- Update : NZ TV on Rob…
Following on from the recent revelations regarding tricksy spies in Australia comes this story from Aotearoa/New Zealand concerning a bloke called Rob Gilchrist. Gilchrist was previously featured in a series of articles in April 2008, in which he was portrayed as being wily enough to out-smart Gavin Clark of private spook agency Thompson and Clark Investigations (TCIL). Eight months later, it appears that both Gavin and Rob were spooks.
Rob earned his pocket money keeping tabs on the following groups and campaigns (among others):
ANTI-BASES CAMPAIGN. Christchurch-based group “opposed to foreign military intelligence installations”, including the Deep Freeze base at Christchurch airport and intelligence stations at Tangimoana and Waihopai.
AUCKLAND ANIMAL ACTION. Small Auckland group that protests against battery-hen farming and other cruelty to animals.
BENEFICIARIES ACTION COLLECTIVE. 1990s’ group opposed to the then National government’s work-for-the-dole and other welfare policies.
GE-FREE NEW ZEALAND. Nationwide network of groups opposed to GE food and the release of GE plants and animals into the environment.
PEACE ACTION WELLINGTON. Wellington-based peace group which spearheaded Iraq War protests and opposes the arms industry.
GREENPEACE. The international environment and peace organisation.
PEOPLE’S MORATORIUM ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (GE FREE). A GE protest group opposed to release of GE crops.
SAVE ANIMALS FROM EXPLOITATION (SAFE). Animal welfare group that campaigns to prevent abuse of animals, including in circuses, battery-hen farming and factory farming of pigs.
SAVE HAPPY VALLEY. A climate change group campaigning to stop a new open-cast coal mine in the Happy Valley area of the West Coast.
WELLINGTON ANIMAL RIGHTS NETWORK. A small animal rights group campaigning against battery-hen farming and the use of animals in laboratory experiments.
In comments reported in the articles below, Rob now says he is “embarrassed and sorry for deceiving and hurting people he cares about”. Further, regarding the people he was paid to spy on for a decade, “I know they are good people trying to make a better world,” he told the Star-Times. He said he had felt “conflicted” for years. “I didn’t feel what I was doing was moral or right.” He’d got stuck in something he wasn’t proud of but found it hard to get out. Funnily enough, Rob’s ethical dilemma arose only after he was busted — by his girlfriend, by accident. The ‘difficulty’ Rob refers to is now compounded: he’ll have to find a real job.
Now here’s Rob:
How Gilchrist was found out
Sunday Star Times
December 14, 2008
Twenty-two-year-old Rochelle Rees got involved in politics as a schoolgirl, determined to do something about issues such as cruelty in battery hen farms.
Since then she has handed out leaflets, been arrested for locking herself to a shop selling clothing made with animal fur from China and made the news during this year’s election campaign for a cheeky “Google bomb” calling John Key “clueless”. In the past week she was filming, with permission, inside a meatworks to check for inhumane treatment of the cows and bulls.
A year ago Rees started a relationship with another animal welfare campaigner she’d known since she was at school. It was Rob Gilchrist. She moved to Christchurch to live with him. But something felt wrong. A few weeks ago, when he asked for help fixing his computer, she found out why.
The computer was slow and erratic. Rees, who works as a computer programmer, reinstalled his email programme and then made a routine check that his old emails hadn’t been corrupted. She was puzzled to see hundreds of emails with the “sender” and “subject” lines blank. Checking them, she found they were all private political emails and all being forwarded to the same anonymous address. Something was very wrong. But she didn’t know what.
She and a friend looked through the emails and found documents with titles such as “Intel Request”. From that first clue a picture gradually emerged of 10 years of police surveillance.
The final breakthrough was tracing the identity of Gilchrist’s mysterious “Uncles”. This search led first to the Christchurch central police station and eventually to the highly secret Special Investigations Group. These special police detectives are funded each year under a police budget category called “increase national security”.
National security is about wars, terrorists and foreign spies. Rees asks how these police can justify targeting peaceful protesters and even their personal lives.
“Protests are part of a healthy democracy,” she said.
