencies.  The faith-based community hoped that with recognition of increased threat levels, Public sector agencies might work more closely with at-risk communities to monitor threats together.

For many years, the [name of faith-based community organisation] has been seeking recognition from the [New Zealand] Police and [New Zealand Security Intelligence Service] that the risk of a terror attack against the [faith-based communities] is greater than the National Threat Level – that there should be special consideration given to certain communities.

– Community organisation


Another submitter told us about incidents where Christchurch masajid had been threatened or were the location of suspicious activity.  These incidents had been reported to New Zealand Police.  The submitter believed that New Zealand Police took no direct action in any of these cases.

For people in the community, this is considered a dereliction of the duty to protect, as well as a failure to acknowledge that Muslims are and have been subject to discrimination, scapegoating, as well as far right extremism and threats by white supremacists, and should therefore have warranted particular care, responsiveness, and vigilance on the part of Police.

– Member of the public


One submitter told us that compared with other parts of the world before 15 March 2019, New Zealand had seen very few terrorist events that would warrant a significant shift in how the intelligence and security agencies operated to mitigate against terrorist events.  Events in New Zealand were one-off with no links, and there was no one group that had a consistent campaign against the Public sector or its citizens.  The submitter believed, however, that the terrorist attack raised questions about Public sector agencies’ ability to detect and deter further terrorist attacks, given the large number of fatalities and the ease with which the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack was undertaken.


This submitter believed that the terrorist attack highlighted the lack of visibility and intervention by Public sector agencies in identifying security gaps.  The terrorist attack also highlighted the lack of communication internally across Public sector agencies about these risk types and shortcomings in the capacity of New Zealand’s Five Eyes partners to identify the risks.  The submitter cited evidence that Public sector agencies were aware that they do little to acknowledge that the world has changed.  There is no national security strategy or national threat and risk assessment, and Public sector agencies continue to operate in silos.

It is evident the [individual] was not on the radar of the [Government Communications Security Bureau], [New Zealand Security Intelligence Service], [Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet] and New Zealand Police until March 15, 2019.  Those branches of government that were intended to protect citizens failed in detecting his intended actions with catastrophic consequences.

– Community organisation


The submitter believed that from 2015 to 2019 Public sector agencies did not take seriously the threat to Muslim communities regarding Islamophobia, the extreme right-wing and white supremacist groups. 

There was no or very little intelligence from the Five Eyes coalition partners backing up what was being said to the agencies by Muslims in New Zealand about the danger they felt under from Islamophobia.  The Five Eyes were out of touch and out of date in their intelligence, without any or adequate focus on the alt right, despite the fact so much terrorism in the USA was coming from it.  […] The Muslim voice was not valued by the agencies in the same way that the voices of others were and this is likely to be as a result of a deep bias (conscious or unconscious) against Muslims.  The fact that after such a focus of surveillance on the Muslim community there was no-one from within it who was trusted sufficiently by the security agencies to have a high security clearance is an indicator the agencies’ advice was biased.

– Community organisation


According to one submitter however, the attention devoted to the Muslim community by the intelligence and security agencies was justified at the time.


Many people were of the view that intelligence and security agencies had failed to monitor the online posts of the individual and other people or groups with extreme right-wing views.  This failure allowed the terrorist attack to occur.  One submitter asserted that the individual posted considerable white supremacist propaganda online, yet the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and New Zealand Police failed to detect the threat.  In contrast, the submitter noted that research has documented evidence of Muslim individuals in New Zealand being harassed by those same Public sector agencies based purely on their personal social media activity.

We question why the threats, that were publicly posted, were not picked up by our security agencies.  The only reasonable answer, in our submission, is that their judgments and concentration were preoccupied by an incorrect focus on Islamic extremism only and they failed to recognise white supremacy groups as a threat.

– Community organisation


We heard that important information known about the individual failed to generate leads.  This included information about his travel history, social media use, firearms licence and purchases of weapons and ammunition.  We were told this failure was because the extreme right-wing was not being monitored.  The submitter believed that this was because of an inappropriate counter-terrorism priority setting that spanned decades. 


