Inquiry Launched into New Zealand Mass Surveillance
26 March, 2015
On Thursday, Cheryl Gwyn, New Zealand’s inspector-general of intelligence and security, announced that she would be opening an inquiry after receiving complaints about spying being conducted in the South Pacific by eavesdropping agency Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB.
In a press release, Gwyn’s office said: “The complaints follow recent public allegations about GCSB activities. The complaints, and these public allegations, raise wider questions regarding the collection, retention and sharing of communications data.”
This month, The Intercept has shined a light on the GCSB’s surveillance with investigative reports produced in partnership with the New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, and Sunday-Star-Times.
The reports, based on information from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and other sources, have revealed how the GCSB has been intercepting communications in bulk across a variety of neighboring South Pacific islands, raising concerns that New Zealand citizens’ emails and phone calls are being swept up in the dragnet.
The reports have also shown how the GCSB is funneling data into the NSA’s XKEYSCORE internet surveillance system from a surveillance base in the Waihopai Valley and is spying on about 20 countries across the world, predominantly in the Asia-Pacific region, including major trading partners such as Japan, Vietnam and China. The most recent stories have revealed that GCSB used XKEYSCORE to spy on emails about candidates vying to be the director general of the World Trade Organization and target top government officials and an anti-corruption campaigner in the Solomon Islands.
Following the disclosures, several of New Zealand’s opposition political leaders have criticized the surveillance and filed complaints with Gwyn, the inspector-general of intelligence and security.
In her statement on Thursday announcing the initiation of an inquiry, Gwyn said she would be conducting “a focused review of a particular area of GCSB or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service practice.”
She added: “I have today notified the acting director of the GCSB of my inquiry and of my intention in this inquiry to provide as much information to the public on my findings as I can, withholding only that information that cannot be disclosed without endangering national security. The director has assured me of the Bureau’s full co-operation.”
John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister (pictured above), last year claimed that “there has never been any mass surveillance and New Zealand has not gathered mass information and provided it to international agencies.”
However, after The Intercept’s recent reports, former GCSB chief Bruce Ferguson admitted that the agency had been engaged in “mass collection” of data and said it was “mission impossible” to eliminate New Zealand citizens’ communications from being vacuumed up.
Responding to the news about the inspector general’s inquiry on Thursday, Prime Minister Key told the media he was “not fearful in the slightest” about its findings.
“That’s the reason we beefed up the inspector-general and, in fact, we’ve been talking to her,” Key said. “We’ve got absolutely no concerns about it.”
Recent New Zealand reports on The Intercept:
GCSB spying reports: Brazil demands an explanation from New Zealand
27 March, 2015
Brazil has demanded an explanation from New Zealand after reports New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency the GCSB spied on its campaign to get Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevedo elected as Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation in 2013 - successfully.
Brazil media have reported that New Zealand's ambassador in Sao Paulo, Caroline Bilkey, was summoned by the Secretary General of Brazil's foreign ministry (MRE), Sergio Danese, to explain.
A statement issued by the ministry was translated to say Brazil's Government was surprised at the news and is determined to have the facts clarified in consideration of the friendship that has always existed between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully confirmed in statement that "MFAT officials in Brazil have discussed the matters raised in media reporting with their counterparts."
But he indicated that the New Zealand Government has responded to requests rather than initiating meetings with Governments concerned to discuss the matter.
"If foreign governments want to raise issues about the assumptions being made by journalists we will respond. We will do this in private rather than through the news media."
He won't say what the explanation was.
The Herald reported on Monday that Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) programmed an internet surveillance system to intercept emails about the candidates for the WTO post from Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica in the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment.
New Zealand Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser was a rival candidate for the WTO job.
From an original field of nine, in mid April Mr Groser made it to the final five along with others from Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil. The final two candidates were from Mexico and Brazil.
The Herald report was written by Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher of the US site The Intercept and was based on documents taken from United States spy agency NSA by Edward Snowden.
NSA and GCSB are sister organisations in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The reports said that the GCSB used the XKeyscore system run by the NSA its WTO project.
Brazil reacted angrily in 2013 after reports, also based on Snowden documents, suggested that the NSA has listened to phone calls of the presidents of Brazil, Germany and Venezuela.
President Dilma Rouseff of Brazil cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington .
AFP has reported that US Vice-President Biden extended an invitation to her just last week for a visit this year- which would be the first in 20 years by a Brazilian president.