We were raided at Parnell in Auckland on Monday October 15th 2007, exactly six years ago. It was part of the NZ Police’s Operation 8 “terrorist” raids at Ruatoki and elsewhere. There were raids on approximately 60 houses and premises around the country.
You can read about fifteen of those raids in a book edited by Valerie Morse, one of those raided, arrested and imprisoned that day (“The day the raids came: Stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids“, Rebel Press, 2010). It includes the stories of the four known in the media as the “Urewera Four” who were the only ones who eventually went to trial in 2012.
Like many other raids all over the motu you didn’t read about this one in Parnell or see it on the TV. There was a good reason you didn’t see this one on TV. We took the police straight into the High Court, stopped the raid, and got a suppression order to prevent any publicity.
We had been in Tuhoe country for a few days before the raids, at my brother’s tangihanga at Tuai near Lake Waikaremoana, and got back to Auckland fairly late on the Sunday. At the time our company’s office was in Parnell and I had a small apartment downstairs from the office. I made it upstairs to the office about 9am. Some of my staff were already at their desks. It was a normal Monday morning at work.
Then I took a phone call from Wellington and was told to turn on the TV and watch a police operation in the Urewera. My caller also asked after one of my staff who had connections down there. He wasn’t at work and it didn’t take long for me to realise that he was probably one of the targets of Operation 8. Like thousands of others we watched that very public operation unfold. It seemed to me that a professional media campaign was an integral part of Operation 8 and that the police were deliberately imprinting their narrative into the public mind as part of the operation, before any other narrative could emerge. My media advisors agreed.
Just after midday three carloads of police drove up and parked outside the office. I saw them from my office window and went downstairs to meet them. They were CIB detectives and personnel from the Electronic Crimes Laboratory rather than the heavily armed faceless paramilitaries we were all watching on TV. They were led by Detective Wayne Bailey and Detective Joe Tipene, both Maori. Wayne showed me their search warrant and assured me that they were not armed. They were wearing the usual protective stab vests. I led them upstairs to the office.
The search warrant was a huge 20 page document. It listed all the items that the police were searching for including weapons, military equipment, clothing and computers. There were pages and pages of lists of things they were looking for. It was obviously an “omnibus” warrant that they were using right across the country. Most of it could not have been relevant to the raid on my office. There was no evidence at all that any of that stuff was in our building. It was a ridiculous warrant. It was also a lazy warrant and a shoddy piece of staff work, with nothing specific about what they expected to find at our location. There was this short paragraph about seizing computers.
- All computer hardware and software necessary to gain access to data or programs contained on the storage media,
- All computer storage media including ‘floppy’ diskettes, tapes, hard drives, and other devices containing programs or data,
- All leads/cables and peripheral equipment necessary for the proper operation of the computer system,
- All documentation including manuals, guides and other references which provide information necessary for proper operation of the computer hardware, software and peripheral equipment.
They herded us into our boardroom and told us that’s where we were to stay while they searched the premises. Wayne Bailey was in charge of the operation and he sat with us at the boardroom table taking notes. A policewoman photographer took photos of everything, including all the Maori art on the walls and tables. She seemed especially interested in the art. Maybe she was an art lover too. Or thought we were art thieves.
It soon became obvious that they weren’t looking for any of the weapons, clothing and equipment that made up most of the warrant. The detectives were there to allow the electronic crimes people to attack our IT network and computers. The first thing they did was turn off our connection to the internet and forbade us from going anywhere near our network. I realised then that only the one short paragraph of that voluminous warrant was applicable to us. The bit about computers. The rest of the 20 page search warrant was absolute rubbish, and they knew it. It was a fishing expedition, looking for anything that might justify what they had enacted at Ruatoki and elsewhere.
I also thought that in that case the warrant might have been illegal and that whoever had obtained the warrant from the Court might have perjured himself.
The electronic crimes people were not sworn policemen and were led by a German fellow. He seemed to us quite nasty. We found out later that he had been a NZ policeman before joining the electronic crimes laboratory and that even some of his colleagues thought he was a nasty piece of work. We nicknamed him and called him “Fritz” to his face, which didn’t endear us to him at all. Fritz’s real name revealed in the Crown Indictment of 2012 was Juergan Arndt.
