NZ spy chiefs under spotlight

September 10, 2010 12:00 am

, WELLINGTON, Sep 10 – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Friday pledged to quiz spy chiefs about how a senior defence scientist whose resume was allegedly littered with outlandish claims received high security clearance.

Chief defence scientist Stephen Wilce quit after allegations that his resume falsely claimed he was an ex-Marine and an Olympic bobsledder who raced against Jamaica\’s "Cool Runnings" team.

Key, who is responsible for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), said the agency did not make the decision to hire the British-born scientist five years ago.

But he said the procedures SIS went through before granting Wilce security clearance would be examined.

"SIS play a role, but it is not to check CVs, and it is not their responsibility," Key told reporters.

"It is not as if SIS don\’t question applications because they can and they do — whether they are doing their job accurately is something we need to look at."

He refused to comment on whether Wilce may have compromised intelligence sharing arrangements with allies.

"I cannot confirm it one way or the other," Key said.

New Zealand Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae on Thursday said Wilce was under investigation over "employment, security and credibility issues" before allegations about him aired on TV3\’s "60 Minutes" this week.

"60 Minutes" alleged Wilce, who headed the Defence Technology Agency, padded his resume with false claims about his qualifications and past achievements.

They included being a combat veteran in Britain\’s Royal Marines and a member of the British bobsleigh team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and competing against Jamaica, which inspired hit the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings".

"60 Minutes" reported that no record existed of Wilce serving in the Royal Marines or having combat experience, and that no one on the 1988 British bobsleigh team had heard of him.

Previous employers and colleagues told the programme Wilce had claimed he designed guidance systems for Britain\’s Polaris nuclear missiles, a now-defunct system that was launched in 1960, at the height of the Cold War.

He also said he had worked for MI5 and MI6, the British secret services, the programme reported.

It said at one previous workplace he was known as "Walter Mitty", a reference to US author James Thurber\’s fictional character who lives in a fantasy world.

The opposition Labour Party\’s defence spokesman Pete Hodgson said it was alarming that Wilce apparently passed security vetting procedures and he considered the case a "serious breach of the integrity of our security system".

"If this guy is so many sandwiches short of a picnic, as he seems to be, who else in senior positions are similarly colourful?" he said.



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