web analytics

The ThinThread of GCSB surveillance

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, May 25th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: copyright, democracy under attack, greens, labour, Spying, telecommunications, us politics - Tags:

William Binney, a whistle blower from the US NSA (National Security Agency) claims that a surveillance device, Thin Thread was sent to spy agencies in places like NZ, Canada,, Australia, Germany and the UK in 2000-2001 for testing.  According to author Tim Shorrock, ThinThread monitors the meta data of phone, internet and email communications, at first masking the identities of the participants in the communications.  It only reveals these identities when the spies decide they are concerned enough to apply for a warrant.

In this morning’s NZ Herald, David Fisher reports,

Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.

“In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world. Those recipients included Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”

The “lawful” aspect was due to the software’s ability to mask the identities of those whose information was being intercepted – a technical work around of the legal barrier which prohibits New Zealand and the US from spying on its own citizens.

Mr Shorrock said ThinThread operated in three phases. It began by intercepting call, email and internet traffic on a network and automatically assessing it for interest. The scale of the traffic was such that it narrowed down targets of interest by focusing on patterns of information rather than the content of the information.

This news has resulted in the Labour and Green parties repeating their calls for an inquiry int the activities of the GCSB.

Greens’ co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister and GCSB needed to explain to the public whether it was spied on by ThinThread.

“It reinforces why there is a different set of rules for the GCSB – they are integrated into this global spy network,” he said.

Another NZ Herald article this morning, provides more details on the possibilities of a surveillance programme like ThinThread. ThinThread monitors meta data, “information about information”.  Nicky Hager says that, given modern technologies can monitor huge amounts of data, focusing on meta data is more manageable.

In fact, metadata describes the trails of digital footprints created by anyone in the modern world. It describes all the phone calls and text messages ever sent or made from a phone. It is every email contact point, geographical location recorded, banking transaction, bill paid or medical record transferred. Each of those will have multiple points of data and can be overlaid on dozens, hundreds or thousands of others to find links and patterns.

The result is a 3D model of a life.

ThinThread worked on metadata, creating graphs which described the huge pool of data which it analysed.

“Intelligence veteran”, whistle blower William Binney,

… described how he created in the 1980s a five-nation intelligence network which sounded identical to the Echelon system to which New Zealand belongs. “The whole idea was to share everything,” he said.It would have been the information pool to which the GCSB surrendered Kim Dotcom’s details. Court records show the bureau passed “selector” information to the Echelon/Five Eyes network featuring phone numbers, IP numbers and email addresses.

Mr Hager: “What is selector data? It is a keyword someone can search with. When you pass selector data, you are giving them a target list.”

And all the more reason why John Key’s recent and planned legislation is a step in the wrong direction, failing to provide the necessary safe guards and oversight to ensure information about Kiwi citizens is not being passed on to foreign agencies.  This could include information about New Zealanders who are considered to be threats to the “economic security” of the US government. A few days ago the NZ Herald reported,

New legislation which was designed to clarify the intelligence agency’s role was passed under urgency earlier this month.

Green Party leader Russel Norman said the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill should be put on hold until an independent inquiry could be held into the agency’s spying on New Zealanders.

“A law change should be the last step in the process, not the first.

11 comments on “The ThinThread of GCSB surveillance”

  1. aerobubble 1

    The governor general headed the GCSB part of time this alledged illegality was taking place and so any law he signs legalizing said activities is unconscionable. Even the GG is not above the Law.

    • Nordy 1.1

      The fact that the GG was previously head of GCSB is not in itself especially relevant to the powers of the GG. Have a read up on the concept of the ‘reserve powers’ of the GG and the various constitutional arguments about their actual importance and what may or may not happen (depending on who you believe). It is a fascinating discussion on the notion of convention which is such a critical part of our (largely unwritten) constitutional arrangments.

