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.