LFB supports Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager; Matt Salusbury

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager, all the way from New Zealand, at a recent Centre for Investigative Journalism event in London.

WHEN LFB passed a motion in November to support a journalist who was the subject of a police raid at the other side of the world, I didn't expect any of us would actually get to meet him in person any time soon.

New Zealand-based investigative journalist Nicky Hager's recently published book Dirty Politics detailed a dirty tricks operation in the office of the country's Prime Minister John Key, and links between ruling National Party figures and right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.

The book showed how the Prime Minister's administration was feeding information to Cameron Slater in an attempt to smear its opponents. Revelations in Dirty Politics have already led to the resignation of New Zealand Justice Minister Judith Collins.

Days after John Key was re-elected in September, Wellington Police came to Nicky's family home. A five-hour raid by six detectives followed, in which they took an awful lot of Nicky's "devices", paperwork and personal effects. The raid was aimed at tracking down "Rawshark", Nicky's source, who passed on emails from Cameron Slater. (Slater has alleged that his emails were hacked.)

The Freelance was able to talk to Nicky in person, still a little jetlagged after his arrival in the UK, where he was speaking at the recent Centre for Investigative Journalism gig. LFB Vice-Chair Fiona O'Cleirigh, who was also at the CIJ event, gave Nicky letters expressing support, one from London Freelance Branch and another from NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet.

Nicky was confident his source would never be discovered, "I don't think there's the slightest chance they'll find my sources.". At the CIJ symposium, Nicky confessed he was " one of the few weirdoes left who doesn't have a mobile phone".

We "can't leave any electronic tracks at all. Never text them (sources). Never email them. Never call them for a mobile phone." Nicky suggests that to make that important opening call to a source you "wait till you visit your obscure aunt" and make a call from her landline. (He advises, "Police don't bug many phones [landlines] these days - it's too labour-intensive.")

The "most important tools" according to Nicky, "are the pre-digital ones". And: "Most people can't keep a secret." To this problem there is a "very obvious answer - don't tell anyone" Journalists are the biggest blabbermouths around - stories accelerate away from you. Put a ring fence around your source at first meeting, and be "very careful about what you write down". Nicky's published stories will contain a "tremendous amount of information" from "diversionary sources" - material from other sources that's added to "leave 'their' heads spinning about how I got the information".

Nicky said LFB and NUJ solidarity is "immensely appreciated", adding that New Zealand doesn't even have a journalists' union: their union is an obscure sub-section of a union that was historically for metalworkers and some other trades. He told the Freelance he was "optimistic" about his case.

Nicky's (encrypted) hard drives are now at the Auckland High Court and are the subject of a legal battle. The are no criminal charges against Nicky, who is an "innocent witness" in the police's attempts to get to Rawshark. Nicky is a freelance and has no news organisation to rely on for support or to help pay his legal bills to mount a challenge to the confiscation of his material. His case is expected to take many months to come to trial. In December, a judge ordered Wellington police to disclose to Nicky documents relating to their decision to search his property .

As the Freelance understands it (we're definitely no experts on New Zealand law!) Nicky's forthcoming case in the High Court centres on the Evidence Act. This gives journalists protection, which means that journalists' material seized in a raid should be sealed by the High Court ("parcelled" in Kiwi legalese). The High Court takes a look at the seized evidence to determine whether it should be returned to journalist in the public interest, or whether some of the evidence should be handed over to the police.

It's not known whether the raid on Nicky's house is in anyway connected with his recent work with Glenn Greenwald (who broke the Ed Snowden story) on The Intercept website. Nicky has been reporting for many years on the New Zealand end of the "Five Eyes" mega-surveillance empire of which GCHQ, the NSA and Echelon are also a part.

  • On 17 December the High Court of New Zealand ruled that Nicky Hager should get a "clone" of the seized data and certain documents relating to the decision to raid him. It set a hearing date of 23 March.
Last modified: 03 Jan 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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