New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key Smiles After the General Election in Auckland.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key smiles after the general election in Auckland November 26, 2011. Reuters/Stringer

The decision of Ian Fletcher, to resign as head of the New Zealand Spy Agency -- Government Communications Security Bureau, for "family reasons", has taken the political class by surprise. Under the new development, Fletcher will step down on Feb 27 and will be replaced by an acting director. Taking over as head of GCSB in 2012, after stints in the British civil service, the European Commission and the United Nations, Fletcher faced a political strom as his appointment courted controversy because of his alleged closeness to Prime Minister Mr John Key.

Leaders Surprised

Labour leader Andrew Little expressed surprise at Fletcher's resignation and said he appeared to be "on top of his job" and was speaking about the future of the agency, when he met him before Christmas, reported Radio Nz. Little asked the John Key Government to explain the mystery behind his quitting and wondered whether Fletcher had been told of "something disagreeable" in the upcoming review of the security agencies that made him quit the job.

"A lot of things are put down to family reasons. It would be helpful if the Government explained exactly what they have in mind for the review because that seems to be a big feature of the circumstances around Ian Fletcher's resignation," commented Andrew Little. Little credited Fletcher for having done a "reasonably good job" by leading the spying agency and recalled during his stint New Zealand had not experienced the sort of cyber-attacks witnessed overseas.

At the same time, the Labour leader hoped the process of finding a new director will be more transparent than the way Fletcher was appointed, which he said, "amounted to a shoulder-tap." New Zealand First leader Winston Peters also asked the Government must explain the sudden departure of the spy boss, reported New Zealand Herald. The Green Party's security spokesperson, Kennedy Graham, said his party respected Fletcher's decision. He noted that the timing of Fletcher's resignation was politically significant as the statutory review of agencies is coming up.

Government's Version

Meanwhile, Chris Finlayson, the minister in charge of the Intelligence agency, said Fletcher quit because of family reasons. He hailed Fletcher's leadership and noted the last three years had seen significant change at the GCSB and the statutory review of the intelligence agencies will usher in a further period of change.

(The writer can be reached with feedback at