Hager Was Right

nicky hagerSpies, Lies and Security Leaks

By Roger Childs 

It was somebody else’s war. Turkey was not our enemy… Dame Silvia Cartwright at Gallipoli 2003 

The first casualty when war comes is truth. Senator Hiram Johnson. 1917


Favours from the whistleblowers

Julian Assange, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden have performed great services for the world. By releasing “confidential” documents, emails and secret reports they have exposed what politicians, diplomats and military forces have been doing furtively around the globe for many years. 

Nicky Hager is New Zealand’s conscience on such matters. Like the revelations in Wikileaks and from Snowden, his insights have attracted plenty of controversy, criticism and sometimes invective.

No stranger to controversy 

Hager is a research journalist who is not satisfied with what is revealed in political press statements, defence department briefings and superficial articles in the papers. He seeks out the truth by investigating behind the facades of confidentiality and national security.

He can be compared to Robert Fisk and John Pilger who, with a similar modus operandi, uncover the truth from the people directly involved and base their writings largely on primary rather than secondary sources.

 Because of his approach, Hager inevitably attracts controversy and invokes the ire of the people with power and influence. 

  • Secret Power examined the workings of the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) and in particular its close cooperation in spying and intelligence with the US, UK, Canada and Australia. The use of the bases at Waihopai and Tangimoana to provide these ‘allies’ with information, was a key revelation.
  • Hollow Men focused on National’s 2005 election campaign and uncovered sources of information and donations that the party didn’t want made public.

The search for truth about New Zealand and anti-terrorism 

Nicky Hager’s Other People’s Wars has the subtitle New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror. It is a very readable, credible and thoroughly researched work. The book provides an enormous amount of detail about what New Zealand forces and intelligence personnel were doing in the post Twin Towers era which the government and defence leaders didn’t want the public to know.

Prime Minister John Key admitted he hadn’t read the book but described it a work of fiction.

In fact Other People’s Wars is probably the closest we’ll ever get to the truth, as it based on highly reliable sources. 

Uncovering what had been covered up

Other People’s Wars is Nicky Hager’s most ambitious project yet and covers the period 2001 – 2011 when New Zealand

  • supported George W Bush’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan
  • became involved in fighting, supply services and intelligence alongside Coalition forces in that country, which were not officially sanctioned
  • supported the post-Iraq War efforts at reconstruction, ostensibly with the United Nations, but actually in close cooperation with the Coalition military forces, especially the British
  • expanded its intelligence agencies as they became obsessed with perceived Islamic terrorism threats
  • maintained very close relations with the Americans in military and intelligence matters, despite the public perception that being out of ANZUS meant we did not have close ties with the USA.

Essential reading

This is a book that politicians, policy makers in defence and foreign affairs, and top personnel in the armed forces dislike intensely. Other People’s Wars turns over the stones to reveal what’s really been going on. For this reason it should be essential reading for those people.

The public at large should also delve into the volume. There have been some newspaper articles on Nicky Hager’s early and later research into what Kiwi forces and intelligence personnel were really doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this book is the place to go for the detail. 

Nicky Hager’s research has been very thorough, and statements and quotations are carefully footnoted in 73 small print pages at the back of the book. His range of sources is extensive and some are surprising

  • politicians
  • defence officials and service people, some of whom for obvious reasons wished to  remain anonymous
  • official documents and papers
  • department reports
  • quotations from people in authority
  • Wikileaks
  • Facebook, where some people serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere reveal an amazing amount of detail their superiors would not want known.

The only disappointment is the lack of photos (there are only two) and maps. Maps would help the reader identify locations in Afghanistan and Iraq in particular.

Raising plenty of questions

The detail and documentation about our foreign policy and defence involvement in the early 21st century, and the author’s perceptions, raise many questions.

·       Why was the public not told about what our troops were doing in Afghanistan in the early 2000s?

·       How have the armed forces been able to get away with deciding on the nature of their overseas involvement, especially with the Americans in Afghanistan and the British in Iraq, without the public, and in some instances, even the politicians knowing about it?

·       Why are there so many highly paid senior officers in our tiny air force? In 2010 there were 207 squadron leaders, 66 wing commanders and 19 group captains.

·       Do we really need to get involved in overseas commitments such as other people’s wars, just because the Americans and British are there?

 ·       Does New Zealand actually have an independent foreign policy? This is a crucial issue, as we are currently lobbying to gain a position on the Security Council.

·       Why has our SIS been obsessed with anti-terrorism, especially as it relates to Islamic people?

·       Why has the mainstream media been hoodwinked by the politicians and defence officials on what really happened in Afghanistan and Iraq?

·       How did the SIS and the politicians make such a mess of the Zaoui case?

·       How much information and intelligence about New Zealanders is collected for the Americans and other western nations?

·       When have people in high places such as Helen Clark, Phil Goff, Jerry Mataparae and John Key deceived the public about what New Zealand has been doing in the world?

A very important book

The strength of this work lies in its account of the systematic way in which censorship, prejudice and special interest have distorted our view of wars…  This was James Fenton’s conclusion in reviewing The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley over thirty years ago.

Fenton’s quote applies equally to Other People’s Wars. This important book accurately documents a crucial part of the nation’s recent history and should be widely read.

Long may Nicky Hager continue to ferret out the truth about what is really going on in the murky worlds of diplomacy, combat and intelligence. The public has a right to know.