The submitter elaborated that there was no systematic gathering of intelligence on the activities of extreme right-wing individuals, networks or organisations to assess their capability and intent to perpetrate a terrorist attack, and the impact and immediacy of any terrorist attack.  This is because the extreme right-wing was not one of the National Security and Intelligence Priorities (a list of priorities set by the government for collecting intelligence).  Further, it was not an intelligence requirement under the National Security and Intelligence Priority focused on terrorism. 


We were told about a range of failures by the agencies involved in the national security system and counter-terrorism effort.  These included the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.  One submitter told us that the department did not adequately scan for domestic and external risks.  It did not assess domestic and external risks of national security significance, and did not coordinate policy advice and policy-making to ensure that the risks were managed appropriately. 


We were told that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service did not keep up with New Zealand’s evolving threat environment by monitoring, analysing and assessing the threats of right‑wing extremism.  Such threats only became a focus for this agency nine months prior to the terrorist attack.  The Combined Threat Assessment Group did not inform the government’s risk management processes by providing timely and accurate assessments of terrorist threats to New Zealanders and New Zealand’s interests. 


One submitter believed that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, which has a responsibility to be aware of the sorts of threats proposed by extreme right-wing radicals online, had been “woefully ignorant” of these trends and warnings.  The submitter considered that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service has been operating several years behind reality for the last decade and had been “failing abysmally” in its primary function.


Likewise, the submitter believed that society itself still does not seem to be aware of the threat posed by the extreme right-wing.  Society does not recognise the language and terminology used by young men who are being influenced by these groups.  The submitter believed that New Zealand Police are blind to the nature of this problem.  The submitter told us they had little hope that New Zealand Police can form a working and functional understanding of these threats.

If fault can be assigned for the March 15 shootings outside of [the individual] then without doubt it lies solely with [the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service] and [New Zealand] Police who were instrumental in their failures to recognise and respond to the threat in advance.  Both organisations can improve their approach, including refining their perception of what real threats exist and what are merely political exaggeration for their own benefit.  These organisations must take this criticism to heart.  No single individual may be at fault but every member shares some of the burden of correcting their mistakes.

– Licensed firearms owner


A few submitters believed that Public sector agencies must have known something about the individual before the terrorist attack.  However, a few submitters believed that the individual could not have been stopped.  These submitters noted that lone actors would always be able to achieve their purpose. 


A few submitters asserted that the government still has not publicly accepted the existence and threat of white supremacy in New Zealand, or white supremacy as an act of terrorism.  They believed that New Zealand Police and the intelligence and security agencies still spend more resources targeting people of colour and Muslim individuals as potential terror threats based on bias and racism, than threats by white supremacists. 


A few submitters believed that there were issues of institutional and systemic racism and Islamophobia in New Zealand Police and the intelligence and security agencies, demonstrated by the overemphasis on the surveillance of Muslim communities.  One submitter believed that the reluctance to accept that white supremacy exists in New Zealand is becoming more pronounced.  The submitter considers this is because of an affinity bias by white people heading the agencies.  These people think “they look like me so they will not do things I would not do”.  

The government needs to entirely change its approach to white supremacy and social unity: focus efforts on white men and women who are susceptible to white supremacist rhetoric.

– Community organisation


A few submitters reasoned that the lack of Muslim involvement with Public sector agencies, particularly the intelligence and security agencies, could result in “groupthink”, noting the increased numbers of New Zealand Europeans (and Europeans) in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service between 2014 and 2018.  These submitters outlined reasons why Muslim individuals and communities were not involved with Public sector agencies.  These reasons included fear or lack of understanding by first generation migrants about how the New Zealand government works. 


Solutions proposed by submitters


We received many recommendations for the future of the national security system and the approach to countering terrorism in New Zealand.  We have grouped these into broad themes below.


A comprehensive national strategy


There was a view that a comprehensive national security strategy was required.  One submitter noted that while most countries have comprehensive national security strategies, New Zealand continues to rely on a National Security System Handbook that mostly addresses responses to crises rather than efforts to prevent them.  The submitter believed that a national security strategy with public consultation, which clearly identifies roles and responsibilities of agencies, is required.

It may be observed that since 9/11 New Zealand has been able to occupy safe and [distant] seats watching the evolution and development of modern terrorism and in a perfect position to take sensible and thought-out preparations for terrorism eventually re-emerging in New Zealand.  But for all that, we have effectively done nothing and squandered the opportunity we had.

– Academic


A few submitters outlined approaches to national security strategies in other countries, setting out both positive and negative aspects. 


