5 March 2015
Aimee Gulliver and Michael Field
The Government’s spy agency has been committing crimes against entire nations in its mass surveillance in the Pacific, Greens co-leader Dr Russel Norman says.
Investigative journalist Nicky Hager today said a series of documents leaked to him by the fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden showed New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours to serve American interests and secure its place in a US-led “club”.
Hager has collaborated with news site The Intercept, and newspapers the Sunday Star-Times, the New Zealand Herald, and the Herald on Sunday, to publish stories based on files taken by Snowden from the United States National Security Agency (NSA).
According to Hager, the documents show the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has been spying on Pacific countries including the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Nauru and Samoa. They also show that in 2009, spying activity was ramped up to “full-take collection” where all communications from the region were “being hoovered in” by the GCSB.
The GCSB is legally prevented from spying on New Zealand citizens.
In some Pacific Island nations, including Niue and the Cook Islands, everyone born there was a New Zealand citizen by birth.
“It means we have effectively committed crimes under New Zealand law against entire countries of people by spying on their data,” Norman said.
“I think there’s little doubt it’s illegal – the GCSB isn’t allowed to collect data on New Zealand citizens – not allowed to collect their information.”
Any New Zealanders living or travelling in the Pacific could also be sure their data had been collected as part of the mass surveillance, Norman said.
“This was basically a giant vacuum cleaner for information from all of these Pacific Island countries since 2009, so anyone that has worked or travelled in the Pacific since 2009 has almost certainly had their data taken up by the GCSB.”
There was no reason not to believe Snowden and his documents, Norman said.
“If that is correct and there’s no reason to think it’s not correct, then what it means is the GCSB has been collecting the data of all New Zealand citizens when they’ve been in the Pacific, and it means the GCSB is clearly in breach of the New Zealand law which prevents it from collecting data on New Zealand citizens,” he said.
Decisions in the Five Eyes alliance – comprising the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – were mostly made by the US, and the other members – including New Zealand – “just have to do what they’re told”.
“We’ve got our little part of the world that we’ve got to collect all the data on, which is the southwest Pacific, and then we feed all that data into the giant NSA database,” Norman said.
“It really means we don’t have an independent foreign policy – we haven’t even vetted the data or looked at it – we just hand it over to the US Government.”
New Zealand undertook the surveillance not for security, but to be part of the Five Eyes alliance – “the club”, Norman said.
“I mean it’s ridiculous to think that Isis or something like that was planning an attack from Nauru or from Tuvalu,” he said.
“It just means that the price of the club is that we go to war in Iraq, but it also means that we spy on our Pacific Island friends.”
New Zealand spying on the South Pacific and Tonga is “a breach of trust”, Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said.
Pohiva was “adamant that this is a breach of trust”, the Prime Minister’s Department in Nuku’alofa said this morning.
“But it is happening all over the world. Tonga is too small to stand up to the ‘alleged spying’,” Pohiva said through the official.
“China is on the radar . . . so what can we do?”
Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele, says he is not concerned about the allegations of New Zealand spying on his country.
“I do not know what country would waste its resources listening to Tom, Dick, and Harry,” he told Radio New Zealand International.
“It would be far fetched to think that a spy agency in any country would waste their resources doing that kind of thing to Samoa.”
‘A MASS INVASION OF PRIVACY’
Labour leader Andrew Little said the information could place New Zealand in a “potentially big diplomatic mess”.
Little said he was not surprised the GCSB had been doing some monitoring around the Pacific, but said the “full-take collection” did not seem to be consistent with the GCSB’s mandate.
“This is just a mass collection, a mass invasion of privacy,” he said.
“I can’t see what the strategic interest in it is – why we would be doing it, why [John Key] as minister would have signed off on it.”
Little said he did not have any objection in principle to being part of the Five Eyes intelligence network, but said there should be a limit to what the state did.
“If the defence to this mass, indiscriminate collection is that that is the price of being part of ‘the club’ then I don’t accept that,” he said.
“We have our alliances with the Five Eyes members but that shouldn’t extend to mass intrusion of privacy of innocent citizens, which is what this amounts to.”
READ MORE: * Snowden documents: NZ spied to Pacific Island neighbours * Opinion: NZ right to spy on Pacific Island neighbours * Diplomat: GCSB must have a really boring job * Live coverage * NZ spied on Pacific neighbours – Greenwald * Nicky Hager: Kiwis will be ‘shocked’ by spy claims * Q&A – Spying and NZ
Pacific countries New Zealand had spied on were entitled to ask “why they were being targeted in this way?”.
Little said he would not be surprised to see some “stand-offish moments” in the weeks to come in New Zealand’s diplomatic relations. The Pacific nations now needed to be clear about the type of relationship they wanted with New Zealand, Little said.
“This seems to go beyond anything that we would expect in this corner of the world.”
Little said New Zealand would have to think carefully about how it conducted its relationships, because they were too important to compromise.
“It certainly doesn’t seem to me to be the way you’d conduct a relationship with nations you claim to be very close to,” he said
Nothing Hager had said in the past had been proven to be false or incorrect, Little said.
“So I think you can accept that this is happening, this is correct, and it’s just a question of what we do to get ourselves out of a potentially big diplomatic mess.
“And also how we ensure our security agencies stick to the mandate we’ve given them, which is counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, and protecting our commercial interests.”
Hager said that as part of the “full-take collection” referred to in the documents, all communications from the region were “being hoovered in” by the GCSB.
“Everything, everything gets saved, everything gets classified, it all gets sent to the United States,” he said.
“So we’ve really sold out our neighbours, big time, to the US intelligence agencies.”
Hager questioned what was to be gained from spying on small countries like Samoa and Tuvalu.
“The overall spying is because the United States is spying on every part of the world, country by country – pretty much everyone on earth – and New Zealand just gets the job of doing over our little neighbours.”
‘PRICE OF BEING IN THE CLUB’
Prime Minister John Key said in January that sending troops to Iraq to combat the spread of Islamic State militants was “the price of being in the club”.
Key named the members of “the club” as the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia – the same members as those in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
Hager said conducting surveillance in our region was how New Zealand got included.
“It’s the way we get invited into ‘the club’ and we get to play golf and have meetings in Washington and the rest of it,” he said.
“What we’re doing for that – the hidden, unseen, unacknowledged cost of that – is doing the spying work.”
Key yesterday would not confirm or deny that New Zealand’s spy agencies were spying in the Pacific.
“I’m not going into who we gather information from, or why, but I can tell you we do gather information, we have over successive governments across a range of different places, but we do that for really, really good reasons,” he said.
Hager denied that was the case – the surveillance was not being conducted by the GCSB to combat the threat of Isis – “there’s no sign of anything like that,” he said.
“We don’t spy on Tuvalu and Samoa because of terrorist threats, we do it to buy our way into Washington favour and into Washington,” he said.
“That’s what screams out of these documents, and I think we’ve been misled.”
Earlier, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said: “As we saw during the election campaign, misinformation was put before New Zealanders in an attempt to damage the Government.
“The Snowden documents were taken some time ago and many are old, out of date, and we can’t discount that some of what is being put forward may even be fabricated.”
Ahead of the documents’ release, Key yesterday urged New Zealanders not to believe Hager.
Hager said the Snowden documents had been debated and analysed around the world and nothing had been found inaccurate in them.
“It’s kind of a sad reflection on New Zealand that we have this undignified picture – we have a prime minister who just says to people ‘I haven’t seen it yet, I don’t even know what the story is going to say, but it’s wrong, you should put your heads in the sand and not look at it.’
“People have got their own choice to make on that,” Hager said.
The countries spied on had the right to “feel pretty cheated”.
“These countries are not powerful countries, they’re vulnerable countries, they’re dependent on us, so they’re not going to be throwing their weight around, but they’ve got every reason to be upset,” he said.
More stories on countries New Zealand had spied on would be coming out, but Hager refused to confirm whether China was one, answering “wait and see”.
Pohiva, who took office as Tongan prime minister nine weeks ago, is the first commoner to lead the nation of 100,000.
He faces a struggle to steer his country away from what now appears to be inevitable bankruptcy.
Tonga’s major concern is a massive US$114 million (NZ$150 million) debt to China which Beijing pointedly refuses to write-off.
Sources inside the new Tongan Government say they are alarmed to have found that China seems to have taken control of a royal family-owned private satellite service.
Tongasat, as it is called, owns strategic satellite slots over Asia, giving the company the exclusive right to operate geostationary satellites over the region.
While the slots are a sovereign right, they’ve fallen into royal control.
Due to high volume, comments have now been closed on this story.