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Spies and lies – can anyone trust Key?

Written By: - Date published: 6:52 am, June 13th, 2013 - 46 comments
Categories: accountability, human rights, International, national, Spying - Tags: , ,

The angles and implications of the GCSB / PRISM / Palantir story are multiplying at a frightening rate, and only a mug would trust anything coming out from the government about it. How’s this for starers:

Report on GCSB changed from ‘sensitive’ to ‘sanitised’

The senior lawyer appointed by the Prime Minister to investigate the GCSB wrote a report which was more detailed and highly classified than the one released.

The existence of the highly classified version of the report was revealed by Air Marshal Sir Bruce Ferguson, who was a former director of the GCSB and consulted on a draft of the report. He said the report released was “a sanitised version”.

Right, so – where is the full version of the report, who has seen it, what does it say, and why is it being hidden?

Are New Zealand spy agencies feeding into the American / NSA data mining technologies such as PRISM? The Greens make a good case:

Greens sure Palantir working for Govt

The Prime Minister has done his best to shut down questions about whether his spy agencies are outsourcing confidential data to American software company Palantir. The Greens say there’s no doubt Palantir’s working with the Government, suggesting it may even be replicating the controversial US PRISM system.

Palantir mines data for some of the world’s most powerful spy agencies. Staff call its California headquarters “The Shire”, and the company’s named after a seeing stone from the Lord of the Rings. That’s not the only New Zealand connection. Palantir has an office in Wellington. Its goal is to “bring Silicon Valley to New Zealand”.

“I want to know if John Key is creating a New Zealand version of PRISM to spy on us,” Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says.

Unlike PRISM, the Palantir software that US spies use apparently doesn’t collect data; it sifts through it. It matches everything from phone records, internet activity, credit card use and GPS locations to find patterns.

Dr Norman wants answers from the Prime Minister. “Is his government using Palantir to replicate the US PRISM spy system?” But Mr Key won’t divulge any information.

Here’s the (start of the) relevant exchange from Question time yesterday:

2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: What intelligence agencies that he is responsible for, have contracts with Palantir; if so, what is the nature of those contracts?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): It is not my practice to discuss the operational capabilities or contracts of the New Zealand intelligence agencies. I do not believe it is in the public interest to do so.

Dr Russel Norman: Does intelligence data-mining company Palantir have any contracts with other New Zealand Government agencies or departments, such as the Police or Defence Force?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In terms of the intelligence agencies, it is not my practice to talk about who they have contracts with and who they do not. In terms of the Police or others, I am not in a position to answer that question.

Dr Russel Norman: Will he allow Palantir to embed one of its analysts in his Government, given that the company is advertising just such an embedded position?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What takes place in terms of the operational matters of intelligence agencies and any company they may contract with is a matter for them, and they would not reference that to me.

Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the job advert from Palantir for an embedded analyst in Government New Zealand—

Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of the document, please?

Dr Russel Norman: It is a job advertisement from a company called Palantir—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but where has the member sourced the advert from?

Dr Russel Norman: The document is from May 2013, and it was printed off the Palantir careers website.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that it is obvious his Government is using Palantir, will he cut Government ties with the company if it is proven to be involved in violating the privacy of New Zealanders through the PRISM spy system?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I have said on numerous occasions, it is not my policy—nor has it been any other Prime Minister’s policy—to talk about the operational matters of the Government Communications Security Bureau or SIS. What I can reconfirm for the member, though, is the same point I made yesterday: I am confident, on the legal advice that I have received from my agencies, that they act within the law at all times, and there have not been any occasions where the Government Communications Security Bureau has advised me that it has sought to circumvent the law.

Dr Russel Norman: Is his Government using Palantir to replicate the US PRISM spy system so that it can more intensely spy into every aspect of New Zealanders’ online activity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is basing his question on a hypothetical assumption. As I said, I am not in a position to comment about what capability our intelligence agencies have or do not have. But what I can say, though, is that the Government Communications Security Bureau and the SIS have very clear rules under which circumstances they can gather information about New Zealanders. Those rules require, not least of all, me, as the Minister in charge, to sign the warrant. That warrant has to be recommended and supported by the Commissioner of Security Warrants. It is a very detailed and significant process. The member knows that, and the reason he shakes his head in answer to those questions is that he is trying to delude members of the public. He sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee, he knows what goes on, and if he wants to carry on the act, he is free to do so, but I do not think he will convince very many New Zealanders.

Key repeatedly evades and refuses to answer the question. But the evidence all points to strong “cooperation” between NZ and US spy agencies – or in other words to NZ giving America whatever it asks for (case in point the bungled Kim Dotcom raids).