      What I would suggest is more relevant is the notion of the ‘thin thread’ of our democaracy that can be played with by politicians (such as NACT) at their will, given the nature of convention and how important it is that the politicians understand and observe it for it to actually work. Despite the complaints and criticism of opposition parties NACT can simply continue to act unilaterally as the other important check on a govt, the 4th estate, more often than not either doesn’t understand what is going on, is cheering from the back pocket of the politicians, or is looking elsewhere for the latest ‘entertainment’ story.

      This particularly relates to the oversite of the ‘intelligence community’ (another one of those amusing oxymorons) and the power and authority given to politicians who are expected/supposed to exercise oversite in the best interests of NZ. Recent events confirm this to be myth.

  2. Anne 2

    Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.

    “In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world…

    Now that’s interesting. The ‘prototype’ was invented prior to 9/11 so it wasn’t a response to the September attacks. It’s possible the programme wasn’t given to the “Five Eye” nations until after Sept.01 – using the attack as justification. But what justification is there now? Of course it’s easy to manufacture a security emergency and then use it to invade another region or country. Iraq anyone?

  3. Murray Olsen 3

    The GCSB seems to exist solely to work for Washington. There’s no evidence I’m aware of that the foreign powers we open our windows to have ever given us anything in return. In the Rainbow Warrior French military attack on us, there is evidence they kept stuff from us. This is the same France on whose behalf the SIS and Helen Clark kept Ahmed Zouai locked up.
    Dismantle the lot. They’re worse than useless.

  4. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake.

    http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=thinthread_1

  5. hoom 5

    Interesting.
    “A law change should be the last step in the process, not the first.”

    In this context indeed the law change is the last step.
    First steps were making this stuff, putting it in place & using it.
    Law change is ‘oh shit the law doesn’t fit what we are doing’.
    Rewriting this sort of software/tech retrospectively to allow for NZ specific laws (even if they wanted to) would be ‘unworkable’ so our law gets changed.

    Attack on Democracy? Attack on the interests of NZ Citizens? Who, National? Pffffffft nah lol says the newspapers: that only applies to making people buy lightbulbs that would cut their power bill.

  6. ghostwhowalksnz 6

    Use something called TOR, that will anonymise your online journey

    It runs in Firefox and bounces it around the world

  7. KJT 7

    http://kjt-kt.blogspot.co.nz/2010/06/operation-mincemeat-and-spycraft-in.html

    “Operation mincemeat is a good amusing story, but in the light of current revelations about SIS it is a salutary reminder about the nuttiness of the spy and counter spy silliness of so called intelligence agencies”.

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2010/05/10/100510crat_atlarge_gladwell?currentPage=all

    Nuttiness, amorality and incompetence, masked by secrecy, is a common thread whenever the world of the spooks is exposed to daylight.

    Like our unnecessarily onerous and expensive, counter terrorist border controls, while the real threat, bio-security, is ignored and starved of funding.

    We don’t need them.

