The continuing revelations coming from Edward Snowden have revealed that internationally linked state surveillance, dominated by the US NSA (National Security Agency) has become intensive, pervasive, and somewhat devious. This is to be expected in the shadowy world of state run espionage. Some of this is necessary for security reasons. However,it has now reached the stage that officially sanctioned surveillance has become democratically unaccountable and far too powerful.
The latest Snowden revelations specifically accuse the NSA (the US National Security Agency), or its proxy, of pressuring the New Zealand Government to make law changes for the benefit of the US agencies. General Keith Alexander of the NSA, who has been a key figure working on offensive cyber surveillance operations to protect US “trade secrets”, has been a regular visitor to NZ. John Key has confirmed some of these visits, and tried to deny others. John Key would have had to approve Alexander’s visits.
Alexander sees the 5 Eyes network as one network rather than being made up of separate spy networks for the individual countries – this network includes the spy agencies of the US (NSA), New Zealand (GCSB) the UK (GCHQ), Australia and Canada.
The latest Snowden revelations
Yesterday David Fisher reported in the NZ Herald,
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says the United States’ spy agency has helped find or create loopholes in New Zealand law to enable widespread spying.
In testimony to the European Parliament, the exiled former NSA worker said the agency’s Foreign Affairs Division put pressure on other countries to change laws to create legal gaps through which mass surveillance could be carried out.
Fisher quotes a Tech Liberty spokesperson who identities such a law change most likely happened last year:
In listing New Zealand among countries targeted, he said: “Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries’ communications.”
Cyber rights group Tech Liberty’s spokesman Thomas Beagle said the new laws introduced in New Zealand last year appeared surprisingly quickly.
“It was like someone had it sitting in a drawer ready to go. Who is really writing these laws.”
The 2013 speedy changes to NZ surveillance laws
It is hard, if not impossible to identify when and how such a US-led change to NZ law happened. However, it is useful to provide a timeline. The timeline below implicates Key’s government, while Key himself often takes the familar “I know Nuzzink” line.
Two relevant law changes passed pretty quickly through parliament last year, apparently in response to revelations about illegal spying on Kim Dotcom. On April 15 2013, Key announced proposed changes to the GCSB Bill, as reported by 3 News.
Proposed changes to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Act include the ability to spy on New Zealanders on behalf of other Government agencies.
On April 17 2013, Adam Bennett reported in the New Zealand Herald that the government had announced proposed changes to to the TICS Bill. This was being done in conjunction with the amendments to the GCSB Law. As well as allowing spying on NZ, it also draws the police, the SIS and the GCSB into interlinked sate surveillance operations. It includes the need for collaboration with these agencies by telecommunication network operators.
The new law effectively formalises what the GCSB had been doing anyway, officials told reporters this morning.[…]
The new legislation will expressly allow the bureau to eavesdrop on New Zealanders when assisting those agencies or when it is conducting information assurance or cyber security functions.
However, the ban on spying on New Zealanders remains when the bureau is conducting its foreign intelligence operations. Officials said any involvement by New Zealanders in matters it is investigating as part of its foreign intelligence operations will be referred to police or the SIS for further investigation. However, that investigation may include those agencies obtaining a warrant allowing them to use the GCSB’s advanced eavesdropping capability.
Timelines & NZ-US collaboration
So it is useful to look back at some timelines. Andrea Vance provided a timeline in April 2013. TV 3 news provided a timeline in August 2013. I have used, often directly copied the wording of these. I have then added to them, to construct a timeline that incorporates the activities of John Key, the NSA, and other US and NZ agencies.
May, 2011 – Signal Online reports:
Gen. Keith Alexander, USA, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, is calling for greater international cooperation on cyber defense. “We don’t have a U.S. network, a Canadian network, a Mexican network. It’s all one network. We all operate that, and we have to have international partners to protect it,” Gen. Alexander emphasized.
Dec 16, 2011: GCSB begins spying on New Zealand residents Kim Dotcom and Bram van der Kolk.
Jan 19, 2012: Prime Minister John Key is briefed on Operation Debut, the police investigation into Dotcom, on the eve of the scheduled raid on his Auckland home.
