web analytics

The ThinThread of GCSB surveillance

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, May 25th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: copyright, democracy under attack, greens, labour, Spying, telecommunications, us politics - Tags:

William Binney, a whistle blower from the US NSA (National Security Agency) claims that a surveillance device, Thin Thread was sent to spy agencies in places like NZ, Canada,, Australia, Germany and the UK in 2000-2001 for testing.  According to author Tim Shorrock, ThinThread monitors the meta data of phone, internet and email communications, at first masking the identities of the participants in the communications.  It only reveals these identities when the spies decide they are concerned enough to apply for a warrant.

In this morning’s NZ Herald, David Fisher reports,

Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.

“In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world. Those recipients included Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”

The “lawful” aspect was due to the software’s ability to mask the identities of those whose information was being intercepted – a technical work around of the legal barrier which prohibits New Zealand and the US from spying on its own citizens.

Mr Shorrock said ThinThread operated in three phases. It began by intercepting call, email and internet traffic on a network and automatically assessing it for interest. The scale of the traffic was such that it narrowed down targets of interest by focusing on patterns of information rather than the content of the information.

This news has resulted in the Labour and Green parties repeating their calls for an inquiry int the activities of the GCSB.

Greens’ co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister and GCSB needed to explain to the public whether it was spied on by ThinThread.

“It reinforces why there is a different set of rules for the GCSB – they are integrated into this global spy network,” he said.

Another NZ Herald article this morning, provides more details on the possibilities of a surveillance programme like ThinThread. ThinThread monitors meta data, “information about information”.  Nicky Hager says that, given modern technologies can monitor huge amounts of data, focusing on meta data is more manageable.

In fact, metadata describes the trails of digital footprints created by anyone in the modern world. It describes all the phone calls and text messages ever sent or made from a phone. It is every email contact point, geographical location recorded, banking transaction, bill paid or medical record transferred. Each of those will have multiple points of data and can be overlaid on dozens, hundreds or thousands of others to find links and patterns.

The result is a 3D model of a life.

ThinThread worked on metadata, creating graphs which described the huge pool of data which it analysed.

“Intelligence veteran”, whistle blower William Binney,

… described how he created in the 1980s a five-nation intelligence network which sounded identical to the Echelon system to which New Zealand belongs. “The whole idea was to share everything,” he said.It would have been the information pool to which the GCSB surrendered Kim Dotcom’s details. Court records show the bureau passed “selector” information to the Echelon/Five Eyes network featuring phone numbers, IP numbers and email addresses.

Mr Hager: “What is selector data? It is a keyword someone can search with. When you pass selector data, you are giving them a target list.”

And all the more reason why John Key’s recent and planned legislation is a step in the wrong direction, failing to provide the necessary safe guards and oversight to ensure information about Kiwi citizens is not being passed on to foreign agencies.  This could include information about New Zealanders who are considered to be threats to the “economic security” of the US government. A few days ago the NZ Herald reported,

New legislation which was designed to clarify the intelligence agency’s role was passed under urgency earlier this month.

Green Party leader Russel Norman said the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill should be put on hold until an independent inquiry could be held into the agency’s spying on New Zealanders.

“A law change should be the last step in the process, not the first.

11 comments on “The ThinThread of GCSB surveillance ”

  1. aerobubble 1

    The governor general headed the GCSB part of time this alledged illegality was taking place and so any law he signs legalizing said activities is unconscionable. Even the GG is not above the Law.

    • Nordy 1.1

      The fact that the GG was previously head of GCSB is not in itself especially relevant to the powers of the GG. Have a read up on the concept of the ‘reserve powers’ of the GG and the various constitutional arguments about their actual importance and what may or may not happen (depending on who you believe). It is a fascinating discussion on the notion of convention which is such a critical part of our (largely unwritten) constitutional arrangments.

      What I would suggest is more relevant is the notion of the ‘thin thread’ of our democaracy that can be played with by politicians (such as NACT) at their will, given the nature of convention and how important it is that the politicians understand and observe it for it to actually work. Despite the complaints and criticism of opposition parties NACT can simply continue to act unilaterally as the other important check on a govt, the 4th estate, more often than not either doesn’t understand what is going on, is cheering from the back pocket of the politicians, or is looking elsewhere for the latest ‘entertainment’ story.

      This particularly relates to the oversite of the ‘intelligence community’ (another one of those amusing oxymorons) and the power and authority given to politicians who are expected/supposed to exercise oversite in the best interests of NZ. Recent events confirm this to be myth.

  2. Anne 2

    Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.

