With the New Zealand general election less than a week away, a coalition of heavyweight Internet activists came together on Monday night for a high-profile press conference dubbed “The Moment of Truth,” with the aim of exposing falsehoods perpetrated by the New Zealand government about the country’s surveillance practices.
Entrepreneur, Mega creator and Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom and award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald held a press conference at the Auckland Town Hall, alongside Internet Party leader Laila Harré and Dotcom’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam, with special guests Wikleaks’ Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden both appearing by video-link.
The focus of the highly-anticipated event was the New Zealand government’s alleged spying on its citizens. NZ Prime Minister John Key had previously maintained that the country operates no mass surveillance program akin to the American and British programs revealed by leaked NSA documents, but a new report based off the documents leaked by Snowden contradict this.
A report by Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher published in The Intercept on Monday revealed that the country’s spy agency 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.” The NSA documents detail a program called SPEARGUN, which involved a “cable access” tap into the undersea cable that connects New Zealand internet to the world.
In the run-up to The Moment of Truth, PM John Key called Greenwald a “loser” and a “little henchman” of Kim Dotcom.
Greenwald laughed the charges off at the conference, saying Key’s attacks are “the most adolescent epithets imaginable,” and that the Prime Minister has “no interest at all in dignity or statesmanlike behavior.”
Greenwald went on to attack the Prime Minister over his decision to declassify documents (PDF) that “prove” he blocked the only attempt made to introduce mass surveillance. “He’s not releasing that classified information for any other reason than protecting his reputation and for political gain,” Greenwald said. He argued that if Key can declassify it without “jeopardizing public security,” it “should never have been marked classified in the first place.”
“It’s wrong of Key to take away the public’s seat at the table of government,” said Snowden, and [for Key to] say “‘you’ll simply have to trust us—unless it harms my reputation at which point I’ll throw classified documents in the air like I’m Julian Assange.’”
In 2013 Key promised to resign along with GCSB head Ian Fletcher “if the spy agency [GCSB] were found to have conducted mass surveillance.”
Snowden wrote an op-ed published by The Intercept on Monday, saying that Key’s claims that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” are “false,” and that “this misuse of New Zealand’s spying apparatus for the benefit of a single individual is a historic concern.”
Snowden claimed his own personal experience as an intelligence operative confirmed that the New Zealand government had access to the communications data of the country’s citizens. “To clarify, [surveillance program] XKeyscore does involve both metadata and content collection for individuals in New Zeland,” Snowden said. “That’s without question, citizens of New Zealand have their private communications in this database.” “The GCSB not only had access to the surveillance tool but actively “contributed to the development of XKeyscore.”
Snowden drew attention to a “Five Eyes defeat” filter in the system, which is a checkbox allowing analysts to exclude from their search results coming from the Five Eyes nations – the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “Ask yourself: why do analysts have a checkbox on a top secret system that hides the results of mass surveillance in New Zealand if there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand?”
“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,” Snowden said.
Snowden also revealed that there are two NSA sites in New Zealand. “There are actually NSA facilities in New Zealand, that the GCSB is aware of, and that means the Prime Minister is aware of, and one of them is in Auckland. Another one is in the north of the country.”
The NSA also has an officer based in Wellington, NZ at the U.S. Embassy, according to a secret 2004 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. “The new position [Deputy Special U.S. Liaison Officer] will advance US interests in New Zealand by improving liaison and cooperation on vital signals intelligence matters,” the cable states. (See: NSA/CIA “Special Collection Service” Agents Posing as Diplomats in Embassies/Consulates, 80 Locations Worldwide)
Kim Dotcom said he would also produce evidence at The Moment of Truth to support his belief that Key had colluded with Hollywood executives to deny him residency in New Zealand in 2010, in preparation for an extradition attempt to the US. Key has consistently said he knew nothing of Dotcom’s existence until the eve of the dramatic FBI-backed raid on his north Auckland mansion in January 2012.
Several hours before the event, New Zealand Herald published an email from 2010, in which the Warner Bros chairman informed a Motion Picture Association of America executive: “John Key told me in private that they are granting Dotcom residency despite pushback from officials about his criminal past. His AG [attorney general] will do everything in his power to assist us with our case. VIP treatment and then a one-way ticket to Virginia [where charges would be filed].”
The email which, according to the Herald, was “the evidence Dotcom is planning on producing at the Moment of Truth event,” was dismissed as fake by Warner Bros and the MPAA, while Key said no such conversation took place.
The disputed email was mentioned only fleetingly during the Monday night rally by lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who said it had been referred to the parliamentary privileges committee.
Dotcom was questioned by reporters about the email at a press conference after the event. He insisted the email was genuine. “I believe it to be 100% real. Everything I’ve produced in the past, everything I’ve said in the past, has been proved true.”