New Zealand universities on terrorist watch

Government spies and other officials are meeting heads of New Zealand universities to raise awareness of a potential terrorist threat to New Zealand.The Government is concerned that al Qaeda may fund students to learn how to make weapons of mass destruction in New Zealand.

Although there has been no specific threat made to New Zealand, officials from the Security Intelligence Service, Foreign Affairs Ministry and Labour Department are visiting universities to make them aware of the possibilities of such threats.

Massey University vice-chancellor Judith Kinnear says she has met SIS director Richard Woods to ensure science students are not making “anthrax in a can”.

Disarmament Minister Phil Goff says that the focus of the meeting was on science students developing skills in areas such as nuclear physics.

Massey University Students’ Association president Paul Falloon says the Government’s paranoia was indicative of world trends. “[But] spying on students is ridiculous. This is a threat to free speech and academic freedom.”

Mr Goff says he was aware the move could be seen as a threat to academic freedom, but “we don’t have the freedom in this country to help promote weapons of mass destruction”.

The meetings coincide with plans by Australian security forces for tougher measures to scrutinise university activity in Australia, though Mr Goff says it’s an “international issue”.

Under Australian Government plans, academic conferences, research papers, seminars and design drawings could be included in expanded export controls.

Academics would also be asked to report any attempts to obtain items or services that could be used for weapons of mass destruction and to report “suspicious advances” by students.