Lies and Spies: Why we can’t believe Key on the GCSB & why it matters

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On Friday, the New Zealand Herald revealed that a person from the National Security Agency (USA) had visited the Waihopai spybase in February this year and discussed establishing a ‘Special Source Operations’ (SSO) site.

Edward Snowden described the SSO as the ‘crown jewels’ of the NSA for their role in forming “alliances with US companies, especially in the IT sector, for data mining purposes.”

As the Herald explains,
“The SSO is the division of the United States' National Security Agency which carries out cable tapping and has vast resources to trawl and capture massive amounts of internet content and electronic communication, including the PRISM system.”

The conclusion that has been drawn is that the GCSB would be tapping the Southern Cross cable that carries all telecommunications in and out of New Zealand. The NSA person declared on a US government form that his work was to, “participate in technical discussions regarding GCSB future SSO site." Since this person was simply reporting the general gist of his visit to New Zealand for the purposes of financial accounting, we should have no reason to doubt that he was at least doing this.

The implications for such the interception of the Southern Cross cable would be that all our emails, telephone calls and web traffic that travels outside of New Zealand would be intercepted by the GCSB. This is precisely what commentators said was the impetus for the new GCSB law last year – mass surveillance - and has been confirmed as being conducted by the NSA through the Snowden leaks.

Meanwhile, John Key says “It isn’t happening,” and a spokesperson for the GCSB says, “"we don't do mass surveillance and we don't use partners to circumvent the law.”

Over the past two years, we have heard a litany of lies and half-truths from the National Government regarding the GCSB. The denial last Friday is just another of these.

In August 2012, Acting Prime Minister Bill English signs a ministerial certificate directing no disclosure of GCSB information, in essence orchestrating a cover-up of the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom, under the guise of protecting ‘national security.’ When the material makes it into the public arena, the Deputy PM is at a loss to explain what ‘national security’ threat required hiding the illegal surveillance of a person accused of copyright infringement.

In 2013, Key is caught lying about his relationship with Ian Fletcher, the man he ensures gets the top job at the GCSB, who is a childhood friend. He repeatedly ‘forgets’ or ‘can’t really say’ when he has seen Fletcher or how often they have talked in respect of the appointment. In spite of this, Key rejects a shortlist of four candidates for the top GCSB job, and directs that his old friend be the only person interviewed.

Early in 2014, Edward Snowden says unequivocally that New Zealand had assistance in drafting the new GCSB law allowing mass surveillance on New Zealanders. Again the Prime Minister and Fletcher denied this.

In July 2014, journalist Jeremy Scahill tells an audience at the NZ Post readers and writers week that the New Zealand government knows that killed Daryl Jones. In an interview with Patrick Gower, he says, "It would be very difficult to believe that it, the New Zealand Government – if it had information about one of its citizens that the United States was tracking – that it wouldn't share that information with the US Government." Meanwhile, Key denies any knowledge of the drone assassination of Jones, but says “that intelligence collected by the Government Communications Security Bureau might be passed to the controversial US programme” and that he is believes that drones are “an effective way of prosecuting people.”

And since Edward Snowden dumped the massive cache of NSA documents into the public domain, one thing has been consistently clear: New Zealand is a full participant of the NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance programmes. There is simply no other way to understand this information: GCSB has access to PRISM, XKeyscore, Tempora, BLARNEY, FAIRVIEW, OAKSTAR, STORMBREW.

The latest revelation adds another layer of confirmation and evidence to what we already know about the activities of the GCSB. Mass surveillance of the Southern Cross cable by the GCSB is completely consistent with the aspirations of the NSA: “to gain access to high-capacity international fibre-optic cables, switches and/or routers throughout the world.”

Why it matters

Naturally, many people in New Zealand are alarmed at the prospect of mass surveillance by the GCSB. This is a real and justifiable concern. The internet is not the free, open or private place that we might have hoped or imagined.

The real reason it matters isn’t simply or even primarily whether we as individuals are being spied on; it isn’t that the New Zealand government is systematically lying to us. Rather, it is that the US intelligence service is operating spying facilities in New Zealand, the US military is conducting joint operations with the Defence Force, and that both the domestic and foreign policy of New Zealand has been subsumed to US national security. The end result of this can only be that when the US bell tolls war again, it will be a call New Zealand cannot refuse.

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