January 20, 2012 – Raid of Dotcom Mansion.
January 25, 2012 – Kim Dotcom is denied bail.
January 29, 2012 –Ian Fletcher, an old friend of Prime Minister John Key, is appointed as director of spy agency the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
Feb 16 2012: Police inform GCSB the spying on Dotcom may have been illegal.
Feb 22 2012: The Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (Ofcanz) contacts GCSB regarding Dotcom’s residency status.
Feb 29: Key visits GCSB offices for a briefing. The presentation shown includes a reference to Dotcom’s arrest. Key initially did not remember the briefing, and said the first he learned of GCSB’s involvement was in September.
June 2012 – High Court judge rules police used wrong type of search warrants to enter Dotcom’s property, meaning the raid was carried out illegally.
Aug 17, 2012 - With Key out of the country on a family holiday, Bill English is called on to sign a ministerial certificate suppressing GCSB’s involvement in the Dotcom case.
Sept 17, 2012 - Fletcher advises Key that GCSB unlawfully spied on Dotcom and Van der Kolk.
September 24, 2012 – The Government admits the GCSB illegally spied on Dotcom, a New Zealand resident.
September 25, 2012 – It’s revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Police CommissionerPeter Marshall both knew about the illegal surveillance. A Government document reveals the mistake was made after the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand told the GCSB the surveillance was legal.
October 1, 2012 – A review into the GCSB is announced, despite Mr Key denying an inquiry was needed.
Oct 2, 2012 - Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge is seconded as associate director of GCSB to review the agency.
5 October, 2102: NBR report on John Key’s visit to Hollywood.
November 5, 2012 – GCSB confirms acting director at the time of the Dotcom raid – Hugh Wolfensohn – knew about the illegal surveillance of the internet tycoon.
November 20, 2012 – Stuff report on John Key’s quick chat with President Obama, in a “pull aside” before TPP talks in Phnom Penh. Key reluctantly hints Dotcom was discussed.
November 2012 – Reports of a US diplomat visiting Wellington. Key says he knows nothing about it. In January 2013, it is confirmed that the visitor was National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander. He visits NZ fairly regularly and these visits would be approved by John Key.
December 4, 2012 – One News reports, ‘PM confirms spies met in Wellington‘, the previous week. However, denies he knows the identity of the top US official who visited. He also denies the meeting was a “5 Eyes” meeting. However, the article says that when Keith Alexander was in NZ in 2009, Key confirmed it.
February 20, 2013 – White House announces strategy to protect US trade secrets from theft, in a joint press conference that includes General Keith Alexander.
March 7, 2013 – Dotcom is granted the right to sue the GCSB.
March, 7, 2013 – John Key, on a visit to Latin America, strangely refuses to go to Hugo Chavez’s funeral.
March 14, 2103 – Report that “top US intelligence officials” had announced that week, “setting up military units to wage offensive cyber war”. Keith Alexander explained its purpose to a Senate Committee.
April 8, 2013 – Reports of the GCSB’s alleged illegal spying on New Zealanders emerge after the Kitteridge report is leaked to media.
April 9, 2013 – Report by Rebecca Kitteridge officially released. The report finds problems with the GCSB’s structure, organisation, and the way staff are dealt with. It lists 88 cases of potentially illegal spying.
April 15, 2013 – John Key announces overhaul of GCSB legislation, including making it legal for the agency to spy on New Zealanders
April 29, 2013 – A 3 News/Reid Research poll finds 48 percent of those surveyed believe Dotcom should not be extradited.
April 2, 2013 – Key confirms he has received Kitteridge’s report and will release it once he is back from China and has shown it to Parliament’s security and intelligence committee.
May 29, 2013 – Winston Peters accuses Peter Dunne of leaking the Kitteridge report, a claim denied by Mr Dunne.
July 9, 2013 – Whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals details of links of intelligence gathering between the GCSB and the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).
August 19, 2013 –John Key walks out of his weekly post-Cabinet press conference instead of answering questions on the bill.