“The police are supposed to be protecting that but instead they are inhibiting it. It’s foolish of them since stomping on peaceful protest is the best way to make people more extreme and push them underground.”
The activist who turned police informer
Sunday Star Times
December 14, 2008
IN MARCH this year Greenpeace made a dramatic attempt to stop a coal ship leaving Lyttelton harbour. Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, tried to block the path of the Hellenic Sea, while three activists scaled the coal carrier and bolted themselves to it. A large number of police intervened and one policewoman leapt from a speedboat on to a Greenpeace dinghy. Six people were arrested.
Greenpeace protester Rob Gilchrist filmed the whole drama from his Land Rover on shore.
Gilchrist was not just working for Greenpeace, though. He was also working for the police. He had told police beforehand about the planned protest. He had been both spy and demonstrator at many protests by Greenpeace and other activist groups for nearly 10 years.
During the past decade the police spent tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of dollars getting Gilchrist to spy on environmental groups, anti-Iraq War groups, poverty and beneficiary rights groups, animal welfare groups, GE-free groups and many others. The police pressed him to gather information not only about the groups’ protest plans, but also the personal lives and relationships of members.
He had relationships with women in the groups, one for four years, adding to the pressure of living a double life. He now says he is “embarrassed and sorry for deceiving and hurting people he cares about”.
It was his current partner, 22-year-old animal rights and Labour activist Rochelle Rees, who stumbled across evidence of his role a few weeks ago and blew the whistle.
Rees says she was shocked by the personal deception, but equally at the police for abusing the rights of peaceful protesters.
“There’s a name for countries that spy on their critics, dissidents and protesters in this way,” she told the Sunday Star-Times. “I don’t know how the police can justify prying so intrusively into our lives.”
Civil libertarians are appalled that police infiltrate protest groups in the name of national security. The police might argue that extremists can lurk there. In this case they must be disappointed at the conclusions their informer drew after a decade of spying.
Does Gilchrist think the people in the protest groups were security threats? “No, of course not. I know they are good people trying to make a better world,” he told the Star-Times. He said he had felt “conflicted” for years. “I didn’t feel what I was doing was moral or right.” He’d got stuck in something he wasn’t proud of but found it hard to get out.
Auckland human rights lawyer Tim McBride said the long-term police surveillance “seems to me to be outrageous in a country that goes off to the United Nations and prattles on about our proud human rights record”.
GILCHRIST, 40, reports to two members of the police Special Investigation Group in Christchurch, men he privately calls “Uncle John” and “Uncle Pete”. The SIG was set up following the September 11 terrorist attacks to carry out counter-terrorism and national security duties. Now the public can get a detailed look at the work of these top-secret groups, thanks to Rob Gilchrist asking his girlfriend Rochelle Rees to fix his computer. Rees, a computer expert, found that he had been sending information about protest groups to an anonymous email address – one that turned out to belong to the police.
The Star-Times can reveal that Gilchrist was till now “run” by detective Peter Gilroy, a member of the Special Investigation Group based at central Christchurch police station. The unit operated with discretion and stealth. Gilroy always paid cash – $600 each week plus expenses – into Gilchrist’s bank account: enough to keep him working but not to make him rich.
The use of an informer was part of a much wider police intelligence effort targeting community groups, using surveillance, filming of protests and seizure of computers and papers following protest arrests.
Gilchrist received his instructions face to face or from an anonymous email address. For example, in July 2007 an “Intel Request” was sent to Gilchrist with a list of questions about political groups. It asked “Climate Change Groups: What is happening with climate change groups in Auckland? Who is involved? What actions might they be considering for the future? What specific plans are in place for Climate Day of Action 07/07?”
There were similar questions about other groups including “Anti War/Anti American Groups” and “Auckland Animal Action”. It asked for personal details about the individuals including their relationships.
The officer asked if the animal welfare campaigners were “likely to start using terrorist tactics”. He then asked the names of the people in the Vegan Balaclava Pixies, a group mentioned once on one website. The reason for the national security police’s interest in them: they had spray painted a vegetarian slogan on a “Red meat, feel good” billboard.
The embedded properties of this computer document record that it came from “New Zealand Police” and the author was “PG4369” (possibly Gilroy’s internal police number).