  8. prism 8

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIfrfWgJlsI
    An interesting and instructive presentation on how things are in state security without borders these days.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Rates rebate on the cards for retirement village residents
    People living retirement villages could be entitled to a rates rebate after a Labour Member’s Bill was today pulled from the ballot, Labour’s Senior Citizens spokesperson Ruth Dyson says. “Most residents in retirement villages cannot currently claim a rebate because… ...
    30 mins ago
  • Rates rebate on the cards for retirement village residents
    People living retirement villages could be entitled to a rates rebate after a Labour Member’s Bill was today pulled from the ballot, Labour’s Senior Citizens spokesperson Ruth Dyson says. “Most residents in retirement villages cannot currently claim a rebate because… ...
    30 mins ago
  • Government’s weak trusts inquiry lambasted
    The weak and absurd scope of the Government’s inquiry into foreign trusts has been lambasted by Transparency International, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “In a scathing statement released today, the anti-corruption watchdog warns that the John Sherwan-led inquiry into foreign… ...
    2 hours ago
  • Government’s weak trusts inquiry lambasted
    The weak and absurd scope of the Government’s inquiry into foreign trusts has been lambasted by Transparency International, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “In a scathing statement released today, the anti-corruption watchdog warns that the John Sherwan-led inquiry into foreign… ...
    2 hours ago
  • Healthy Homes Bill passes first reading
    Some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children and families are on their way towards safer living conditions with the passing of the first reading of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill in Parliament last night, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little… ...
    4 hours ago
  • Healthy Homes Bill passes first reading
    Some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children and families are on their way towards safer living conditions with the passing of the first reading of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill in Parliament last night, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little… ...
    4 hours ago
  • Wellington Town Belt Bill becomes law
    The Wellington Town Belt will grow by 120 hectares after the passing today of the Wellington Town Belt Bill, Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson says. “The Town Belt is loved by Wellingtonians as a green and open space… ...
    18 hours ago
  • Wellington Town Belt Bill becomes law
    The Wellington Town Belt will grow by 120 hectares after the passing today of the Wellington Town Belt Bill, Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson says. “The Town Belt is loved by Wellingtonians as a green and open space… ...
    18 hours ago
  • 26 weeks paid parental leave the best Mother’s Day present
    If National truly values motherhood, they would drop their threat to scupper 26 weeks paid parental leave, says Labour MP Sue Moroney. “As New Zealand prepares to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, John Key should remove his threat to… ...
    19 hours ago
  • 26 weeks paid parental leave the best Mother’s Day present
    If National truly values motherhood, they would drop their threat to scupper 26 weeks paid parental leave, says Labour MP Sue Moroney. “As New Zealand prepares to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, John Key should remove his threat to… ...
    19 hours ago
  • Peering through the Huntly coal smokescreen
    Energy Minister Simon Bridges revealed in Parliament this week he has no idea what majority state-owned power companies are up to, when he wrongly claimed that Genesis Energy would not burn coal at Huntly unless there was a shortage of… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    20 hours ago
  • Peering through the Huntly coal smokescreen
    Energy Minister Simon Bridges revealed in Parliament this week he has no idea what majority state-owned power companies are up to, when he wrongly claimed that Genesis Energy would not burn coal at Huntly unless there was a shortage of… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    20 hours ago
  • Burger King dumps caged eggs!
    I’m not a fan of fast food companies, but a few days ago I was thrilled to see fast food multinational Burger King announcing that they are going to dump caged eggs in New Zealand. They join other food companies,… ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    23 hours ago
  • Burger King dumps caged eggs!
    I’m not a fan of fast food companies, but a few days ago I was thrilled to see fast food multinational Burger King announcing that they are going to dump caged eggs in New Zealand. They join other food companies,… ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    23 hours ago
  • Smoke and Mirrors on Pharmac funding
    Today’s announcement by John Key and Jonathan Coleman on Pharmac funding is a classic piece of financial jiggery-pokery, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.  “While I welcome any boost to the Pharmac budget this does not go far enough. ...
    1 day ago
  • Firearms Inquiry calling for submissions.
    Parliament’s Law and Order select committee (of which I am a member) has today called for public submissions to its firearms inquiry. This conversation should have been live since last year, when the Police Association started talking about their concerns… ...
    GreensBy David Clendon
    1 day ago
