October 17, 2007
Day of the Jackals: Terror in NZ?: August 00
There is a scene in the musical Les Miserables, where Marius and his colleagues meet in a crowded café to plot the downfall of the French Government in 1832. Earnest youths with no experience of life believe they can harness public discontent: "Students, workers, everyone, there's a river on the run; Like the flowing of the tide, Paris coming to our side."
Tens of thousands of New Zealanders saw the stage production, and thousands more purchased the CD sound recording. The musical was so popular that Sue Bradford's Unemployed Workers' Rights group cunningly hijacked the premiere of Les Mis at Auckland's Aotea Centre in the early 90s by dressing up in period costume as pitiful French peasants seeking justice and belting out verses of the musical's haunting anthem, Do You Hear The People Sing?
The story behind the book, behind the musical, may have captured the public imagination but it was a heroic, desperate revolution. And it failed. The people never sang, and the revolutionaries were left to the mercy of a merciless French Army.
One is reminded of this while walking into a tightly cosy South Auckland living room on a cold winter night to discover coup-plotters crouched around a table. The room, dimly-lit but a pleasingly-warm cocoon from the season's bite, has barely enough room to swing a cat — yet I note there are several of those there as well.
It could be easy to draw comparisons between the people responsible for the New Zealand Armed Intervention Force, and the students in Victor Hugo's novel, but it would be dangerous to assume their stories might end the same way.
For the first time in modern history, New Zealand's much-vaunted political stability is facing its most serious threat ever — in the opinion of the New Zealand military — but not from a group of angry students, nor from traditional protest movements: instead, this threat is from a group of highly-trained soldiers.
And there's another worrying first in this as well: for the first time ever, a group suspected by police and intelligence agencies of planning terrorist activity has not shied away from police attention, but instead has actively eyeballed the police and threatened them.
One of its leaders has met police commanders in South Auckland and warned them, face to face, that any police attempt to hinder the group or its aims will be met with deadly force: "We will go through you like a dose of salts".
Instead of being arrested and charged with threatening to kill, the New Zealand Armed Intervention Force's only public front, Lieutenant-Commander Kelvyn Alp, remains free to walk the streets. What is so different about the NZAIF that even police, the SIS and the Special Air Service are sitting up and taking careful notice.
And how could it have come to this in Godzone? NZAIF received little media attention last month when one of its members, Jason Thompson, appeared in Court on firearms charges. Its stated aim is "to return power to New Zealanders", and it first came to public attention in February this year when it placed advertisements in the New Zealand Herald calling for military personnel to join it.
Among the many replies it received were two letters from Herald reporters posing as potential recruits and describing themselves as "outstanding" candidates for the private army. Unlike the Daily Mirror's sting operation against Mark Todd, the Herald's was much less sophisticated: after boasting about their combat prowess, the journalists gave the Herald's own PO Box as the return address. The same address the NZAIF was to send its advertising payment to. NZAIF leaders smiled, shook their heads sadly and never bothered to call the eager"recruits" back.
While the news media have largely treated them as "nutters", it's a different story at Police National Head¬quarters, the Ministry of Defence and the Security Intelligence Service. And for good reason: NZAIF's members are mainly ex-Territorial Force and Regular Force soldiers, with the added edge of former Special Air Service troops.
"The Armed Intervention Force is the biggest threat to New Zealand's security since World War 2," says one defence official contacted by Investigate. "As threats go, it beats the s**t out of Indonesia."
Jason Thompson, a Maori, was picked up in what police describe as a "routine traffic stop". When police checked his vehicle they found a sawn-off shotgun inside with military ammunition. At his
subsequent court appearances, Thompson was flanked by up to 10 heavily armed police amid fears that his NZAIF colleagues may attempt to set him free.
"We know they have semi-automatic, and fully auto¬matic military firearms," concedes one top-ranking police officer, "so we are forced to take them seriously, but we tend to believe the threats they're making will turn out to be hot air."
It may not be that simple. The group claims to have just taken delivery of more than a hundred automatic mili¬tary assault rifles and MP5 sub machine guns, A2 gre¬nade launchers and five rocket launchers — to add to an already significant arsenal.