Just in passing note this little gem from Key’s last quoted answer:

But what I can say, though, is that the Government Communications Security Bureau and the SIS have very clear rules under which circumstances they can gather information about New Zealanders.

These “very clear rules” are exactly the same rules that are so unclear that new legislation has to be rushed through Parliament to “clarify” them, extend the GCSB’s powers, and retrospectively “validate” previously illegal spying. Key’s open self-contradiction on this point is farcical.

The next government should have a massive clean out of our entire security apparatus and agreements with foreign governments. Put together a Commission to decide what the powers of our security organisations should be, and what data (if any) should be shared outside of NZ. Implement the recommendations with publicly open checks and balances to make sure that they are followed. Enough of the current cloak and dagger nonsense.

46 comments on “Spies and lies – can anyone trust Key? ”

  1. One Anonymous Knucklehead 1

    Norman makes a good case, but your last paragraph holds true whether or not he has it right on this occasion.

    Green policy is pretty sparse – it’s more about what our spooks shouldn’t be doing. I suspect there is a bit of denial going on, but Tsun Tzu’s four-thousand year old observations still apply:

    Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

  2. While answering Norman’s questions Key kept making that hissing sucking in of breath that he does when under pressure. The opposition need to keep the pressure up.

    • Paul 2.1

      Yeah it was quite notable.
      Good on Norman…he’s getting to the RWNJs.

      • freedom 2.1.1

        On Tuesday it sounded like he was using a handyvac every time he spoke 🙂

    • Anne 2.2

      So far, the opposition parties are doing a grand job. Grant Robertson in particular for Labour, Russell Norman for the Greens and of course the wily old Winnie whom I nevertheless still don’t trust for one minute.

      One thing that should be remembered: these proposed changes to current intelligence gathering laws seem to be driven by John Key and a secretive band of associates both in NZ and almost certainly elsewhere. I doubt it is coming from the rank and file of the intelligence agencies themselves. Indeed, I would go so far as to say some at least will be finding the proposed changes as worrying as the rest of us.

      Perhaps I’m being a bit naive but even so… all opposition should be directed at the govt. and John Key rather than the agencies. They’re the ones pushing for the draconian measures and we know Key’s motivation is not in the interest of NZ and NZers.

      • RobertM 2.2.1

        It should all be taken with a grain of salt. Grant Robertson and Russel Norman can grandstand from opposition, but there comments are really only valid in terms of the general position that increasingly in NZ as everywhere else people are suffering too much surveillance and in some ways the surveillance cameras and electronic spying are too comprehensive. Any nations government can change to a regime with a much more restrictive view on all sorts of lifestyle choices and interests. In the USA and NZ most people seem to think their better off with universal surveillance. However my view is that social and night life, was always better in Wellington partly because of the lack of police and security cameras in the CBD, although it was also doubtless the cause of some serious assaults.
        Any sort of new or innovative political party or movement, often only has a chance to develop its ideas, policy and techniques, if it is not spied on. Jefferson always understood and the experience of being in Paris during the years before the French Revolution convinced him the middle class and political leadership, has to able to plot in private- and this may also may be true of individuals who are writers and political theorist. So my position is that the police and spies should not be allowed on university campus and that generally the middle class and intelligent should not be subject to surveillance because I don’t believe people are equal and neither did Thomas Jefferson, the declaration of US Independence was always a political statement,, which offered the highest rights in theory- but really only the right to joy and for the ordinary man to hunt and shoot game and fish, but in reality had a highly restrictive view of how the constitution and the structure state and legal system would operate- much like Leninist communism and the British concept of law, which is really built on the concept of structures and veils on the basic assumption that there are two classes of people the intelligent and ordinary and therefore the workings of elite, business, the rich and the military must be subject to restricted scrutiny.
        Having said that, universal surveillance is not in the greater human interest and current global developments have to be checked and will be once it is realised people are not equal.
        In terms of the Norman and Robertson comments on surveillance and satellite systems, computer programmes and intelligence gathering, my view is they lack the experience and expertise for any useful analysis and synthesis of this sort of material and claims.
        All information on significant defence and intelligence matters by US, UK, NZ, Aus authorities, military or experts or academics can only be usefully understood if you have the knowledge, experience and contacts to have a high speed shit detectors – because in all such information and statements by air marshalls and GCSB bosses past and present there is likely to be a significant amount of inaccuracy, lies , degrees of deception etc as well as some or lot of truth.
        This applies to just about anything you could ever find or real about any intelligence or matter which has still relevant operational significance.

  3. vto 3

    “can anyone trust Key?”

    That should be the big issue for the general election.

  4. Tautoko Viper 4

    ‘But what I can say, though, is that the Government Communications Security Bureau and the SIS have very clear rules under which circumstances they can gather information about New Zealanders. Those rules require, not least of all, me, as the Minister in charge, to sign the warrant. That warrant has to be recommended and supported by the Commissioner of Security Warrants. It is a very detailed and significant process. ‘ John Key

    Does this mean that John Key signed the warrant for spying on Dotcom??

