The trailblazing women who guard our security

When British author Ian Fleming penned the first James Bond novel in the early 1950s women were largely relegated to the lower echelons of the secret service hierarchy.

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Bond’s boss at MI6 was “M”, a scion of the British establishment, and, with his secretary Miss Moneypenny, largely reflected the pecking order of security services worldwide.

But much has changed since then and nowhere more so than New Zealand, where the directors of all of our key intelligence organisations – the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security – are women, and lawyers to boot.

Their appointments are probably a world first with no other member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence community to which New Zealand belongs, and possibly any other country, having women controlling all principal security services at any one time.

Curiously, this ground-breaking trio of appointments in New Zealand has gone largely unheralded by the news media.

Perhaps it has become inured to women calling most of the shots in this country today, with the Minister of Justice, Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief District Court Judge and, until recently, Chief High Court Judge, all being women.

So who are these trailblazing females who control the nation’s security and intelligence agencies and why were they appointed?

Well, according to the Minister responsible for Security Services, the Hon Christopher Finlayson, all have “exceptional reputations in their fields” with the appointments being made “on the basis of merit”.

Rebecca Kitteridge

Of the three, Rebecca Kitteridge, who was appointed Director of the NZSIS last year, has the highest public profile.

Educated at Upper Hutt College and Victoria University (where she obtained a law degree), she spent nine years in private practice before joining the public service.

In an exclusive interview with Law News, she said: “It wasn’t until I moved into the Cabinet Office as the legal advisor that I realised the public service was where I really wanted to be, although I have never forgotten the lessons I learned in the private sector about customer service, efficiency and excellence”.

“I felt a strong pull to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for many of the reasons I was strongly attracted to my work in the Cabinet Office. Both organisations are concerned with preserving the fundamental aspects of the New Zealand way of life – fundamental values that make this the kind of country in which we want to live.”

Ms Kitteridge says, in terms of values and style, she believes in serving the New Zealand public and doing meaningful work.

“Although a background in law is very useful for this job, the role is more about organisational leadership than technical interpretation of legislation. I have a legal team that I rely on for my legal advice, and my focus is on strengthening and focusing this organisation on the areas of greatest security concern.”

Ms Kitteridge, who is aged 48 and married with a 12-year-old daughter, says she never considered her gender to be an issue when applying for what has historically been a male role.

“When assessing candidates for Chief Executive roles, the State Services Commission is looking for competencies such as the ability to achieve results through people, ability to articulate and communicate a vision and strategy, personal resilience and so on. I was confident that I could demonstrate those competencies from my work as Cabinet Secretary and the continuing learning and development I had undertaken in the area of leadership”.

Responding to questions about her experience of gender-related issues, she said: “I am aware that research and work is still being undertaken in important gender-related areas such as unconscious bias and I think it important to acknowledge that those issues still exist. My experience, however, is that I feel supported 100 per cent by my colleagues and staff to lead this organisation into the future.”

Ms Kitteridge’s appointment reflects the changing face of the NZSIS. Women now comprise 40.5 per cent of the organisation’s staff and hold four of the nine roles that make up its senior leadership team.

In an interview with The New Zealand Herald last year, she said the old image of the NZSIS as being run by older men rooted in the Cold War days no longer held true. Referring to her 250 or so staff, she said they were “not older men but young dynamic lively people, parents, people who go to the supermarket, people who go to the creche”.

“The thing that they share in common is that they really want to make a difference for New Zealand and the thing I love about it is that they apply themselves without any expectation of recognition and in a way I just think people would find admirable.”

The new director herself has been described by those who know her well as very principled, extremely capable, utterly discreet, tough, compassionate, a devoted mother and someone with a great sense of humour. When offered the job she reportedly asked if it came with an Aston Martin.

Una Jagose

Ms Kitteridge’s NZSIS office in Wellington is in a building shared with the GCSB, and just along the corridor from her is the office of that organisation’s boss, Una Jagose.

Ms Jagose was appointed Acting Director of the GCSB earlier this year following the resignation of Ian Fletcher. She has been described by her Minister, Mr Finlayson, as someone having “a reputation for hard work and delivering results”.

“I have dealt with Ms Jagose in my role as Attorney-General and know her to be a highly competent and capable leader,” he says. Those qualities should serve her well as she takes over an organisation tarnished by findings that it had been unlawfully spying on internet magnate Kim Dotcom.

Ms Jagose comes from a family of high achievers, her brother Pheroze being a partner with Chapman Tripp in Wellington and her sister Annamarie a professor at Sydney University. She herself was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court in 1990 and went on to become Chief Legal Advisor at the Ministry of Fisheries. From there she joined Crown Law, becoming Deputy Solicitor-General Crown Legal Risk in 2013.

Speaking to Law News, Ms Jagose says, “My parents encouraged my three sisters and my brother to believe we could do whatever we chose. That set me up well to approach the world with confidence in myself and what I could achieve”.

As Acting Director of the GCSB, she runs an organisation of some 300 people who are charged with “ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of government information and investigating and analysing cyber incidents against New Zealand’s critical infrastructure”. The GCSB also collects foreign intelligence bearing on New Zealand’s interests, and assists other New Zealand government agencies to discharge their legislatively-mandated functions.

In terms of her experience of top jobs and gender issues, she said: “I have always worked in the public service and there have always been role models for women – I have worked for governments in which we have had women Prime Ministers, Speaker of the House, Attorney-General, Governor-General, and senior ministers. And of course the heads of Bench have all been women until quite recently. Of course we can do better on gender, and other, diversity – but it’s good to see that the mix is changing”.