We heard that the United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism (CONTEST) was a response to the events of 11 September 2001 and the continuing and increasing risk of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom.  One of the four principal sections of the strategy (which is called Prevent) aims “to safeguard individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism [and] seeks to pre-empt radicalism at an early stage and employs similar approaches used in deterring gang affiliation or membership”.  The objectives of this Prevent strategy include:

  1. tackling the causes of radicalisation;
  2. engaging in the “battle of ideas”, which addresses the contributors to radicalisation, challenging and responding to the ideological challenge that terrorism presents or is believed to justify, in particular, by assisting Muslim individuals who wish to dispute those ideals to do so;
  3. providing early intervention and offering support to those most at risk of radicalisation through specialist tailored agencies; and
  4. deterring those who facilitate and encourage others to engage in terrorism by changing the environment in which they operate and to rehabilitate.


We were told that the Prevent strategy has been criticised as it results in over-surveillance, encourages people to look for threats where they do not exist, increases time spent with already radicalised individuals and targets young family members who are easier to co-opt.  We heard that pre‑empting criminal extremism is fundamentally flawed and presents a serious risk of human rights violations.  The submitter noted that the Prevent strategy continues as it is important to maintain coherent and sincere preventative efforts and the alternative is a reactive approach carrying potentially greater risks.


One submitter was concerned that the “tendency has been, following terrorist attacks, to invest more heavily in current measures and programmes, or to introduce more legislation – without knowing whether it actually works”.  They told us that the question of whether particular counter-terrorism or countering violent extremism programmes are effective, proportionate and responsible has not been evaluated.

Despite this failure by governments to evaluate whether their counter-terrorist and [Countering Violent Extremism] programmes are effective and beneficial, a growing empirical literature by academics has demonstrated that many counterterrorism measures – such as increased security, military intervention, financial measures against terrorist funding, drone strikes, the use of interrogational torture, harsher penalties for involvement in terrorism, mass surveillance and de-radicalisation programmes – have either failed to prevent terrorist attacks or increased the likelihood of further terrorism.

– Academic


A submitter told us that the private sector, non-governmental organisations and communities must be involved in developing a national security strategy and policy and legislation, and not just when the government is responding to a crisis.  They also believed that there must be stronger participation by the academic and expert community in dealing with national security challenges, noting that some countries maintain a regular dialogue with the academic and expert community on national security matters.

Clearly, there is a dire need with regards to crafting good sound strategic planning with regards to crime prevention, counter-terrorism and reintegration programs to further help with community cohesion in the short-term and community integration into society in the long-term.  This should not only consider deterring future threats but also dealing with current issues such as the prison release of terror-linked offenders.

– Security specialist


We heard that the New Zealand Intelligence Community needs to continue to shift its focus from “an identity-based to a behaviour-based paradigm”.  This means allocating counter-terrorism resources based on empirical evidence.  It will also require other actions, such as not exclusively framing Muslim individuals as the likely perpetrators of terrorism rather than the possible victims of it.


A few submitters believed that New Zealand’s existing counter-terrorism legislation needs to be reviewed and possibly updated, which would help define the boundaries of terrorism activities more clearly.  In turn, this would make it easier to prosecute terror-related offences in the future.  Any legislation, however, would need to be inclusive of all relevant stakeholders.  These include government agencies, local non-governmental organisations and communities to ensure buy-in from members of the wider community in New Zealand.

The New Zealand legislation, strategy and policy on terror related threats has a disproportionate focus on Muslims and Islamic extremism.  There needs to be an overhaul of the terror legislation.  In our view, there has to be consideration as to whether the threats identified should be addressed in our Crimes Act, rather than silo legislation.

– Community organisation


We were told that the process of setting and reviewing New Zealand’s National Security and Intelligence Priorities should be opened to the greatest extent possible.  This would ensure the Priorities reflect New Zealand’s core values, identity and strategic interests, while protecting security and wellbeing.  These submitters believed that the National Security and Intelligence Priorities should be subject to general debate and voted on by Parliament after approval by Cabinet.  Accordingly, the requirements under each of the Priorities should be able to be scrutinised by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.  Detail of the Priorities should be publicly available, to the maximum possible extent.