    “In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world…

    Now that’s interesting. The ‘prototype’ was invented prior to 9/11 so it wasn’t a response to the September attacks. It’s possible the programme wasn’t given to the “Five Eye” nations until after Sept.01 – using the attack as justification. But what justification is there now? Of course it’s easy to manufacture a security emergency and then use it to invade another region or country. Iraq anyone?

  3. Murray Olsen 3

    The GCSB seems to exist solely to work for Washington. There’s no evidence I’m aware of that the foreign powers we open our windows to have ever given us anything in return. In the Rainbow Warrior French military attack on us, there is evidence they kept stuff from us. This is the same France on whose behalf the SIS and Helen Clark kept Ahmed Zouai locked up.
    Dismantle the lot. They’re worse than useless.

  4. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake.

    http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=thinthread_1

  5. hoom 5

    Interesting.
    “A law change should be the last step in the process, not the first.”

    In this context indeed the law change is the last step.
    First steps were making this stuff, putting it in place & using it.
    Law change is ‘oh shit the law doesn’t fit what we are doing’.
    Rewriting this sort of software/tech retrospectively to allow for NZ specific laws (even if they wanted to) would be ‘unworkable’ so our law gets changed.

    Attack on Democracy? Attack on the interests of NZ Citizens? Who, National? Pffffffft nah lol says the newspapers: that only applies to making people buy lightbulbs that would cut their power bill.

  6. ghostwhowalksnz 6

    Use something called TOR, that will anonymise your online journey

    It runs in Firefox and bounces it around the world

  7. KJT 7

    http://kjt-kt.blogspot.co.nz/2010/06/operation-mincemeat-and-spycraft-in.html

    “Operation mincemeat is a good amusing story, but in the light of current revelations about SIS it is a salutary reminder about the nuttiness of the spy and counter spy silliness of so called intelligence agencies”.

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2010/05/10/100510crat_atlarge_gladwell?currentPage=all

    Nuttiness, amorality and incompetence, masked by secrecy, is a common thread whenever the world of the spooks is exposed to daylight.

    Like our unnecessarily onerous and expensive, counter terrorist border controls, while the real threat, bio-security, is ignored and starved of funding.

    We don’t need them.

