Yesterday the latest in the ongoing series of GCSB spying leaks emerged:
Secret documents shine light on GCSB spying in Bangladesh
Secret files reveal the GCSB spies both on and for the South-East Asian nation.
Secret documents reveal New Zealand has shared intelligence collected through covert surveillance with Bangladesh despite that country’s security forces being implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights abuses.
The intelligence gathered by the GCSB staff was also being forwarded to foreign intelligence agencies, including Bangladesh’s state intelligence agency. In recent years, human rights groups have issued several reports documenting Bangladeshi intelligence and security agencies’ disregard for international prohibitions on torture and alleged involvement in politically motivated killings. In 2014, a case was filed in the International Criminal Court accusing the Bangladesh Government of committing crimes against humanity.
As usual there are (redacted) original documents in The Herald piece, and as usual there was a matching piece on The Intercept (Gallagher and Hager):
NEW ZEALAND SPY DATA SHARED WITH BANGLADESHI HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS
An NSA document that outlines the agency’s relationship with New Zealand, dated from April 2013, noted that “the GCSB has been the lead for the intelligence community on the Bangladesh CT [counter-terrorism] target since 2004.” The document added that the New Zealand agency had “provided unique intelligence leads that have enabled successful CT operations by Bangladesh State Intelligence Service, CIA and India over the past year.”
In 2008, for instance, Human Rights Watch alleged that the Special Branch headquarters in Dhaka’s Maghbazar neighborhood was used to torture detainees. In 2009, the rights group accused the Rapid Action Battalion of extrajudicially executing hundreds of people and said acts of torture were routinely perpetrated by officials from the intelligence directorate.
It is unclear from any of the NSA documents whether New Zealand sought or received any assurances from Bangladesh over how intelligence it shared could be used for detentions and interrogations, or whether there was any effective oversight of how the country’s agencies ultimately used the information. …
I/S at No Right Turn comments:
Unlawful and possibly criminal
As with other GCSB spying, this raises the usual questions: how does this contribute to New Zealand’s international relations and national security? And it has the usual answer: it doesn’t. The GCSB isn’t spying on Bangladesh because it poses some threat to New Zealand, but because the NSA has told them to and they want information to trade to their American masters. Whether that is in New Zealand’s interests is left as an exercise for the reader.
But it also raises serious questions about what is done with the information the GCSB collects. Bangladesh’s spy agencies are deeply unsavoury people who engage in torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings. There’s an obvious political question here about whether we want our spies passing information to an agency which goes around kidnapping, torturing and murdering people. But beyond that, there are serious legal questions as well. Its hard to see how the GCSB’s sharing of information with an agency known to torture and murder is consistent with the agency’s obligations under sections 8 and 9 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which affirm the right to life and the right not to be tortured, which apply to any actions of the government, anywhere in the world, and for which there can be no “justified limitation”.
But in addition to probably being unlawful, sharing information with known torturers and murderers is probably criminal as well. TheCrimes of Torture Act 1989 imposes a penalty of 14 years imprisonment on anyone who
(a) commits an act of torture; or
(b) does or omits an act for the purpose of aiding any person to commit an act of torture; or
(c) abets any person in the commission of an act of torture; or
(d) incites, counsels, or procures any person to commit an act of torture.
There’s no suggestion that the GCSB is itself torturing people, or that they’re deliberately procuring it (unlike the CIA and MI6, who seem to do that all the time). But passing information to known torturers seems to fall squarely within clauses 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(c). And that means that the GCSB staff who do it are potentially on the hook for a very long jail spell. If you work for the GCSB on the Bangladesh desk, you should really be talking to your lawyer about now. …
PM refuses to discuss GCSB allegations
Prime Minister John Key is refusing to discuss new allegations New Zealand spies have been assisting Bangladesh’s draconian security agencies.
Journalist Nicky Hager said it was almost certain the the Government Communications and Security Bureau had helped security forces in Bangladesh torture people. … “There is almost no doubt that the information we have been giving them for almost 12 years now will have been used for torture possibly for extra judicial killings and general terrorising of Bangladesh people.”
But as with the previous allegations against the Government’s foreign spy agency the Prime Minister would not discuss them.
“We don’t comment on the activities of GCSB, the only thing I can say is that I am comfortable on all the advice I’ve been given on GCSB that they act lawfully.
“They’re a foreign intelligence agency, they gather information for reasons of national interest to New Zealand and that’s about all I’m prepared to say.”
If ever there was a case for dropping the “no comment” defence, this is surely it.