The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) has been approaching universities seeking their help to prevent foreign states getting their hands on technology associated with weapons of mass destruction.
Director of the SIS, Dr Warren Tucker, sent a letter dated 6 November to various university managers. In it he notes that the SIS recently met with the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, and sought the vice-chancellors’ help in alerting the SIS to any ‘illicit science’ relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
An accompanying brochure, called ‘A Guide to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Your role in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction’, warns scientists and researchers to look out for individuals at their institution or elsewhere who may be trying to gain the skills, technology, or knowledge to develop a weapon of mass destruction.
TEU president Dr Tom Ryan says copies of the letter and pamphlet appear to have been distributed widely in science and related departments at universities. They include phone, fax, email, and web contacts for the SIS.
“The SIS pretends that it should be considered normal for staff to report back to a spy agency. But such a practice would undermine the legislated autonomy of our institutions, including the guarantee of academic freedom. It also may lead to some members of the academic community being targeted because of their religion, nationality, or ethnicity.”
“If any tertiary staff member sees something they suspect is illegal they should contact the police. Otherwise their job is to advance and share knowledge; it is not to create an atmosphere where colleagues and students don’t know whether they are being spied on or not. That can only inhibit genuine education and research,” said Dr Ryan.
He also criticised the SIS and the NZVCC for failing to consult with the TEU on their plans. “This scheme is almost a re-run of what happened in 2006 when the SIS and the NZVCC likewise convinced themselves they did not need to take the views of staff and students into account on a similar matter. We thought they had learned their lesson, if belatedly, then – both clearly have very short memories.”