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The Ferguson interview

Written By: - Date published: 11:39 am, March 6th, 2015 - 51 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, Spying - Tags: , , , , , , ,

An extraordinary interview with former director of the GCSB Sir Bruce Ferguson on RNZ this morning:

GCSB in mass collection of Pacific data: Ferguson

A former director of the GCSB says there is mass collection of emails and communications in the Pacific, but the spy agency does not use material about New Zealanders collected inadvertently.

Ferguson just confirmed the claims made by Snowden / Hager / Fisher in yesterday’s Herald investigation. Claims that John Key preemptively and categorically denied. So now we know, the GCSB smokes but it claims it doesn’t inhale.

The audio of the interview is here. Any help transcribing it would be gratefully received, please post (with times indicated) in comments. (Audio of Key is here.)

In the mean time, here’s some of the reaction to the interview:

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51 comments on “The Ferguson interview ”

  1. r0b 1

    At time of publication Twitter links are not loading automatically, probably a consequence of yesterday’s crash and hurried reboot. No doubt this will be fixed at some point…

    … and we’re back – thanks lprent!

  2. veutoviper 2

    Test to see if this link works. If it does I will repost the others

    • veutoviper 2.1

      Right, here are the rest (and one or two extras)

      Will do a separate comment with Russel Norman and Greens.

    • veutoviper 2.2

      I would love to be able to offer to help with the transcribing but regretfully do not have the time – so hope the links help.

  3. Conal Tuohy 3

    I love how everyone goes on about how the GCSB weren’t breaking the law if they didn’t spy on NZers. Did they break Samoan law? Did they break Tongan and Fijian laws? The question never even comes up. By that logic did Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur break the law when they conspired to come to NZ to blow up the Rainbow Warrior?

    • idlegus 3.1

      todays editorial in the ODT “There is nothing illegal about the GCSB’s work in relation to other countries. ”

      http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/editorial/335368/question-spying

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1

        Sure, they’re legal, just like when I install hidden cameras in your bedroom, I have to be a foreign spy to make it legal, and I won’t get arrested, no way.

        Well, if I am arrested I can’t be extradited. All Kim Dotcom needs to do is join the army and everything he does is legit.

    • weka 3.2

      “Did they break Samoan law? Did they break Tongan and Fijian laws?”

      According to Ferguson we’re spying on Pacific nations for their own good, to keep them safe and secure.

      • barry 3.2.1

        Of course some of the information might be useful to us and other 5eyes countries in negotiating fishing deals etc.

  4. mac1 4

    So, Ferguson says it’s OK to inadvertently gather data on NZers but has controls on how it might view or use it.

    However, use of the link above led to a RNZ item which said this……..

    Privacy lawyer at Chen Palmer, James Dunne, said it was not illegal for the GCSB to incidentally pick up New Zealanders’ communications in the context of overseas spying.
    “Having got that information there are some real controls on what the GCSB can do with it.
    “But one of the things it is allowed to do with it is pass that information on to a public authority overseas.”

    Note the last sentence. GCSB may not use but can pass it on overseas.

    What’s to stop that ‘public authority overseas’ to then inform NZ authorities on information it has garnered from this inadvertent gathering and re-transmission overseas by GCSB and thereby ‘legitimising’ it??

    • RJL 4.1

      …”But one of the things it is allowed to do with it is pass that information on to a public authority overseas.”

      Only since the 2013 changes to the GCSB Act. However, GCSB has supposedly passed all NZ data gathered in the Pacific onto the NSA since 2009. Any NZ data passed between 2009-2013 to the NSA was illegally passed.

      Also the information can now only be passed to an overseas public authority (i.e. the NSA) for the following reasons (Section 25.2):
      ” The purposes are—
      (a) preventing or detecting serious crime in New Zealand or any other country:
      (b) preventing or avoiding the loss of human life on the high seas:
      (c) preventing or responding to threats to human life in New Zealand or any other country:
      (d) identifying, preventing, or responding to threats or potential threats to the security or defence of New Zealand or any other country.”

      While some of those reasons are pretty vague, simply passing “all NZ citizen data gathered onto the NSA” without any specific cause or reason is clearly still totally illegal.

      • mac1 4.1.1

        Thanks, RJL, for the clarification. The news item did not specify that some of the controls also includes reasons why it may be shared. As you say, they’re pretty vague.