"They get first dibs on weapons on the black market, through their gang connections," says a military intelli¬gence operative. "They are really, really, scary, and they're hard to keep track of because they're nationwide, and half of them act as paid mercenaries overseas so they disappear on foreign tours of duty then resurface months later.
"So many soldiers sort of fall out of the Army and get into the Armed Intervention Force."
And if police anti-terrorist experts regard the group's claims as "hot air", then a litmus test of that theory may be on the horizon. The public spokesman for the NZAIF, Lieutenant-Commander Kelvyn Alp, says his group is planning a show of force in the near future, hitting what he calls "strategic" targets.
"The way we're doing it is perfect. There should be zero casualties, but it'll be a Mexican standoff.
"We have multiple targets. We'll be taking out the en¬forcement arm of the settler Government down in Wellington."
By "enforcement arm" read police and military installations.
The NZAIF claims to be a legitimate army representing a legitimate Government — the 1835 Maori Parliament that provided for a 50/50 power sharing deal between the Con¬federation of Maori Tribes and the British. Although many Maori chiefs later signed the Treaty of Waitangi — which was used by the British to proclaim sovereignty over New Zealand in the name of Queen Victoria — the tribes that refused to sign continued to hold the 1835 document as being the supreme agreement.
But although the Confederation of Tribes is staunch in its claim that Maori still own New Zealand, its army has a more diverse political outlook. Alp, a self-confessed "Maori basher from way back" says the NZ Armed Intervention Force "is for all New Zealanders. We're fighting for the Maori Government because we believe they are the law¬ful Government, but we're not about to let Maori go around killing Pakeha or anything like that.
"Because people want a change. We're not solely for the Maori, we're sort of for everyone. The system is corrupt as hell."
The unit was born in 1996, when Alp left the Army after a run-in with his bosses while training for SAS selection. "There were three of us planning to apply for the SAS. Two of them are in the SAS now, me — I went a different way. But when I got out I was approached by certain individuals who indicated their need for a specific type of unit, hence the AIF was formed.
"They told me they'd been following my progress in the military, and that I had the 'psychological profile' they needed for their unit."
After months of specialised training at the hands of former SAS and Special Forces instructors, the mercenary unit was like a coiled spring.
There were twelve men in the first intake, who found themselves suddenly thrown into combat in a Pacific rim country in the sort of operation they make Rambo movies about:
"We were sent in against this little GI-Joe outfit. Geographically, it wasn't here, but you won't see it on our passports because no one uses passports on special ops. I can't tell you which country it was because that would identify the operation, but it was like a hit and run job.
"We had to attack this unit in this hick town of nowhere — a unit pretty similar to ours — and we'd been briefed that `their presence is a hindrance to the direction the country should be going' — I think I've got the words right — and from that we figured out that these guys were trying to shake that country. On reflection, I suspect those guys were trying to do there what we're doing here and that's why we're really wary now, because those people might have actually been the ones trying to save that country rather than let it go the way of the power boys.
"There was a little bit of resistance, we lost one person."
The NZAIF was dropped in by inflatables to their target, swimming in to take them by surprise in the middle of the night. They left no survivors.
The businessmen who had hired, trained and paid them vast sums of money sent the NZAIF on one other mission, a military target. Alp and his men choppered in to the jungle and marched the last few kilometres, again taking their opponents entirely by surprise. This time there was no resistance.
"They had no idea we were coming. We neutralised everyone and cleared out."
Alp says he and the others were "pissed off" that they weren't allowed to keep the weaponry, but accepted the need for untraceable 'plausible deniability' of the missions.
Having successfully completed two combat operations with only one casualty, the men of the NZAIF believed they would continue to be sent into Pacific troublespots. Instead, they received a final cheque and a "Don't Come Monday" notice, thanking them for their work and informing them they'd no longer be needed.
"We found ourselves thinking 'well, here we are, a well- trained unit, what do we do?' We considered all the options: going to Third World countries, fighting for money, or actually doing something proper, and that's when we decided to start putting this Government in check."
For all Alp knows, his paymasters may have merely been 'fronts' for New Zealand authorities needing mercenaries to carry out some dirty work in our backyard. If that is the case, then it would be ironic that in doing so Dr Jekyll inadvertently created a military Mr Hyde: a bunch of hired guns with a conscience.