  • Firearms Inquiry calling for submissions.
    Parliament’s Law and Order select committee (of which I am a member) has today called for public submissions to its firearms inquiry. This conversation should have been live since last year, when the Police Association started talking about their concerns… ...
    GreensBy David Clendon
    1 day ago
  • National playing politics with children’s lives
    John Key’s Government is playing political games with the lives of children by refusing to support a bill which will ensure every home in the country is warm and dry, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says. “National says that… ...
    1 day ago
  • Unemployment rise demands Budget response
    The rise in unemployment shows the Budget must contain concrete plans for job growth that deliver for all New Zealanders, not just the few at the top, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “After eight years under National it is… ...
    1 day ago
  • School funding falls by $150 per student
    Parents are having to fork out even more for their kids’ education after the Government cut school funding per student by $150 in the past year, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “According to the Education Ministry, its total per… ...
    1 day ago
  • School funding falls by $150 per student
    Parents are having to fork out even more for their kids’ education after the Government cut school funding per student by $150 in the past year, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “According to the Education Ministry, its total per… ...
    1 day ago
  • Government must clamp down on dodgy PTEs
    The Government must ensure all international students coming to New Zealand are legitimate after a survey of those approved in Mumbai found only 9 per cent had genuine intentions and met English language requirements, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.… ...
    2 days ago
  • Government must clamp down on dodgy PTEs
    The Government must ensure all international students coming to New Zealand are legitimate after a survey of those approved in Mumbai found only 9 per cent had genuine intentions and met English language requirements, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.… ...
    2 days ago
  • Chance to crack down on foreign speculators
    If John Key is serious about stopping foreign speculators driving house prices out of the reach of Kiwi families, he will support Labour’s Member’s Bill to ban offshore investors from buying existing homes, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “My… ...
    2 days ago
  • IRD had foreign trusts review on action plan
    The IRD was so ready to review foreign trusts it had the review on its action plan in November 2014, just before the Revenue Minister met with John Key’s lawyer, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “The IRD… ...
    2 days ago
  • IRD had foreign trusts review on action plan
    The IRD was so ready to review foreign trusts it had the review on its action plan in November 2014, just before the Revenue Minister met with John Key’s lawyer, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “The IRD… ...
    2 days ago
  • Child Youth and Family Review and Māori
    I wrote this blogpost sitting in Parliament listening to the Attorney General’s first reading speech on the Tauranga Moana Iwi Collective Redress and Ngā Hapū o Ngāti Ranganui Claims Settlement Bill. He has acknowledged the impact of colonisation that made… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 days ago
  • Rebuilding Christchurch – a lost opportunity?
    In rebuilding Christchurch, the city has a rare chance to build in a sustainable, creative and people-centred way. We can create a city that is so much more than a simple re-construction of buildings and transport links. Christchurch could be… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    3 days ago
  • Rebuilding Christchurch – a lost opportunity?
    In rebuilding Christchurch, the city has a rare chance to build in a sustainable, creative and people-centred way. We can create a city that is so much more than a simple re-construction of buildings and transport links. Christchurch could be… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    3 days ago
  • Minister must ensure 111 issue is fixed
    The Police Minister must ensure the 111 fault is fixed as an urgent priority as a 40 minute wait can be the difference between life and death, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash. “The Police have said the fault lies… ...
    3 days ago
  • New Zealand a world leader – in unaffordable housing
    The National Government has made New Zealand a world leader – in unaffordable housing, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “The latest International Monetary Fund report shows New Zealand had the world’s second fastest growth in house prices at the… ...
    3 days ago
  • New Zealand a world leader – in unaffordable housing
    The National Government has made New Zealand a world leader – in unaffordable housing, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “The latest International Monetary Fund report shows New Zealand had the world’s second fastest growth in house prices at the… ...
    3 days ago
  • Hospital meals making you sick
    I don’t know about you but I felt a bit sick watching Health Minister Jonathon Coleman eat supposed Dunedin hospital food last week.  Dunedin people have tolerated a crumbling hospital, lower access to services, longer waiting times and gross food… ...
    GreensBy Metiria Turei
    3 days ago
  • Hospital meals making you sick