    • Pascal's bookie 4.1

      Fuck knows what he meant, or whether he was talking about the old rules which were being broken or the new rules which aren’t in force yet, or if he meant residents or citizens.

      It was a useless answer in terms of actrual info, as per pfsssst.

    • rob 4.2

      He must have
      Such a pity he didn’t know anything about him for so many months afterwards.

  5. tracey 5

    Remember 2008? Labours motto was correct but the nats made suck a mockery of labour the message failed.

    norman should have asked the pm if he relying on the same legal advice that said gcsb cld spy on a nz resident?

  6. Sanctuary 6

    The levels of secrecy our government adopts when security is mentioned is childish. A quick look at the Palantir website reveals a career opportunity for an ‘Embedded Analyst, Government: New Zealand’ – http://www.palantir.com/careers/OpenPosDetail?id=a0m80000003mUYHAA2 and the position is clearly aimed at sub-contracting data analysis from NZ state security services.

    Key must think we are all stupid, and that no one can make simply deductions based on the bleeding obvious.

    P.S. It seems Palintir are one of the Scientology-lite Silicon valley companies that, amongst other things, has dispensed with the boring old social club in favour of – wait for it – “The Group Therapy Club” – http://www.palantir.com/life-at-palantir/

  7. Pasupial 7


    “I am confident, on the legal advice that I have received from my agencies, that they act within the law at all times, and there have not been any occasions where the Government Communications Security Bureau has advised me that it has sought to circumvent the law.”

    Kitteridge report? What Kitteridge report??

    Or maybe:

    “I am confident, on the legal advice that I have received from Sky City, that they act within the law at all times, and there have not been any occasions where Sky City has advised me that it has sought to circumvent the law.”

  8. Jackal 8


    The next government should have a massive clean out of our entire security apparatus and agreements with foreign governments.

    Easier said than done… The GCSB and SIS receives more than $100 million in funding per year and have a combined staff of 526. There’s another 13 government funded spying agencies in New Zealand, one of which is rumored to have over 500 employees.

    The spooks are likely to make up a large chunk of the current 298,384 state sector employees, and at an estimate I would say that these agencies receive well over a billion dollars of public money per year (unfortunately the true extent of funding for the spies is kept off government books).

    These agencies appear to have unlimited access to information and will strongly resist any attempts to limit their extensive and questionable powers. They will likely try to undermine any political party that looks set to move against their corrupt practices.

    Given the size of and funding for these agencies, anybody would think New Zealand was at war… Unfortunately that war appears to be focused on undermining our civil liberties.

    • gnomic 8.1

      “anybody would think New Zealand was at war”

      Could it be that they are preparing for the civil war after the shit finally hits the fan? When the global fiscal collapse finally eventuates in full? That could never happen of course. No no, the future is brighter.

  9. BLiP 9

    John Key lie? No, surely not . . . oh, hang on . . .

    – Iain Rennie came to me and recommended Fletcher for the GCSB job

    – I told Cabinet that I knew Ian Fletcher

    – I forgot that after I scrapped the shortlist for GCSB job I phoned a life-long friend to tell him to apply for the position

    – I told Iain Rennie I would contact Fletcher

    – for 30 years, or three decades, I didn’t have any dinners or lunches or breakfasts with Ian Fletcher

    – I did not mislead the House (9)

    – it was always the intent of the GCSB Act to be able to spy on New Zealanders on behalf of the SIS and police

  10. erentz 10

    I’m a Green voter, but I’m concerned Norman is stepping out a bit far on this with unfounded accusations he can’t back up. I hope it doesn’t backfire. There’s no evidence of bulk spying such as what is being talked about with the NSA occurring in New Zealand. Many reasons to think its not (yet). He should tread carefully and not step into technical realms that can easily be refuted.

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      Caution is advisable, indeed. He should be asking for an assurances from the PM that NZ has not participated in these broad information collection systems.

      Many reasons to think its not (yet).

      What are these reasons?

  11. Anne 11

    Timely comment erentz. But at the same time we know that under the proposed legislation it will only be a matter of time before bulk spying becomes the norm in NZ as well. What the fallout from such a scenario might ultimately be we can only guess at… but it is likely to result in a frightened and subservient population with many individuals being hounded and harassed for no justifiable reason. You know… like that place in Europe in the 1930s.

    Why won’t Key and co. agree to a Commission of Inquiry so that NZers can be assured all necessary measures are – or will be put – in place preventing new technology being used against ordinary NZers at some time in the future? Why? That’s a question the Opposition should be asking of him on an almost a daily basis.

