Who are the 85 SIS targets illegally spied on by the GCSB?



Journalists have asked if I was one of the 85 New Zealand citizens or residents who were spied upon under SIS warrants, which the Kitteridge report says were also spied on (illegally) by the Government Communications Security Bureau. That illegal spying ran from April 2003 to September 2012.

My first reaction was that I probably wasn’t one of those 85 people. Then I checked my SIS file (which I obtained from the agency in late 2008) and found that there were two SIS reports, dated 10 September 2003 and 24 September 2003, where the SIS was monitoring preparations for my trip to Sri Lanka in October 2003, a trip that was not at that stage public knowledge. It was a successful trip, during a cease-fire between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Australian High Commission helped organize meetings for me (and an Australian MP Alan Griffin) with government peace negotiators, officials and party leaders in Colombo and Jaffna. And I was also able to talk to LTTE leaders in the zone they controlled, facilitated by the contacts New Zealand Tamils had with people in the Tamil north of the country.

It was not clear from the two SIS reports whether the SIS (and perhaps the GCSB) gained their information from spying on my communications, or those of NZ Tamils assisting me with the trip, or whether it was spying on both parties. Maybe the SIS interception warrants targeted the local Tamils helping me, and in the process they happened to intercept communications between us.

What we do know is that the Sri Lankan Tamil community in New Zealand has been a target of significant SIS surveillance. Several people in the community have been visited by SIS officers, and Nicky Hager’s book, Other People’s Wars (Chapter 14) provides detailed evidence of the SIS tapping the telephones of members of the Tamil community. The SIS’s excuse has been that NZ Tamils may have had connections with the LTTE. Whether or not there are such contacts they have not represented any danger to the security of New Zealand. In fact, it would be hard to find a more law-abiding community than New Zealand Tamils. As Nicky Hager concludes in his book, “The overwhelming impression is that the new staff in the SIS’s Counter-Terrorism Branch had, in the absence of local threats, simply adopted the US government’s list of war-on-terror targets.” And the GCSB might have been (illegally) backing up the SIS in this work.

Consequently, I have spoken to the New Zealand Tamils who helped facilitate my 2003 trip to Sri Lanka and a letter has been written to John Key, as Minister in Charge of the GCSB, asking if we are among the 85 New Zealand citizens or residents illegally spied on by the GCSB. I’ll let you know what transpires.


  1. You may as well ask the giant at the top of the beanstalk for his eggs.

    Full disclosure of the GCSB’s illegal activities, including the 88 people cited in the report, is essential. Activities disclosed thus far reveal a wide-ranging sphere of activity, which is likely to include political activists and Government opponents. If this issue gets swept aside what’s next? … vote rigging? Our democratic future, feeble as it may be, has reached a crossroad of Watergate proportions. Ask John Key? . . . “I am not a crook” is all you will get … and all you deserve for asking.

  2. I think anyone who is an activist from environmental and asset sale protesters to MPs should assume they are being spied on as a matter of course.

    • Add to that lead Union Organisers in high profile industrial disputes and animal rights activists that expose abuses within the industrial farming sector….who else?
      I think anyone who has ever publicly and consistently demonstrated that they have a conscience and has opposed the status quo might wonder if they have been spied upon

  3. The real question is how many did John Key have spied on? and why were they spied on? for commercial reasons or for WMD? really?

  4. I am a NZ Tamil activist, and wonder whether I was one of those spied upon. In fact, it is extremely unfortunate the New Zealand Tamil Society(NZTS) during this period was dragged to the courts by a group of disgruntled members with the very convenient cover of exposing terrorism. What was mind boggling was Mr Andrew Gilchrist, an eminent lawyer, who represented this group didn’t even do a cursory check with the SIS which was actively targeting tamil community for the very same reason as per this article. He maintained that he took up the case as he had grievous concern about the activities of NZTS as per instruction by his clients instead of basing the case on facts. NZTS fought a bitter battle in the courts and still is trying to come to terms with what has happened as it was only rendering its voice and support to the sufferings of the kiths and kins back in Sri Lanka. Tamil community doesn’t want to live under constant suspicion. Can SIS please come forward and declare the Tamil community as law abiding citizens if nothing tangible is found and I am very sure of that-so that to prevent future opportunists in waiting.!!!
    As for myself, don’t waste tax payer’s money on secret monitoring as I have no hesitation in revealing my views openly to anyone who cares to listen. In fact, I shall welcome an official visit or two as I have a lot to tell the prime minister but I don’t know how to gain access. But I don’t like my loved ones, my sons and friends private communications intruded because of me. Is that too much to ask for?

  5. It is a sad day for open society – when a political leader attempts to justify the illegal monitoring of citizens – by expressing an intention to change the law to make it legal.

    The aim and end of our institutions is that we may think what we like and say what we think.

    Why does the New Zealand government not contact the eighty five people they have illegally spied on and apologise for patently breaching their human rights?

Comments are closed.