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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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”