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      Well for starters, journalists and their sources are going to be screwed in this future system. The Obama administration has already been found out tracing phone calls made to Associated Press journalists.

      Going forwards, who needs the likes of Peter Dunne and Andrea Vance to agree to release their emails. Just click on their email inboxes yourself and see everything there is to see.

  12. Poission 12

    What gets overlooked is there is a very powerful piece of entrenched legislation that prohibits arbitrary interference in an individuals correspondence.

    The universal declaration of human rights article 12 states that.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

    This in essence prohibits broad-based fishing excursions,and would allow for remedies in an international tribunal with unlimited liabilities ( a risk that has been overlooked).

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Snowden has suggested that documented rules and policies aren’t going to stop the capabilities of these systems from being designed used, and indeed, it has not stopped these systems from being designed and used.

  13. Shaz 13

    Its interesting that our PM’s reassurance is that GCSB is “doing nothing illegal” with data sourced from the NSA and that someone who will shortly be effectively be a political refugee is “not welcome” here.

    In contrast and at the same time this issue is bringing about the most serious bipartisanship the American Senate that has been seen for years as both sides are recoiling at what the Patriot Act has brought about. Many more Americans are regarding the leaking of the information as patriotic than treasonable, the US internet freedom organisations are furious after what they have regarded as years of cautious reigning in of the intrusive power of social media and the elected heads of Europe are calling on the US to ensure their citizens’ rights are not impacted by the NSA.

    (All sourced – from the Guardian and RadioNZ)

    Our PM has instinctively jumped in line with those who would limit freedom. I hope the contrast between this response and those of other leaders overseas becomes clearer as the impacts and responses unfold. His response shines a strong light on his view of citizenship and its not a flattering one.

  14. Yes 14

    I trust Keys.

    Doesnt all political data mine..how do scandals occur in all parties.

    • Mcflock 14.1

      “Yes”, that isn’t even a coherent statement. Are you drunk already?

    • fender 14.2

      Yeah I trust Keys too, but I definitely do NOT trust Key.

      Key is PM yes no maybe.

    • ropata 14.3

      “Yes”, here is a warning to you from the greatest sermon ever spoken:

      15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.

      16 By their fruits ye shall know them. Do [men] gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

      17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

      18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

      19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

      20 Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

      Is selling off assets, spying on citizens, and doing deals with SkyCity a good thing for NZ?

  15. aerobubble 15

    Its pretty simple, NZ is pathetic on National Security. The reason we need oversight is clear, should the head of the spies convert to Islam, having a problem with western policies regards the middle east; would anyone be watching who become aware would have to convince the PM who personal shoulder tapped the man, and so had no political cover to change matters.

    The Pm shoulder tapping anyone should suggest a huge gross ignorance of that PM in the nature of politics and how people will always disappoint at the most inappropriate moments.

    Key is dumb, parliament is dumber, and its a damn disgrace.

  16. Draco T Bastard 16

    The next government should have a massive clean out of our entire security apparatus and agreements with foreign governments.


    A government should not spy on it’s people and it should not help another government spy on its people.

  17. Yes 17

    Let’s talk about trust. Labour has three MPs and a leader doing deals with sky city already. What deal were they doing at the rugby?
    Was the deal…if you give us a party donation we won’t repel the act? I mean let’s be very clear here. Labour said they will kill the convention centre.

    I trust John Key

    • Nordy 17.1

      Evidence? Citation?

      Is the desparation from the 9th floor of the Beehive getting to you as well? Keep it up – you might even convince yourself…..eventually.

      So ‘sad’ that you trust a politician who has proved he is not worth of yours or anybody elses trust. You do realise that trust has to be earned and continue to be earned?

      You may well have hope or even faith in Key, based on something not in evidence to any thinking person.

      Meanwhile here in the real world, people are really just laughing at you.

    • ropata 17.2

      I guess “Yes” has demonstrated that we can trust John Key… to rip off NZ for his bankster pals

  18. gnomic 18

    Trust John Key? Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can a weasel be trustworthy? It’s probably too late to seek help from a medical professional if you trust Key. Devious and misleading come to mind.

    • ropata 18.1

      Hi “Yes”,
      I have a fantastic investment opportunity, guaranteed* double your money in 1 year, I wear a shiny suit and talk monetarist gobbledygook, just like “Keys”.

      You can trust me too, NZ investment companies are safe as houses**

      Show me the money!

      * or not
      ** in christchurch red zone

  19. Poneke 19

    Heh .. you speak with a forked Ropata, .. but I enjoy the parody.

    We need more truth-speakers.

    Can I sell you a small Antipodean country so I can retire tax-free to Monaco ?

    You might have a small problem with tangata whenua ..

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