It came to me that this was the same Fritz who had a score to settle with one of my employees. About three years earlier Fritz had tried and failed to have my man charged with computer hacking, a benign petty offence about defacing a political website on the information super highway. My man would never do that of course. But it would be about as criminal as defacing a political billboard on any other highway but the police have convinced the parliament that it is a serious crime. It gives them something to do. So Fritz might have had another agenda apart from Operation 8 – a little bit of unfinished business.
We found out that Fritz planned to seize every computer and hard drive he could find. That would have been over twenty five computers and servers and would have put us out of business. I did my calculations and worked out that with our offsite data backups I could recreate the network but that it would cost over $70,000 and take weeks to get back into business.
In the meantime we amused ourselves poking fun at them. Part of police method is to impose themselves, physically and psychologically, on the people and situations they are dealing with. Intimidation is another way of describing it. We saw on the TV and heard later from the media and from the Tuhoe people how that tactic had been applied in extremis down there. In our case it was mild by comparison. But being who we are we were having none of it anyway.
One of my sub-contractors arrived and was directed into the boardroom. He was the only Pakeha who worked out of our office. My business manager introduced him to the detective and told him that he was a Pakeha, and to be careful because Pakeha were dangerous. He was not amused.
Then we heard loud voices coming up the stairs and recognized the voice of Te Awanui Reeder of the Nesian Mystik band (now the famous entertainer Awa). His father worked with us and was in the boardroom. I’d known Awanui since he was a small boy. When he strode into the boardroom he saw Wayne Bailey, greeted him warmly “Hey Bro” and shook his hand. Then he told us that he and Wayne were drinking buddies! Awanui then pointed to his father and told Wayne to arrest him because he was very dangerous. It was hilarious.
One of the Nesian boys was with him and they had come to get my signature on his passport application. Awanui told me that they needed a kaumatua to sign and I was it. I asked Wayne if he realised that I was the Nesian Mystik kaumatua. The look on his face was priceless. They left with my signature after much banter about us being dangerous criminals.
At some point, probably a bit later, I went to my library and got my copy of “Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana And His Community At Maungapohatu”, by Judith Binney, and gave it to Detective Bailey. He said he hadn’t read it and I told him he needed to.
It went on with Detective Bailey doing his best not to laugh or even smile. Eventually he gave in and left the boardroom. He was replaced by a young Pakeha policeman in civvies. I asked him why he wasn’t wearing a stab vest and he said he’d left it at the office. I told him he’d better get one because we were dangerous criminals. He was totally confused by our lack of respect. I felt sorry for the young man.
Throughout the afternoon Detective Bailey tried to get me and my staff to give statements about what we might know about the activities of our co-worker but he met with a wall of silence and outright refusal. And he couldn’t get my people to take the raid seriously.
While all this was going on Fritz and his people were busy locating and labeling every workstation, every server, and every portable hard drive they could find, including equipment downstairs in my apartment. After I realised what they were after and how it would affect my business I tried negotiating with the detectives to get them whatever files they might be after without taking down the business, I knew they were fishing anyway and wouldn’t find anything they were looking for. They consulted by phone with their supervisor Detective Sergeant Mark Gutry and the answer was an emphatic “No”. They were seizing everything.
So I rang the lawyers.
My lawyer was one of the partners in a big law firm and he quickly found another partner to represent me. This one was a former prosecutor, was highly experienced in criminal law and was an expert in the law regarding warrants. I faxed him the warrant. He thought the warrant was probably illegal and was certainly unreasonable as defined in the legislation. He recommended that I go to the High Court to obtain an injunction and I gave him the go ahead. He obtained a hearing for that afternoon, rang Detective Sergeant Gutry to tell him that the operation should stop until the High Court decision was made, and asked me to be at the Court for a hearing at 5.00pm.
My lawyer and Mina Wharepouri who was representing the police met in chambers with Justice Helen Winklemann. Detective Sergeant Gutry and I waited in a waiting room. I gave him an earful and he left to wait somewhere else.
It didn’t take long for an interim injunction to be granted with a full court hearing set down for 10.00am the next day. The raid was to stop until the court heard the application. I was to have no access to my technology and a police guard was to be posted in the premises overnight to ensure that I didn’t use it. The police were ordered to produce to the court the next morning the affidavit they had used to obtain the search warrant. We were attacking the warrant.
I went back to my office. A junior lawyer from my legal firm came with me to ensure that the police complied with the terms of the injunction.