Ms Jagose encouraged women to take hold of opportunities that present themselves: “Women need to be encouraged to be confident, to speak their mind, to take the seat at the table and be as great as they can be. I have been given plenty of opportunity and development by a range of talented leaders (men and women) in my career that has given me confidence to pursue an interesting and challenging career. I hope I give the same to the women I have been responsible for leading and managing”.

Ms Jagose says she is inspired by other women on the global stage who have achieved success at the top of their professions, such as Mary Cranston, who was Senior Partner and Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, an international law firm based in the US, and now serves as a director on a number of international companies.

“I enjoyed meeting Mary Cranston last year,” says Ms Jagose. “She is the first woman to lead a Global 100 law firm and is a tireless advocate for the economic, social and other benefits of gender diversity. I was struck by her analysis of the cultural stereotyping that holds women back. She was determined that this was not a malicious stance but an unconscious one – in which both women and men unconsciously conform to stereotypes that undervalue women’s talent and potential”.

“The State Services Leadership competencies highlight many of the EQ-related features of leadership that many women excel at. With greater focus on those qualities that women display, such as consensus-based decision making and persuasion (acknowledging this as a gender-based generalisation!), we should see public sector leadership reach the ‘critical mass’ of women leaders that Mary spoke so eloquently of. This would help to unhook our unconscious biases and allow talented women to achieve their full potential.”

Cheryl Gwyn

Keeping a close eye on the operations of the GCSB and the NZSIS is another woman, Cheryl Gwyn. A highly experienced lawyer, she took over the job of Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security last year from Andrew McGechan QC, a former High Court Judge who was appointed on an interim basis.

Ms Gwyn was previously the Deputy Solicitor- General at Crown Law and, before that, Deputy Secretary for Justice, Acting Solicitor-General/ Chief Executive at Crown Law and a partner at two law firms.

As the watchdog over New Zealand’s security and intelligence services, Ms Gwyn has a pivotal role to play in keeping them accountable for their various and many covert activities. Given the fall-out from the GCSB’s illegal monitoring of Kim Dotcom, she must ensure that such transgressions do not happen again and, to this end, has been given more power to start her own enquiries rather than just investigating complaints.

As one media commentator stated: “She must be prepared to make a nuisance of herself.” With a background as something of an activist, this shouldn’t be difficult.

After graduating from Auckland University in 1979 with an LLB(Hons) and a BA in Political Studies and English, she spent six years as a knife hand in a Hawkes Bay meat works. While there, she was part of a successful battle to allow women to become butchers.

Talking exclusively to Law News, she describes her time there as “effectively my OE”.

“I didn’t come from a professional background. I was the first person in my wider family to get School Certificate and I didn’t have an early ambition to be a lawyer. My first plan was to be a journalist, then I fancied medicine, but my science marks weren’t good enough and the law students I saw speaking at an Auckland University open day ultimately convinced me that law was for me.”

Ms Gwyn says there is no doubt that it is still harder for women to enter the higher echelons of law than men and “in that respect it’s no different from other fields”.

“I was lucky that, when I decided at 30 that I did want to practise law, the two staff partners at Chapman Tripp, a man and a woman, thought that my unusual work experience was a positive thing and were prepared to take a gamble on me. They proposed me for partnership within a short time and were my mentors for nearly 10 years. I was lucky to have that support and, because I wasn’t planning to have children, I didn’t have to make the choices that many women have to make.”

Ms Gwyn says during her later period as Deputy Secretary of Justice and then Deputy Solicitor- General at Crown Law, she spent a lot of time involved in human rights and constitutional issues.

“I have found that my values sit more comfortably in the public sector than they did in private practice and that the contribution that women can make is better recognised and valued in the public sector”.

She says it was through her work at Crown Law that she became interested in the intelligence and security area and that led to her appointment as Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

“I don’t think gender played a role in my selection, but the removal of the previous requirement that the Inspector-General be a retired High Court Judge did mean that there was suddenly a much bigger pool of potential appointees.

“The role of Inspector-General is not a career choice I would have thought of when I was at law school, but the landscape has changed a lot in that time. Bear in mind that matters of national security were often regarded as falling outside the reach of the courts or even legislation. It wasn’t until 2003 that the GCSB was even recognised in legislation, despite having been established in 1977 and having existed in some form since the late 1930s”.

Ms Gwyn says the initial establishment of the Inspector-General in 1996 and expansion and powers of the role since 2013 are “a concrete illustration of the spread of legal scrutiny and the need for transparency and demonstrable justification, both in government decision-making and in respect of the general public”.

“Developing and applying good legal controls and processes for independently investigating complaints is an important part of the Inspector-General’s role and one that I feel excited about.”

Whether the appointments of Cheryl Gwyn, Rebecca Kitteridge and Una Jagose as the guardians of New Zealand’s security and intelligence will inspire women in other countries to follow suit is a matter of conjecture. But, for the moment, they are in a unique position worldwide with no other members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance entrusting women to run all of their key agencies at one time.

In the United Kingdom, for example, there have been two female Directors- General of MI5 (Stella Rimington 1992-1996 and Eliza Manningham-Butler 2002-2007), but none of MI6 or the GCHQ.

In the USA, no women have been in charge of the CIA or NSA, although one did come close. Avril Haines became the first female Deputy Director of the CIA in 2013, before being appointed first female Deputy National Security Advisor.

In Canada, women have yet to be appointed directors of the CSIS or CSE and only one, Eva Plunkett, became Inspector-General of the CSIS before the office was controversially abolished in 2012.

And in Australia, the situation is similar, with the ASD’s Deputy Director of Capability, Anne Brown, appearing to be the highest female office holder in any security organisations, while Vivienne Thom has been the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security since 2010.

Female lawyers in New Zealand have indeed come a long way since Ethel Benjamin became the first woman to enter the hallowed ranks of barristers and solicitors in this country way back in 1897.

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