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.