By the time we got there the detectives and Fritz and his people had left and were replaced by a uniformed sergeant and a few constables. The sergeant was setting up an overnight guard with two constables in the premises at all times. He had placed one of them in my bedroom where there was a workstation and also a portable hard drive on my work table. I went into the bedroom and started to unhook the computer. The sergeant ordered me to stop but I told him there was no way I was allowing a policeman in my bedroom overnight. I told him I was ex-army and I didn’t trust sailors or policemen. He was not amused. My young lawyer was. So I handed him the computer and the portable hard drive and told him to put it upstairs with the rest of the equipment.
I had a bit of a laugh as well. Sitting on the table next to the labeled portable hard drive was a 60GB iPod. There were no files on the hard drive but all the personal and business backups were on the iPod. Fritz the computer forensics expert hadn’t realised that an iPod is also a hard drive and hadn’t labeled it to be seized.
There was another plainclothes policeman there. We hadn’t seen him earlier. He was big and intimidating. He asked my quite petite lawyer what she was doing there and she let him know she wasn’t intimidated at all. He then took an intimidating stance in front of me and asked me who I was. I looked at the nametag on his chest “Phil Le Compte” and said that’s a Hawke’s Bay family isn’t it. Taken aback he asked me how I knew that. I told him I went to school with a Le Compte and he asked me who that was. He was even more aback when I told him it was Alan Le Compte because it was his father. I said something uncomplimentary about father and son and he left.
You won’t see Phil Le Compte mentioned anywhere else in connection with Operation 8. Detective Sergeant Le Compte was at the time with AMCOS (Auckland Metro Crime and Operations Support) based in Harlech House with the Auckland SIG (Special Investigation Group) which was the lead agency in Operation 8. Le Compte did have a role in Operation 8 and that will be explored in a later article.
The next morning at 8.15 I got a call from the lawyer to say that the police wanted to negotiate an agreement before the full court hearing. They claimed that they didn’t have enough time to redact (blackout) confidential parts of the affidavit before they had to produce it in court. They had about 16 hours to do that between the hearing on 15th October and the full hearing on 16th October, so that was no excuse at all. It was bullshit. I knew then that they absolutely did not want that affidavit to be scrutinized by a high court judge lest the warrant be struck down. That was the same warrant that they were using all over the country and that would have been disastrous for Operation 8 (from their point of view).
My reaction to their raid had obviously taken them completely by surprise and they were scrambling to contain the situation.
Emotionally I was inclined to ignore them and to go straight to court. I was in the right sort of mood to take them to the cleaners regardless of the cost. But logic and reason prevailed as I had a business to protect and staff and their whanau to think of. So we went into conference at 9am at the High Court. My lawyer and I sat down with Detective Sergeant Gutry and his lawyer Mina Wharepouri. The two lawyers had already drawn up an agreement which we signed. Under the agreement:
- They would not remove any of my computers and drives except for the one computer on my staff member’s desk; the staff member they had already arrested and imprisoned.
- That computer was to be returned to my office within 72 hours (the police usually keep seized computers for months or even years).
- The electronic crimes people would be permitted to inspect my file server, under my supervision, to locate and remove any files relevant to Operation 8, specifically files related to an encrypted online chatgroup called AoCafe (I knew that there would be none).
- The police would facilitate contact with my man in prison so that I could obtain any passwords I might need.
We went into court to wait for the judge.
A feisty woman lawyer walked in for another case entirely. She looked around and remarked that the only criminals she could see were my lawyers, given the outrageous fees they charge. She was right in a way because High Court injunctions don’t come cheap and you have to be prepared to pay whatever it costs to stand up for your rights. Justice doesn’t come cheap.
We sat there twiddling our thumbs waiting for the judge. I told my lawyer I had his waiata ready. Then I asked Mina if his clients were going to sing his waiata. They were not amused. No sense of humour the cops.
It was Justice Winklemann again. She endorsed the agreement we had negotiated. Mina Wharepouri declared in court that the police had no interest whatsoever in me personally. We applied for blanket suppression of anything and everything that would indicate the identity of me or my business, and the location of my business, and it was granted by the judge. That was it.
In writing this piece I have unilaterally lifted that suppression order.
My lawyer remarked to me that it was rare indeed for anyone to bring a police operation to a grinding halt.