Agency organisation and oversight


One submitter believed the national security system should be reformed.  They shared with us their belief that national security is currently controlled by a small group of Public sector agencies and these agencies ignore the fact that national security is complex and requires a more sophisticated and inclusive mechanism.  They felt the oversight of those Public sector agencies is inadequate.  This suits the agencies in terms of their predominance.  However, it is also detrimental when those Public sector agencies are seeking additional resources as there is a lack of understanding of those Public sector agencies’ priorities and capabilities.  This makes it more difficult to justify resourcing requests.


The submitter believed a National Security Council should be created, with a position of National Security Adviser.  They also considered that Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee should be more transparent and accessible.  The Committee should act as a mainstream select committee that could regularly conduct announced hearings and testimonies by Public sector and non-Public sector security entities and experts.


A few submitters believed that New Zealand Police and other Public sector agencies with a role in the counter-terrorism effort must continue to rapidly upskill.  They need to extend their surveillance and intelligence-gathering activity and staff capability relating to extreme right-wing and white supremacist communities internationally and in New Zealand.  Further, a Muslim Reference Advisory Group with diverse membership connected to grassroots community members should be established for Public sector agencies to consult on these matters. 


One submitter suggested that the New Zealand Police ethnic liaison officer roles should be further resourced and developed to promote relationship building and trust between New Zealand Police and ethnic communities.  They believed that New Zealand Police needed to engage interpreters when attending incidents where speakers of other languages are involved or come forward to report a crime.  Another submitter believed this role should be established in all Public sector agencies.


One submitter believed that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service is not needed, certainly not in the form that it exists today.  The submitter felt that, as security matters were once under New Zealand Police, they could manage any vetting for government appointments.  Further, they noted that as New Zealand Police has its own intelligence system there was no need for duplication of effort.  Another submitter believed there should be an inquiry into the structure and role of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.


Ongoing adequate funding of the agencies which hold the intelligence and security agencies to account – the Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security – is vital, according to a submitter.  The External Reference Advisory Group established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security should be made permanent in legislation. 

It is an important means by which security agencies ensure they are operating in the world of real security threats and not caught out by institutional lag.

– Community organisation


In addition, the submitter believed there should be an independent ethics board or body overseeing Public sector work on countering violent extremism.  This body would include security, and conduct random audits of Public sector agencies to ensure the programme is on task.  The board or body would also deal with complaints from the public in relation to surveillance of them.


Another submitter believed that any future reviews of the intelligence and security sector should include the relevant parts of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and take a system approach rather than just reviewing one or two of the relevant Public sector agencies.


One submitter recognised the government’s duty to protect its citizens and told us that terrorism is a gross violation of fundamental human rights.  Governments have an obligation to take effective counter‑terrorism measures to prevent and deter future terrorist attacks.  The submitter noted, however, that any such measures must comply with all of the government’s other human rights obligations.  Any surveillance regime should always be subject to judicial and Parliamentary oversight.


Practical steps to counter terrorism


A few submitters told us that there should be a formal counter-terrorism programme that looks at de‑escalating and countering ideology from a strategic point of view, in addition to a re-integration programme for individuals who pose a threat, share extremist ideologies and sympathise with terrorists and their respective organisations.  This programme should also be for returning foreign fighters or people released from prison to ensure they are not spreading anything that may be a threat to members of the public, and help to ensure their full integration into New Zealand society.  One submitter considered the language of “preventing” terrorism serves the purpose of reducing harm in society better than the language of “countering” terrorism. 


One submitter provided several suggestions for how they believe terrorist attacks in New Zealand could be prevented, including:

  1. identifying extremist leaders to exploit leadership dissent within the group and disrupt leadership links with group members, and identifying group members who commit to escalating action, and considering arrest or other action;
  2. monitoring online recruitment, disrupting using infiltration or informant recruitment and monitoring commonly used meeting or training spaces and disrupting usage through lease termination or other action;
  3. identifying any escalation in training and checking for a build-up of online red-flag purchases that are unusual or symbolic, or linked to multiple purchases that present a total picture of escalation;
  4. following up on criminal activity, complaints of threats of terrorist violence, concerns raised about firearms use, suspicious activity near potential target infrastructure or organised crime links;
  5. providing avenues for members of the public to pass on information either directly to agencies, or to a trusted third-party organisation;
  6. conducting timely reviews of security of potential targets and assisting where necessary;
  7. consulting with family members, friends and colleagues who may be able to influence potential terrorists to seek help for mental health issues or excessive violent gaming;
  8. tracking donations to terrorist groups back to the source and disrupting fundraising activity through clear guidelines to legitimate funding sites and information-sharing relationships with private providers;
  9. alerting overseas agencies of unusual individual travel, any attempt to inspire terrorist attacks through the spread of terrorist ideology or a desire to inspire retaliation within targeted countries;
  10. ensuring counter-terrorism activity does not push people into more extremist circles; and
  11. tracking domestic and international trends and databases, so action can be taken to counter the next terrorist threat as soon as possible.