  5. les 5

    ‘But one of the things it is allowed to do with it is pass that information on to a public authority overseas.”…does that include China,Russia…or is only some defined overseas public authority?

    • mickysavage 5.1

      Whoever the Director wants to give the information to.

    • RJL 5.2

      The exact wording is:
      “any public authority (whether in New Zealand or overseas) that the Director thinks fit to receive the information.”

      You can read it here:
      http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2003/0009/latest/DLM187855.html

      • Jones 5.2.1

        So that could include a non-government organisation officially acting in a public capacity.

        • RJL 5.2.1.1

          This act doesn’t define “public authority”.

          Presumably whatever the host country counts as a “public authority” is intended. So, could perhaps include private organisations contracted to perform public functions. For example, contractors working for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

          The GCSB act doesn’t (and realistically couldn’t) constrain what the foreign “public authority” does with the information subsequently, anyway.

  6. What a gouty old fascist.

  7. BLiP 7

    Really, Bruce, “trust us” . . . why?

    What’s frustrating about this is that mass surveillance does very little to protect us. Edward Snowden has pointed out that such spying actually exposes us to more risk because authorities are constantly and massively increasing the size of the haystacks in which they believe there might be a needle. Dig a little deeper and it becomes apparent that the “full capture” method is of more benefit to the “private sector partners” and their sales targets rather than the citizens who are paying for it.

    Ferguson’s defence of GCSB’s mass spying on New Zealanders is chilling in its cavalier delivery: “by employing wholesale spying on our neighbours we are actually their benefactors. Also – TINA – but you can trust us”. Not fucking likely, mate, not when your rationale effectively amounts to the inversion of truth to justify the subversion of liberty in order to serve the system put in place to protect it.

    I’m struggling to make sense of Bruce Ferguson’s fishing analogy. Sure, when out netting, I gather all sorts of stuff that I throw away . . . but when out spying, the GCSB isolates the extraneous material and then sends it to NSA which stores it, because why else would the US want it? Does the GCSB also have the right to trawl through this data being stored at NSA on a later date if one of the New Zealanders who’s private information was previously captured subsequently becomes “of interest”?

    • Bill 7.1

      Sheer madness!

      This isn’t at youBlip, but if you’re fishing, do you not first have to identify that which you want to throw away in order to know that you want to throw it away? Now, when we are talking information, how do you identify that information without, essentially, subjecting it to a degree of surveillance?

      That last question you asked. GCSB has access to Keyscore. And if they want to ‘Keyscore’ me or you (say), then all they have to do is request that Australia or the UK, Canada or US stoogies do the actual search and then pass results back. Depending on the results, the GCSB can then legally access info and act on it, on the grounds of what showed from the Keyscore searches they ‘outsourced’.

      • Colonial Rawshark 7.1.1

        Now, when we are talking information, how do you identify that information without, essentially, subjecting it to a degree of surveillance?

        In the “Thin Thread” system that Bill Binney developed at the NSA, all extraneous data collected which did not fit “profiles of interest” would be automatically deleted without any human input or oversight, in order to preserve (US) citizens constitutional rights.

        Further, a system of “unique anonymisation” would protect a potential target’s privacy rights until a court warrant had been obtained after probable cause had been demonstrated.

        This was in the year 2000.

      • BLiP 7.1.2

        Thanks, Bill. Your comment explains something I was thinking about but couldn’t quite put into words. Basically, Barrack Obama, David Cameron, Stephen Harper, Tony Abbott and whatshisname have pulled off an organised conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by fabricating a legally impenetrable device to protect, promote and expand the criminal activities of their government. It beggars belief that the main opposition parties within “The Club” were not aware of what was being pulled off, yet have said nothing. And what of those “public servants” who have facilitated this offence against us? I’m guessing entry into that echelon requires careful pre-employment testing by Human Resources to ensure a strong bent towards sociopathy. “Trust us”? What. Ever.

        Welcome to the 21st century’s form of government in the “free world”.

        • mickysavage 7.1.2.1

          Classic example is the Sydney Siege (http://thestandard.org.nz/the-sydney-siege-finishes/)

          Man Haron Monis was publishing on his Facebook page what he was thinking but the authorities were unable to even realise what was happening.

          The system (storing mass data) is good if you want to check out what an identified individual such as a political activist is doing but working out threats? It is a waste of time.

      • McFlock 7.1.3

        that’s actually what I couldn’t get about the entire KDC wiretapping by GCSB: surely that was exactly what echelon was supposed to be for?

