NZ Intelligence Agency Thwarts Foreign Power Plot To Steal Sensitive Technology

New Zealand’s (NZ) security service has thwarted a scheme by a foreign power to gain access to “sensitive” technology, which would likely be deployed for military use. Rebecca Kitteridge, director-general of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS)—NZ domestic spy agency—made the revelations during a public hearing hosted by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee on March 15. “We disrupted an NZ-based individual who was trying to facilitate the transfer of sensitive NZ-based technology to a foreign state. The technology would have highly likely supported that state’s military capability,” she told the Committee. The director-general did not name the foreign state who had attempted to steal the technology. Kitteridge also outlined the range of activities the agency had been dealing with, revealing that foreign states had targeted NZ’s political, academic, media, and private sectors. Ethnic communities were also being monitored and pressured by foreign governments to “suppress opposition.” “Espionage activity likely reduced over the year due to New Zealand’s border restrictions. Closed borders, however, did not restrict either the activities of foreign state proxies already in New Zealand or those using cyber means,” she said. Like her Australian counterpart, Kitteridge warned that extremists were being influenced online. “They cherry-pick from a range of extremist views that may resonate with them,” she said. “I’m particularly concerned by the increasing number of young people we’ve seen exploring violent and extremist material, mostly online, and some have gone on to express support for extremist violence.” SIS has faced pressure over its response to the Christchurch massacre perpetrated by Brenton Tarrant, which resulted in the deaths of 51 attendees of a local mosque. Meanwhile, NZ universities and businesses have faced questions over their connections to Chinese institutions—linked to the People’s Liberation Army—and the sharing of technology that could be repurposed for military use. For example, Massey University had previously partnered with Chinese artificial intelligence firm iFlytek. iFlytek has attracted controversy because of its development of speech recognition technology which has been used by Beijing’s Ministry of Public Security for mass surveillance programs on Uyghur Muslims. The company was blacklisted by the U.S. Trump administration. In the business scene, in 2014 major Chinese state-owned automotive and machine manufacturer, Beijing Automobile Industry Company (BAIC) acquired a 50 percent interest in Pacific Aerospace, based in Hamilton, NZ. The company’s flagship drone cargo plane model (the P-750-XSTOL) was subsequently adopted and flown in China under a different moniker (the AT-200) and was adapted for military use, specifically for “counter-insurgency and light attack.” Democratic nations have wised up in recent years to the risks of playing a part in Beijing’s military-civil fusion strategy, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) harnesses research and technology developed by civilian organisations. Follow Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

NZ Intelligence Agency Thwarts Foreign Power Plot To Steal Sensitive Technology

New Zealand’s (NZ) security service has thwarted a scheme by a foreign power to gain access to “sensitive” technology, which would likely be deployed for military use.

Rebecca Kitteridge, director-general of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS)—NZ domestic spy agency—made the revelations during a public hearing hosted by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee on March 15.

“We disrupted an NZ-based individual who was trying to facilitate the transfer of sensitive NZ-based technology to a foreign state. The technology would have highly likely supported that state’s military capability,” she told the Committee.

The director-general did not name the foreign state who had attempted to steal the technology.

Kitteridge also outlined the range of activities the agency had been dealing with, revealing that foreign states had targeted NZ’s political, academic, media, and private sectors.

Ethnic communities were also being monitored and pressured by foreign governments to “suppress opposition.”

“Espionage activity likely reduced over the year due to New Zealand’s border restrictions. Closed borders, however, did not restrict either the activities of foreign state proxies already in New Zealand or those using cyber means,” she said.

Like her Australian counterpart, Kitteridge warned that extremists were being influenced online.

“They cherry-pick from a range of extremist views that may resonate with them,” she said. “I’m particularly concerned by the increasing number of young people we’ve seen exploring violent and extremist material, mostly online, and some have gone on to express support for extremist violence.”

SIS has faced pressure over its response to the Christchurch massacre perpetrated by Brenton Tarrant, which resulted in the deaths of 51 attendees of a local mosque.

Meanwhile, NZ universities and businesses have faced questions over their connections to Chinese institutions—linked to the People’s Liberation Army—and the sharing of technology that could be repurposed for military use.

For example, Massey University had previously partnered with Chinese artificial intelligence firm iFlytek.

iFlytek has attracted controversy because of its development of speech recognition technology which has been used by Beijing’s Ministry of Public Security for mass surveillance programs on Uyghur Muslims. The company was blacklisted by the U.S. Trump administration.

In the business scene, in 2014 major Chinese state-owned automotive and machine manufacturer, Beijing Automobile Industry Company (BAIC) acquired a 50 percent interest in Pacific Aerospace, based in Hamilton, NZ.

The company’s flagship drone cargo plane model (the P-750-XSTOL) was subsequently adopted and flown in China under a different moniker (the AT-200) and was adapted for military use, specifically for “counter-insurgency and light attack.”

Democratic nations have wised up in recent years to the risks of playing a part in Beijing’s military-civil fusion strategy, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) harnesses research and technology developed by civilian organisations.


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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]