The GCSB: the US portal for mass surveillance of our personal privacy



On Saturday I spoke at a public meeting in Blenheim organised by the Christchurch-based Anti Bases Campaign calling for the GCSB to be scrapped. Here’s the text of my talk:

Te whare karakia ki tu nei – Tena koe

Nga tangata whenua o tenei rohe – Ngai tahu – Kia ora koutou

E nga hau e wha – Nga mihi nui ki a koutou

And greetings of course to the GCSB who will be listening avidly to our discussion here – the only government department that really listens to you…

Thanks to Anti Bases Campaign for the invitation to speak today. It’s my privilege to accept.

The last two years have been fascinating with revelations of –

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–          the GCSB’s (Government Communications Security Bureau) illegal spying on Kim Dotcom and the massive overreaction via the raid on his house

–          a further 85 New Zealand citizens who’ve been illegally spied on by the GCSB on

–          Edward Snowden’s revelations about PRISM and X-Keyscore

–          Obama in the gun for the phone tapping of over 30 Prime Ministers and Presidents

I’m waiting for the New Zealand-specific information to be released. Has Obama used the NSA to find out John Key’s golf handicap? Key’s other handicaps are obvious but I’m not sure about his golf one.

If we clear away the dust and smoke and set aside the entertaining sideshows what does all this mean for us? Three things are clear:

1.      Firstly the GCSB does spy on New Zealanders and it always has. It was established several decades ago but has only been covered by legislation since 2003. The legislation specifically prohibited it spying on New Zealanders and so most of us thought they left that to the police and the SIS. But no. Through a persistent High Court judge in the Kim Dotcom case we know it has illegally spied on at least 85 New Zealanders. So I was wrong and the conspiracy theorists were right. And when spies break the law what does the government do? It changes the law to legalise what they were doing illegally.

2.      Secondly we can be absolutely certain (despite the PM’s refusal to confirm or deny) that the GCSB is part of the NSA’s (the US National Security Agency) PRISM surveillance network through which the X-Keyscore programme enables spies anywhere in the NSA to type in an email address and at once have access to all the emails, phone calls, texts, facebook pages and internet history (irrespective of whether it is encrypted or not) associated with that person.  The X-Keyscore material released has a red dot on Waihopai along with red dots across the globe on other surveillance sites associated with the “five eyes” countries (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

The GCSB says that if you want to find a needle in a haystack then you have to be able to search the whole haystack. The GCSB’s role is to provide the New Zealand and South Pacific part of the haystack for the National Security Agency to search.

Remember that the GCSB requires a warrant to spy on New Zealanders – in theory at least – but the National Security Agency doesn’t and under the GCSBs role of “co-operating with our foreign intelligence partners” the GCSB gives the NSA access to all our communications for the NSA to search as part of their global mass surveillance.

In other words the GCSB is the portal for the NSA to conduct mass surveillance on New Zealanders even while the law prevents the GCSB doing such surveillance itself.

The crucial point here is that there is nothing in the new legislation (GCSB or TICS legislation) which prevents the wholesale spying on New Zealanders as revealed by Edward Snowden. (Note: TICS refers to the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security legislation which is the legal baseball bat used by the GCSB to enforce compliance by internet provider companies)

Obama’s recent 45 minute speech on how the US government will curb the extent of NSA spying was meaningless – in practice nothing of any significance will change.

This NSA surveillance is more intense, close and personal than most of us were aware of. It is mass surveillance in every sense of the word. We are in George Orwell’s 1984, albeit with a thin veneer of democracy, as far as our phone, text, email and internet use is concerned. In Orwell’s book the protagonist Winston Smith lives in a small apartment and there is only one place he can stand out of sight of Big Brother’s cameras built in to his living room – if he stays there too long they will come to check on him.  We are subject to the same intrusive, personal and wide-ranging surveillance whenever we make a phone call, send a text or email or surf the net.

This is not something which might happen in the future – it’s happening now!

It involves the wholesale collection of New Zealander’s data and its storage for retrospective spying on everything we do or have done via electronic communications.

3.      Thirdly the mass surveillance by the NSA has very little to do with security and much more to do with the global political, military and commercial objectives of the US. For example the following story gives a clear idea of the NSA (and GCSB’s) real work and should be told and told again.

Back in early 2003 when the US was trying to get United Nations Security Council support for a resolution endorsing an invasion of Iraq the NSA sent an email to its partners in the five eyes network.

The email was from a senior manager called Frank Koza and requested the five eyes spy on members of the UN security council – in particular the non-permanent members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea – in an attempt to get leverage to pressure those countries to support a UN Security Council resolution to invade Iraq.

So while the Helen Clark government was refusing to support the invasion, the GCSB was working for the US to get support for an attack – all in the name of co-operating with our intelligence partners.

We can be thankful for the whistle-blower Katharine Gun who was the UK analyst who leaked that email in a brave attempt to avert war. We should congratulate her for doing so at huge personal risk just as we should celebrate other heroes like Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) and Edward Snowden all courageous people.

The GCSB and TICS legislation is not about keeping us safe but rather it’s about keeping the flow of intelligence from Waihopai to the US so the US can pursue its global military, political and commercial objectives more easily.

Remember it was the US which requested the New Zealand spying on Kim Dotcom because he was allegedly breaching US copyright. The New Zealand GCSB and police couldn’t help quickly enough.

Why would New Zealand be part of this?

The biggest driver of terrorism in the world today is US foreign policy. But instead of developing an independent foreign policy New Zealand politicians engage in the most embarrassing toadying behaviour towards the US. Who is the most servile NZ politician when it comes to the US – John Key? Phil Goff? Jonathan Coleman? Murray McCully? It’s a close race to be the biggest toad.

Experience tells us we can’t trust anything the GCSB says so let’s not have them treat us like idiots again.

The GCSB is a rogue organisation which must be closed down.

It is a threat to New Zealander’s civil and political rights

It is a threat to our privacy rights

It is a threat to our sovereignty

And it is a threat to our security because it aligns us with US policy and US illegal, murderous drone strikes, assassinations and illegal full scale country invasions. It aligns us with the biggest bully in the playground.

We must ensure this issue is an important issue leading up to this year’s general election and our campaign should demand:

–          Closure of the GCSB

–          Withdrawal from the “five eyes” spying alliance

–          An independent foreign policy for New Zealand New Zealander’s

We must roll back this legislation, reclaim our sovereignty and stand independent in the world as good neighbours rather than joining in with the biggest bully in the playground.

Join us in this campaign – thanks for your attention.


  1. Totally agree. Agencies such as GCSB & NSA are designed to protect Governments from their own people and too advance commercial interests of the USA, nothing more. Fear sown through manufactured terrorism is the mechanism it is achieved.

    This single issue gains my vote, as once the system (democracy) is broken, as in the USA right now, how do you fix it?

    Dump National’s extreme right wing agenda and reign in the weirdo spooks, distance ourselves from the failing USA.

  2. “rather than joining in with the biggest bully in the playground”

    ‘Bully’ is one descriptor, a ‘proven criminal entity’ militarily, ecologically and financially, is another.

    • Ask the Vietnamese and the Cubans what they think of the USA, 18 million Vietnamese were killed by the USA military. Likewise Castro & Guevera freed their people from an oppressive US occupation and to this day are still being penalised by the USA.

      The USA are bullyboys who would prefer to use the B52’s.

  3. I agree completely. We should not pay our spooks to work for the seppos and, given Hagar’s revelations, should tear down the whole traitorous edifice. For a start.

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