The threat to your civil liberties - and your trousers
In New Zealand, pressure from the Bush administration in the weeks after 9/11 ensured the passage of a law which gave the police shiny new powers to search, arrest, and prosecute anyone who might even think about committing very vaguely defined 'terrorist acts'.
Over the past few years, and the past eighteen months, especially, the police and the spooks of the SIS appear to have used the 'War on Terror' as an excuse to pursue a vendetta against a few of their old enemies. Pesky Maoris, tree-hugging hippies, annoying peaceniks, and Bolshie trade unionists have all been placed under survellience, in an operation that has cost the police alone a cool eight million dollars - so far. (The SIS has repeatedly had its operating budget increased in recent years, and there's no doubt, after John Key's latest gaffe, that some of that dosh has been blown on 'Operation Eight'.)
The cops have made a mess of 'Operation Eight' over the past week and a half. With those eight million dollars at stake, they went all ninja in Tuhoe Country, smashed their way into activist pads in the big cities, and invited the media along to film the party. Carefully leaked articles in the Sunday papers talked of an 'IRA-style war' by a grand coalition of mokoed Maori, vegan peaceniks, and Save the Snails activists.
Within a few days, though, it was clear that eight million dollars hadn't bought a very good case. At best, the police had a handful of unlicensed guns and some recordings of Tame and a few mates sounding off about George Bush.
Quite frankly, I'd have been much more surprised if the cops managed to find a couple of licensed guns in the Ureweras. And if they want to find folks expressing a desire to see the untimely demise of America's beloved Commander in Chief, all the cops need to do is drop into one of dozens of internet discussion forums on a rainy day, or tune in to talkback radio whenever a right-wing host like Leighton Smith or Michael Laws isn't working the edit button.
Many of the allegations leaked by 'anonymous' sources to the papers made less sense than Graham Henry after that game at Cardiff Arms park. We were told that terrorist cells were 'poised to strike' in the main centres - but police raids and inquiries in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch failed to net anything more deadly than laptop computers.
We were told that Tame Iti had decided six months ago to abandon all his other projects and 'dedicate himself totally' to building Te Qaeda cells in the Ureweras - yet Tame made a well-publicised trip to Fiji only three months ago.
We were told that Labour's Cabinet was briefed about the seriousness of the terrorist threat before 'Operation Eight' began - yet the Maori Affairs Minister has bluntly declared that he doesn't think Tame is a terrorist, and Helen Clark is refusing to endorse police actions. Ross Meurant, the senior cop who regularly found red and brown terrorists under his bed in the '80s and 90s, has rubbished 'Operation Eight' and declared that the police are 'brainwashed' by racism. Coming from the man famous for having the reddest neck in Northland, that's quite a criticism.
We were told that Clark was the target of an assassination plot - yet no special security arrangements were made for her either before or after the arrests, and it is well-known in the activist community that one of the arrestees is a member of Helen's old Princes Street branch of the Labour Party. A few days before the 2005 election, I had a long conversation with another arrestee during which he urged me to use my vote to get a Labour-led government elected. Te Qaeda clearly works in mysterious ways.
In the months after the invasion of Iraq, Bush administration muppets repeatedly told critics to wait patiently for evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaeda to be made public. Give us time to complete investigtions, they kept saying. All the evidence will eventually be revealed, they told us. Of course, there was no evidence - if there had been, it would have been rushed onto Fox News faster than a Texan can draw a pistol. The requests for time were stalling tactics, designed to take pressure off Bush.
The same is true of the repeated cries of 'we need more time' that we now hear from the Kiwi police. The cops and the spooks have spent eighteen months and millions of dollars trying to nail a terrorist army in the Ureweras, and they've failed - not because they haven't had the time and resources, but because there was and is no terrorist army in the Ureweras. As Maori protest against the antics of police ninjas in Tuhoe Country and activists and high-profile lawyers get behind the arrestees in the big cities, the police are under mounting pressure.
Rather than admit they have blundered, though, the cops are playing double or nothing. By locking the media out of court, opposing bail for trivial firearms charges, leaking vague but lurid inventions to the more excitable papers, and attacking those who criticise them as apologists for terrorists and - bizarrely - P addiction, the cops are trying to buy time and put off the terrible day when they have to return to the real world and admit that Tame Iti is not some Tuhoe Osama.
The police are also lashing out, blindly and in vain, against more and more ordinary New Zalanders, in a desperate attempt to uncover evidence for what does not exist. Last week they followed up their raids on Tuhoe country and activist hangouts in the main centres with a series of house calls on such grave threats to national security as a banking analyst, a group of Maori musicians, an elderly, apolitical man who happened to have a Tuhoe son-in-law, and a middle-aged couple who raise chickens in Taupo. More windows have been broken, more laptops have been confiscated, and more knickers have been sniffed, but those ground to air missile launchers and napalm bombs have remained frustratingly elusive.
The police appear to be responding to these setbacks with a clever little manoeuvre. Since they can't find anything that fits the Oxford English Dictionary understanding of 'weapon', they've created their own definition, and put it to use. That, at least, is the way I interpret the raid the police made on veteran trade unionist and socialist Jimmy O'Dea today. Jimmy O'Dea is well-known for helping to organise trade union support for the epic and ultimately victorious Maori campaign to win back Bastion Point. O'Dea was instrumental in getting Auckland's workers to go on strike in protest at the decision of the Muldoon government to use the army to break up the occupation in 1978. Presumably that's enough to make him an honourary member of Te Qaeda.
O'Dea, who is now seventy years old and in poor health, found himself confronted by eight - that's right, he counted 'em, eight - carloads of police demanding to see his 'hunting knives and trousers'. It's not clear yet whether Jimmy got to keep his pants on, or whether the cops took the weapon away for safe keeping, along with the 'evidence' they pulled out of knickers' draws last week.
I believe that public opinion is turning against the police, and that 'Operation Eight' will eventually be exposed as a very expensive exercise in conspiracy theory politics. The police have gone for double or nothing, and they will end up with nothing. When that happens, I'll have a good laugh at our local Keystone Cops.
I can't laugh yet, though, because sixteen arrestees are still sitting in prison cells. Like many of you, I suspect, I know some of these victims of 'Operation Eight'. I'll be taking part in the Global Day of Action against this coming Saturday. If you're in Auckland, the event gets under away at noon, in Aotea Square. If you can't make it on Saturday, then flick some cash toward the Civil Rights Defence Committee, which is doing a fine job of defending all of us against the police.