Snowden Docs: New Zealand Spying On Friendly Neighboring Countries For The NSA

from the Five-Eyes-but-one-master dept

More Snowden docs have been released, covering the extent of GCSB’s (New Zealand’s intelligence agency) spying on supposedly “friendly” island nations. As is par for the course for intelligence programs, the documents show massive bulk collections of data and communications — all of which are immediately shared with the other members of the “Five Eyes” club.

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.

This sort of spying — while apparently “normal,” in light of previously-released documents — indicates many governments enjoy spying for spying’s sake, rather than for the justifications they often offer in defense of untargeted surveillance.

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.

New Zealand’s intelligence agency, along with Prime Minister John Key, have previously refused to acknowledge or deny the use of the NSA’s XKeyscore system. A short blurb from the obtained documents renders this Glomar null.

The wording indicates that GCSB is indeed using this system for its collections, which are then immediately accessible to the NSA. NSA analysts must first read through an online (“iLearn”) briefing on NZ law and answer a few questions correctly before they’re allowed to search the collection.

The collection itself is impressive. It contains phone calls, text messages, emails and social media interactions. In the parlance of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies, this is “full-take,” a far more intrusive form of surveillance than skimming metadata off the top.

Even though it’s purportedly an anti-terrorism tool, the surrounding friendly nations have given New Zealand little reason to spy on them. But that’s how the anti-terrorism game is played by spy agencies: everything from everyone, for as long as possible. What’s not legal to “look at” in one country can always be used by another. The built-in “protections” for each nation’s citizens are nearly useless, considering the breadth and depth of these untargeted collections. Incidental collections are a certainty, rather than an anomaly analysts should be wary of.

Whatever’s being collected had better be doing a bang-up job keeping terrorists at bay. Prime Minister John Key has openly stated that sending his own citizens off to die is foreign warzones is just paying Five Eyes membership dues.

In his strongest hint yet that the Cabinet will approve a deployment of troops to train Iraqis alongside Australians, Mr Key in an interview with the BBC drew heavily on New Zealand pulling its weight as part of “a club”.

“Ultimately are we going to say we are going to be part of a club like [we] are with Five Eyes intelligence?

“Even if the contribution is small – of course it will be proportional – there has to be some contribution,” he said.

“It is the price of the club.”

Of course, Key has also reassured New Zealand citizens that the GCSB isn’t spying on them, betting his job against that probability.

Asked if he and GCSB chief Ian Fletcher would resign if there were mass surveillance, he said yes.

“But the facts of life are it won’t happen.”

For that to happen, the GCSB would have to undertake illegal activity.

He clarified later saying “both” would resign if there was mass surveillance.

“If I wholesale blatantly flout the law as Prime Minister I’m never going to survive anyway.”

Key’s hedges make it almost impossible to hold him to his promise. Domestic surveillance has been confirmed, both by these documents and previous revelations. The interception points and untargeted dragnet make it inevitable that New Zealanders’ communications are being swept up indiscriminately. The problem is that this is likely legal. The only way to violate New Zealand’s surveillance laws (and hold PM Key to his promise) is to find proof that GCSB is intentionally targeting its countrymen. By making surveillance programs broad and untargeted, the GCSB can avoid violating the law while still collecting a great deal of domestic data and communications. Minimization comes into play post-collection, but there’s nothing built into the system to prevent — or even minimize — these “incidental” collections.

Whatever the GCSB offers in assurances about minimization should probably be ignored. It doesn’t maintain any control over the communications it grabs. The collection belongs to the NSA. GCSB analysts have to run queries through the American agency just to see what it’s gathered from its neighbors.

The documents show that when GCSB staff want to access communications intercepted at Waihopai, they have to log into NSA computer databases. Minutes of a June 2009 meeting at the NSA headquarters, where a GCSB officer was present, show how integrated the GCSB is into the NSA systems. The GCSB officer, manager of an intelligence analysis unit, told the meeting that 20 per cent of GCSB’s analytic workforce did not have accounts or access to key NSA databases.

Because the GCSB doesn’t control the database, it really can’t destroy anything it shouldn’t have access to. New Zealanders caught in this dragnet now “belong” to the NSA, which has very few minimization procedures for foreign collections — even if the actual “collection” utilized another agency and occurred under another set of laws. GCSB analysts may constrain themselves from searching or viewing New Zealanders’ communications, but it can’t promise to delete unlawfully-obtained “incidental” collections.

It works out this way: the New Zealand government will provide military support — including the deployment of troops — in exchange for whatever the NSA allows it to look at. It provides the intercepts, but the NSA enjoys the greatest share of its “partner’s” collection efforts. This hardly seems like an equitable exchange. And now New Zealand is going to be dealing with irritated neighboring countries and more than a few irate New Zealanders. And for what? A massive, untargeted collection that it doesn’t even control and which does very little to aid in the country’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Snowden Docs: New Zealand Spying On Friendly Neighboring Countries For The NSA”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think DC should just give it up and head off to Brazil. There’s no way anyone can get a fair trial these days, not when one of the parties to it can claim NatSec and not have to tell the court how they came up with evidence. Between that and parallel reconstruction, welcome to Spanish Inquisition 2.0.

I was reading another story last night where whistleblower Binney admits he doesn’t bother using crypto. There’s no point in bothering with it when the NSA can, and will, just crack any system it pleases to to get at whatever it wants.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If a corporation, or especially the government has it in for you, your chance of a fair trial don’t plummet, they flat out don’t exist.

When one side is allowed to present unchallengable evidence that the defense isn’t allowed to see because ‘National Security’, and use evidence laundering to make it all but impossible for the defense to challenge what evidence they can see, the defense doesn’t have a chance.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For me, this is like seeing those “Superman Killed!!!111” comic books when I was a six year old kid. Between Petraeus/Panetta, HRC & email, NSA+Five Eyes, what they’re doing to whistleblowers, and how R vs. D politics are so obnoxiously messy to watch, and all the other crazy !@#$ that’s going on, …

Damn, I’m so sad for my old hero.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Imagine, if you will, a marriage between the US Federal Government (and its Military, Taxation, Justice and Spy Agencies) and the MAFIA (and their affiliates in the various drug, prostitution, gambling and insurance cartels), and you do indeed have Cobra, and a much better picture of the current situation on earth today.

Why fight and likely lose when you can secretly join forces and definitely prosper, by pretending to fight and getting paid for it by the tax payers, while participating in the illegal activities of the “enemy” for a second even larger income?

The word “Doh!” comes to mind.

Chris Brand says:


That’s a vast amount of trust to place in any foreign power, even a good ally. At a minimum, the NSA knows every query the NZ analysts make against the database. If they want to, of course, they can provide tailored results to lead those NZ analysts to the conclusions that best suit US interests.

MikeWestern (profile) says:

Targeting all vs Targeting individuals

When a player uses an effect that prevents targeting individual creatures or other permanents, it does not prevent the targeting of All creatures or All other permanents.

For example:

A 1/1 White Soldier (let’s call him Snowden) might have “cannot be the target of Spy spells or effects” as a power.

But a card that affected all creatures (Wrath of God, etc) would still destroy him.

As would any effect that caused his his current player (Russia) to sacrifice him.

These rules are detailed here, under targeted effects:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Targeting all vs Targeting individuals

Haven’t played MTG in a while, sold all my double lands and the corresponding fetchers once on a whim because I wanted an electric guitar+amp again but that was funny.

We still got humour guys, proletariat of the Five Eyes. It’s not as bad as those poor slobs that were/are(?) tortured by the CIA (and there’s much worse stuff than waterboarding).

Just make an extract from apple seeds and put it in a gelcap that’s readily available just in case.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, the US is dealing with individuals, not nations – US Taxpayer’s cash in hand – and the deal come with an “If you’re not with US, you’re against US” sub-clause.

So the crooks that hold foreign political office are simply taking the deal that pays the best, the soonest, and hoping they can get enough cash stashed away in their offshore accounts, that when the US comes to foreclose on the deal and squish their country like a bug, they can catch a ride on a Lear Jet to their castle in Spain and avoid the slaughter.

Its an ancient story, oft retold.

calude (profile) says:

Snowden Docs: New Zealand Spying On Friendly Neighboring Countries For The NSA

Oh, my, this is not new, have you not heard of 5Eyes, yes 5 eyes member countries include New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Canada and USA, which let member spy on each other countries citizens without interference for years. The plus here was if there was an arrest to be made by the home country they needed a subpoena to bring the case to court. Although now each of these countries are rewriting the law to spy on their own citizens which is a slippery slope of illegalities by their own governments and the hands that control them.

GEMont (profile) says:

Err... no.... I was born on Europa actually.

Eventually, like falling off a log while asleep, most people are going to realize that the word Terrorist actually refers to anyone on earth that is not a part of the surveillance and extortion apparatus run by the gang of
White English-Speaking cut-throats and con-men, known as the Five Eyes, and that the Terrorists that these governments keep referring to – Muslim Extremists, are in fact, little more than paid performers on the Five Eyes payroll, who dance before the camera to produce scary pictures that will hopefully frighten the populations of the Earth into willing slavery.

Of course, given that we’re talking about human beings, this realization will come years too late and the people will not know that there are others out there who also realize it because it will be illegal by then to discuss such things on any public or private non-government forum or medium, such as email or telephone.

It is always astounding how my own species can embarrass me time and again, and each time more so than the time before.

To err is human. To err repeatedly is human. To always err, even when its obvious that you’re erring is human. To err because the guy next to you erred, is human. To err because its too frightening to not err, is human. To err because you just don’t give a shit, is human.

Homo Saps.

C’est la vie eh.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Obama is the darkest white man I have ever seen. Or are you just prejudiced against whites?”

I’ll assume this is in response to:

“…White English-Speaking cut-throats and con-men, known as the Five Eyes…”

First, I am a white male, and second, yes, I’ve met more white jerks than all other races combined.

We don’t have the full deed to the Asshole Ranch yet, but we certainly do have a huge chunk of its real estate and are buying up more of it every year.

But to the point: Obama is a rented Ringer, an employee.

His employers are all White English Speaking Billionaires, who run both political parties as a very successful business model.

His color made him perfect for the Not A Bush POTUS selection scam needed to get “their man” back in place to finish off all the fascist legal shenanigans that Bush2 had been hired to do, after Bush2 made it impossible to elect a Republican, even through a fixed vote, as nobody would have believed the results.

An unknown Democrat-Hat-Wearing confidence man, who was definitely not a Bush, was needed for the job and Obama was the perfect candidate to carry the Fascist Torch back into office, for that necessary final burning of the constitution.

Who on earth would have even suspected it possible that the infamously bigoted, black and woman denigrating Republicans would place a black man in the oval office?? The only thing less likely would have been them placing a black woman in the oval office.

Especially since the hired Republican Pundits have all been doing their level best to make Obama look bad since the day he took office, exactly as everyone expected them to do.

Nobody then and apparently, still nobody now.

This is what is known in the business as a perfect scam.

Of course, a fully dumbed-down and gullible population that believes God his-very-self chooses their POTUS, certainly helps in any confidence game.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...