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Snowden’s New Zealand GCSB Files: Spying on 20+ Countries Including Own Citizens for NSA

In Archive, Five Eyes, GCSB, New Zealand, NSA, NSA Files, Surveillance on March 13, 2015 at 12:07 PM


Nicky Hager/Ryan Gallagher/NZHerald:

New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, the GCSB, has dramatically expanded its spying operations during the years of John Key’s National Government and is automatically funnelling vast amounts of intelligence to the US National Security Agency, top-secret documents reveal.

Since 2009, the Government Communications Security Bureau intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to “full-take collection”, indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKEYSCORE, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.

Last year, Mr Key refused to say whether the GCSB uses XKEYSCORE.

The documents, provided by US whistleblower whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the Government.

Instead, the GCSB directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand’s friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours. These countries’ communications are supplied directly to the NSA and other Five Eyes agencies with little New Zealand oversight or decision-making, as a contribution to US worldwide surveillance.

The New Zealand revelations mirror what the Snowden documents showed in Europe, where the US and Britain were found to be spying on supposedly close and friendly neighbouring nations in the European Union.

The Herald has collaborated with US news site The Intercept to report on the New Zealand-oriented Snowden papers. They reveal the secret activity called signals intelligence – the interception of private phone calls, emails and internet chats – globally.


The documents identify nearly two dozen countries that are intensively spied on by the GCSB. On the target list are most of New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours, including small and vulnerable nations such as Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati and Samoa.

Other South Pacific GCSB targets are Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and French Polynesia. The spy agency intercepts the flows of communications between these countries and then breaks them down into individual emails, phone calls, social media messages and other types of communications. All this intelligence is immediately made available to the NSA, which is based in Maryland, near Washington, DC.

The South Pacific targeting was confirmed by a New Zealand intelligence source, who said the GCSB monitoring included Pacific government ministers and senior officials, government agencies, international organisations and non-government organisations.


Source Documents:

GCSB Asia-Pacific Spying/NSA XKEYSCORE – SIGINT Development Quarterly Report (July 2009)
GCSB Provide NSA New Zealand Data
GCSB XKEYSCORE IRONSAND Access: Multiple Choice Test & Check Box
GCSB/ASD/NZSIS/ASIS South-Pacific Spying High-Priority



Nicky Hager/Ryan Gallagher/Stuff:

The Waihopai intelligence base looks oddly alien and out of place: huge white “golf ball” radomes like a moon station and silent buildings within two fences of razor wire, all dropped in the midst of vineyards and dry hills in New Zealand’s Marlborough landscape.

Documents about the Waihopai station leaked by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the facility is as alien as is seems.

Everything inside the top secret station except the staff is foreign.

The electronic eavesdropping systems, the computer programmes that automatically index and search the captured communications, and the databases where details of a whole region’s communications are stored: they are all standardised parts of the global surveillance system run by the NSA.

The Waihopai base functions as a cog in that spying machine, the alliance’s main eye on the South Pacific region.

The Sunday Star-Times analysed the documents in collaboration with US news website The Intercept, which obtained them from Snowden. The leaked files reveal in unprecedented detail the New Zealand-based station’s targets, inner workings and links to the international network of spy facilities run by the Five Eyes.

Altogether, these bases can snoop on the entire world, friend as well as foe.

The leaked documents do not talk about “Waihopai”. They use the station’s secret Five Eyes code name Ironsand (“IS”). It’s not clear why Waihopai is Ironsand.

An NSA map shows it is one of a global network of oddly-named satellite interception stations. These stations are the eyes of the Five Eyes alliance.

Australia has a base near Geraldton, a small port city on the west coast of Australia. Its codename is Stellar.

The British station in Oman has the codename Snick. Britain’s Kenya base is known as Scapel. Britain also spies on satellites from Carboy, a station in Cornwall, and from a base in Cyprus called Sounder.

The American equivalents of Waihopai are Jackknife in Washington State on the Pacific coast, Timberline in West Virginia and Coraline in Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The biggest of these is the Moonpenny base in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

The New Zealand station is viewed by the alliance as just another base in its network. It is marked on the map as a “Second Party” site. In the Five Eyes alliance, the US is first party and Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are second parties.

There are also colourful code names – Juggernaut, Legalreptile, and Venusaffect, for example – for the intelligence programmes used inside the Waihopai base.

What do these systems do?


Source Documents:

GCSB Update April 22 2010
GCSB Update March 21 2012
GCSB Second Party National Identity Rules


Nicky Hager/Ryan Gallagher/NZHerald:

New Zealand spies on Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan, South American nations and a range of other countries to help fill gaps in worldwide surveillance operations by the United States National Security Agency (NSA), documents show.

The documents, obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and shared with the Herald, highlight discrepancies between secret and official foreign policy adopted by New Zealand. They expose the extent of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) contributions to the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance New Zealand is part of alongside the US, Britain, Canada, and Australia.

