NRT: The GCSB has been using our embassies as spybases

Written By: - Date published: 12:26 pm, October 13th, 2014 - 25 comments
Categories: International, Spying - Tags: , , ,

From I/S at No Right Turn:

The GCSB has been using our embassies as spybases

Last night, The Intercept leaked the NSA’s “core secrets” – or rather, the list of classification keywords covering them. While the descriptions are intentionally vague, they’re still illuminating – especially the ones marked as relevant to New Zealand. Here’s what the GCSB is up to with the NSA:


In other words, we’re assisting the NSA to hack other country’s computer systems – effectively waging covert warfare on their behalf.


This is probably stuff like TEMPEST, or equivalents, designed to extract electronic data by trace emissions from the hardware it runs on. It is unclear whether the GCSB helps position and run these sensors, or merely that they are cleared to know about them.


This one is uncontroversial: the decent, honest work of cracking codes.


And the explosive one: according to the NSA, they and the GCSB use our embassies as spybases to snoop on host countries – a violation of diplomatic privileges and the sort of thing which ruins diplomatic relationships. Exactly where isn’t stated, and it won’t be even in the associated classification guideline (which from the main article, The Intercept probably have too). But its only a matter of time before some enterprising journalist starts looking at what we’ve got on the roof of our embassies in China, Malaysia and Fiji and publishing photos of any funny-looking antennae or odd shacks. And then there’ll be a shitstorm. Thanks, GCSB!

25 comments on “NRT: The GCSB has been using our embassies as spybases”

  1. adam 1

    We live in a world where too many crackers wanna be James Bond.

  2. karol 2

    I/S explains this really clearly. And the last paragraph is the kicker.

  3. Wayne 3

    Shock horror. Embassies used by their nations intelligence agencies. Who would have guessed?

    • Zorr 3.1

      I thought this would have been obvious considering this statement from I/S:
      “a violation of diplomatic privileges and the sort of thing which ruins diplomatic relationships”

      Considering what happened between the US and Germany recently, why would we expect to be treated any better if we were caught snooping?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2

      If you can get over your childish pique for a moment, Dr. Mapp, I have a couple of questions.

      In your experience, can you think of any instances in which New Zealand “diplomatic staff” were treated differently than their US counterparts?

      What do you suppose their new status as US poodles might mean for New Zealanders doing business in, say, China?

      • Wayne 3.2.1

        “New status”(?). I imagine this goes quite some way back.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          About six years.

          Any chance of an answer to the questions?

          • Murray Rawshark

            Wayne knows that it’s been going on for longer than that. The squirrels don’t take their orders from Wellington, they are run from Washington. “Other People’s Wars” showed how this had been happening for years.

            We were highly thought of in China because of Rewi Alley. It didn’t take too many Tories and business types to change that completely in a short space of time.

            • Colonial Rawshark

              Rewi Alley, the most famous amongst a number of other early NZers who spent time in old school communist China. Now, we’re just seen as another bunch of greedy, not that forward thinking, western capitalists.

              But yeah, I expect NZ returned to being (almost) a full fledged member of the FVEY network during Clark’s term as PM.

      • Rolf 3.2.2

        As along time resident of China, let me try to answer. New Zealand is viewed as part of the USA hegemony. This together with the frequent issues with New Zealand in China, New Zealand is seen as untrustworthy. It is OK to do business with China, but Kiwis now has to come to China and do business there on Chinese terms. They have to open their own bank accounts in Hong Kong, do their own money transfers, to avoid the US snoop system.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.3

      Last time I looked using the embassies to spy on the countries that they’re in was considered a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. This is really going to fuck up our international reputation.

      • Rolf 3.3.1

        I can answer that as an expat. New Zealand international reputation is already so “fucked up” that you can read the result in our trade balance. It is the constant snooping for the US, the spy centrals and spy bases, and all the business flops, the cover ups, the racism in the immigration, the arrogance, punishment on anyone helping any Chinese, violence against Chinese, etc.

    • McFlock 3.4

      Yes and no.

      Most countries spy for themselves, rather than blatantly acting as agents for the US.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.4.1

        I wonder what it will do to the National Party trade in company directorships. Chairman Shipley will be very disappointed.

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          I can imagine the Chinese will have specially configured devices for Dame jenny to carry while visiting the various government departments on meet and greet tours.
          Not that she would know of course, after all one cell phone looks like another.

  4. philj 4

    Intelligence ops in NZ? What for? Don’t they get it. There is no intelligence in NZ. WE got nothin’ to hide, nothin’ to fear. 😉

    • Rolf 4.1

      Don’t forget that the phrase “nothin’ to hide, nothin’ to fear” was minted by the Nazis, and we know how that worked out.

  5. hoom 5

    I don’t think anyone should really be too surprised to find spies in Embassies.

    Hard core US sigint gear at NZ Embassies in allied countries, clearly aimed at spying on host country I think may be rather surprising though.

    I don’t know that the code cracking ones are just code cracking though?
    Sounds a bit like protecting sources involved in setting standards/causing broken maths to be used.

  6. coaster 6

    Makes you wonder if our meat being held on chinas ports was a message to stop spying, rather than a minor misunderstanding.

    • McFlock 6.1

      The meat thing might equally have been a response to the practises of a zespri agent coordinating imports there.

      But if we’re acting as a base for US intelligence gathering there, too, we’ve already spent a chunk of diplomatic credibility with the zespri affair. Other customs holdups to come, maybe…

  7. Rolf 7

    Take a look at the facts. New Zealand is opening a consulate in Chengdu and as far as we know there are about six kiwis in the area they can support, and no New Zealand companies. The job of a consulate is (Wikipedia) “providing assistance with bureaucratic issues to – the citizens of the consul’s own country traveling or living abroad”. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on. Has the US financed this consulate, and for what purpose. Is it another spy base. It appears to be quite strange to open a consulate for the benefit of six Kiwis.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 7.1

      I’ll wait with bated breath for the taxpayers union to decry this extravagant use of taxpayers money.

  8. Paul Campbell 8

    I think that there are lots of great reasons to have a consulate somewhere other than to serve NZers – for example Chinese tourists cant get a visa at the door, they have to visit a consulate.

    On the other hand I travel to China for business – the last thing I want to do is to get stuck in some stupid diplomatic tit-for-tat just because John Key wants to play James Bond with the Americans

    • Rolf 8.1

      When Chinese want a visa to other countries, for instance Vietnam, they go to an ordinary office, fill in a one page form, pay 20 dollars, and pick up the visa the next day. You don’t need a consulate. In the case of New Zealand it is a major insulting drama for many weeks. Some visas, for instance to Mongolia, you can send in on the web, and they send back a visa you can print out yourself the next day.

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