Snowden Docs Show NSA, New Zealand Spied On Pro-Democracy Activists

from the we-love-democracy,-not-so-much-those-who-advocate-for-it dept

The Intercept has published a few more documents from the Snowden stash -- these ones detailing the NSA's partnership with New Zealand's top intelligence agency to place pro-democracy activists under surveillance.

As part of the spy mission, the NSA used its powerful global surveillance apparatus to intercept the emails and Facebook chats of people associated with a Fijian “thumbs up for democracy” campaign. The agency then passed the messages to its New Zealand counterpart, Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB.

One of the main targets was [Tony] Fullman, a New Zealand citizen, whose communications were monitored by the NSA after New Zealand authorities, citing secret evidence, accused him of planning an “an act of terrorism” overseas.

The "act of terrorism" claims were odd, considering Fullman's activism was aligned with the New Zealand government's own views: opposition to neighboring Fiji's authoritarian ruler, Frank Bainimarama. Utilizing PRISM, the NSA intercepted Fullman's Gmail and Facebook messages, along with gathering everything it could from his public postings -- including this data on his apparently terrorism-related personal vehicle.

Both the NSA and its New Zealand partner have refused to comment on the misguided surveillance, stating only that everything done was performed lawfully.

The erroneous assumptions of terrorism seem to be linked to Fullman's lifelong friendship with a top Fijian military official. Fullman grew up in Fiji, where he met Ratu Tevita Mara in the 1960s. Fullman moved to New Zealand while in his 20s before returning to take a government position in 2009. By that point, Mara had moved up in the military to a position as the Fijian army's chief of staff. Mara, however, drew heat from the Fijian government for his opposition to the current regime.

Mara was dissatisfied with the leadership and, in May 2011, he became embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the Bainimarama regime. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the government and charged with uttering a seditious comment. He was hauled before a court, where he was threatened with imprisonment for allegedly uttering the words, “This government is fuck all.”

Mara fled Fiji, remaining in contact with Fullman, who also left Fiji after being questioned by local authorities about his relationship with Mara. A visit to New Zealand with Mara resulted in Fullman's life being turned upside down.

At 7am on July 17, 2012, about a week after Fullman had returned to Australia from the trip to New Zealand, a team of more than a dozen Australian security agents and two Australian federal police detectives arrived at his sister’s home in Sydney looking for weapons and other evidence of the suspected plot.

They seized computers, phones and documents from the premises and confiscated Fullman’s passport on behalf of the New Zealand authorities. Teams of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service officers and police simultaneously raided Fullman’s former apartment in the Wellington suburb of Karori and the homes of at least three other Fiji Freedom and Democracy movement supporters in Auckland, seizing their computers and other property.

In addition, Fullman's passport was revoked by the New Zealand government, which claimed Fullman was part of a group planning to violently overthrow the Fijian government. New Zealand's intelligence agency asked the NSA for assistance in digging up info on Fullman and keeping him under surveillance. The documents published today make Tony Fullman the first confirmed target of the NSA's PRISM surveillance.

According to the documents viewed by The Intercept, the NSA couldn't seem to decide how to classify its surveillance of Fullman, alternating between listing him as a "foreign government" target (even though Fullman no longer worked for the Fijian government) and a "counter-terrorism" target.

Months of surveillance efforts -- shared with New Zealand intelligence operatives -- produced nothing more than what could likely have been observed without all the intercepted emails/Facebook messages, harvested bank statements, and precise GPS data on Fullman's Mitsubishi station wagon.

[T]here was not a single hint of any plans for violence or other clandestine activity.

It would soon become clear that there was no evidence to support the New Zealand authorities’ suspicions. And gradually, their case would fall apart.

Ten months after placing Fullman under surveillance and stripping him of his passport, New Zealand's government returned it to him and declared him to be "no longer" of "national security concern." This determination came two months after Fullman began taking legal action against the New Zealand government for its raid of his sister's home and the cancellation of his passport.

That's not the only bit of suspicious timing: Fullman believes the raid was politically-motivated.

Four days after the raids on Fullman and his fellow campaigners, New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully traveled to Fiji for trade talks. Fullman believes that the timing was no coincidence — and that the raids targeting the pro-democracy group were used by the New Zealand government as a bargaining chip to curry favor with the Bainimarama regime. “The minister can go to Fiji and say, ‘look we saved you, let’s be friends again, let’s start talking about how we can help each other again’,” Fullman says. “It was part of the frame up.”

The New Zealand government may have felt its efforts fell into "no harm, no foul" territory after it reinstated Fullman's passport and dropped its surveillance. But Fullman points out the high-profile raid it carried out damaged his reputation by erroneously linking him to an assassination plot. On top of that, Fullman is still subjected to additional security screening any time he travels. Fullman was never informed he was under surveillance by a foreign intelligence agency and he has never been compensated, much less apologized to, for his treatment at the hands of his own government.

The surveillance detailed here shows the NSA is willing to help foreign governments spy on their own citizens for politically-motivated reasons involving what would normally be considered protected forms of expression. It also shows that when governments do this sort of thing, they're unlikely to admit any wrongdoing, even when they tacitly admit they placed the wrong person(s) under surveillance.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 8:38am

    "It was all legal" = "We don't actually have a good justification."

    Both the NSA and its New Zealand partner have refused to comment on the misguided surveillance, stating only that everything done was performed lawfully.

    Yeah, when you have a government agency or rep fall back to 'it was all legal' you know they don't actually have a good excuse for their actions. You don't have to look very hard at history to see that all sorts of seriously terrible stuff has been considered 'legal', so as defenses of their actions go that ones a poor one at best.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 9:38am

      Re: "It was all legal" = "We don't actually have a good justification."

      "This determination came two months after Fullman began taking legal action against the New Zealand government for its raid of his sister's home and the cancellation of his passport."
      Exactly, perfectly legal, until challenged.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:30am

        Re: Re: "It was all legal" = "We don't actually have a good justification."

        Yeah, funny how that tends to work.

        "Everything that was done was fully in accordance with the relevant laws."

        "What laws, the ones I'm familiar with say that you can't do that."

        "That's classified/a matter of national security, now move along."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2016 @ 1:18am

        Re: Re: "It was all legal" = "We don't actually have a good justification."

        Clearly they use the "if the cops aren't around anything is legal" definition of legal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      soop, 16 Aug 2016 @ 5:30am

      Re: "It was all legal" = "We don't actually have a good justification."

      "Legal ... as in no one thought to make this procedure illegal"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 9:24am

    But the encryption, that is EVIDENCE

    C'mon people...

    "My life saver... I luv my car"

    This is OBVIOUSLY an ecrypted message, only fellow plotters knew the code. The NSA are experts in this! Trust them! Of course he's a bad 'un. Who love a Mitrubishi in real life!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:43am

      Re: But the encryption, that is EVIDENCE

      The hood scoop is pretty fly though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      666 Beastie New World Order Boy, 16 Aug 2016 @ 10:56am

      Re: But the encryption, that is EVIDENCE

      My life saver... I luv my car

      racym vuli ...revase filym

      Looks very suspicious..

      No wonder these governments spent millions of dollars keeping him under their watchful eye!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 9:47am

    the Snowden Stash

    Snowden made his earth-shaking NSA leak in early 2013. Glenn Greenwald & co. have been sitting on this information for over three years. Why did they have to wait this long to publish it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:01am

      Re: the Snowden Stash

      A whole lot to wade through and pick out the pieces that are likely to have an impact, rather than are easy to brush off would be my guess.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 15 Aug 2016 @ 11:00am

        Re: Re: the Snowden Stash

        Or... (Put on your tinfoil hat) it has to do with the 250Million Pierre Omidyar is/was/may giving Greenwald to "start-up an independent news venture that promises the return of real investigative journalism." And the Omidyar ties to the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation and Soros’ Open Society Foundation.


        http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/10/16/pierre-omidyar-ready-to-spend-250-mi llion-on-glenn-greenwalds-news-startup/#1606c99b7464

        (Takes off tinfoil hat)

        When you are talking about that kind of money you either play with the big boys and play by the rules or get kicked out. I personally think Greenwald sold out.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          no one, 15 Aug 2016 @ 3:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: the Snowden Stash

          I disagree. Have you read The Intercept? Have you watched Greenwald doing battle with establishment hacks?

          The one where he smacks down Mika Brzezinski is one of my favorites:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6t8wOqzwOo

          I suspect that there is some sort of compromise going on. For example I would have expected to have seen documents about NSA owning PayPal data. In fact I can't remember seeing anything about financial data at all.

          Nonetheless, if Greenwald was motivated by money he wouldn't have spent his adult life attacking rich people. And did they also get Jeremy Scahill and
          Lara Poitrus on board with this conspiracy? It makes no sense.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:13am

      Re: the Snowden Stash

      How many documents a day can you read and evaluate?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:54am

        Re: Re: the Snowden Stash

        The number of employees and contract workers employed by the NSA is in the tens of thousands. Reviewing their combined output --going back many years-- is far beyond the realm of a one-man job.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 9:51am

    Documentcloud link broken

    The documentcloud search link doesn't work for me. Does someone have a direct link?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:07am

    When you are transitioning your democratic government into a dictatorship or a tyranny, those who still advocate for democracy are clearly terrorists to the new regime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      I would like to say thinking like that was in tin-foil hat territory, I really would, but these days, with how various 'democratic' governments around the world have been acting...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 15 Aug 2016 @ 11:42am

      Re:

      Nothing as ominous as that.

      Why would you want to stop helping to screw over foreigners when they are visiting when you can get even better bargains than when they are slaving away under a dictatorship or tyranny you are on best economic terms with?

      I mean, ok, if it works well for a dictator or tyrant, it may be worth to see whether one can take a few pages out of their books. But that's really independent from profiting from their actions on their own populace.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:06pm

    I read that name as Bananarama and thought I was reading a chapter out of 1984.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:11pm

    "...Everything done was performed lawfully."

    Ever since extrajudicial detention and torture by the CIA and US Army was declared legal by the White House council (per secret interpretation of current law, which informed executive policy) the notion that agent action or agency policy is legal can no longer be inferred to mean that the action or policy is:

    ~ necessary
    ~ reasonable
    ~ effective
    ~ proper
    ~ enacted in good faith

    These don't automatically follow at all. (Logically they never did, but the attempt here is to imply it.)

    Essentially, the appeal to legality is similar to the common argument regarding speech, that its legality might confer upon it propriety or other virtues. It doesn't.

    An agent is empowered to do his or her job, and may have considerable legal lattitude for situational judgement. That the agency must resort to an appeal to legality to justify their action implies there was no other cause, certainly none just or reasonable, for the agents to resort to such measures. In other words, the acting agents were insufficiently constrained by oversight, or were too incompetent to do their jobs

    Or they were acting in vested malice or to a cause other than the good of the people of the United States.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:56pm

      Re: "...Everything done was performed lawfully."

      you forget they made mass murder by drone missile strikes "legal" as well.

      1 target and 50-100 collateral damage victims that happened to be near the target.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:14pm

        Re: Re: "...Everything done was performed lawfully."

        Very true. I wasn't really being comprehensive. Asset forfeiture here in the US has turned our entire police force into highway robbers, all under the color of law.

        Why do we tell our children it is virtuous to respect the law when this is what is done according to law? Then again, why do we tell our children to act ethically when the way people get ahead in our society is by taking advantage of those who act ethically?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: "...Everything done was performed lawfully."

          Why do we tell our children it is virtuous to respect the law when this is what is done according to law? Then again, why do we tell our children to act ethically when the way people get ahead in our society is by taking advantage of those who act ethically?

          Naivety/ignorance or fear, and in order to at least not deliberately make things worse respectively.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:18pm

        Re: Re: "...Everything done was performed lawfully."

        Nonsense, no such thing as 'collateral damage', everyone killed or injured was an enemy combatant and therefore a legitimate target by virtue of being in the same country as other enemy combatants and having at the very least the theoretical capability to be a threat at some point in time.

        /poe

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2016 @ 5:15pm

    NSA spying was never about terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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