Assessing Terrorism Threats to New Zealand: The Role of the Combined Threat Assessment Group

Author/s: Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG)
Published in National Security Journal, 27 November 2020

If a Threat Stream is assessed at a level higher than the Environmental Threat Level, a reassessment of the Environmental Threat Level, and any Specifically Targeting Threat Levels if applicable, takes place. Threat Stream Threat Levels are not necessarily published, but aid analysts in articulating workings behind a TSTA, and its impact on the environment.

A change to an Environmental Threat Level based on a Threat Stream is clearly articulated using Threat Stream Caveats, which detail information on locality, coordination and sophistication. This differentiates Threat Stream change from a change to the threat level due to the broader threat environment. This nuance is designed to assist customers with adequately and proportionately responding to any change in Threat Level. A Threat Level change due to a specific Threat Stream also remains under constant review and is revised in due course.

Setting of the National Terrorism Threat Level and Informing the
National Security System

In September 2019, the External Relations and Security (ERS) Cabinet sub-committee acknowledged CTAG would in the future produce an annual national terrorism threat assessment, including a formal review of the National Terrorism Threat Level. Despite these annual reviews, CTAG continuously monitors the threat environment and can revise the National Terrorism Threat Level at any time. This was evidenced immediately after the 15 March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack when the National Terrorism Threat Level was raised from LOW to HIGH, and then revised to MEDIUM on 17 April 2019.

CTAG’s threat assessments, including the National Terrorism Threat Level, inform wider government agencies of the physical threat to New Zealand and New Zealanders from terrorism, but do not recommend actions to mitigate these threats. For example, following the lowering of the threat level from HIGH to MEDIUM in April 2019, New Zealand Police made the operational decision to end routine arming of frontline officers, which had been implemented following the raising of the threat level from LOW to HIGH on 15 March 2019.

CTAG assessments undergo rigorous multi-agency peer review before CTAG finalise the National Terrorism Threat Level recommendation. Given the significance of the threat level to government risk management responses, ERS vested the Director-General of Security (the Chief Executive of NZSIS) with responsibility for setting the level. The Director-General of Security then informs the Chair of ODESC of all national threat level decisions. When the Director-General of Security changes the threat level on CTAG’s advice, ODESC considers the appropriate response and makes recommendations to Ministers and the Prime Minister.