New Zealand in Snowden’s crosshairs

The so-called ‘Five Eyes’ group of English-speaking nations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have been revealed to have a secret agreement to spy on each other’s people and exchange information, thus enabling them to claim they do not spy on their own while getting whatever information they want. Up to now, this charade has been ripped open by the Snowden documents explicitly for the first four countries.

But a new report in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher lays bare what New Zealand’s spying arm the GCSB has done and the brazen lying by its leaders about its operation known as ‘Speargun’. They have released the report close to the upcoming elections on September 20

The New Zealand spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement a mass metadata surveillance system even as top government officials publicly insisted no such program was being planned and would not be legally permitted.

Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the government worked in secret to exploit a new internet surveillance law enacted in the wake of revelations of illegal domestic spying to initiate a new metadata collection program that appeared designed to collect information about the communications of New Zealanders. Those actions are in direct conflict with the assurances given to the public by Prime Minister John Key (pictured above), who said the law was merely designed to fix “an ambiguous legal framework” by expressly allowing the agency to do what it had done for years, that it “isn’t and will never be wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” and the law “isn’t a revolution in the way New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations.”

Snowden, in a post for The Intercept published today, accused Prime Minster Key of fundamentally misleading the public about GCSB’s role in mass surveillance. “The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false,” the former NSA analyst wrote. “The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”

Snowden, in a separate post explains more about what was done.

The answer, one that the government of New Zealand has not been honest about, is that despite claims to the contrary, mass surveillance is real and happening as we speak. The GCSB provides mass surveillance data into XKEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB station at Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact. Importantly, they do not merely use XKEYSCORE, but also actively and directly develop mass surveillance algorithms for it. GCSB’s involvement with XKEYSCORE is not a theory, and it is not a future plan. The claim that it never went ahead, and that New Zealand merely “looked at” but never participated in the Five Eyes’ system of mass surveillance is false, and the GCSB’s past and continuing involvement with XKEYSCORE is irrefutable.

But what does it mean?

It means they have the ability see every website you visit, every text message you send, every call you make, every ticket you purchase, every donation you make, and every book you order online. From “I’m headed to church” to “I hate my boss” to “She’s in the hospital,” the GCSB is there. Your words are intercepted, stored, and analyzed by algorithms long before they’re ever read by your intended recipient.


  1. says

    The whole “five eyes” system is a scam developed by the US intelligence community to bypass nasty regulation about spying. If they can have Blackberry push its data to Canada, then they can collect it as “foreign” intelligence. If GCHQ can collect data and make it available to the NSA then it’s foreign. And if the NSA can collect data from the UK and make it available to GCHQ then it’s foreign intelligence, too. This has been going on for a very very long time (vis: ) Oh, laddies that’s an NSA facility in England, it’s not an ENGLISH facility, wot wot? Totally cricket.

    FAS outed this stuff long ago:
    The New Zealanders are lying to their people. Fucking democracy, how does it work?

  2. Brian E says

    The New Zealanders are lying to their people. Fucking democracy, how does it work?

    I wouldn’t know, We can either elect pro-US all the way, corporatized party A or pro-US all the way, coporatized party B. Once in government, either party will payback their business mates, increase surveillance and buy U.S. military hardware that allows us to fight battles with the U.S. in countries that are no threat our national security. It really depends on which party Rupert tells us to vote for, which in turn depends on which one will change regulations that best suit News Corp or one of its branches.
    Australia’s fetid gift to the world. Rupert Murdoch. Don’t thank us, we’re only too happy that he’s a U.S. citizen, but sadly he won’t leave us alone. 😀

  3. Who Cares says

    This is ‘funnier’ since Key promised to release documents that Speargun didn’t progress past stage 1 and was abandoned. Turns out it was a classic bait and switch because he documents were on another operation.

    Also the corporation owning the cable in question denies that it is possible to gain access to it without people noticing that there is no data flowing through the cable. Note that this is bunk, there have been previous releases of documents showing how it was done without cutting the cable, just not with this specific cable.

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