17.5 The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
What level of awareness did the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service have of right-wing extremism before 15 March 2019? What information informed this awareness, including from internal analysis and/or international partners?
Before 15 March 2019, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service had:
- received a few reports and assessments from international partners that included intelligence about extreme right-wing activity; and
- only a limited understanding of the right-wing extremist threatscape in New Zealand. This was due to a range of factors, including resourcing.
Up until mid-2018, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s counter-terrorism resources were focused on monitoring and investigating the presenting threat – supporters of Dā’ish seeking to participate in hostilities abroad or to mount, encourage or support terrorist attacks, or undertake activities in support of terrorism, in New Zealand (see Part 8, chapters 4 and 5)
Why did the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service undertake a baselining project on right-wing extremism in 2018? Why then?
From at least early 2016, it was appreciated by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service there was a potential for terrorism from non-Islamist extremist sources and that it was largely unsighted to the nature and extent of such threats (see Part 8, chapter 5). This is referred to in a February 2016 Strategic Capability and Resourcing Review Cabinet paper, which identified the expected capacity increase in relation to countering violent extremism:
The capability increases from a current state where partial monitoring of watch-list targets is possible and there is minimal coverage outside Auckland, to a future where there is a New Zealand-wide baseline threat picture.
Baselining emerging terrorism threats was identified as the third goal in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service's 2016 10-Year Operational Strategy,240 but its ranking meant that work on it was deferred. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service did not have enough counter-terrorism resources until May 2018 to start its baselining project.
Has the extreme right-wing baselining project been completed? If so, what were the findings? If not, has the scope, timeframe or resourcing changed as a result of the 15 March 2019 attack?
The baselining project resulted in a Security Intelligence Report on extreme right-wing online activity in New Zealand in July 2019. The report examined the online activity of a number of far right and extreme right-wing groups, forums and individuals in New Zealand. The report noted that within New Zealand there were a growing number of individuals espousing violent extreme right-wing rhetoric online. Despite this, as at July 2019, they did not identify any New Zealand-based groups that openly advocated the use of violence, and did not identify any indication that individuals or groups associated with the extreme right-wing in New Zealand were mobilising to conduct an ideologically-motivated act of violence. The report acknowledged that this could be, in part, because these groups were avoiding publicly using violent rhetoric so as to attract a wider audience and avoid detection by law enforcement and security agencies.
After 15 March 2019, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service collaborated with New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs Service to update and enhance the agencies’ collective understanding of the post-attack domestic right-wing extremist threatscape, including refining and prioritising leads. This project concluded in June 2020.
After 15 March 2019, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service directed more resources towards building a picture of emerging threats (see Part 8, chapter 5). It established a dedicated target discovery team within the Counter-Terrorism Unit, which has been scoping and re-scoping a number of discovery projects.
Did the extreme right-wing baselining project influence any intelligence activities relating to white supremacy or right-wing extremism before 15 March 2019?
Yes. The domestic right-wing extremism baselining project generated ten leads relevant to right-wing extremism. These leads were treated according to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s leads management process, and some remained open at 15 March 2019. In addition, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s online operations team began to look at right-wing forums (see Part 8, chapter 5).241
What evidence informed Rebecca Kitteridge’s claim regarding the “slow, but concerning, rise of right-wing extremism internationally” in her opening statement before Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee on 20 February 2019? Was it informed by the baselining project?
The Director-General of Security’s comments were informed by a few reports and assessments the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service had been receiving from international partners, including about extreme right-wing activity.
The comments were also informed by the work that had been completed up to that date on the extreme right-wing baselining project, which had started in May 2018 and was due for completion in June 2019 (see Part 8, chapter 5).
240. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, footnote 55 above.
241. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, footnote 57 above at page 96.