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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

It’s all listening devices across the ditch. While the government of Kiwi PM Bill English is being rocked by his terrible mishandling of an MP who bugged one of his own staffers, some more evidence has emerged of the priorities of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies. As we know, the electronic intelligence gathering agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are only used to fight terrorism and counter the actions of enemies like Russia and China in the name of national security. Well … not so much. In fact, the primary goal of the Five Eyes surveillance systems is commercial espionage, and one of many examples that confirmed this was the case of New Zealand back in 2015, when some Edward Snowden documents revealed NZ’s electronic intelligence-gathering agency, GCSB, had been spying on the World Trade Organisation. A den of Russian spies? A haven for terrorists? Not quite. NZ’s then-trade minister Tim Groser had decided to run for the job of head of the WTO and the Kiwis used Five Eyes intelligence-gathering systems to spy on the other contenders. Groser was unsuccessful, but the revelations prompted an investigation by NZ’s Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

Now, that investigation has unearthed something very interesting: while the idea of spying on the terrorists lurking among the world’s trade ministers was devised by the head of GCSB Ian Fletcher, who actually approved the operation? Well … Groser himself. Yes — it’s DIY surveillance in Wellington. Better yet, Fletcher didn’t keep any records of the process, and other GCSB managers developed memory problems when she asked them to provide details of how the decision was made. You’d think spies would have pretty good memories, but evidently not. Apparently this way of approving an intelligence operation was “unusual” and “outside the normal method for approving intelligence targets”. You’d hope so.

The Mocker dogged by rumours Ms Tips has previously written about the MockerThe Australian’s masked larrikin who fearlessly punctures the elitist bubble of “sanctimonious attention seekers”. Who is the Mocker? Well, we’ve not been sniffing around on this one much, but one tipster had a theory and dug up something interesting. Our tipster ran a textual comparison between the work of The Mocker and that of The Australian‘s associate editor Chris Kenny. Our tipster ran three Mocker columns and three Kenny columns through the online research consortium’s language-matching application (which “determines the degree to which any two samples of language are similar in their language styles”, according to the website) and found it had a 97% match. And the Mocker’s Twitter account has retweeted Kenny four times since its inception in April — more than any other person. 

 

A glance at the Mocker’s Twitter feed shows a shared distaste for outgoing Human Rights commission president Gillian Triggs and radical Islam. But perhaps they howl with one voice at The Australian. We tried it ourselves with poison penned columnist Janet Albrechtsen and found a 94% match — perhaps our tipster is barking up the wrong tree?

Don’t mention the charges. Rio Tinto issued this statement around  Sydney time on Tuesday, announcing the resignation of senior independent director John Varley. He has resigned as a non-executive director and will step down from the board immediately. Varley joined the Rio Tinto board in September 2011 and was also the chair of the remuneration committee. Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis used the announcement to express gratitude for “John’s outstanding contribution over the five or so years he has been on the board. The board holds him in the highest regard and will miss his valuable insight. Personally, I am not only losing a senior independent director, but a close colleague, whose wisdom and support I am going to miss tremendously. On behalf of the board I wish John the very best for the future.” 

Which seems like an odd thing to say, given that about six hours earlier it was announced in London that Varley (who stood down as chief executive in 2011) and others had been charged by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. He faces up to 22 years in prison, having been charged (along with Barclays itself and other senior executives) with conspiracy to defraud and false representation, over its arrangements with Qatari investors during the global financial crisis. These are the first criminal charges in the UK to be filed against a bank and ‎its former executives or directors emanating from activities in the GFC, but they are big ones. All the very best indeed.

ABCC ya later. You know how it is — you’re deep into a long argument before realising with a jolt of cold sweat that perhaps, just perhaps, you aren’t completely in the right. This appears to be the position the Australian Building and Construction Commission found itself in this week. One of the many, many, many ongoing disagreements the commission has had with the construction industry union is the factual content of some of the fact sheets on the ABCC website. The CFMEU claimed the ABCC was misrepresenting unions’ right to enter a workplace, and it threatened legal action. The CFMEU initiated legal action against the Fair Work Building Commission (the ABCC’s precursor) for the same reason back in August last year, and the commission backed down. In Monday’s Australian, an ABCC spokesman was quoted as saying “the ABCC stands by its education materials”. But this posture did not last — the next day, as industrial relations news website Workplace Express reports, the ABCC quietly amended its fact sheet. We wonder why. 

Greens act on sexual assault allegations. Following the explosive allegations from Sydney journalist Lauren Ingram that she was raped by a NSW Greens member, the NSW Greens swiftly issued a statement, saying that four days after receiving the accusation “the member was formally and indefinitely suspended on 20 February 2017 and all member rights were removed”. But the incident seems to have rattled  the Greens leadership. We hear that Greens leader Richard Di Natale told the party room this week that all state branches have been asked to review their sexual assault policies.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Peter Fray

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