WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand plans to create another intelligence agency to help the government more rapidly react to and better coordinate its response to security threats.

The Royal Commission, charged with looking into the March 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks, recommended the formation of a new agency in its report presented to Parliament in December 2020.

“We recommend that the Government: Establish a new national intelligence and security agency that is well-resourced and legislatively mandated to be responsible for strategic intelligence and security leadership functions,” the commission wrote.

In June 2022, New Zealand Defence Minister Andrew Little said it was too early to do so. But earlier this month, while introducing the government’s defense and security policy, he announced the nation’s first national security system.

“It commits us to acting early, working together and having an integrated approach,” Little said Aug. 4.

“When [in 2017] we came to government, the priorities for the national security system were highly classified,” he noted. “If the public didn’t even know what the priorities were, then how could they ... contribute to improving the security of the country?”

Although Little described the formation of a national intelligence and security agency, or NISA, as a “priority task,” it wasn’t mentioned in any of the supporting documents unveiled this month.

The next day, Aug. 5, the government announced NISA would be over and above the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau, rather than replacing them. In this role, NISA would take a higher-level view of the “threat horizon.”

New Zealand has several intelligence agencies. Currently, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet includes the National Security Group, the National Assessments Bureau, the National Security Systems Directorate, and the National Intelligence and Risk Coordination directorate.

Other intelligence agencies include the Government Communications Security Bureau, the Security Intelligence Service, a police-run special investigations group, and the military’s Directorate of Defence Intelligence and Security.

David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, questioned the eventual formation of NISA.

“I think you might be reading a bit much into ... a brief comment Minister Little made,” Capie told Defense News. “A ‘NISA’ is not mentioned in the NSS [National Security Strategy document]. He was fairly equivocal in his comment, and of course we have an election on 14 October, so who knows what will happen after that.”

For Robert Patman, a professor of politics at the University of Otago, NISA should come with oversight and coordinate with other agencies, but also avoid the “danger of groupthink.”

“NISA, in the form it was envisaged by the Royal Commission, has not yet emerged as an independent oversight agency, and it seems that some of the functions that were going to be taken on by NISA have actually been taken on by other agencies,” Patman told Defense News.

“Can they exercise oversight over themselves? We’ve always had a problem in this country with having stand-alone, independent oversight teams,” he added. “I think it does make sense when you’re dealing with something as potentially dangerous as national security, that you do have an agency that coordinates, sits above them, and it shouldn’t just be another group of public servants.”

On whether the nation will form NISA, Patman said it’s unclear why there’s been a delay given “the government’s gone on record as accepting all [the commission’s] recommendations.”

Defense News approach Little for comment, but was referred to the minister for national security and intelligence — traditionally the prime minister — who was unavailable.

Nick Lee-Frampton is the New Zealand correspondent for Defense News.

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