We did not receive many comments explicitly stating that Public sector agencies should, or should not, receive further powers to conduct activities, although one submitter believed that if New Zealand Police and the security and intelligence agencies had greater powers they could easily stop any future terrorist or anti-national activities before they happened. 


Further to this, they believed that the Government Communications Security Bureau should be more proactive and involved in preventing and countering terrorism and that people should not be opposing their activities in the name of protecting privacy.  One submitter discussed their belief that it is impossible for Public sector agencies to examine a group of individuals that may have views or ideologies differing from the mainstream and determine who is most likely to engage in future violence.  They also believed that there is no empirical evidence to support the view that mass surveillance is at all effective in preventing terrorist attacks, as it produces too much data and too many false positives to be useful.

The most effective forms of intelligence gathering and prevention in the past few decades which have resulted in the prevention of terrorist attacks have involved community policing approaches where local people trust [police] enough to pass on relevant information about individuals in their midst.

– Academic


Asubmitter believed there should be tighter security screening that considers an individual’s background and their susceptibility to taking on terrorist ideology.  Rather than asking “have they committed a crime”, the emphasis should be on “will they have the potential to commit a crime”.  The submitter believed this approach could be used not only for processes such as firearms licence applications, but also for someone who carries out security activities such as the destruction of classified documents and protection of critical infrastructure.


One submitter believed Public sector agencies need more access to public data and to undertake more analytics to find potential terrorists.

Relying on community to report suspicious individuals is not good enough.  We struggle to identify friends and family members with suicidal tendencies [...] so how can we be relied on to spot potential terrorists.

– Member of the public


The submitter believed that data should be stored digitally and made accessible to different agencies.  That data could be used in relation to other potential crimes, not just terrorism.

I think immigration should have access to people's social media profiles if they meet a high risk criteria, in order to collect broader information on their activities and networks.

– Member of the public


One submitter believed solutions could include the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service recruiting people familiar with internet social trends who are able to report on hostile social developments from any point in the socio-political spectrum as they happen.  In addition, the submitter believed the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service should infiltrate platforms such as 4chan and identify at-risk New Zealanders and Australians, recognising traditional internet surveillance options are easily subverted.


There are no de-radicalisation or deterrence-based programmes for individuals and groups affiliated with extremist or radical ideologies that may lead one down the path of partaking in future terror-related offences, we were told by one submitter.  Neither is there a programme that looks at ensuring the long-term reintegration of an individual back into society. 

Apart from what is being conducted in-house by New Zealand Police, members of the community or the wider public are not aware of any strategy with regards to countering terrorism and de-radicalising persons of interest.  As a result, persons of interest are not reintegrated back into society and are preferring to isolate themselves in order to prevent them from being hurt.  This may have led them to go back to their own habits.

– Security specialist


This submitter believed there should be investment in deterrence-based strategies and tactics, such as disbanding an organisation before it influences the public or begins recruiting members to its ideology.


They believed a deterrence-based approach would be easier to implement, place less pressure on agencies and would be more sustainable financially and in terms of the human resources required.


One submitter believed that a comprehensive national “exit programme” should be established for members of terrorist groups, extremist movements and gangs.  A multi-agency taskforce could assess the needs of these individuals.  Those needs would include psychological, social, health and financial needs.  The taskforce would ensure those needs are met.  Public sector agencies should partner with community stakeholders to design and implement the programme.  The agencies would ensure the right “protective factors”, such as identity, belonging, aspiration and social connections are in place.


Another submitter provided examples of effective programmes where former extremists have played a role in de-radicalising individuals and helping people leave violent groups.  They believed that efforts to divert individuals or draw them out of extremist movements should be prioritised over punishment and suppression.