        So it looks for all the world like it’s not just big brother, but our particular big brother is incompetent, easily led by bigger boys, and more than a little petulant. Which is actually more dangerous than a competent, well-meaning but overbearing big brother, in my opinion.

        The GCSB seems to be the sort of big brother who’d store his older mates’ class A supply-quantity drugs in your backpack just because they told him the cops wouldn’t search you.

  8. Bill 8

    These guys need all of their toys taken away.

    • Murray Rawshark 8.1

      +1
      Disestablish the agencies and have a full public discussion about what we need.

  9. Sure its legal.
    Bourgeois law is for suckers who believe that law represents something other than the interests of the ruling class.
    Capitalism has its own higher law; private property, expropriation of value, even the falling rate of profit.
    This bourgeois law trumps the law for the suckers.
    Until the suckers begin to see they are being suckered.
    Then its all about the law of nature.

  10. D'Esterre 10

    I heard the interview. Ferguson came across as a bumbling old fool who doesn’t know when to shut up. He obviously sees as unexceptionable the wholesale hoovering up of data, but didn’t actually mean to say so: Espiner tripped him up. That’s when he launched into all those hokey similes and the like.

    God, this whole GCSB business so reminds me of the worst excesses of the Stasi – just without the violence and knocks on the door in the night! Yet…

  11. Colonial Rawshark 11

    A totalitarian state wants to know everything that everyone one of its citizens is doing, as they are doing it, while the citizens are permitted to know nothing about what the state is doing. This is so the state (or its corporate partners) can disrupt any citizens life at any time, and the citizens can do nothing in return.

    It is an utter power imbalance and that’s how people like Ferguson like it. They thrive on the privilege like it is a drug.

    That’s where we are headed. And it’s not democracy. It is the slow death of a civilisation able to progress, create and innovate. It is a realm where people feel that they are being watched at all times, and where the surveillance of the state can anticipate what you are going to do before you even do it, any idea or creativity that even begins forming, they are watching over you, ever ready to approve or disapprove.

  12. Sabine 12

    the panopticon has come alive. Yei, feeling so much safer now.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

  13. aerobubble 13

    Inappropriate questions brought up in parliament by MPs can harm National Security. Thats why large parties, who ae also likely to hold ministries that handle such infomation, when in govt, as opposition mps need to be inside the intelligence committee.

    How much easier would it be to have the whole debate behind doors. Yet for some unfathomable reason Key turned the inteeligence oversight committee into a bauble for Banks and Dunne, both thrown off for varying blunders.

    Now Little has exasperate the process more, the Greens, the most vocal opposition on state security have no way of knowing, and so ciuld stumble the debate into a security breach. And whose to blame,the PM who stacked his mate at the top, let big movies use spies to get dot com, dotcom who Key let into the country when he weakened the standards.

    So what a complete clusterfrack, no oversight, no competence at the top, no means to keep state secrets om being blurted out… ..key stone cops.

  14. Anne 14

    Gary Moore put it in a nutshell the other day on The Panel ( I only listen when the guests are known to have a modicum of intelligence), he said:

    When a government takes our electronic communications… all our emails, phone calls etc. without telling us, it’s called National Security.

    But when someone takes the evidence which shows they have taken our communications without telling us, it’s called stealing.

    Sums it up nicely.

  15. weka 15

    Audio http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/20169815/former-gcsb-director-unfazed-by-spy-revelations

    Transcript (needs checking),

    GE: and listening to that is the former Director of the GCSB, Sir Bruce Ferguson, good morning to you.

    BF: Good morning.

    GE: Have tens of thousands or even thousands of New Zealanders travelling in the Pacific had their personal data passed to the NSA?

    BF: Well I don’t think there is any need to worry about that. I think, ah, it’s been fairly well explained, and the legislation does allow for it, but I guess it’s the whole method of surveillance these days, it’s sort of a mass collection. To actually individualise that is mission impossible. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, well there’s two things about that. First off, even if GCSB were doing it, which they’re not, that is not investigating these people, ah, they don’t have the resources for it. Nor actually does the NSA.

    GE: ok, if we could just back up a bit, because if I think what you’ve just said is pretty interesting… are you saying then, are you agreeing and acknowledging that thousands or tens of thousands of NZers who’ve been travelling in the Pacific or been in the Pacific have had their personal information passed to the NSA?

    BF: data collection in that respect, if you’re going to try and individualise data collection, it is mission impossible. It’s sort of like whitebaiting and trying to catch one whitebait, you can’t do it, and within the net you’ll get inangas and all sorts of other things, so… it’s a mass collection, but the GCSB law and the way they’ve acted, certainly in my time and I’ve got one… I’m very convinced that they’re exactly the same now, they do not, willingly and intentionally spy on NZers.

    to 1:42

    • weka 15.1

      GE: ok, but I repeat that question, because I think it’s important, whether inadvertantly or not, pick your analogies about eels or whatever, NZ’s personal information, NZers’ personal emails, communications of some sort have found their way to the NSA.

      BF: Well if you read the new Act, Guyon, that’s exactly what

      GE: I have read the new Act… (talking over each other)

      BF: that’s what it is then structured to allow for, there will from time to time be inadvertent collection, mass collection of these things, but the Act specifies that they cannot then use that information, they can’t, unless they’ve got specific reasons to use it against NZ they can’t use it.

      GE: ok, and I’ll go on to there and we have made some progress. So you’re saying that there is mass collection of NZ personal data that is transferred to the NSA?

      BF: I didn’t not say that, I said that if indeed that was happening, it may be mission impossible to try and bring out individuals within it, ah…

      GE: ok, I’m not trying to put words in your own mouth,

      BF: well I think you are,

      GE: well here’s your opportunity, free and fair, is this statement true? There is mass collection of NZer’s personal data that ends up in the hands of the NSA if they’re in countries like the Pacific. Is that true or false?

      BF: look, I’m not in a position to say that is actually true or false,

      GE: well you’re in a very good position with respect Sir Bruce, because you the head of the GCSB from 2006 to 2011.

      BF: yep, and the mass, I guess the mass collection, I come back to the point, you cannot these days just actually individually select people. If you’re going to, you put out a big net, you catch stuff, you throw out the stuff you don’t want, you discard it, you get rid of it, you eliminate it, and you keep the stuff you do want. That’s basically an analogy I’ll use, there is no other way round the collection of individual data.

      GE: ok, I think you’ve answered that question, so it is collected en masse, and then you filter out what you don’t want right?

      BF: that would be a normal way of all nations collecting intelligence.

      to 3:43

      • weka 15.1.1

        GE: how would you… possibly… filter out those innocent NZers which would 99% be. How would that be done?

        BF: you simply don’t need the information. You might be targeting one individual amongst all that, he might be a money launderer, he might be a drug smuggler. Or she might be. So you’re after that individual amongst all the other mish mash trash etc, you just eliminate it.

        GE: but those people, who are the trash, those people have had their personal communications stored by the NSA. So while they may not be the target of any investigation right now, their information is there, and could be looked back at, right?

        BF: aaaahm, look, the other day I went to Countdown, I bought some ham. Yesterday I got an email from Countdown saying we’ve got more ham on sale. How does that happen? Did they collect my information and use it? That’s my personal information.

        GE: yes, but I tell you what, I’d be a lot more um interested and perhaps concerned if authorities in the NSA had my information than I would if my local supermarket had the information.

        BF: well I don’t think your concern is actually relevant. I’ve been to the NSA several times, they have huge other issues on their hands, they’re not the remote bit interested in what’s happening down here for 99.95% of whatever,

        GE: so why are we giving them mass communications from NZ citizens who are in the Pacific then?

        BF: all sorts of intelligence could be used, and I think it’s been well canvassed this week in the news. The South East Pacific is actually of quite a lot of interest to a lot of countries. Australia, NZ, United States, France, China, there’s a lot of activity going on there. We want to know what’s going on, to safeguard not only us, but the nations in the Pacific. We are actually a benefactor for them to try make certain that they are safe and secure. Ah, this is not some nefarious attack on the Pacific Islands, it’s actually helping them. And helping us, and helping our friends and allies… for the security there.

        GE: ok… and indeed it has been going on, monitoring for quite some time. We’ve all acknowledged that that has been happening for a long time. According to this information that’s come out this week, what changed was that in July of 2009, the documents say, we move to what’s called ‘full take’ collection. Can you explain to me, given that you were the head of the GCSB at that time, what that phrase means, what does ‘full take’ collection mean?

        BF: it basically means, as I was saying, the analogy of whitebaiting, you put a net in the water, you catch what comes into the net and you get rid of everything you don’t want which is probably almost all of it, and then you itemise it down. You might well be looking for someone like a drug smuggler, money launderers. In amongst all of that, that’s the target, the rest of it is just discarded.

        GE: so there is mass, that is mass surveillance then?

        BF: well that’s been admitted hasn’t it? That’s why the Act has been changed Guyon, to actually allow it to be absolutely transparent and legal.

        GE: ok, so we are getting somewhere. So what we have, after this conversation, we have mass surveillance of NZers in the Pacific, and then we are led to believe that somehow someone weeds out and destroys all the information that relates to innocent NZ citizens. Have I got that right?

        BF: well certainly any weeding out, NZers will not be targeted if there is no reason to be targeted. That is absolute in law right through my time, no NZer to my knowledge was targeted, exception I guess is people mumble mumble in my time, something Dotcom. But nobody was targeted illegally. It has to be done legally and I’m 100% confident that that is exactly what GCSB is doing right now. The Prime Minister is right, he’s been given assurances and I back those assurances up, certainly from my time. Nothing illegal is happening there.

        GE: well thank-you very much for joining us on Morning Report, we do really appreciate your time talking us through that. That is the former director of the GCSB, Sir Bruce Ferguson.

        to end (7:35).

        • mickysavage 15.1.1.1

          Supreme deity bless/bestow benefits on you Weka. A resource worth preserving.

          • weka 15.1.1.1.1

            Thanks 🙂

            The whole thing is extremely ripe for satire. Or desk/head banging.

            • miravox 15.1.1.1.1.1

              Great job Weka!
              “The whole thing is extremely ripe for satire. “

              Especially this bit, I reckon

              [NSA are] not the remote bit interested in what’s happening down here for 99.95% of whatever…

              …all sorts of intelligence could be used, and I think it’s been well canvassed this week in the news. The South East Pacific is actually of quite a lot of interest to a lot of countries.

              He seems to not know whether to play down the data collection or brag about how important it all is.

              • weka

                I know, and we’re spying on them for their own good anyway!

                Re the contradiction, I couldn’t tell if he was just not well prepared, or if it was deliberate obfuscation. I tend to think the latter, because pretty much all of his replies were diversionary or answering without answering (the interview was twice as long as it needed to be).

                I like how we are all whitebait. And innocent NZers are mishmash trash. And how the security services of another nation state having all metadata on me because the NZ govt stole it and passed it on is the same as Countdown having my email address and shopping records because I’ve given them permission to have them. I think the ham example was perhaps the most disingenuous part of the interview, although saying it’s all legal is a close second.

                • r0b

                  Fantastic work Weka. I’m happy to abandon my own half completed effort – thanks!

                  • weka

                    Oops, I thought that might happen (only the other way, with me posting to find someone had already done it). Would it have helped if I had said I was doing it? I mentioned to Alaister below that maybe we need a system for crowdsourcing transcriptions and checking in so we don’t double up.

        • veutoviper 15.1.1.2

          Excellent work, weka!

          Scoop Editor, Alastair Thompson, has also now provided a full transcript on Scoop as part of his opinion on what Ferguson said and how it contradicts Key’s various statements over the past year or so. Well worth reading.

          http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1503/S00045/former-gcsb-director-admits-to-mass-surveillance-of-nzers.htm

          Their transcript is at the bottom of the article. I haven’t compared it with yours.

          • weka 15.1.1.2.1

            Cheers veuto. I think they left out all the ums and ahs 😉

          • alastair thompson 15.1.1.2.2

            If I had seen that Weka it would have saved me quite a bit of time 🙂 That said the act of transcribing does get you inside the words. And in this case the forms of evasion and moments of clarity are quite intricate.

            • weka 15.1.1.2.2.1

              Vice versa! Maybe next time we need a system for checking in with who is going to do the transcribing. I liked r0b’s crowdsourcing idea, but in the end I got in a flow and just did the whole thing. Like you I found the act of transcribing to really bring home what was being said.

  16. les 16

    John Spy…’trust us…we know what we’re doing’….and voters buy it!

  17. Upload the interview to Youtube; you’ll get a free transcript out of it. It gets some words wrong but it catches everything (much like the GCSB)

    • veutoviper 17.1

      As well as the great work weka did providing a transcript at 15, 15,1 etc above, a full transcript is also available on Scoop as per the link I provided at 15.1.1.2 above.

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