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Andrea Vance’s ‘Opinion’ piece in The DomPost – Part I

August 1, 2013

The DomPost has an ‘opinion’ piece by Andrea Vance in both the print edition and on Stuff. The article is about the upset and anger Vance feels about her phone records being released to the Henry inquiry and in addition seeks to address what she obviously sees as a concerted attack by the Key  administration upon the Fourth Estate. Some might see the media reaction to this situation as a concerted attack by the media on the Key administration, but then Adam is just a poor lost soul who has yet to see the light at the end of the very long and dismal socialist tunnel.

The Stuff article is headlined ‘Spy Scandal journalist speaks out‘. This left Adam momentarily nonplussed as he was/is unaware of any NZ spy scandal. There is an ongoing furore, heavily promoted by the media plus all the other usual suspects, regarding the issue of the release of certain metadata regarding Ms Vance’s phone records, in respect of phone calls from the press gallery, to the Henry inquiry. That is the ‘scandal’, but to the best of Adam’s admittedly incomplete knowledge neither she nor anyone else involved in this matter has yet been accused of being a spy.

Adam thought that Ms Vance’s records came to be released to the Henry inquiry as a result of Parliamentary Services releasing that information during the course of Mr Henry’s investigation into who leaked the Kittredge Report to Ms Vance.  Nowhere has he seen it suggested that there was any question of spies or spying.  So it would seem that the ‘spy scandal’ exists solely within the imagination of Fairfax Media, Ms Vance and those fevered imaginations of various members of Parliament, assorted fellow travellers and media hangers on.

It is perhaps worth digressing at this point to note that Ms Vance appeared to have, and indeed has it would seem, no qualms about coming into possession of information to which she was not entitled, at that time. In fact she and others seem to regard obtaining such information, possibly by suborning the leaker, is what independent journalists do, and that she has done a good thing by publicising the leak. Others might regard such practices differently.

Indeed someone who seemed to think differently, at least on 9 April 2013, was one Dr Russel Norman, Green Party co-leader who said at Question Time:-

Dr Russel Norman: If it does turn out that the full report has been leaked by someone in his Government, what consequences should face the person who leaked this information, which the Government Communications Security Bureau describes as legally privileged and highly classified? What consequences should that person face?

Dr Norman was very concerned that what he saw as a serious breach should be investigated and appropriate sanction visited upon the leaker. It is not clear in the exchange whether he included the reporting of the leak in the same light, though it would seem inconsistent if he did not, but perhaps consistency on this matter is not one which concerns him. Dr Norman went on to demand:-

Dr Russel Norman: If he does not know who leaked the report, will he launch an inquiry to get to the bottom of it, given his previous support for an inquiry into a leak at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over documents that were probably quite considerably less sensitive?

In this Dr Norman was ably supported by Grant Robertson, Deputy Leader Labour Party, who said:-

Grant Robertson: Given that his own staff took the precaution of locking the report in the safe in their office, why has the Government not launched an inquiry into the leaking of a document deemed so sensitive that it needed to be locked in the safe in his office?

So the Greens and Labour actively pushed for an inquiry into the leaking of the document. Adam suspects, cynic that he is, that their desire for such an inquiry was related more to a desire to embarrass the government rather than an overwhelming commitment to transparency. In response the Prime Minister established the Henry inquiry. Adam’s suspicions are given substance by Russel Norman’s comments in Parliament on 10th April 2013 :-

Dr Russel Norman: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Was the timing of the leak part of a communication strategy to divert attention from his inappropriate involvement in the appointment of Ian Fletcher, and to have other Ministers front questions in Parliament?

Never mind all this, fascinating though it is, let us revert to further consideration of this possible ‘scandal’ which is, we have established not a spy scandal as some would breathlessly have us believe, but a question as to whether press freedoms have been trampled upon and in so doing based on John Armstrong’s rather overwrought hyperbole of yesterday demonstrated that the the release

 speaks of something very sick and rotten at the heart of the country’s democracy. Whether the release was motivated by malice or ignorance, it adds up to a fundamental breach of press rights.