  8. prism 8


    An interesting and instructive presentation on how things are in state security without borders these days.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Government offers formal apology for Dawn Raids
    A formal and unreserved apology for the Dawn Raids The Government will offer education scholarships as part of the apology Manaaki New Zealand Short Term Scholarship Training courses Support Pacific artists and historians to develop a comprehensive written and oral account of the Dawn Raids Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    20 hours ago
  • Speech to Dawn Raids Apology
    Tēnā koutou katoa, Kia orana kotou katoatoa, Fakaalofa lahi atu ki mutolu oti, Tālofa nī, Mālō nī koutou, Ni sa bula vinaka, Fakatalofa atu, Noa'ia 'e mauri, Kam na mauri, Malo e lelei, Sioto'ofa, Mālō lava le lagi e mamā ma le soifua maua, Oue tulou, tulou atu, tulouna lava ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    20 hours ago
  • Bridging the gap – last piece of Northcote Safe Cycle Route now complete
    The opening of two bridges over Auckland’s Northern Motorway is the last link of a cycling and walking route which provides a safe, active alternative for students and commuters, Transport Minister Michael Wood said today. Michael Wood cut the ribbon for the completion of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route, at ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    24 hours ago
  • Progress in establishment of Aged Care Commissioner
    Recruitment for an Aged Care Commissioner will start next month, to ensure greater oversight of New Zealand’s aged care sector. “This sector is responsible for supporting a large and often vulnerable population. While most people are able to access quality care, there have been cases where that care has fallen ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 days ago
  • New record number of homes consented
    In the year ended June 2021, the actual number of new dwellings consented was 44,299, up 18 percent from the June 2020 year. In June 2021, the seasonally adjusted number of new dwellings consented rose 3.8 percent. In June 2021, 4,310 new dwellings were consented, an increase of 3.8 per ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Communities backed to tackle wilding pines
    Twelve community projects across New Zealand will receive a share of $2 million to carry out wilding pine control, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor announced as part of Biosecurity Week. “Wilding pines are a serious problem that threaten many of the unique landscapes that New Zealanders value. Community groups and trusts ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Health Minister Andrew Little responding to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation's rejection of ...
    I was advised last night that the result of the ballot of Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa New Zealand Nurses Organisation members have rejected the latest proposal to settle their collective agreement. Let me be clear: the proposal was one they put to the Government. The Nurses Organisation rejected their ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation introduced to Parliament
    Legislation has been introduced to Parliament to protect against practices intended to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Introducing the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi, said the measures proposed were aimed at ending conversion practices which don’t work, are widely ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • New school site for booming West Auckland
    The Government will build on a new school site in West Auckland to cope with rapid population growth in the area, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says. The Ministry is working with existing local schools to determine how the 1.5-hectare site at 279 Hobsonville Point Road will be used to support ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Trans-Tasman travel window to close at midnight tomorrow
    A further 500 MIQ rooms released for managed returnees from NSW Further Government actions announced today are balanced to provide more certainty for Kiwis wanting to return from Australia, while continuing to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, acting Minister for COVID-19 Response Ayesha Verrall says. The actions were foreshadowed last ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Govt investing millions in Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti schools
    Napier Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools are among those set to benefit from a $16.5 million investment in the Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti region, Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash announced today. The Government has set aside money in Budget 2021 to accelerate five projects in Napier, Hastings, Havelock North ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Game changing Jobs for Nature investment for Northland
    Conservation Minister Kiri Allan has announced Jobs for Nature funding for a portfolio of projects that will create ‘game changing’ gains for nature and communities across Northland/Te Tai Tokerau as part of the Government’s acceleration of the economic recovery from COVID. “This portfolio of 12 projects will see over $20 ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Third COVID-19 vaccine receives provisional approval
    New Zealand’s regulatory authority Medsafe has granted provisional approval of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older, Acting Minister for COVID-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today. New Zealand secured 7.6 million doses (enough for 3.8 million people) of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine through an ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Bowel-cancer screening programme is saving lives
    More than 1000 New Zealanders have had bowel cancer – New Zealand’s second-most-common cause of death from cancer - detected under the Government’s National Bowel Screening Programme, Health Minister Andrew Little said today. More than 1200 New Zealanders died from bowel cancer in 2017. The screening programme aims to save ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Govt welcomes draft report on the retail grocery sector
    The Commerce Commission’s draft report into the retail grocery sector is being welcomed by Government as a major milestone. “I asked the Commerce Commission to look at whether this sector is as competitive as it could be and today it has released its draft report for consultation,” Commerce and Consumer ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Christchurch’s Youth Hub ‘set to go’ thanks to further Government funding
    Construction of New Zealand’s first, purpose-built centre for youth well-being is ready to get underway thanks to an extra $2.5 million of COVID-19 response funding, Housing Minister and Associate Minister of Finance, Megan Woods announced today.  “The Christchurch Youth Hub is about bringing together all the things young people need ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Next step to protect Milford Sound Piopiotahi
    Expert group lays out plan to better protect iconic UNESCO World Heritage site Milford Sound Piopiotahi and its surrounds Funding confirmed for dedicated unit and Establishment Board to assess the recommendations and provide oversight of the process from here Milford Opportunities Project a test case for transformational change in tourism ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Funding for projects to reduce waste from construction and demolition
    The Government has announced funding for projects in Auckland and the lower North Island to help reduce construction and demolition waste. “Construction is the main source of waste sent to landfill, and much of this could be reduced, reused and recovered,” Environment Minister David Parker said. “The Government is funding ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Speech at the launch of the National Hepatitis C Action Plan
    Tēnā koutou katoa. Thank you Anglesea Pharmacy and Te Manawa Taki for hosting this event. As a doctor, I saw first hand the impact of hepatitis C. I met Moana in 2019; she came to the infectious diseases outpatient clinic at Wellington Hospital having tested positive for hepatitis C. Like ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Plan to eliminate hepatitis C as a major health threat by 2030
    A plan to eliminate hepatitis C in New Zealand, reducing liver cancer and the need for liver transplants, has been released today by Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall. “Around 45,000 New Zealanders have hepatitis C, but only around half know they have it,” said Ayesha Verrall. “Symptoms often ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • School upgrades and new classrooms for West Coast, Tasman and Canterbury
