The Ghost of New Zealand’s Terrorism Past and Present

Author: Battersby, J. M.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

outcome would have resulted had no action been taken. In 2007 Operation Eight appeared to have completely disrupted a suspect series of actions, but the curse of prevention haunts this operation. It will never be known if anything would have come of it had police not acted and the police for their troubles attracted massive media and public criticism. Instead of taking stock of what was actually occurring by those under surveillance, and addressing the gaps in the legislative architecture that was supposed to protect New Zealand from terrorism, public commentary focused on racism and police tactics. If the Arms Act had been amended to ban semi-automatic weapons in 2007, Brenton Tarrant would not have been able to access them so readily in 2019.

History appears to be repeating itself in the wake of the Christchurch attack, public commentary has once again zeroed in on racism, and what the security sector missed, satiating New Zealand’s bizarre desire to flagellate itself over its failures as panacea for them. The fundamental and long-standing omissions in New Zealand’s terrorism legislation and lack of a comprehensive counter terrorism strategy have been deliberately left out of the purview of the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the Christ- church Mosque attacks. The Royal Commission will sap already stretched police and intelligence resources in its attempt to find if the security sector missed something. Re- sources would be better put toward addressing the omissions in legislation, reviewing security sector resource allocations, analysing the risks of cyberspace and in enhancing public understanding of what ‘security’ means in an age of individualistic terrorism.

There has yet to be devised a security system that can guarantee the detection or prevention of autonomous actor attacks, and deciding after the event that some unrecognised action at the time could have been done to avoid the Christchurch attack will not pre- vent the next one. New Zealand would be in a better position to mitigate the risk of future terrorism, if it owned up to its terrorism history and critically noted and analysed the trends that have emerged over time in its terrorism experience as an indicator of what may emerge tomorrow. Brenton Tarrant seemingly emerged ‘out of the blue’ like so many others – in a country that has refused to acknowledge that it has a lengthy history of autonomous actors, mostly unconnected to each other, thoroughly exploiting our complacency, and committing unexpected acts of violence against us. Each time it occurs we exhibit the same complete surprise as if it had never happened before.