Now that is a question worth looking at, but not framed in the context of a manifestly non existent ‘spy scandal’. For heaven’s sake we are not talking about Profumo here. More on this aspect in another forthcoming post

So what does the so called ‘spy scandal’ journalist say in her article:-

In other circumstances, I could probably find something to laugh about in revelations that the journalist who broke a story about illegal spying was snooped on by Parliament’s bureaucrats.

As far as Adam can see from the information released so far Ms Vance was not snooped upon by Parliament’s bureaucrats. Information as to when her swipe card was used to gain access to parts of the Parliamentary complex and metadata relating to certain of her phone calls was made available to the Henry inquiry. Such information being part and parcel of the normal data collection of such systems;    the data collection was not the result of a snooping exercise.  Typically modern access control systems and telephone PABX systems routinely generate such information as part of their reporting packages. In commercial enterprises such reporting is regarded as normal: indeed some might say mandatory. The fact that such reporting is commonplace in the real world might be news to Ms Vance, but it is. No one would have had to do anything particular in this instance other than simply request a report, a report available for the actvities of anyone covered by the systems concerned. So in one sense one might suggest that everyone who works in the Parliamentary complex and uses the telephone system and PABX has their privacy ‘violated’ to use an emotive term simply because these records are available. The so called ‘snooping’ is a simply a standard reporting function.

Let alone the irony that the reporter previously worked for the News of the World, the tabloid at the centre of a privacy violation scandal.

But I am that journalist and I’m mad as hell.

Ironic to say the least and it would appear that Ms Vance maybe a some what sensitive flower.

Anyone who has had their confidential details hacked and shared around has the right to be angry.

Now let us be clear, Ms Vance did not, based on the information so far available to Adam, have her phone hacked certainly not in the sense that the great majority would interpret the word hacked.. A report/reports were made available from the Parliamentary access control systems and from the PABX to the Henry inquiry. That is a far cry from the emotive and provocative statement that their details were hacked. Furthermore, in so far as is known the information concerned was only made available to the Henry inquiry which is some what different from ‘shared around’ which is a good line, but perhaps not the reality.

This next comment by Ms Vance again left Adam somewhat bemused:

On Tuesday, an IT staffer showed me pages of “metadata” – a record of hundreds of calls I made between February and May.

The conversations, of course, aren’t disclosed, but you can glean a lot from matching numbers, time and the dates of published stories.

After the news broke, I fully expected my phone to fall silent as sources shied away from being burned. Thankfully, it hasn’t.

Why if you are leaking would you use in house phones? Why would you meet in the complex? Why would use internal email systems? Surely any competent leaker, source, whistle blower would seek to be less obvious!

Now Ms Vance goes on to address a very pertinent aspect of the whole affair which strangely does not seem to have had as much attention as it might

Can I, and my sources, be confident the records weren’t viewed? They were held on a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet server up until Tuesday night.

I don’t know who had access to my records, and I’m suspicious why, on June 5 – less than a week after the unauthorised release – NZ First leader Winston Peters was making some startling allegations in the House about phone records.

The prime minister’s office, the Speaker, and Parliamentary Service have been unable to offer a guarantee that there was no leak to Peters.

Now if Peters does have the records he continually hinted at having in various interviews and statements, see below

Mr Peters questioned Mr Henry’s failure to take evidence under oath, or keep an electronic record of witnesses’ answers to questions.

He also questioned the failure to examine phone records of “particular ministers”.

“All the evidence is in those phone records, and your minister is gone,” Mr Peters told Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.

Mr English said later it was entirely up to Mr Henry whether to seek phone records.

“If he thinks phone records will tell him something I’m sure he will go and get them. I’m a bit surprised at the detailed knowledge Mr Peters had about the way Mr Henry is doing his job.”

Then that really would be a major development. A leak to Peters of these details really would be a major breach and raise all manner of questions over security in the government and Parliamentary complex.

Yet the media seem to have totally overlooked this aspect, whilst they go into affronted mode and carry on about how the future of democracy has been imperilled.

To be continued shortly

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