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National Assessments Bureau

The National Assessments Bureau (NAB) was renamed in March 2010, having formerly been the External Assessments Bureau. Its function is to provide assessments to the Prime Minister, other ministers, senior officials and New Zealand’s diplomatic missions abroad, on events and developments that bear on New Zealand’s interests, especially in regard to national security matters. In carrying out this function, the Bureau’s purpose is to help to inform decision-making by the government.

The adoption of a new name is one element of changes that NAB is now undertaking, in partnership with other parts of New Zealand’s intelligence community. The intention is to deliver assessment products that call on the resources of the whole community, and which are designed to support the government’s national security agenda and priorities. The NAB director is responsible for developing a national assessment programme shaped around those priorities, and for establishing quality standards across the intelligence community for intelligence assessment and analysis.

The Bureau is one of the business units of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and forms part of New Zealand’s intelligence community. It uses a wide range of media sources and other public information, such as academic research, commentaries by think-tanks, and internet sites. It also draws on diplomatic reporting and other forms of classified material from intelligence sources. This intelligence is provided by the Government Communications Security Bureau and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.

Compared with most parts of the public service, NAB is an unusual organisation. It has no role in providing policy advice to the government and no operational functions, and nor does it provide services to the public. Its mandate is sharply defined: NAB’s role is to provide assessments, not advice. This means that it seeks to explain events and developments, but it does not offer advice on what actions the government might take. (That function lies with policy departments and operational agencies.) NAB’s work needs to be relevant to the issues with which the government is dealing, and to help inform the decision-making process, but the Bureau does not itself engage in policy advocacy.

NAB’s offices are located in Pipitea House, 1-15 Pipitea Street, Thorndon, Wellington.

 

NAB's place in the government system

NAB’s antecedents date back to 1949 when, under a different name and with different functions, it was part of New Zealand’s military. Over time the Bureau has evolved into a fully civilian agency. Since 1990 the Bureau has been part of DPMC. It is situated in this central location within the government system because its work is based on information drawn from many departments and agencies, and because it is responsible for drawing together reporting from across New Zealand’s intelligence community. The resulting assessments touch on a wide range of government activities and policies, and so are of particular importance to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

The director of NAB is accountable to the chief executive of DPMC for the Bureau’s day-to-day operations, but is directly accountable to the Prime Minister for the content and quality of its assessments. This arrangement ensures that NAB does relevant work that is clearly independent of that done by policy departments.

NAB maintains relationships with a number of similar organisations overseas. Exchanges of information and views with counterpart organisations helps to enhance the Bureau’s capacity and effectiveness, and provides a measure of peer review.

 

NAB’s assessments

The greater part of NAB’s assessments are focussed on political and economic developments overseas, but the Bureau also covers environmental and scientific issues, security and strategic issues (such as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction) and biographic reporting on overseas dignitaries who are meeting New Zealand ministers.

Assessments are produced in a variety of formats. Short situational reports are issued by NAB’s director as events unfold and information becomes available. These reports may contribute to the work of inter-departmental watch groups that are brought together to co-ordinate New Zealand’s responses to external crises. (These watch groups meet under the chair of the director of the Security and Risk Group (SRG), another of the business units within DPMC.) Longer-term and more strategic assessments are usually considered and issued by the National Assessments Committee. This in turn is subordinate to the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination, the committee of chief executives and other senior officials that oversees New Zealand’s security and intelligence community on behalf of ministers.

 

NAB’s people

The Bureau is a small agency, with an establishment of 30 and a budget of $3.5 million. It has a busy Information Centre, which has a complex range of tasks involving the sourcing and use of information, the receipt and secure handling of classified material, and the distribution of the Bureau’s products; and a cadre of analysts. All of the analysts have a keen interest in international affairs, but their academic specialisations extend widely, including liberal arts, international relations, politics, law, foreign languages, and physical and biological sciences.

Mike Hickman is currently the Acting Director of the National Assessments Bureau.