In “Auckland Intel Notes” sent to the anonymous email address on August 20, 2006, Gilchrist reported on a police-funded trip to Auckland. He begins “the main emphasis of this trip was to gather up to date photos of persons of interest”, confirm their addresses and gather intelligence on activist groups.
Again he had been asked to collect personal information unrelated to their protest activities, much less any crimes. This strongly suggests the Special Investigation Group maintains dossiers on political figures and community groups.
Another “Intel Request” on October 10 last year enclosed a photo, for Gilchrist to identify a young man on a bicycle outside a Christchurch home. This gives an insight into the work of the SIG. The Sullivan Ave house was rented by university students active in the Save Happy Valley group, who around that time had been concerned that someone was hanging around watching the address. It’s now clear that they had been under surveillance by the SIG, including covert photography of people coming and going.
A large part of Gilchrist’s work was using his position in various groups to obtain internal communications and forward them to the police. The main groups monitored in this way were Save Happy Valley, Auckland Animal Action and Peace Action Wellington, indicating the SIG priorities. He also forwarded emails from the Green Party and Workers Party.
In Gilchrist’s case, within the protest groups he has been an outspoken advocate of radical action such as illegal break-ins. During protests he has used a radio scanner to monitor police communications and often took the role of “police liaison” for the protest organisers.
At protests, Gilchrist was often the one taunting police, says Mark Eden of Wellington Animal Rights Network, who regarded Gilchrist as a friend. “If it didn’t involve adrenalin and confrontation, he wasn’t interested,” Eden told the Star-Times.
“He was always interested in who was keen on illegal actions and would often make it known that he was keen to be involved in anything illegal or undercover. On a few occasions he would take people out for a drive and sit outside a factory farm or an animal laboratory and encourage them to talk about planning a break-in or other illegal activity.
“He would be really pushy and persistent about planning illegal activities and then would suddenly lose interest, claiming it was too difficult or that he was busy. He was always keen on planning dodgy stuff, but on the occasions when we did break the law [for instance, an open rescue of battery hens] he would always have an excuse and pull out at the last minute.”
In hindsight Eden believes Gilchrist was inciting people to talk about illegal stuff and then “reporting it to police to make us sound dodgy”.
Group members say Gilchrist was interested in factions and internal conflicts, sometimes spending hours on the phone discussing infighting. In 2005-08 he frequently claimed to have evidence that a 19- or 20-year-old Auckland animal welfare campaigner was a police informer. This and other claims about spies in the groups created unease and bad feeling.
“He always made a big fuss about looking for undercover cops and being secretive and paranoid about spies or police,” Eden told the Star-Times.
But at the same time Gilchrist was alerting police to their plans. Eden said that the groups got used to finding large numbers of police waiting at the site of planned protests, or stopping their cars before they got there, leading to fears that their phones were being tapped.
McBride said surveillance of protest groups was a breach of fundamental human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and privacy. Police had to have a compelling justification before going undercover in a protest group. It would not be enough to argue that, for instance, “animal rights groups have been involved in acts of sabotage, and how are we going to know that unless we infiltrate them?” There had to be a credible concern about criminal activity.
In this case the informer had worked for a long period of time without apparently finding much. “This seems to me to be a case of overzealous police activity without justification,” McBride told the Star-Times.
Victoria University law lecturer Steven Price said protesters “are the conscience of society. Though their messages are often unpopular when they’re delivered, it’s surprising how often they are the spark that ignites important social changes that later seem obviously right”.
Sometimes their protests “involve some unlawfulness – sit-ins, naked demonstrations, trespasses to get shocking photos of hatcheries, bill-sticking, subverting billboards and the like. More thoughtful justice systems than ours better recognise the value of protest speech and are careful before they punish it”.
Sometimes protesters committed serious crimes and were rightly accountable for them, Price said.
“But over the years, it seems to me that there isn’t much evidence of that in New Zealand’s protest movements. Certainly not enough to justify a policy as invasive as hiring an infiltrator, a scheme likely to yield little in the way of criminal intelligence but sure to wreak havoc with people’s lives.”
