Earlier in our report we explored what relevant Public sector agencies knew about the individual (see Part 6: What Public sector agencies knew about the terrorist). We concluded that the relevant Public sector agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort did not hold information on the threat posed by the individual and of his planning and preparation for the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019. In Part 7: Detecting a potential terrorist, we explored the ways in which the individual could have come to the attention of the relevant Public sector agencies, but did not.
In this Part we focus on what we call the counter-terrorism effort – that is how Public sector agencies detect terrorists and disrupt their organisation, planning, preparation and attacks. This Part looks at the continuum of counter-terrorism roles and activity (including countering violent extremism). The promotion of social cohesion and social inclusion, which supports any broad comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, is discussed in Part 9: Social cohesion and embracing diversity.
Our Terms of Reference required us to make findings on:
(c) whether relevant [Public] sector agencies failed to anticipate or plan for the terrorist attack due to an inappropriate concentration of counter-terrorism resources or priorities on other terrorism threats;
(d) whether any relevant [Public] sector agency failed to meet required standards or was otherwise at fault, whether in whole or in part; and
(e) any other matters relevant to the purpose of the inquiry, to the extent necessary to provide a complete report.
We also had to consider whether to make recommendations about the counter-terrorism effort.
In the following chapters of this Part we discuss:
- the setting in which the counter-terrorism effort has operated over the past two decades (chapter 2);
- leadership and oversight of the counter-terrorism effort (chapter 3) and assessment of the terrorism threatscape (chapter 4);
- the counter-terrorism efforts of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (chapter 5), New Zealand Police (chapter 6), the Government Communications Security Bureau (chapter 7) and the border agencies (chapter 8);
- interagency activities – information sharing (chapter 9), target discovery (chapter 10), online capacity and capability (chapter 11) and the relationship between New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (chapter 12);
- two statutes central to the counter-terrorism effort – the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 (chapter 13) and the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 (chapter 14);
- our evaluation of the counter-terrorism effort (chapter 15);
- our findings (chapter 16); and
- questions asked by the community (chapter 17).
As we will explain, the intelligence and security agencies were at a low ebb in 2013–2014. A 2014 Performance Improvement Framework review of the New Zealand Intelligence Community was considered one of the worst reviews of its kind amongst New Zealand Public sector agencies. Recognition of significant capability and organisational weaknesses across the agencies resulted in the Strategic Capability and Resourcing Review. In 2016 Cabinet agreed to add considerable additional funding ($178.7 million over four years) into the intelligence and security agencies (including a small amount of additional funds for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). This additional money started to become available in the 2016-2017 financial year.
Our primary – although not exclusive – focus in the chapters that follow is on the period between 2014 and 2019, with particular emphasis on the last three years. The 2014 Performance Improvement Framework review provides a useful snapshot of the state of the New Zealand Intelligence Community. And, beginning in the 2016-2017 financial year, the additional funding from the Strategic Capability and Resourcing Review was approved to enable the intelligence and security agencies to rebuild capacity and capability.
There are three additional themes that emerged as the result of our inquiries:
- New Zealand had not been the subject of recent terrorist attacks. The apparently low threat of terrorism, controversies associated with the intelligence and security agencies and associated public suspicions as to their activities and utility, meant that the agencies had limited social licence, political support and funding.
- Leadership and coordination of the counter-terrorism effort was limited with the relevant Public sector agencies operating largely independently and in parallel. In the chapters that follow, we discuss the efforts that were made to address this and what these efforts did and did not achieve.
- There was a focus on Islamist extremist terrorism as the presenting threat and only very limited resources were dedicated to understanding other terrorist threats. We explain why this was so and make findings about it.
As we described in Part 4: The terrorist, the individual attempted to maintain operational security for a sustained period and was able to fund his activities with his own resources. He was a lone actor, who did not need to involve or rely upon others in order to carry out his plans. So, even if substantial additional resource had been dedicated to non-Islamist extremist threats, and to extreme right-wing threats, it is very unlikely that the individual’s activities, including his plans and preparation, would have been discovered by the relevant Public sector agencies.