New Zealand Security Intelligence Service

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Group.png New Zealand Security Intelligence Service  
(Intelligence agencyWebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
NZSIS logo.jpg
Parent organizationNew Zealand
HeadquartersDefence House, 2-12 Aitken Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Typeintelligence agency
New Zealand's internal spy service

Not to be confused with the Government Communications Security Bureau, another New Zealand intelligence agency.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS or SIS) is New Zealand's primary internal intelligence agency. It is responsible for providing information and advising on matters including national security (including counterterrorism and counterintelligence) and foreign intelligence.[1] It is headquartered in Wellington and overseen by a Director-General, the Minister of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, and the parliamentary intelligence and security committee; independent oversight is provided by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

SIS was established on 28 November 1956 with the primary function of combating perceived increases in Soviet intelligence operations in Australia and New Zealand.[2] Since then, its legislated powers have expanded to increase its monitoring capabilities and include entry into private property. Its role has also expanded to include countering domestic and international terrorism, chemical, biological, and cyber threats.

The organization has been criticised for its role in numerous high-profile incidents such as the 1974 arrest of Bill Sutch on charges of spying for the Soviet Union,[3] the 1981 assassination attempt by Christopher Lewis on Queen Elizabeth II,[4] and the 1996 invasion of GATT Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry's home.[5] It has also been criticised for its failures to anticipate or prevent incidents such as the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior,[6] the 2004 purchasing of New Zealand passports by Israeli "intelligence contract assets",[7] and the 2019 Christchurch Mosque Shootings by an Australian white supremacist terrorist.[8]


The SIS is a civilian intelligence and security organisation. Its stated roles are:

  • To investigate threats to security and to work with other agencies within Government, so that the intelligence it collects is appropriately used and threats which have been identified are disrupted
  • To collect foreign intelligence
  • To provide a range of protective security advice and services to Government.[9]

As a civilian organisation, the SIS's remit does not include enforcement (although it has limited powers to intercept communications and search residences). Its role is intended to be advisory, providing the government with information on threats to national security or national interests. It also advises other government agencies about their own internal security measures, and is responsible for performing checks on government employees who require security clearance. The SIS is responsible for most of the government's counter-intelligence work.

In 2007, it was reported that the SIS wished to expand its role into fighting organized crime.[10]

Public profile

The SIS has been involved in a number of public incidents and controversies:

  • In 1974, the SIS was the source of information that led to the arrest of Bill Sutch, an economist and former civil servant, on charges of spying for the Soviet Union. Sutch was acquitted and the SIS was criticised for having accused him,[11] although it has also been alleged that the SIS was correct in its accusation.[12]
  • In 1981, the SIS was criticised for drawing up a list of 20 "subversives" who participated in protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour, a visit by South Africa's apartheid rugby team. Characterising individual protesters as "subversives" was deemed by many to be a violation of the right to protest government decisions.
  • Also in 1981, a SIS operative inadvertently left a briefcase, containing a copy of Penthouse, three cold meat pies, and notes of a dinner party hosted by a German diplomat, on a journalist's fence in Wellington, where it was found by the son of another journalist, Fran O'Sullivan.[13]
  • In 1985, the SIS failed to prevent the French operation in which DGSE operatives bombed the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, killing a photographer.[14]
  • In 1996, two SIS agents broke into the home of Aziz Choudry. Choudry was an organiser with GATT Watchdog, which was holding a public forum and rally against an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Trade Ministers meeting hosted in Christchurch. The Court of Appeal ruled that the SIS had exceeded their legislated powers of interception.[15] Parliament later amended the SIS Act to give the SIS powers of entry into private property.
  • In 2002, the SIS issued a security risk certificate for Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian asylum-seeker, and recommended his deportation. Zaoui was detained under a warrant of commitment. Inspector General Laurie Greig resigned in March 2004 after controversy over comments perceived as biased against Zaoui. The risk certificate was subsequently lifted, allowing Zaoui to remain.[16]
  • In 2004, it was alleged that the SIS was spying on Māori individuals and organisations, including those associated with the new Māori Party, for political purposes under the codename "Operation Leaf".[17] A government inquiry led by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security later rejected these claims in April 2005. The prime minister, Helen Clark called the allegations "baseless".[18] The Sunday Star-Times, the original source of the story, printed a full apology and retraction.
  • In July 2004, the SIS was criticised for not knowing that Israeli "intelligence contract assets" had been in New Zealand fraudulently purchasing New Zealand passports. This came to light when the New Zealand Police discovered the fraud. The case became world news and an embarrassment for both the SIS and Mossad. Two of the Israelis involved (Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara who had been based in Australia) were deported to Israel, while two non-Israelis believed to be involved (American Ze'ev Barkan and New Zealander David Reznic) left New Zealand before they were caught.[19][20]
  • In December 2008, it was discovered that a Christchurch resident, Rob Gilchrist, had been spying on peace organisations and individuals including Greenpeace, Iraq war protesters, animal rights and climate change campaigners. He confessed to the allegations after his partner, Rochelle Rees, found emails sent between him and Special Investigation Group (SIG) officers, having found the emails while fixing Gilchrist's computer. Rochelle Rees was a Labour party activist as well as an animal rights campaigner. Gilchrist was said to have passed on information via an anonymous email address to SIG officers including Detective Peter Gilroy and Detective Senior Sergeant John Sjoberg. SIG is connected with SIS. Gilchrist had been paid up to $600 a week by police for spying on New Zealand citizens, reportedly for at least 10 years. Gilchrist also said he was offered money by Thomson Clark Investigations to spy on the Save Happy Valley Coalition, an environmental group. The incident implied members of New Zealand political parties were spied on by SIS and SIG.[21]
  • In November 2009, the SIS was criticised for asking university staff to report their colleagues or students if they were behaving suspiciously. The SIS said it was part of an effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.[22]
  • In July 2011, the SIS was involved in an investigation of Israeli backpackers who were in New Zealand at the time of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, in which one of the Israelis was killed. The Israelis were alleged to have been Mossad agents attempting to infiltrate the New Zealand government's computer databases and steal sensitive information. The investigation concluded that there was no evidence of a Mossad operation.[23]
  • In March 2018, the SIS released a memo confirming that an assassination attempt was made on Queen Elizabeth II during her 1981 visit in Dunedin despite alleged efforts by the New Zealand Police to cover up the incident. The perpetrator was 17 year-old Dunedin teenager Christopher Lewis.[24][25] Lewis electrocuted himself in prison in 1997 while awaiting trial for an unrelated murder.[26]
  • After the 15 March 2019 white supremacist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, the failure of the SIS and other NZ state agencies to pay adequate attention to the 'far right', and to detect the terrorist was strongly criticised. Green Party MP Marama Davidson and Tuhoe activist and artist Tame Iti, among others, suggested that the SIS and other state security and intelligence agencies had the wrong people under surveillance, including Muslim communities, Maori, and environmental activists.[27][28] The spokesperson for the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand, Anjum Rahman, voiced frustration at the failure of the SIS to take Muslim community concerns about racist violence and the rise of the alt-right in New Zealand seriously.[29] Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that there would be an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the mosque attacks and what the relevant agencies (SIS, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), police, Customs and Immigration) knew about the individual and the accused's activities.[30] The official Royal Commission into the attacks was made public on 8 December 2020,[31] and found that intelligence agencies including the NZSIS and GCSB had placed excessive focus on Islamist terrorism, at the expense of detecting far-Right threats.[32][33]
  • In early June 2020, Radio New Zealand reported that the NZSIS had raided the Czechoslovakian embassy in Wellington in 1986 as part of a joint operation with the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to steal Warsaw Pact codebooks in order to break into the encrypted communications of Soviet-aligned countries during the Cold War. This operation would have breached the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This revelation came to light as a result of an RNZ podcast series called The Service, produced by Wellington writer and documentary maker John Daniell, whose mother and step-father had both worked for the NZSIS. Daniell said that his step-father was involved in the raid and had claimed it was a success. Daniell's account was corroborated by Gerald Hensley, who was the head of the Prime Minister's Department under the-then Prime Minister David Lange, and former NZSIS officer Kit Bennetts.[34] In response, both former Prime Minister Helen Clark and Andrew Little, whose the Minister in charge of the NZSIS and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), refused to confirm that they had authorised raids on embassies based in New Zealand.[35][36] RNZ also reported that the SIS had spied upon Labour MP Richard Northey under the pretext of his support for racial equality and nuclear disarmament. At the time of the spying, Northey was chair of the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee, which was responsible for financial oversight of the SIS, and of legislation altering its powers.[37]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:New Zealand SISspeech1 February 2011Nicky Hager


  1. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service overview [1]
  2. Michael King, Penguin History of New Zealand, pp. 429, 431.
  9. NZSIS Official Website About Us, Index
  10. 'SIS head wants to tackle organised crime', Radio New Zealand news item.
  12. {
  19. 'A Word From Afar: The Curious Case of Mr. Tucker', Scoop, Paul G. Buchanan, 11 February 2009, retrieved 30 December 2009.