THE REVELATIONS about Gilchrist’s undercover activity follow the exposure of a private investigation company’s hiring of informants to spy on the environmental group opposing Solid Energy’s proposed new coal mine near Stockton on the West Coast.
Last year the Star-Times revealed that Auckland private investigators Thompson & Clark had hired students to infiltrate many of the same protest groups, including Save Happy Valley, animal rights and anti-war groups.
The police spying was part of an international trend to increase police surveillance of political groups. From 2001 this followed War on Terror changes in the US where, according to the New York Times, the FBI’s aggressive Joint Terrorism Task Force has targeted “groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief”. New post-September 11 laws targeted so-called eco-terrorists, resulting in large numbers of campaigners being sentenced to long periods in jail for acts of civil disobedience that would have previously been treated more leniently.
The increased political surveillance in New Zealand has gone together with more aggressive policing of protest, with hundreds of arrests of protesters in recent years for actions that in the past would probably not have resulted in charges. Nearly all these charges have subsequently been dropped or thrown out by the courts.
A common justification of surveillance of political groups is that it enables the police to be well-informed and make a more considered response to protests. But critics say the police intelligence work appears to have had the opposite effect, increasing the heaviness of policing.
In October 2003, for example, there was a small protest about animal welfare at the Auckland head office of Tegel Chicken, where a protest letter was delivered and a small amount of hay scattered in the reception area. In response, the home of the protest organiser was raided, computers and personal papers seized for months and heavy burglary charges laid.
The charges, all of which the police eventually dropped, were out of all proportion to the protest and needlessly intimidating, according to organiser Jesse Duffield, a young school teacher. Duffield says he was disillusioned by this and has since shifted overseas.
Duffield felt that the police knew about the protest in advance and had had them under surveillance. This now makes sense. The only person who knew about the protest in advance, besides those involved, was Gilchrist. This was one of hundreds of meetings, discussions and events he took part in over the years.
Gilchrist’s role in political circles was recorded by a Listener reporter in a September 2004 article, which painted a picture of “eco-activists … conducting semi-legal campaigns up and down the country”. The reporter described attending a GE-free campaign workshop run by a radical who looked like an electrician.
“A lot of what he teaches, he says, `comes straight from military training’. He’s ex-Army, with a buzz cut and Barker polar-fleece.” The person described was given a false name in the article, but Eden, who was there, says it was Gilchrist.
The reporter wrote: “His lecture covers breaking and entering; the need for information, to know your site, to operate in the dead of night with cloud cover and no moon. Apparently, it’s easier to `go through, rather than over’ fences – he has words for those who entertain scaling walls with grappling hooks. `It’s not the movies, and we’re not ninjas. That stuff is pure Hollywood’.”
The reporter later attended a GE-free protest in Christchurch, which turned out to be a symbolic act of planting organic onion plants outside crown research institute Crop and Food, which was developing GE onions. TV cameras were waiting. The only radical person picked out for mention was in the front vehicle: “A Land-Rover blazes the trail, radio scanner scouring frequencies for signs of police mobilisation.”
Again, it was Gilchrist.
But before they even reached the institute the protesters were all stopped by police and several more police cars waited at the site. The protest was thwarted. Like the Greenpeace coal protest in March, the police had obviously been warned.
The Listener article concluded: “Something’s gone wrong. The air is suddenly thick with paranoia. Sideways glances are cast, and everyone’s under suspicion of leaking or worse informing. As an `embedded journalist’ some finger me as prime suspect.” Eden says the accuser was Gilchrist, who specifically blamed the reporter and spread accusations against him to other campaigners around the country.
Now they know who it really was.
Anti-terror squad spies on protest groups
Nicky Hager and Anthony Hubbard
Sunday Star Times
December 14, 2008
Police teams set up to identify terrorism threats and risks to national security are spying on protest and community groups, including Greenpeace, animal rights and climate change campaigners, and Iraq war protesters.
Police officers from the Special Investigation Group (SIG) have carried out surveillance and used a paid informer to gather information not just about planned protests but the personal lives and sexual relationships of group members.
The police informer, Christchurch man Rob Gilchrist, whose activities are revealed in today’s Sunday Star-Times, was a key member of various community groups during the past decade.