"The fight is in this country," Alp remembers the discussion amongst his men. "This country is the one that needs the help. And we started really looking into this country and where it was going. Because being in that world, and understanding what went on and how the things we did changed the way of doing things and changed directions, we thought `F*"", it's going on here!' and then we started realising who was taking over here, what was going on and what it was being fitted for.
"And we've got something the Government can't control: none of us can be bought. If we can put a spoke in the wheel, even if it only stops the machine for a year or two, then I think we'll have done a bloody good job."
The Lieutenant-Commander is passionate about "saving" New Zealand. Like hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders he is vehemently opposed to the new photo drivers licences, saying that from a military or policing point of view it just makes it easier for "Big Government" to coerce the population into submission.
When you listen to his dismay at the sale of billions of dollars in taxpayer-owned assets without a public mandate, the Government's willingness to hound private individuals to their deaths whilst refusing to accept liability for disasters like Cave Creek or the Hepatitis C bad blood scandal, and the poor treatment of the elderly and infirm, you realise that Alp holds views pretty similar to many New Zealanders. The only difference: he and the rest of the NZAIF have state of the art weaponry that makes the Government take his opinions a lot more seriously than those of the average disgruntled punter.
"They have stripped New Zealand of its assets. All that was left to do was stick an apple in its mouth and serve it up on a plate with garnish. We're on a downward spiral that we have to arrest, and bring New Zealand back up again. But it's not going to happen with these scungy politicians who sit there and say 'we can't'."
Despite freely admitting his own racist attitudes of the past (and police still describe the NZAIF as "an odd mix of white supremacists and Maori radicals"), Alp claims to have received a wakeup call:
"We started seeing a race war — the direction being taken was to create a race war with one ethnic back¬ground pitted against another ethnic background, and while they're at each other's throats concentrating on that, the wankers perpetrating it all are back here carving it all up.
"If you take out the lunatic fringe on each side, like Maori who want to toss out every Pakeha, what you've got left is a whole lot of people who get along just fine when they're not being stirred up."
Alp has plunged tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the unit, and it earns extra cash to finance its planned revolution by sending some of its conscripts off overseas as mercenaries with armies like the French Foreign Legion or Britain's Sandline, which was active in Bougainville and Sierra Leone.
Alp confirms the NZ Defence Force analysis of the AIF's armament purchasing ability.
"Remember, a lot of our guys are ex-SAS and ex-Army, and they can get things anywhere. But we fund it ourselves — we've never had a penny from the Maori Government. It has all been from our own pockets and private funding — people have helped us out and that."
It is possible that NZAIF members may also be behind the disappearance of large numbers of military weapons from defence bases around the country. Gun dealers have told Investigate of "panic" within the military at the disappearance of machine guns in a break-in at the Devonport Naval Base armoury.
"Whenever the subject is brought up with Navy personnel," remarks one dealer, "I receive a 'knowing look' and no denials — their lips are sealed!"
According to Alp, Jason Thompson was carrying live ammunition and a gun when he was picked up because he was returning from a training exercise. "Almost all of our training is live-fire, because if you train with blanks you get too much of a comfort zone and when the real thing comes along you lose it. If there's a chance you're going to die on a training mission, then you'll be on top of it at all times.
"So it was his turn to play the 'bad guy' for us to stalk and kill, so he was in Hamilton and got pulled up. His son was playing with an imitation gun, so the police - when they saw that - decided to keep searching the car and of course they found the weapon and the military rounds."
Unlike other revolutionary groups, the NZAIF seem sufficiently confident of their firepower that they are not intimidated by the attention they're getting from the police.
"I rang the police as soon as I found out [about Thompson's arrest] and I said 'It's a jurisdictional matter: he's not under your jurisdiction he's under mine. He's quite within his rights to carry that gun and if he could fit a tank in his pocket he'd be quite within his rights to do that.' The Senior Sergeant got a bit smart with me, so I told him which way was up and told him I'd be down in the morning, which I duly did and bawled out the detective in charge of it. I said 'You either hand him back or we're coming to get him back'."
And perhaps that's why police with anti-terrorist training have been appointed to guard Thompson at every Court appearance. Courtrooms are sealed, and security staff with electronic body scanners frisk people entering the courtroom. In the public gallery, undercover operatives from the police Criminal Intelligence Section, CIS, mingle with supporters of the accused, hoping to overhear valuable information but also preparing to leap into action if violence breaks out. All of this, caused by an organisation whose public front — so far — has been limited to two people. One of whom is the vocal, baseball cap wearing, Kelvyn Alp.
"Ah yes," chuckles one CIS officer, "the loquacious Mr Alp".
So why didn't NZAIF bust out their man?
"We were ready to go in the early hours of Monday morning [July 17] to extract him from Waikeria Prison where they were holding him. We got asked by the Maori Government if we would hold, and try and do it legally first. We weren't that happy about it but we agreed.
"Anyway, when it came up in Hamilton District Court the judge said he didn't have the jurisdiction to hear it because it was 'a diplomatic matter' — and that's exactly what he said, in Court. It'll be on the Court record. 'A diplomatic matter'. Which is precisely right. There are two jurisdictions working in this country, only one refuses to recognise the other. Now the Queen recognises it, United Nations, the Hague and Geneva recognise it, it's all down on paper, there's treaties throughout the South Pacific signed with them already — everyone recognises it except these clowns down in Wellington."
Nor does the NZAIF claim to be anti-police or anti-law and-order. "We know there's a need for the police force, but my men are under my jurisdiction, not the police."
The fact that Alp is able to openly boast to police that his group has fully automatic military weapons and is prepared to use them — and is still free to walk the streets — indicates that police are not willing to provoke the NZAIF. Indeed, at one interim court hearing on the Jason Thompson case, the police prosecutor told the Court that the police would have no objection to bail — a concession rejected by the judge.
Waikeria prison had refused to take him back because of the security risk, so Thompson was remanded in custody to the maximum security wing at Paremoremo pending a High Court hearing on the "diplomatic" nature of the case.
Thompson was described in court as "of no fixed abode", because he repeatedly answered police questions with merely his name, rank and NZAIF serial number. He has a home, but Alp claims police still don't know where Th¬ompson was living at the time of his arrest.
"I've told the police that if they move against us they had better be ready," Alp says, "because there's weapons caches all over the place and if they pop one the rest of us will come down on them like a tonne of bricks. We still haven't ruled out going into Paremoremo to get him."
And perhaps that is the reason Alp is still a free man,and the only official word from police is that they are "keeping a watching brief' on the group.
The house is under constant surveillance, the phone is bugged, and CIS officers and regular police have been approaching people in locations as diverse as shopping malls and airports to ask about their connection to Kelvyn Alp and the NZAIF.
The situation is knife-edge sensitive, to the point that one police officer, Brad White, was suspended earlier this year after a CIS/SIS raid on Alp's home in a fruitless search for weapons instead turned up the police officer's wallet. Alp insists White is just "a family friend" who has no involvement with NZAIF. Understandably however, police were taking no chances at the time. It is understood White was cleared and is back on duty. Manukau District police superintendent Ted Cox has since warned his of¬ficers of the dangers of associating with the group.
It was after that raid that Alp gave South Auckland police their first "talking to" and warned them that if they pulled "a stunt like that" again it may have tragic consequences.
"The reason they're s**t-scared and have high security is a: because they know nothing about us — there's no talk on the street about us and their little spies and electronic listening devices will only find out what we want them to know, and b: because we know a hell of a lot about them, their operations, their response times, how they do things, how they enter buildings, who they'll send through first — we know all that.
"I told Ted Cox at the table, 'If you're on one side, and we're on the other, and we come head to head, we'll go through you like a dose of salts. Make no mistake about it.' And I told him that to his face so he was under no illusions. So then they started talking about 'co-existing' and that sort of stuff."
Police, and some "men from the Minister's office" in Wellington, were told in a frank and open discussion that the NZAIF was "not a threat to New Zealand's security, but definitely a threat to the Government's security. A huge threat!"
"So you're anti-Government then?" one official asked.
"Damn right. We want to return New Zealand to New Zealanders. And by that we mean everybody — brown, white, Asian — not you people down in Wellington who are governing illegally."
"What pisses them off about us," claims Alp, "is that they know that we know what's really going on in this country."
"They're afraid of you," another police officer who knows Alp allegedly told him privately. "You know that. We're not used to people who openly state to our faces that they're prepared to use force against the police."
Senior police have told Investigate they have "pretty good" intelligence on NZAIF, but that statement begs further analysis. It wasn't until a suburban newspaper ran a front page story on the existence of the NZAIF on Febru¬ary 15 this year that police suddenly swooped on Alp in the aforementioned raid on February 18.
And NZAIF has taken extra precautions since.
"We've relocated our armouries because the police were getting too close. Once we strap them [the weapons] on to go, it doesn't matter how many Armed Offenders are called or how many police are called, it'll be too late for them to make a difference."
It will be the strength of the NZAIF that determines what happens if it ever comes into conflict with the police or the New Zealand Army.
In a face-to-face interview, away from prying eyes, Alp claims the AIF has more than 1,500 troops loyal to it, both inside and outside the Army. In a later phone call, he is much more circumspect:
"This is for the SIS, who are listening of course," he explains before continuing, "we have elite forces, and we have two sections of 12 — SG1 and SG2 — these are shadow groups, and SG3 and SG4 which are 'green role', jungle, open spaces, that sort of thing. SG1 and 2 are city-trained, so whichever operation you're doing requires different units with different skills.
"Now these break down into 'six and six', so SG1 and SG2 make up one section of 12 and SG3 and SG4 make up another. They never operate as 24 unless it's a really big thing. And then you've got your regulars who are defi¬nitely not as well trained, but they know what they're doing.
"All up, we'd have about a hundred and twenty odd, but they're scattered. As far as weapons are concerned, they're either supplied to us or some of the business people we know buy them for us. But the support in the last three or four months has really grown — just a groundswell of people who've been shafted and who've had enough and they're saying 'just do it'.
"There are going to be people bad-mouthing us on the radio, calling us terrorists — we don't give a s**t! If we took over the country tomorrow, most New Zealanders are so apathetic that they'd grizzle briefly and then get on with their lives."
Alp is adamant the NZAIF has no intention of targeting civilians in any coup attempt.
"Everything we may or may not do in this country, the one thing that is stressed above everything else is zero civilian casualties.
Although we wouldn't put it past them to slip up and blame it on us."
"Our motto is that withdrawal is not an option, we'll do the job or we don't come home from it."
There is always a danger for soldiers for hire that they may die in a doublecross: they raise money by serving as mercenaries overseas, and there is nothing to prevent New Zealand intelligence services from using a front organisation of their own to lure the NZAIF into a job they'll never return home from, wiping out the armed resistance unit in one fell swoop.
On the other hand, it may be too late for that: the NZAIF are claiming they're preparing to launch a military strike in New Zealand shortly. What that may do to the country's international reputation and financial markets, let alone the families of all those affected, God alone knows.
In 1993, a prominent business forecasting group gave TVNZ executives a private briefing on the state of the economy, warning them that conditions were being cre¬ated as a result of economic restructuring that could lead to a civil war in New Zealand within ten years.
Naturally, the well-paid TVNZ executives scoffed at such suggestions: the idea of Sue Bradford leading a revolution clearly didn't seem a goer. But it appears nobody paid enough attention to one of the oldest catalysts for revolution in the history books: if you don't look after your army and pay them well, you end up with highly-trained military personnel with time on their hands, a chip on the shoulder, and nothing to do.
As we pointed out earlier in the article, it would be extremely foolish of readers to underestimate the danger facing the country — especially as the security forces are taking it extremely seriously.
How many SAS crack troops would it take to blow up a New Zealand power station or oil depot? Then ask the question: how many SAS crack troops have joined NZAIF? That's one New Zealand's se¬curity forces still can't answer.
Ask Alp whether history will judge them as extremist terrorists or freedom fighters, and his answer is simple: "I guess that all depends on who wins."
Perhaps the last word should be left to the Prime Minister's Office, which has declined an Official Information Act re¬quest to provide information on the group, on the grounds that doing so "could prejudice national security".
A defence intelligence analyst and former New Zealand soldier-turned-author believes an attack by the NZAIF on police or military targets in New Zealand could set off a powderkeg.
Ben Vidgen, whose bestselling book State Secrets was released last year, says NZAIF is not the only heavily- armed group in the country.
His book documents the involvement of the Black Power gang in procuring military weapons from overseas for individuals and groups within New Zealand:
"In 1989 I found myself drawn into the investigation of arms smuggling. I was young and naive, and certainly didn't expect to find myself looking at Maori activists let alone the New Zealand security forces.
"Operation Golden Fleece was the largest low-level intensity warfare exercise that the Defence Department had ever run. My post was the central command post of the exercise's primary support base. My neighbours included Army Intelligence, Army Signals and Air Intelligence.
"I discovered that, as a public relations exercise, the Royal New Zealand Army had invited local North Island chapters of the Black Power gang to play the role of ter¬rorists. It was an exercise that would turn to a disaster - one of the reasons being that the Black Power participants turned out to be too successful in their role.
"When the Army conducts exercises like this, the security forces are expected to 'kill' ten terrorists for every member of the security forces killed or injured in action.
"In Golden Fleece, the ratio of Army KIAs and enemy KIAs worked out at 1:1. In terms of POWs the rebels had won hands down. At the end of the three week exercise the security forces had lost a staggering 200 men which,by Low Level Intensity Warfare standards, is more than double expected levels. The figure would have been even higher except in a number of cases umpires had not been present so the kills were not included in official figures.
"The Black Power made devastating terrorists.
"One such attack landed by the fun-loving lads of Black Power, a simulated bombing, would have - if the umpires had been present - taken out the entire Australian contin¬gent of, if I remember correctly, 70 men.
"The same attack was later inspected by Royal Army engineers and according to an officer speaking from the Army Intelligence corner of the tent the wiring of the device was considered an "extremely professional" job.
"This little piece of information left me viewing the Black Power in a new light. This was not a hotch potch outfit of bikers and misfits, but a highly organised outfit that had demonstrated a high level of military expertise. Where the hell did they get it?
"Black Power was into weapons smuggling. It was also, as I discovered, the common practice to use an assault weapon (such as an AK-47) in gang hits. Such weapons were then passed to fishermen and within 48 hours the weapons in question were leaving New Zealand via Invercargill.
"In 1991 during Operation Ivanhoe this and other reports caused me to ask an Army Intelligence officer if the secu¬rity forces were aware of this situation. The officer in ques¬tion confirmed that this was the case. In fact, he told me one of his friends was an SIS agent who'd been ordered to investigate Black Power's ties to the illicit weapons trade.
"The investigation, however, was abandoned shortly af¬ter the agent stumbled on significant new evidence, and plans to officially notify the police were shelved."
Vidgen discovered first-hand more evidence of criminals having military firepower, soon after he left the army.
"While returning from Christchurch I was stunned to hear the sound of automatic gunfire within the suburb of Addington, located near the headquarters of Highway 61. Within half an hour, the same incident was reported on a Christchurch radio station, where it was described as an incident involving 'an air pistol'.
"The police don't want a public panic on their hands, and they rely on the fact that most eyewitnesses wouldn't be able to distinguish between an automatic and a plastic toy. A gun's a gun's a gun."
Vidgen also reports an interview with an SAS soldier who inadvertently stumbled across a massive weapons cache controlled by cannabis growers in the King Coun¬try:
"There were crates upon crates upon crates of weapons," the soldier confirmed. "They were Uzis, grenades, AK-47s and American stuff."
The soldier defused the situation with the cannabis growers by using his tribal affiliation: they were all Tuhoi.
Vidgen alleges a radical Maori group calling themselves "Te Ahi Kaa", also Tuhoi, disrupted a hui several years ago by telling the gathering they had "large caches of weapons buried all over the country."
Leading criminologist Greg Newbold also backs up Vidgen's allegations, saying "I've talked to people who've gone to big Auckland gangs and found literally a whole house of weapons: rocket launchers, automatics, semiautomatics, rifles, pistols."
From Vidgen's perspective, there is a clear and present danger of all out civil war, if NZAIF begin firing shots in anger at the Government.
"New Zealand is sitting on dynamite at the moment. It's been brewing for years and it's coming to a head. Potentially, if one group with solid military experience successfully takes out a Government unit, you can expect thousands of gang members and others to be on the streets, heavily armed, pretty bloody quickly after that.
"They didn't get to be explosives experts, capable of beating the New Zealand and Australian Armies, by taking patchwork quilt classes. Somebody's been training them."
Posted by Ian Wishart at October 17, 2007 08:10 PM
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