    I don’t know about you but I felt a bit sick watching Health Minister Jonathon Coleman eat supposed Dunedin hospital food last week.  Dunedin people have tolerated a crumbling hospital, lower access to services, longer waiting times and gross food… ...
    GreensBy Metiria Turei
    3 days ago
  • Key needs to stop shifting and come clean
    John Key’s position on his lawyer’s offshore trusts lobbying has changed yet again with the Prime Minister admitting he told Todd McClay that Ken Whitney had approached him, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Yet again information has to be… ...
    3 days ago
  • Key needs to stop shifting and come clean
    John Key’s position on his lawyer’s offshore trusts lobbying has changed yet again with the Prime Minister admitting he told Todd McClay that Ken Whitney had approached him, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Yet again information has to be… ...
    3 days ago
  • Revolutionary art in Palmerston North
    Last night I was a judge at the May Day Cup, an annual theatrical event which celebrates International Workers Day. The event was organised by stalwart unionist Dion Martin and included a range of performers competing for the Cup. This year… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    4 days ago
  • Revolutionary art in Palmerston North
    Last night I was a judge at the May Day Cup, an annual theatrical event which celebrates International Workers Day. The event was organised by stalwart unionist Dion Martin and included a range of performers competing for the Cup. This year… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    4 days ago
  • Andrew Little visits Zaatari refugee camp
    Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, has visited the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, Zaatari in Jordan, a day after seeing New Zealand troops at Camp Taji in Iraq. Mr Little spent several hours in the camp, meeting… ...
    5 days ago
  • Com Com’s Z Energy decision anti-competitive
    The Commerce Commission’s decision to allow Z Energy to buy Caltex can only undermine the competition in the fuel industry that is needed to ensure New Zealanders pay the lowest price for petrol, Labour’s Consumer Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says.… ...
    5 days ago
  • Com Com’s Z Energy decision anti-competitive
    The Commerce Commission’s decision to allow Z Energy to buy Caltex can only undermine the competition in the fuel industry that is needed to ensure New Zealanders pay the lowest price for petrol, Labour’s Consumer Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says.… ...
    5 days ago
  • OAG raps Govt over the knuckles on HNZ contracts
    The Government has been rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General over its failure to properly manage $2.3m of contracts and conflicts of interest in relation to a merchant banker advising them on the state house sell-off, says Labour’s… ...
    6 days ago
  • OAG raps Govt over the knuckles on HNZ contracts
    The Government has been rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General over its failure to properly manage $2.3m of contracts and conflicts of interest in relation to a merchant banker advising them on the state house sell-off, says Labour’s… ...
    6 days ago
  • Brownlee must step in as EQC spin exposed
    Gerry Brownlee needs to step in after EQC’s desperate spin in the wake of yesterday’s landmark settlement has been exposed by its own documents, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. “Yesterday’s settlement showed that thousands of homes may not have… ...
    6 days ago
  • Brownlee must step in as EQC spin exposed
    Gerry Brownlee needs to step in after EQC’s desperate spin in the wake of yesterday’s landmark settlement has been exposed by its own documents, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. “Yesterday’s settlement showed that thousands of homes may not have… ...
    6 days ago
  • OIO must explain Argentine pollution prosecutions
    The Overseas Investment Office (OIO)has questions to answer about how it safeguarded our sensitive land by allowing foreign investors with criminal prosecutions to purchase Onetai Station in Taranaki, says Labour’s Land Information spokesperson David Cunliffe.   “Rafael and Federico Grozovsky… ...
    6 days ago
  • Aussie banks in NZ should ban lending to offshore buyers
    ASB, Westpac and ANZ must confirm whether or not they will continue to fund the over-heated property market by lending to non-resident offshore home buyers, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “This issue has arisen because their parent banks have… ...
    6 days ago
  • Aussie banks in NZ should ban lending to offshore buyers
    ASB, Westpac and ANZ must confirm whether or not they will continue to fund the over-heated property market by lending to non-resident offshore home buyers, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “This issue has arisen because their parent banks have… ...
    6 days ago
  • Murray McCully needs to come clean over Tokelau ferry debacle
    Foreign Minister Murray McCully needs to come clean on why a New Zealand aid-funded vessel intended to service the Tokelau Islands is delayed, over budget and failed its sea trials, Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says. “The new ship… ...
    6 days ago
  • Full independent inquiry needed to save New Zealand’s reputation
    Revelations that John Key's personal lawyer and trust advisor led a lobbying campaign to shut down a review of New Zealand's foreign trust regime makes the case for a full scale independent inquiry a matter of urgency, Labour's Finance spokesperson… ...
    6 days ago

Public service advertisements by The Standard

Current CO2 level in the atmosphere