    A funding injection from Budget 2021 to complete four shovel ready projects and new classrooms at six schools and kura will provide a real boost to local communities, Minister Dr Megan Woods announced today. “This Government has committed to providing quality fit for purpose learning environments and 100,000 new student ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Warmer Kiwi Homes smashes annual target
    The Government's highly successful insulation and heating programme, Warmer Kiwi Homes, is celebrating a key milestone with the completion of more than 38,000 insulation and efficient heater installs in the year to the end of June, smashing its target of 25,000 installs for the year. “The Warmer Kiwi Homes scheme ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Exemption granted for Wallabies to enter NZ
    Bledisloe Cup rugby will be played in New Zealand after the Australian rugby team received an economic exemption to enter New Zealand. Travel between Australia and New Zealand was suspended on Friday for at least eight weeks following the worsening of the COVID outbreak across the Tasman. New Zealanders have ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs makes three diplomatic appointments
    Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta today announced three New Zealand Head of Mission appointments. They are: Mike Walsh as Ambassador to Iran Michael Upton as Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union Kevin Burnett as Ambassador to Indonesia Iran “Aotearoa New Zealand has a long-standing and constructive relationship with Iran, despite a ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Enhanced Task Force Green Approved for West Coast and Marlborough
    The Government has activated Enhanced Task Force Green (ETFG) in response to the West Coast and Marlborough floods, Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced today. “To assist with the clean-up, up to $500,000 will be made available to support the recovery in Buller and Marlborough which has experienced ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Govt support for upgrade of Eden Park players facilities
    Minister for Sport and Recreation Hon Grant Robertson has announced funding to upgrade the players facilities at Eden Park ahead of upcoming Women’s World Cup events. Eden Park is a confirmed venue for the Rugby World Cup 2021, the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022, and a proposed venue for matches of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • More jobs and quicker public transport motoring towards West Auckland
    Work to improve public transport for West Aucklanders and support the region’s economic recovery by creating hundreds of jobs has officially kicked off, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced today. Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff this morning marked the start of construction on the Northwestern Bus Improvements project. It ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Government backs critical health research
    Research into some of New Zealanders’ biggest health concerns including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease is getting crucial support in the latest round of health research funding, Health Minister Andrew Little announced today. The funding, awarded through the Health Research Council of New Zealand, covers 31 General Project grants ($36.64 ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • New Bay of Islands hospital facilities to bring services closer to home
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Andrew Little have joined a ceremony to bless the site and workers for Phase Two of the redevelopment of the Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa today. The new building will house outpatients and primary care facilities, as well as expanded renal care ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Raukokore re-imagined with ‘smart’ relocatable rent to own housing
    Iwi, Crown Partnership Relocatable, fully insulated housing, connected to a new solar plant Provides a pathway to home ownership New housing in the remote eastern Bay of Plenty community of Raukokore shows how iwi and Crown agencies can work together effectively to provide warm, dry, energy efficient homes in a ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Cabinet accepts Turkish authorities’ request for the managed return of three NZ citizens
    Cabinet has agreed to the managed return of a New Zealand citizen and her two young children from Turkey, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. The three have been in immigration detention in Turkey since crossing the border from Syria earlier this year. Turkey has requested that New Zealand repatriate ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Govt delivers more classrooms so children can focus on learning
    Extra Government investment in classrooms and school building projects will enable students and teachers to focus on education rather than overcrowding as school rolls grow across the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis say. The pair visited Ruakākā School in Whangārei today to announce $100 ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • New station a platform for AirportLink to take off
    Every Aucklander with access to the rail network will now have a quick and convenient trip to the airport, Transport Minister Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said during the official opening of the new Puhinui Interchange today. The new interchange links the rail platform with a new bus ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • 10 days sick leave for employees delivered
    Legislation doubling employees’ minimum sick leave entitlement to 10 days comes into effect today, bringing benefits to both businesses and employees, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood announced today. “Our Government is delivering on a key manifesto commitment to help Kiwis and workplaces stay healthy,” Michael Wood said. “COVID-19 ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Prime Minister congratulates Fiame Naomi Mata’afa on Election Win
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tonight congratulated Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa on her victory in the Samoa’s general election. “New Zealand has a special relationship with Samoa, anchored in the Treaty of Friendship. We look forward to working with Samoa’s new government in the spirit of partnership that characterises this ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Quarantine Free Travel with Australia suspended
    Quarantine Free Travel from all Australian states and territories to New Zealand is being suspended as the Covid situation there worsens, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced today. From 11.59pm today Australians will no longer be able to enter New Zealand quarantine-free. This will be ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Growing conservation efforts in Gisborne
    A big injection of Jobs for Nature funding will create much-needed jobs and financial security for families in TeTairāwhiti, and has exciting prospects for conservation in the region, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says. “The projects target local communities most affected by the economic consequences of COVID 19 and are designed ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Flood recovery given further assistance
    The Government is contributing a further $1 million to help the flood battered Buller community, Acting Emergency Management Minister Kris Faafoi announced today. “Buller is a small community which has found itself suddenly facing significant and ongoing welfare costs. While many emergency welfare costs are reimbursed by Government, this money ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Funding for five projects to reduce food waste
    The Government is funding five projects to help address the growing problem of food waste, Environment Minister David Parker announced today. “New Zealand households throw away nearly 300,000 tonnes of food every year, half of which could still be eaten. By supporting these initiatives, we’re taking steps to reduce this ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Temporary Accommodation Service activated for West Coast flooding event
    The Temporary Accommodation Service (TAS) has been activated today - meaning residents on the West Coast of the South Island and in the Marlborough region hit by flooding over the weekend can now access help finding temporary accommodation, announced Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing) Poto Williams in Westport today. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago