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Other People’s Wars

By Steven | September 1, 2011

As a few of you know, I vetted Nicky Hager’s new book, Other People’s Wars. It’s on sale now. I recommend it.

Just as I found his last book, The Hollow Men, to be an education in the dark arts of political marketing, for me this one is an education our sickening suck-up to the United States, the chilling technology of killing, and the unsettling role of PR (externally and internally) in modern NZ warfare.

The NZ Herald’s John Armstrong has written a good account of the book at short notice. I hope others bear in mind his point that:

While it is expected that attempts will be made to discredit the book and its author, the veracity of the findings of Hager’s previous investigations, which include a landmark expose of New Zealand’s security and intelligence organisations in the 1990s, has never come under serious challenge.

Armstrong leads with Hager’s suggestion that NZ’s Bamiyan camp is home to intelligence officers, probably from the CIA. It’s a significant point, but for me, not the most important thing in the book. But it’s been fascinating to see the rest of the media fall into line. Stuff even changed its initial headline to pick up on the CIA claim. Radio NZ has followed suit.

At Hager’s press conference this afternoon, TVNZ’s Guyon Espiner suggested that it wasn’t surprising to find intelligence officers in a warzone, saying that when he was there, people were open about it. To which Keith Ng has responded:

It’s jawdropping that a reporter like Espiner could have been there, known about this, and just flat out considered it not worth reporting.

I gather that Hager will be interviewed by Kim Hill on Saturday morning. Should be well worth a listen.

You can check out Hager’s own description of the book on Scoop.

[Update. Just heard John Key discussing the book on Checkpoint. He said (a) there was no evidence for Hager’s claims; and (b) he hadn’t read the book. I hope other people find that as breathtaking as I do, given that the book contains more than 1300 footnotes, most of them referring to documentary sources.]

[Second update: The line on the CIA seems to be, simultaneously, that (a) they were not there, and (b) if they were, it was obvious to everyone.

I wonder if it’s too much trouble to ask the media to put a few questions from the book:

— Is it true that our personnel were under the control of the British and American forces?

— Did we have signals officers helping to locate targets for bombing? Did one of them fix targets in Pakistan?

— Did our own review find that our reconstruction efforts were “not sustainable in any way” and we were “not an effective aid provider” (and if so, then why were these conclusions redacted from the version of the review officially released to Hager?) How is this consistent with what we’ve been told?

— Didn’t Bruce Ferguson just admit on Morning Report this morning that, in response to concerns that we were taking a role in escorting US ships for the Iraq invasion, that he fixed things up? Wasn’t this an admission that we’d crossed the line and disobeyed government instructions? How did he get away with treating that as a denial?

— Does the government deny that any of the documents cited in the book exist (and if so which)? Does it say that material from those documents has been misquoted (and if so, where)?

— Given that the military and government have in recent times (I’m thinking of Jon Stephenson’s work) denied things and have subsequently been forced to admit that they happened, why should be believe their blanket assurances now?

— Who is “supporting the troops”? The military brass defending their conduct, or a journalist who’s interviewed many of them and is expressing their concerns?

— The big underlying issue: to what extent was there in fact a desire within the top levels of our defence and foreign affairs staff to return to closer relations with the United States, and a frustration with government and public attitudes that NZ should be more independent? How did that frustration manifest itself?]

Topics: General | 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “Other People’s Wars”

  1. mattb02 Says:
    September 2nd, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I always enjoy your blog Steve, and congratulations on the book going out.

    He said (a) there was no evidence for Hager’s claims; and (b) he hadn’t read the book. I hope other people find that as breathtaking as I do

    Perhaps I misunderstand your point Steve, but your view is the PM has to personally check references before passing comment on the book’s veracity?

    I believe Armstrong’s article said reporters were asked not to discuss the US presence; if true presumably a factor in Espiner not reporting it.

  2. Steven Says:
    September 2nd, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    My point: it’s moronic to claim that there is no evidence in a book that you haven’t looked at, and that is chock-full of… evidence. You can argue against the evidence he presents, or say it’s not very good. But it’s insulting to any thinking person to just come out and say there’s none there.

    Re not discussing presence. I think that might have been Vernon Small. First response: so they were there after all and we can put aside the denials? Second: what exactly is the harm they’re suggesting might come from reporting it, especially since we’re now given to understand that it was an open secret locally? Third: Did our journalists agree to every suggestion about their reporting made by their minders? Fourth: If we’re being required to feed information to US intelligence officials, isn’t that strikingly at odds with the image of our base that was presented to us by the very jounrnalists who now seem most miffed by Hager’s expose?

  3. Steven Says:
    September 2nd, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    PS. The congratulations should go to Nicky. This is the sort of journalism we rarely see in this country.

  4. sidney Says:
    September 2nd, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks to you for doing the vetting. (And, of course, the congrats go to Nicky.) The response by *some* in the media is reminiscent of responses to Wikileaks, to Nicky’s other work, etc., which reflects some of the too-cosy relationship between themselves and the establishment. I notice Nicky was referred to on TV3 News as an “activist” and a “peace activist”. He’s not allowed to be a journalist. Same isn’t true of journos who switch between PR and journalism. They get to be called “journalists” even after working in PR, sometimes for politicos, not “PR operatives”. But the MSM is pretty hostile to Nicky, perhaps because his work is the kind of work they should be doing instead of endless, tedious stories about Top Models and the latest Shock, Horror, Probe crime. Sigh. I just hope he knows that there are a lot of Kiwis who appreciate his work, and hope the avalanche of vitriol he gets won’t deter him from doing more of it. All power to him and his ‘team’.

  5. christopher mitson Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Mr Key is a very busy man so it’s not surprising he hasn’t read Nicky Hager’s book. He’s been busy for a long time – so busy he apparently can’t remember which side he was on during the 1981 Springbook Tour. You get that with busy people – I mean, postwar, how many Germans could remember how they voted in the elections which brought Adolf to power?

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