He helped arrange protests and was close friends with leading campaigners, and advocated radical and illegal activities by the groups.
Last week he said he was embarrassed and sorry for what he did. The people he spied on were not security threats. “I know they are good people trying to make a better world.”
Wellington human rights lawyer Michael Bott said the surveillance of peaceful groups was repugnant and “has shades of Big Brother and Soviet Russia”. Surveillance of the personal lives of members of peaceful groups meant the basic right to privacy was being eroded. “It just appears fundamentally abusive and wrong.”
Gilchrist was unmasked recently when his animal rights and Labour Party activist girlfriend Rochelle Rees was helping him fix his computer. She stumbled across signs of him passing information about protest groups to an anonymous email address.
This address has since been traced to two SIG officers based at the Christchurch central police station, Detective Peter Gilroy and Detective Sergeant John Sjoberg. Gilchrist privately referred to them as “Uncle Pete” and “Uncle John”.
Melbourne newspaper The Age reported a similar case three months ago, where an undercover police officer [“Setha Sann”] had infiltrated community groups. He worked in Animal Liberation Victoria, taking part in a midnight raid on a battery hen farm, and helped organise anti-Iraq war demonstrations.
He worked for Australia’s similarly named Security Intelligence Group, which is also officially focused on terrorism.
Auckland human rights lawyer Tim McBride said the surveillance was “outrageous in a country that goes off to the United Nations and prattles on about our proud human rights record”.
Greenpeace campaign director Carmen Gravatt said the surveillance was “totally unnecessary in a country like New Zealand. It undermines the openness of groups, it undermines the relationships within the groups and it undermines the relationships they have with the police”.
Mark Eden, of the Wellington Animal Rights Network, said it was outrageous to consider that the network’s campaign against battery hen farming was terrorism and that the group was somehow like al Qaeda.
“We have gone in and filmed the farms and discovered the cruelty. But instead of doing the democratic thing and stopping it, which is what the public want, they have responded by sending in the secret police. That’s the most shocking thing about it.”
Police national crime manager Detective Superintendent Win Van Der Velde said the police “will neither confirm nor deny the identity or existence of any informant within any group”. Police operated paid informants for gathering intelligence about criminal activity.
Police Minister Judith Collins said: “This government wants to ensure [the police] have the tools and the support they need to keep the public safe.
“From time to time it may be necessary to use paid informants. I think most New Zealanders would find it reassuring that the police are out there keeping a watch on the whole community. That’s what they’re there for.
“I trust the police to exercise sound judgement and professionalism when deciding where and when to use paid informants.”
Opposition leader Phil Goff, who as justice minister helped set up the SIG, said he would want to know why anyone employed to look after counter-terrorism and national security would focus on Greenpeace.
Greenpeace had a history of non-violent protest which was “perfectly legitimate in our society”.
Goff said that as minister he had no knowledge of the SIG’s operational details. “That’s not something that comes across the minister’s desk.”
Announcing the SIG teams in 2004, Goff said they were to boost New Zealand’s counter-terrorism capacity. The teams would work under the Strategic Intelligence Unit, which officials had recommended following the September 11 attacks to “focus on terrorism and transnational activity such as people-smuggling, identity fraud and money laundering”.
There are now SIG teams in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch that, according to the police 2006 Statement of Intent, “are dedicated to the investigation of national security-related crime including terrorism”.
SIG documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times reveal that in 2007:
* SIG officers requested details about the personal lives and sexual relationships of members of animal rights groups.
* An SIG officer asked Gilchrist in writing for information about “anti-war/anti-American groups”, climate change groups in Auckland and names of any campaigners travelling to protest at APEC and vivisection conferences in Australia.
The Star-Times reported last year that Auckland private investigators Thompson and Clark had hired students to spy on most of the same protest groups. Many groups were being infiltrated simultaneously by both private investigator and police spies.
Thompson and Clark tried to recruit Gilchrist in April this year to spy for them as well. Gilchrist says he was by then increasingly unhappy about his police informer role and refused. He told the story of that recruitment attempt to the Star-Times, but did not, at that time, reveal the full extent of his double life.