Back at the office Detectives Wayne and Joe were back and were very friendly. They seemed quite relieved that things had turned out as they had. Couple of good Maori those two. Then a new more senior contractor from electronic crimes arrived. He was businesslike and courteous and we got on with it. He found five files that he thought might have had some bearing on the case. I knew they wouldn’t and was quite happy for him to copy them. He restored our internet connection and we were in business again. We chatted and established that his father and I had both been majors in the Army and had worked together for a couple of years.
Wayne and Joe came over to hongi and they all left. My man was still behind bars of course.
My lawyer suggested that we ask the police to pay $2,000 towards my legal fees. I would have preferred to sue them for the lot but they would have contested that and it would have cost me a small fortune to recoup a tiny fortune. That same day the police agreed to pay the $2,000. Strategically it was a good move as it was an admission of some sort of liability.
That was almost that. We had some trouble with journalist Jonathon Marshall who was working for the Sunday Star Times. He was trying to get around the suppression order and was hassling me over the phone and had appeared at my office and tried to intimidate my business manager. A phone call from my lawyers to his editor put a stop to his shenanigans, before I got to him with a big stick.
We got the seized computer back from the police within the 72 hour timeline. I was a bit suspicious that they might have loaded it with a bug or two. We took it apart and didn’t find anything but just to be sure we cleaned the hard disks and got rid of it. We donated it to a needy community group!
Over the next few weeks a few right wing bloggers tried to get around the suppression order by mentioning that my man had been employed as an IT manager and inserting links to my company website. So we wrote a script, a small programme, that intercepted any traffic coming to my webserver from those blogsites, and diverted the requests to a spoof website. That website was pretending to be by one of the worst of the bloggers and it was lampooning him mercilessly. Some kind person had conveniently built it right at the time we needed it. We thought that was an elegant strategy.
After we had settled down and got the business back on track we had time to reflect on a few incidents leading up to the raid on 15th October 2007.
Our office cleaner usually arrived at about midnight. One night she disturbed someone in the office, near the computer server room, and whoever it was fled down the stairs and out the door. Which we realised in hindsight was a bit strange because our office was locked and alarmed. Whoever it was would have had to disable the alarm without setting it off. On reflection we thought it was probably the police and they had probably used a warrant to force our security company to disable the alarm for them. Whoever it was would have found that our server room was locked and alarmed as well.
In the week leading up to the raid my sister (who was my business manager) had noticed two suits sitting in a car in our carpark. She used to arrive at work very early and go for a walk. They were there when she arrived about 6am. They were still there when she got back from her walk. She challenged them and they left. However her red car was the one that spent most time in the carpark and we are now fairly sure it was bugged with a GPS locator.
In the few days before the raids when we went to my brother’s tangihanga at Tuai in Tuhoe country she came with me in a rental car. Her daughter and son-in-law drove her red car to Tuai and back. On the way back to Auckland on Sunday 14th October they followed us in the red car. Along the way they were stopped for no reason at all by a police patrol. They were questioned and explained that they were following their mother in her car. The police let them carry on. They thought it was strange at the time.
So we were also under police surveillance leading up to the raids.
I readily acknowledge that our experience was mild compared to others at Ruatoki and elsewhere. We for instance did not have rifles or submachine guns poked in our faces and pointed at the heads of our families. Ours was a minor episode in the whole shocking saga.
But this story is the starting point for a full analysis of Operation 8 in future articles. As a retired army officer and a former intelligence analyst I was very interested in the intelligence analysis that led to the “termination” phase of Operation 8. I then started to collect as much information as I could to analyse the intelligence operation behind Operation 8. I followed the case through the courts to the High Court criminal hearing in 2012 and thence to the Court of Appeal. I did some work for the defence team at the trial.
I early on came to the conclusion that the police operation was incompetent and unprofessional. I concluded that the detectives involved were total amateurs in the field of Intelligence and that their incompetence, and the incompetence of their superiors, had led to a debacle from which they scrambled to extricate themselves. They had the the help of a very professional and strategically canny prosecution lawyer, Mr Ross Burns. The courts have also established that the police had knowingly acted unlawfully in obtaining and executing warrants during the intelligence operation.
This series of articles will describe in detail all of that. And Te Putatara will raise a series of questions that have never before been asked, and certainly not answered.
Operation 8 Series: