Everything about the GCSB is up for debate – including the closure of Waihopai


1984The Rebecca Kitteridge report on the Government Communications Security Bureau, summarized in the Dominion Post this morning, justifies the criticism of the agency made by concerned citizens (including me) over the years.

Kitteridge points to a woefully inadequate level of oversight by part-time Inspectors-General of Intelligence and Security – and by extension a dereliction of duty by Prime Ministers (as Ministers in Charge) and the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee in the Parliament.

Lack of much oversight, combined with super-secrecy around what each employee is doing, is a recipe for incompetence, as I have said in the past [See my NZ Herald OpEd].

However, it is hard to accept that the GCSB unknowingly violated the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 when it simply and explicitly says the GCSB is only allowed to spy on foreigners. Kitteridge says the agency spied on 85 New Zealanders between April 2003 and September 2012.

Surely, the GCSB doesn’t think we are simple enough to buy the line that their interceptions were legal because they were spying on the 85 New Zealanders on behalf of the Security Intelligence Service (which is legally able to spy on New Zealanders). This is the justification provided by a former GCSB director, Sir Bruce Ferguson, who claims the GCSB spying on New Zealanders, on behalf of the SIS, was even signed off by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security!

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The other type of spying on New Zealanders the GCSB deemed legal was when it concerned “metadata” such as the numbers a target New Zealander phoned, as displayed on their phone bill. This was deemed to be ok for the GCSB because “metadata” was not defined as a “communication”. This distinction does not wash legally. Sections 7 (Objective of the Bureau) and Section 8 (Function of the Bureau) of the GCSB Act 2003 make it absolutely clear that the GCSB is only gathering “foreign intelligence” which is defined earlier in the Act as “information about the capabilities, intentions and activities of a foreign organisation or a foreign person.”

It would also be useful to know the range of interceptions the GCSB was engaged in. Presumably they weren’t telephone interceptions, because the SIS and the Police have their own well-established arrangements with the telecommunications companies to intercept phone calls, generally with a warrant.

Probably the GCSB was providing help to gather information from people’s computers (including hacking) or to intercept email messages, because it is an area where the GCSB may have a more sophisticated capability.

Or perhaps the GCSB was using the Echelon (or Five Eyes) intelligence system, of which the Waihopai satellite communications interception station is a part, to gather information on some of those targeted by the SIS.

We deserve to be told more about all this. And there needs to be a real discussion about the purpose of the GCSB’s main asset, the Waihopai spy station, and whether we need it. In this respect it was good to read , for the first time, “scrap Waihopai” being put forward as a serious option by the editors of the Dominion Post. The second to last paragraph in this morning’s editorial reads: “The choices for the Government are simple – establish a system of oversight that provides greater assurance than simply GCSB directors, inspectors-general of intelligence and security and prime ministers saying ‘trust me’, or scrap Waihopai.”


  1. I’m not sure what is more comical. The fact that all these scumbags proverbial chickens are coming home to roost; or the reticence of anyone to comment on an article about them.

    Time to stop letting the protectors of the people terrorise the people.

    We give them millions of dollars to battle “terrorism” and all they do is chase students, young mums, new activists, old activists, bloggers and political commentators, instead of actual terrorists.

    It has gotten to the point where I am wondering if there is a single “Counter-terrorism” officer in New Zealand who actually counters terrorism.

    Why does NZ train our intelligence guys with guns, when the people they are following around, don’t have any? Ridiculous.

    When our foreign intelligence agency is surveilling us instead of foreigners – what more of a mockery can be made of our tax money?

  2. It’s boys with toys, of course: the shinier the better.

    I noticed today talk of the each of the 80 or 85 or 88 instances of the GCSB’s wrongful spying being examined on their merits to determine whether there were any harmful consequences. But the illegal spying IS a harmful consequence, and the targets of those spying should be compensated, and compensated big. Yes: money. The consequences for the Agency must be painful, and that is the most painful consequence that can be visited. The lesson has to be brought home, and brought home hard.

    Get it right in future, GCSB, maybe this will help you remember.

    But what we’ll get is judicial obfuscation and retro-active ‘enabling’ legislation such as enacted by the previous (Labour) administration when the SIS was caught acting outside the law. There are times I want to tell the Government – any bloody Government – that it is providing for me a service I neither want nor need: can I opt out? The ‘opting out’ would have two consequences beneficial to me. One: my taxes don’t go to fripperies like the CCSB and the SIS. Maybe I could keep those, or perhaps have them placed where they would actually benefit people. I’m happy just to retain a police force Thank you very much.

    The second consequence: my personal freedoms that I used to enjoy I can continue to enjoy, such as, oh, let’s see: getting on an aeroplane without being subjected to blasts of X-radiation and having strangers examine my unclothed corpus delicti… you know, having my rights as a traveller actually respected. Having my Bank accounts free from the prying fingers of banks and Government agencies.

  3. I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with Richard Prebble. Who in 2003 said :

    “Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) : I rise to reply to the points made by Mr Rod Donald and Mr Ron Mark. Clause 14 is not as either of them has described it. I say to Mr Donald that he has been in Parliament long enough to know that the title of a clause is not part of the law. He has to read the clause, and the clause is quite clear. It states that the Government Communications Security Bureau cannot intercept communications of a person who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident. I would have thought that the Greens would be in favour of that, instead of suggesting otherwise. I most certainly did support it, because the purpose of the Government Communications Security Bureau is to guard us from foreign threats. We have the Security Intelligence Service to guard us from local threats, and that is a split that is made worldwide.”

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