21:14 GMT08 August 2020
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    The SIS has been subject to little oversight and few legal constraints since its establishment in 1956 – in fact, it operated without being subject to any regulations whatsoever for the first 13 years of its existence.

    It’s been revealed New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service – the country’s equivalent of the UK’s MI5, and US’ FBI – conducted several covert break-ins to foreign diplomatic facilities on behalf of London and Washington during the 1980s and 90s.

    The Service, a Radio New Zealand podcast series exposing the activities of Wellington’s shadowy intelligence agencies during the Cold War, has revealed a number of shocking previously-classified operations conducted by the SIS publicly for the first time. The latest episode, broadcast 1st July, documented how SIS conducted at least two raids on the Indian High Commission in 1989 and 1991, to photograph thousands of pages from the commission's code books, used to encrypt communications - the covert attack, a joint mission between SIS and MI6, was code-named Operation Dunnage.

    ​Thousands of photographs containing the codes were sent back to the UK so the private communications of Indian government officials and diplomats could be deciphered.

    In an operation in the early 1990s, Operation Horoscope, SIS also targeted the Iranian Embassy, altering circuit boards on a telex machine used by the diplomatic mission, allowing the CIA to intercept Iranian covert communications for many years afterward. The SIS also photographed the building extensively and installed listening devices supplied by Langley.

    The purpose for the raids isn’t discussed by the program, although both countries were of particular interest to the Five Eyes alliance at the time they allegedly happened – India endured a long period of political unrest from the late 1980s to early 1990s, including the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.

    ​Meanwhile, Iran had just resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq after a decade of war, had remained neutral during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and very much remained a US and UK ‘enemy’ state.

    Repeat Offenders

    Previous instalments of the podcast revealed surreptitious raids on a number of other diplomatic missions in New Zealand, including a 1986 joint SIS-MI6 raid on the Czechoslovakian Embassy, to steal Warsaw Pact code books – the officer in charge of the operation claimed the action was unsuccessful, which was confirmed by Gerald Hensley, head of the prime minister's department at the time. He also alleged there were many other embassy break-ins by SIS over the span of many years, but the practice ended due to fears of an international fallout should the operations be publicly exposed.

    Breaking into an embassy is a breach of the Vienna Convention, an international treaty stating that embassies are inviolable.

    Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's prime minister between August 1989 and September 1990

    I Spy

    A nameless source, who spent over 20 years at the highest levels of the New Zealand government, told The Service they were concerned about the nature of the work SIS carried out for its Five Eyes partners, and had come under pressure from the US and Australia particularly to do their “dirty work”, in the process risking its international reputation by conducting operations purely for the benefit of the Five Eyes.

    ​Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark also expressed concern to the program about New Zealand being too close to its Five Eyes partners – although refused to confirm or deny such raids happened during her tenure as premier, 1999 – 2008.

    Jim Bolger, prime minister 1990 - 1997, said he couldn’t recall ever signing any warrants to allow the SIS to break into foreign embassies, and expressed surprise there’d been a raid on the Indian High Commission, asking why New Zealand would carry out a covert attack on a ‘friendly’ country.

    “I’ve no recollection of that ever hitting my desk and if it did, I have to say, my memory is not gone yet, I'd be very surprised if I was ever advised of any such event. I have no recollection - and that's not just a brush-off,” he protested.

    Andrew Little, current Minister for the Intelligence Agencies, also refused to deny signing off on any such raids.


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