The effectiveness of these kinds of programmes to help individuals out of violent movements depends greatly on trust and personal relationships.  Such processes can easily be undermined by heavy-handed repressive measures by the Police, especially the tendency to monitor individuals until there is enough evidence to arrest them.

– Academic


The submitter told us there are also examples of anti-violence programmes aimed at young people, which help them to more fully appreciate the reality and effects of violence.  We also heard that there must be a focus on identifying, re-socialising and re-educating children and youth who exhibit racist behaviours and warning signs of radicalisation.


Security of communities


Some submitters also shared with us their hope that there might be resources shared with communities to prevent or mitigate a terrorist attack, and to generally increase security.  They noted that there is no government initiative in relation to security for at-risk communities, in contrast to the efforts of other countries.  The submitters shared some international examples with us:

  1. On 18 March 2019, the Australian Prime Minister announced community grants of AU$55 million to boost security at religious schools and places of worship.  That funding is in addition to related state-level funding and federally-funded programmes.
  2. After 15 March 2019, the Government of the United Kingdom increased its Worship Security Fund, which provides funding for churches, masajid, temples and gurdwaras (a place where Sikhs come together for congregational worship) to install alarms, security lighting, fencing and CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras to £1.6 million per year.  An additional £5 million fund was set up to provide protective security training for places of worship.  That funding is in addition to existing related funding.
  3. After 15 March 2019, the Government of the United States of America announced a US$60 million fund for training and physical security enhancements, including fencing, surveillance systems, security systems and lighting at non-profit organisations that are considered to be at high risk of a terrorist attack.  That funding is in addition to existing related funding.


One submitter had a range of suggestions on how agencies can engage with communities, particularly ethnic and religious communities, on safety and security issues.  These included:

  1. Identifying and coordinating with ethnic and religious community leaders, such as through six-monthly workshops, to discuss intelligence and security issues that might affect specific communities more than the others.
  2. Specific Public sector agency representatives should attend local events and speak to people directly, sharing information about any potential or emerging safety and security concerns within and from overseas that might affect local communities.
  3. A monthly newsletter from lead Public sector agencies regarding updates on the current safety and security situation that communities should be aware of and might be able to take precautions against.
  4. Funding community-based organisations to deal with any safety and security issues within the community, and so they can train themselves to provide security.
  5. Providing guidelines for communities on what is classed as suspicious activity and a security concern, enabling people to not only be able to identify and report such concerns but also to steer clear from such behaviour themselves.  This also includes publishing more information about what sort of suspicious behaviour is reportable.
  6. Creating an optional register to account for religious and community centres.  Local community groups and organisations will then have the option to update Public sector agencies of any major events or festivals taking place.
  7. Public sector agencies should provide added security measures to places of worship during festivals, which could include training Māori wardens to provide this security.


Another submitter discussed their view that there should be compliance requirements that masajid should have to meet, such as being able to lock the main gates and doors before prayer commences and other safety features.  They were concerned another similar terrorist attack would not be difficult, simply because of ease of access to masajid and other venues.  One person recommended fire exits for masajid.

A similar attack overseas a few weeks back was minimised simply because the mosque had implemented safety measures after learning from New Zealand’s Christchurch attack.  However [the] majority of our local mosques have not made any changes at all.

– Member of the public


Another submitter raised the need to provide education to communities on armed intrusions, including the importance for community groups to have a lockdown policy for their gathering-places.  They considered New Zealand Police should visit communities and provide advice on what can be done in an emergency.  Such a plan should be reviewed annually.


New Zealand Police should, according to this submitter, increase their presence at public events and large community gatherings.  Māori wardens might also assist.  New Zealand Police should also be available to provide talks on what they are doing in the community, and communities need to keep their regional personnel aware of any upcoming activities.  Communities could submit their newsletters to New Zealand Police, and not just to one person but to a number of members of New Zealand Police, including their local ethnic liaison officer.


Another submitter considered that New Zealand Police’s community officers need to make an effort to engage with temples, halls and places of worship, and to visit the congregation to be visible and supportive.  They believed this will help New Zealand Police to gain the cooperation and confidence of the community.  They stated that New Zealand Police’s community officers must have a registry of religious leaders in their community and regularly communicate safety messages, possibly in different languages.