In April 2013, weeks before Snowden finished gathering NSA documents and flew to Hong Kong, an NSA officer completed a top-secret review outlining what the GCSB contributes within the US-led alliance.

The Herald analysed this document and others in collaboration with US news website The Intercept, which obtained them from Snowden.

The NSA profile of the GCSB reveals the New Zealand organisation is running spying operations against 20 or more countries, including friendly nations and trading partners.

The eavesdropping stretches from India and Iran in Asia to isolated scientific bases in Antarctica. These countries are listed in the NSA report in a section headed “What Partner Provides to NSA”.

The NSA officer’s review said the GCSB “continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries … difficult for the US to access”.

It said the “GCSB provides collection on China, Japanese/North Korean/Vietnamese/South American diplomatic communications, South Pacific island nations, Pakistan, India, Iran and Antarctica”.

“Collection” means the GCSB conducts active surveillance on these countries and territories. The report also lists French South Pacific territories and Afghanistan as GCSB targets. The document, called “NSA Intelligence Relationship with New Zealand” and given a top-secret classification, was prepared by the NSA’s Country Desk Officer for New Zealand based in the agency’s headquarters in Maryland.

There are three main ways that the GCSB contributes to the NSA’s worldwide surveillance:

Targeting countries using the Waihopai satellite interception base.

Accessing nations’ internal communication networks from covert listening posts hidden in New Zealand embassy and high commission buildings.

By GCSB staff helping to translate and analyse communications intercepted by other Five Eyes agencies.


Source Documents:

NSA Intelligence Relationship with New Zealand (April 2013)
SIGNIT Development Forum (SDF) Minutes (June 2009)
WARRIORPRIDE Malware – SUSLOW Monthly Report (March 2013)


Investigate journalist Nicky Hager has made new allegations of espionage by the New Zealand Government.

Following on from his accusations that the Government Communications Security Bureau is spying on countries in the Pacific, Hager now says the GCSB also spies on a number of Asian countries, including China, Japan, India, Pakistan, as well as Iran, countries in South America and scientific bases in Antarctica.

Ben Leonard spoke to Nicky Hager about the new allegations.

Related Links:

Kim Dotcom’s “The Moment of Truth” w/ Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden & Julian Assange
Project SPEARGUN: NSA/GCSB Southern Cross Cable-Tapping Program

GCSB Project CORTEX: “US CISPA was Killed Because of Concerns Associated with Activity CORTEX Enables”

GCSB Project CORTEX: “US CISPA was Killed Because of Concerns Associated with Activity CORTEX Enables”

In Archive, GCSB, New Zealand, Surveillance on September 16, 2014 at 5:08 PM


Ryan Gallagher/TheIntercept:

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key declassified documents on Monday (after The Intercept published a story about the NZ government’s secret plan to access data from the country’s main internet cable.) that outlined a project called “CORTEX.” Key seemed to think — or perhaps hope — that these documents would kill off any concerns and put the controversy to a swift end. But they fail to address a number of crucial issues — critics have already dismissed them as a “red herring” — and in fact only seem to cloud matters further.

In a radio interview on Monday morning, Key described Project CORTEX as a toned down version of what he called “mass cyber protection.” What’s now in place, he said, is a “bespoke functionality which an individual company or agency could deploy,” apparently to mitigate cyber attacks.

The Cortex files show that the government signed off on a new “proactive” cybersecurity effort aimed helping government agencies and other organizations detect malware attacks. But what Key has not mentioned in any of his interviews is that the monitoring that was enabled by this system also, by design, has to filter through private communications to identify malware in the first place. The documents Key declassified clearly state that under CORTEXtechnology can be used to separate personal communications from other data, so that privacy issues associated with GCSB activities to be proportionate to cyber threats.” (Emphasis added.) In the United States, the cybersecurity bill CISPA was opposed by privacy advocates and eventually killed because of widespread concerns associated with the type of activity CORTEX appears to enable.

To function, the CORTEX project must have some degree of access to New Zealand’s internet cables. What we still do not know is how broad that access is or the practical restraints in place preventing the system from being misused to collect citizens’ private data. Key has insisted, of course, that no large-scale “cable access” project like Speargun was completed. But the CORTEX documents certainly do not prove it — so thus far Key is expecting citizens to take him at his word.

Project SPEARGUN: NSA/GCSB Southern Cross Cable-Tapping Program

In Archive, GCSB, New Zealand, NSA, NSA Files, Surveillance on September 16, 2014 at 4:18 PM



Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Gallagher/TheIntercept:

Top secret documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden demonstrate that the GCSB, with ongoing NSA cooperation, implemented Phase I of a mass surveillance program code-named “SPEARGUN” at some point in 2012 or early 2013. SPEARGUN involved the covert installation of “cable access” equipment, which appears to refer to surveillance of the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable. This cable carries the vast majority of internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and mass collection from it would mark the greatest expansion of GCSB spying activities in decades.

Upon completion of the first stage, SPEARGUN moved to Phase II, under which “metadata probes” were to be inserted into those cables. The NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for “mid-2013.” Surveillance probes of this sort are commonly/used by NSA and/their/partners to tap into huge flows of information from communication cables in real time, enabling them to extract the dates, times, senders, and recipients of emails, phone calls, and the like. The technique is almost by definition a form of mass surveillance; metadata is relatively useless for intelligence purposes without a massive amount of similar data to analyze it against and trace connections through.

The NSA documents note in more than one place that completion of SPEARGUN was impeded by one obstacle: The need to enact a new spying law that would allow the GCSB, for the first time, to spy on its own citizens as well as legal residents of the country.


It was of sufficient interest to the NSA that in March 2013, the director of Prime Minister Key’s Intelligence Coordination Group traveled to NSA headquarters to offer an update on the legislation.



Related Links:

Snowden: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Isn’t Tellin the Truth About Mass Surveillance

Kim Dotcom’s “The Moment of Truth” w/ Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden & Julian Assange

GCSB Project CORTEX: “US CISPA was Killed Because of Concerns Associated with Activity CORTEX Enables”

Kim Dotcom’s “The Moment of Truth” w/ Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden & Julian Assange

In Archive, Assange, GCSB, Greenwald, Kim Dotcom, New Zealand, NSA, NSA Files, Politics, Snowden, Surveillance on September 16, 2014 at 1:33 AM


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.”

February 2013 NSA/GCSB technical discussions regarding “Special Source Operations” site at Waihopai spy base near Bleinheim, NZ (Possible second NSA site Snowden referred to)

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.”

“Moment of Truth”: Glenn Greenwald in New Zealand with Kim Dotcom for New Revelations on GCSB Spying

In Archive, Five Eyes, GCSB, Greenwald, Kim Dotcom, New Zealand, NSA, NSA Files, Surveillance on September 13, 2014 at 1:14 PM


In his first television interview in New Zealand, Glenn Greenwald talks to The Nation about the Edward Snowden leaks and how New Zealand agencies are involved in spying at home and abroad.

Greenwald says there are serious questions about whether the New Zealand Government was truthful about the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) law change last year. (Watch Kim Dotcom in parliament arguing against expansion of GCSB powers. July 2013)

“What I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year — ‘We do not engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders’ — is one that is not truthful.”

The Government engages in “extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata – meaning who’s talking to whom for how long, where they are when they speak – on a massive, indiscriminate scale, not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well”.

New Zealand is an active member of the Five Eyes Alliance and spends an extraordinary amount of resources on electronic surveillance.

“…Every single thing that the NSA does that we have been reporting on over the last year and a couple of months involves New Zealand directly.”

According to Greenwald, GCSB spies on a variety of countries, both hostile and allies. New Zealand spy agencies also have access to NSA’s XKeyscore program and contributes to it.

Glenn Greenwald is in New Zealand for Kim Dotcom‘s “Moment of Truth” announcement on Monday night, which is expected to involve new mass surveillance revelations from the Snowden cache regarding New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key rejected Greenwald’s claims that Kiwis are being spied on by the GCSB, dismissing him as “[Kim] Dotcom’s little henchman,” and saying Greenwald was part of a Dotcom smear campaign to swing the election.

“There is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders by GCSB, and there never has been mass surveillance of New Zealanders by GCSB.”

“Now in the fullness of time we’ll respond to Dotcom’s little henchman, but mark my words, he’s wrong.”

Greenwald responded in a tweet saying, “Does the Prime Minister think that bizarre ad hominem attacks against me will make the facts- and the documents – disappear?”

Key admitted for the first time that yes, New Zealand spies did look into what he calls a “mass protection” option that he concedes could have been seen as “mass surveillance” or “wholesale spying,” but that it never actually went ahead. After two major cyber-attacks on New Zealand companies, in late 2011 and early 2012, the GCSB started to look at options with the help of partner agencies like the NSA, but the idea never got past the business case stage because he deemed it too invasive.

Key said he is “prepared to declassify documents and release proof in the coming days.”

A spokesman for the GCSB last night said the agency was aware of the PM’s suggestions but could not comment.

Last year, Key put his job on the line saying he and GCSB head Ian Fletcher would resign if the spy agency were found to have conducted mass surveillance.

What the GCSB did do was “provide support to agencies like the police if required.” according to Key.

“It’s very, very targeted. It provides cyber security protection for New Zealanders on a basis where they’re invited to do that, and on a bespoke basis.

“And it’s primary aim is to gather foreign intelligence, so it does do that – it’s nothing new. It’s done that over six successive governments and it does it to protect New Zealand’s property and interest overseas.”

“Lets understand what’s going on here; Kim Dotcom is paying Glenn Greenwald to come to New Zealand a week before an election and he’s trying to influence New Zealanders. The problem is, he’s got the story wrong.”

Asked if the information to be released on Monday could prove embarrassing for New Zealand among other nations, Key said he would not comment on what the GCSB did overseas.

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